III.
The
Lateness
of
the
Hour

(Season
2
/
Episode
8)

Season 2, Episode 8 is entitled The
Lateness
of
the
Hour
, and I find, as in many of The Twilight
Zone episodes, that this choice of phrase bears a double meaning. Now, The Lateness of the Hour is far from
TZ’s best efforts…its predictable plot twist is made more obvious by
the slow
pacing of a miniscule amount of story information
(a common fault of some of
the more pedestrian episodes…perhaps Serling would have enjoyed
exploring
today’s 15-minute late night comedies or the 5-minute driveby
"webisode" in
addition to the traditional 22min (then 25min) format. But I digress).
Nevertheless, as is the case in both the best and not-so-best TZ
episodes,
there are some wonderful lines, and a great monologue. They are great
because
they resonate with the audience, to our ineffable humanity. To our natural
human
thirst
for
expressing
individuality.

What follows is a journey through the
episode, with links
(as always) to parallels in our own world.

The story revolves around a well-to-do
family, made rich by
Father’s genius inventions. In fact, the first sound we hear, aside
from a
crack of thunder, are the indulgent, nearly orgasmic groans of delight
emanating from Mother, who is getting a deep massage from what we first
assume
is the maid but later learn is the raison
d’etre
of the family’s wealth – a life-like humanoid robot
servant.

It seems that Father’s technological genius
has created
innumerable inventions to keep the house at a constant 72 degrees,
select the
most optimal lighting conditions at all times, and above all
manufacture a crew
of robots visually indistinguishable from their human masters. These
inventions
have made an insulated world of mindless, numbing comfort and
predictability.
They eat dinner at the same time each day, and when daughter Jaina
suggests
going out to a restaurant, Father honestly wonders why.

"Why in the world would we go out to a
restaurant?"

"I don’t know, it’s just that it would be…different."

"Yes, I have no doubt it would be different.
We’d walk
through the rain and get ourselves sopping wet. And we’d eat some
greasy,
unpalatable food served off of dirty, unwashed plates. And after that
it would
be a moot question whether we’d succumb to tomain or pneumonia."

Are you starting to see? The house provides everything you can need. It provides
everything you will need. Why risk
the big scary world out there, filled with variables and danger (read: free market)?
Whatever
fleeting thrills the unrestrained outside may offer, they are obviously
inferior to….well, to what exactly? We’ll find out.

In here, everything
is controlled
. Why can’t Jaina just slip ever deeper, like Mother,
into the
living coma that is their existence?

Jaina’s increasing frustration with the
prison-like reality
of her existence results in a showdown where she confronts her father
and the
army of servants, and the audience wonders which is the more powerful
foe, the
stony, unfeeling machines or the human mind which created them. What
follows is
a monologue that would make John Galt smirk. An excerpt:

"Time is running out, Father. Instead of
controlling you’re
being controlled. Why, you’re becoming dependent
[back
when that was a perjorative term I suppose]. You’re reaching the point
where you won’t be able to exist without them.
Destroy them, Father. Get
rid of them. Dismantle them."

This battle cry of freedom goes on in
various scenes, but
within certain conversations more interesting connections are made our
modern
reality. Two viewpoints:

Perhaps the robots
can be seen as government programs, created with the best of
intentions, but
once created, become
monstrously immortal
, creating ever-increasing
dependence
on government largesse, while allowing humanity to
atrophy.

Father implores, "Jaina, they’re not just machines…you know how many
hours I
spent at developing them and perfecting them." The hubris of
self-aggrandizement has blinded father to the realities he has created.
With
your indulgence, dear reader, I quote Ian Malcolm.

Inapplicable, you say? Government programs
are not
dinosaurs, you say?

Hm…

Or, perhaps the
robots are a commentary on governmental interference with job training
and higher
education.
Father, perhaps tipping his hand, goes on to brag about
how each
robot was designed for a specialized task. Efficient, yes, but as he
himself
admits, "the handyman knows nothing beyond being a handyman." Three
cheers for social
engineering and pigeonholing the workforce, as well as conditioning
for
learned
ignorance.

Either way, the robots remain inescapably
part of the "governing
system
" of the household. Ironically when Jaina compares her life
in the
house to that of a human vegetable kept alive in a hospital, the maid
comes in
to give Mother, against her own protestations, her daily pill. "Take
your
medicine" metaphors, as well as Obamacare references seem gratuitous
here, as
this will quickly become the new normal unless some modern-day Jainas
out there
fight to change it.

In a climatic scene, Jaina finally attacks
Mother and Father
directly:

"I’m acting like a woman who wants something
more than just
to be massaged five times a day. Or a man who thinks paradise is having
his
pipes filled and refilled and having his slippers put on a taken off.
I’ll give
you a choice – get rid of them, or I’ll leave."

As she is marching out, she is chastised by
a chorus
of the robot servants.
Why can’t this troublemaker just keep her
divisive
mouth shut? How ungrateful she is for all the comfort and
predictability Father
and the robots have provided her. She’s just an insolent, ungrateful
mooch – or
worse than that, as we’ll find out – she’s a hypocrite.

But first, another interesting facet: when
Father
surprisingly agrees with Jaina and orders his robots into his lab to be
dismantled, they understandably fight for their existence. The
parallels
are
obvious.
Father, for the sake of the episode, retains the
power to order them out of existence, but we all know in reality the
army of
steel could easily have ended Father when he tried to interfere. Where
do we
stand today? Does a "Father" or a "Jaina" in today’s world retain
enough power
to dismantle our robots, or would they simply band together and unleash
an
avalanche of murderous steel on whatever brave voice sought to call
them for
what they were? Who
can
tell.

Now, full disclosure, the twist of course is
that Jaina
herself is one of the machines, a daughter-robot created by Father to
have a
family. While some would argue this makes her ranting for freedom
hypocritical
or at least ironic, it is important to remember two things – first,
Jaina
slowly comes to realize her true identity over the course of the
episode, her
Father having erased any memory of her robot heritage from her mind.*

Secondly, her mere identity as a robot is
not as important
as the validity of her stance (only a liberal would put so much
importance on
identity and so little on outlook). Thirdly, and perhaps most germaine,
Serling
just couldn’t resist throwing in a double plot twist, however hackneyed
it
might have been…so forgive this unnecessary dramatic device which
lowers this
episode’s stock and confounds this metaphorical analysis; had it been
omitted,
both would have been more sound.

After all, when Jaina realizes her identity,
she despises it
rather than accepts it. And besides that, Father’s monstrous solution
to the
"Jaina problem" is to simply reprogram her as the new maid, to replace
the one
he was forced (by Jaina) to dismantle. Father and Mother still have
their
"daughter" around, and have a new set of hands to fill their pipes and
massage
their skin. That was, after all, all
they
ever
wanted
– unquestioning servitude.

A final thought: When Jaina, in a private
moment with her
Father, explains calmly that she just wants the window open and the sun
to come
in, Father replies that would destroy his life’s work. Anyone remember
the
(liberal) saying from the 70s, sunlight
is the best disinfectant?
It’s still true. So let’s open some
windows, and
bask in the free sun. If the (government)-controlled environment can’t
survive
that, it was an illusion all along. And above all we must remember The Lateness of the Hour.

* The real-world parallels of our robots
fighting against
their own nature when humbled by the light of truth are extremely rare,
but
should be greatly celebrated. The public sector union
members
who eventually starts speaking out against their hegemony
; the
administrator of some wasteful bureaucracy who publicly moves to have
his
department liquidated;
even

Jane
Roe
is a great example, though one that has been swept under the
rug. But
the facts are out there for those willing to look.

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