The Purple Testament
Lt. William Fitzgerald – William Reynolds
Capt. Phil Riker – Dick York
Capt. Gunther – Barney Phillips
Smitty – Michael Vandever
Trigger Warnings (highlight to see): Scenes of war, hospital scenes, soldiers dying, racial slur (1) against the Japanese
The Purple Testament opens with a literal bang. We’re on a battlefield with various soldiers shooting at each other. Then the scene switches to a convoy and C.P. Company ‘A’ Headquarters. Trucks come in and unload soldiers, some of whom are wounded.
Infantry Platoon, US Army, Philippine Islands, 1945. These are the faces of the young men that fight. As if some omniscient painter had mixed a tube of oils that were at one time earth brown, dust grey, blood red, beard black and fear, yellow-white. And these men were the models. For this is the province of combat and these are the faces of war.
We also get an extreme close-up of the last soldier. And a slo-mo. Huh. Twilight Zone rarely uses slow motion. Captain Phil Riker wanders over to one of the soldiers and they smoke and chat about it being a crappy night. The soldier says they took the bridge for whatever the higher ups wanted it for. The soldier also gives info on the enemy’s movements. Captain Riker (who, if you’re wondering, is the first Darren from Bewitched) wants to know who they lost. The soldier says they have 10-12 wounded and four dead. Captain Riker wants to know who. A random soldier comes up from behind and replies “Hibbard, Horton, Morgan and Levy”. Random Soldier tells the Sergeant to have the men get some coffee, food and sleep.
Captain Riker calls Fitz (Random Soldier) back and says he has some Philippine Tuba to drink back in his tent. Fitz is more than happy to help with Captain Riker’s Tuba. Which, after seconds of exhaustive Binging (yes, I use Bing) I found out is a drink extracted from coconut. If you’re interested, there’s a link about it here.
Captain Riker and Fitz are sharing a couple of drinks of the Tuba. Captain Riker comments on their rough night and Fitz seems like something is bothering him. He repeats twelve wounded and four dead. Captain Riker wants to know if there was anything special about the four soldiers who were killed. Fitz wants to know what Captain Riker means by that. Captain Riker points out that they’ve each lost men before. Eighteen altogether. Fitz seems to be taking it harder this time. Captain Riker wants to know what is so special about these particular four. Fitz comes back with, “They were all under twenty-one, does it have to be more special than that?”
Captain Riker says no, but he can figure out something’s wrong with Fitz. Fitz says Riker is perceptive. Not really though, Fitz is nervous and fidgety. I would say he’s sweaty but everyone there is.
Fitz hands Riker a piece of paper with the names “Hibbard, Horton, Morgan and Levy” written on it along with the words “Killed in Action, Luzon, Pi, 1945”. Riker wants to know what the big deal is. Fitz says he wrote that he wrote those names down yesterday, before the battle. Captain Darren asks why Fitz wrote those names in particular down. Fitz starts to say and stops so Riker pours him a little more Tuba, Fitz drinks it and slams the cup down. Riker asks if he feels better. Fitz says that during weapons check he looked into the faces of 44 men and those four stood out. He can’t explain why but they did and now they’re dead. Riker doesn’t really know what to say except that it’s weird. Fitz is freaking out, wondering if every time he looks down the line he’ll see who’s going to die. Riker wants to know if Fitz is positive he wrote them down yesterday and not in the truck on the way back. Fitz swears he wrote them down yesterday. We fade out on Riker’s troubled face.
We fade in on Captain Darren at what looks like an evac hospital talking to a Medical Officer (who is also in another few Twilight Zone episodes) about Fitz. The Medical Officer says that Fitz has a great record. He’s never been wounded and has no record of battle fatigue. They can’t figure out why Fitz would get this weird idea. Oh, I dunno, maybe because it happened? Riker says that Fitz really believes it and, listening to him, Riker almost believes it. Riker just wants the Medical Officer to give Fitz a once-over because he’s a good man and he doesn’t want to lose him. The Medical Officer tells Captain Darren that Fitz is there now, visiting one of his men and Riker is surprised because no, he didn’t know he was there.
Upstairs Fitz is talking with one of his men, Smitty. Smitty looks rough with a splinted arm and a gunshot wound to the shoulder. Fitz says that once Smitty is fixed up he’ll be heading home. Fitz says he’s got to go do some stuff but wants to know how Smitty is doing, if he’s got everything he needs. Smitty says he’s good and thanks Fitz for coming to see him. Fitz says goodbye but his second glance at Smitty startles him. His fellow soldier has an ominous light on his face. It scares Fitz and he passes out.
Fitz comes to shortly after, with a medic bending over him asking him if he’s ok. He says he’s good. But when Fitz looks around, the soldier he was just talking to is dead. The medic comes back to Fritz and says it happens like that sometimes. Here one minute and gone the next. I’ll have a bit more to say on that in the wrap-up.
Heading downstairs Fitz runs into Riker. Riker says he understands that Fitz was up seeing Smitty. Riker says he loooked at the doctor’s tag and it looks like Smitty is going to be fine. Fitz gives Riker a look and says no, Smitty won’t be fine. Fitz says that he looked at Smitty and he knew. Then Smitty was gone. Riker asks if it was exactly the same as before and Fitz agrees. He says it was a funny kind of light and he just knew. Riker says he can’t explain it but…Fitz breaks in saying he doesn’t want it explained. How can it be explained? All he wants from Riker is to believe that what he is saying is true.
As they’re talking, the medic and Medical Officer come out of the office. The medic is telling the Medical Officer about Smitty and the Medical Officer says he’ll take a look. Fitz wants to know why? He’ll only be looking at a body. And that he looked at Smitty and knew he was going to die. The Medical Officer says “Did you?” Fitz says yes and he tagged four men the day before. The Medical Officer says that’s odd. Fitz disagrees. Vehemently. He says going 30 days on the line and not losing one man is odd. Walking 25 miles without a blister is odd. What’s happening to him isn’t odd but a nightmare. He’s just a grungy line officer that can suddenly see death on people. The Medical Officer says that what he’s looking at is a line officer who’s cracking under the strain of having done and seen too much. Fitz says that he’s guessed five out of five in a row. He wants to know how many in a row does he have to see before coincidence becomes fact. What it will take for them to believe him. Fitz says that while they’re scratching their heads (or asses) in puzzlement they can wrap his eyes or poke them out so he doesn’t have to see any more death in faces. He pushes past them and runs off, leaving Riker and the Medical Officer staring after him.
Back at the camp Riker is laying out a plan for the upcoming battle. He gives instructions on what they’re to carry: No backpacks, a belt, 5 grenades and 6 ammo clips since they should only be up against small arms fire. He breaks the war huddle and tells the platoon leaders they have 22 minutes to fully brief their platoons. Fitz wants to know if his platoon is to take point. Riker is a bit hesitant but suddenly the ominous light is back. Fitz’s eyes go wide and Riker wants to know what’s wrong. Fitz doesn’t answer. Riker wants to know if Fitz is well enough to lead his platoon. Medical Officer Gunther wants Fitz to go back for 3 weeks back at division headquarters. Riker agrees with him. He tells Fitz that the operation will only take a couple of hours but it will be messy. Fitz tells Riker that Riker had better not go. Riker wants to know why. Fitz turns and stares at him and Riker touches his face, looking a little bit afraid. Fitz confirms that yes, the light is on his face. If Riker goes, he won’t be coming back. Riker tells Fitz to get his platoon in order, he’s only got fifteen minutes left. Riker says that what they’ll do is have a drink when they get back, a drink to illusions and coincidences. Fitz replies that Riker won’t be drinking to anything. Riker looks irritated. He doesn’t want to believe Fitz but he leaves his pictures of wife and children on the map table, along with his wedding ring.
Fitz goes out to look at his men. His men are nervous. They want to know what he sees. They say it’s not fair, they should know who’s going to get it and who’s not. Riker breaks it up, saying somebody started this stupid gag and someone’s going to get burnt for it. Nobody’s a mind reader, including Lt. Fitzgerald. Fitz(gerald) just looks at him. Incidentally, I’ve always hated the term ‘gag’ for joke. It’s gross sounding. After a scan of his platoon, including Riker, he doesn’t see any lights. Fitz looks relieved and agrees with Riker. They load up and head out in the trucks.
Back at camp everyone’s disembarking from the trucks. Fitz tells his sergeant to forget the intel and just go get some sleep. Fitz walks into their strategy tent and lays down some dog tags on Riker’s pictures and wedding ring. A general comes in and talks a bit about the battle. Fitz says his platoon only had sniper fire to deal with but they lost one man. Riker. They talk a bit about Riker. Married for seven happy years with two fine sons. The general says war stinks and walks out. Presumably because you couldn’t say ‘war is hell’ or it’s a bitch on tv in the fifties.
Fitz walks out of the tent to find Medical Officer Gunther waiting for him. Orders have come through and Fitz is to report back to division headquarters for a few weeks and a psych evaluation. Well, they don’t exactly say ‘psychological evaluation’ but since Fitz isn’t wounded what else are they going to look over?
Fitz goes off to pack up his gear and kit. When he goes to grab his mirror he sees his reflection. Now he sees the light on his face. He accidentally knocks it down and a man comes up to tell Fitz his jeep is ready. He has to call Fitz’s name twice before Fitz realizes he’s speaking to him. The soldier offers to carry Fitz’s bag to the jeep and Fitz says thank you. That’s something you don’t see much anymore, manners. Except maybe a sarcastic thank you every now and then. Fitz grabs his kit but drops it because why bother? He won’t be needing it. A man comes up to the driver and warns him that if he’s taking the Kavera road to be careful. There’s mines in it and not all of them have been dug up. The driver says thanks and he’ll be careful and stick to the shoulders. The driver tells Fitz to get comfortable, they’ve got a four hour drive ahead of them. Fitz looks at the driver and sees the light on his face, He says, “Do we? I doubt it.” The driver looks a bit puzzled (and creeped out) by the way Fitz is looking at him. They take off.
Back at the camp soldiers are milling around and one is playing the harmonica. After a little chat about the harmonica the first guy walks off. In the distance they hear an explosion. The harmonic guy thinks it’s thunder ad the first guy refrains from calling him an ijit (like I probably would have) and says it sounded like an explosion. But then he proves himself a dumbass and says it was probably thunder. Um, ok, because explosions are so uncommon in a war.
From William Shakespeare, Richard III, a small excerpt. The line reads: “He is come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.” And for Lieutenant William Fitzgerald, A Company, First Platoon, the testament is closed. Lieutenant Fitzgerald has found The Twilight Zone.
This is a very good episode. The only part that I’m iffy about is the ending. When Fitz sees the light on his own face and becomes resigned, that doesn’t bother me too much. But he sees the other man’s face and doesn’t say anything about it or even try to stop him. Maybe Fitz figures it’s fate so there’s no use but if he had taken off without the driver then he might have saved at least his life.
I also think one of the names in the first group of names that he wrote on the list has personal significance to Rod Serling. While Serling was serving in the Philippines he was friends with a Pvt. Levy who used to tell stories. A lot of them had twist endings. One day while telling a story to the company Levy walked over to Serling to bum a cigarette. Private Levy was killed. Not by a bullet or mine but by a food crate falling on his head. These crates, nicknamed ‘biscuit bombs’ were delivered to soldiers by air drop. The parachute on this particular biscuit bomb didn’t deploy, thus ending Levy’s life. Serling’s own stories usually employ twists with large doses of irony. Kind of like the horrific irony of a man being killed by an item meant to keep soldiers alive. If you want to look up more about it you can find some of the story here.
Thanks for reading and join us next week for the episode: Elegy