The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
I know this is generally a highly rated episode and usually makes a lot of ‘Top Ten Twilight Zone Episodes’ lists. Truthfully though? While I can’t say it’s one of the worst, it’s definitely not one of my favorites.
Possible Trigger Warnings: Prejudice, mob mentality, an innocent bystander getting shot
WARNING: Heavy snark incoming!
Steve Brand – Claude Akins
Les Goodman – Barry Atwater
Charlie Farnsworth – Jack Weston
Don Martin – Burt Metcalf
Pete Van Horn – Ben Erway
Tommy – Jan Handzlik
Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of a roar and the flash of a light it will be precisely 6::43 P.M. on Maple Street.
The camera pans down to a lovely summer’s day on, you guessed it, Maple Street. There’s an ice cream man, dads washing their cars, kids with balls and bats, real television fifties Americana. As Mr. Serling narrates we do indeed see the flash of light and whirring noise that he’s speaking of. They think it might be a meteor but aren’t sure because they didn’t hear a crash. A nicely dressed housewife comes out to ask Steve (her husband, I presume) what it was. Steve tells her it was a meteor and she thinks it came much too close for her liking. Well, I guess the next meteor will just have to ask her permission before it comes through her neighborhood. Steve goes back to washing his car and his friend goes back to playing with his hose.
This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street, in the last calm and reflective moment before the monsters came.
We get a fade out and then an action packed scene of a guy changing his light bulb. He changes it and pulls the string but it still doesn’t work (why you’d need the light on in the daylight is anybody’s guess). Inside a woman is trying to use the phone but the phone appears to be out as well. We also see a guy fiddlling with an electric tool that doesn’t seem to be working.
Steve’s wife comes out to tell him that the power’s off and the stove isn’t working. The neighbors say their phone is out and another woman says their radio isn’t working. The man fiddling with his tool says he’s going to cut across to see if the power is on over on Floral Street. We also get an extreme close-up of his hammer. Steve says it doesn’t make sense for the power and phones to be out all at once. I swear, these people are acting like they’ve never experienced a power outage before.
One of the stander arounders suggests an electrical storm but a guy in a really ugly shirt shoots that down, pointing out that the sky is blue and clear. Ugly Shirt suggests going down to the police station but then says that they’d probably think he was crazy. As normal people would if you reported a power outage to the police instead of, I dunno, the power company?
Steve points out that it’s not just a power failure because if it was then the portable radio would still work. I know a landline phone will still work if the power is out. I’m not sure about back then. Steve says that he’ll run downtown and check things out. But oh no! His car won’t start. Something sinister is going on here. Steve said it was working fine and it’s filled up with gas. Ugly Shirt (Charlie) suggests going downtown and Steve says they’ll go together. Tall Skinny Guy looks after them suspiciously. A random kid calls out to Mr. Brand (Steve) that he’d better not go. “They” don’t want him to. Steve asks who and the kid points skyward and says “Them”. Who? God? And thus he spake and said “Thou Shalt not walk downtown”.
Steve wants to know who the kid means by “them”. The kid says whatever was in the flashy lighty thingy. I may be paraphrasing a bit. The kid says “They” don’t want them to leave the street. That’s why they turned everything off. Because a non-working stove will prevent them from leaving the area? And unless there’s a force-field they can just walk right out of there, you know, like they were about to before Buzz-Cut spoke up. Steve tells Sally to take Buzz-Cut home, he’s been reading too many comic books. Sally tells Tommy to come along. Steve tells him to go ahead and when they get back from town Tommy will see that everything’s ok. Steve says it was a meteor or something, not a space ship.
Steve also says that meteors cause sunspots that can wreak havoc with radio reception and all sorts of stuff. Tall Skinny guy agrees and tells Steve and Charlie to go ahead into town. Tommy begs them not to go because in his story no one could leave…except for the aliens sent ahead to mingle amongst us. Way to go kid. Tommy’s Mommy tells him not to talk like that. An elderly gentleman behind Tommy says what the heck are they standing here listening to? A kid hat read a story. I’m with you, dude. They are taking this kid way too seriously. But no, Steve wants to be sensible and listen to what the kid has to say about the aliens. The kid says that’s how they prepare things (the aliens). They will send down a mother, a father and two kids who all look like humans but they were really aliens. Everyone in the crowd is taking this way more seriously than normal people would. Even the older man. I’m very disappointed in him. Steve jokingly says that now all they need to do is do a neighborhood check and see who’s human and who’s not. Charlie says they need to do something other than stand around making lame jokes. Les is trying to start his car but it just keeps cranking. One of the women in crowd brilliantly asks if his car starts. Does it look like it started? Les gets out of the car and starts to walk back towards the crowd. Just to keep us all up to speed he says he doesn’t know what’s wrong, the cars won’t start and nothing is working. As he’s walking back the car starts on it’s own. Everyone is losing their mind over the car starting by itself, without him being near it. A remote car starter would blow their minds. Tall Skinny Guy says that Les never did come out to look at the nifty flashing lights. Um, maybe because he was inside and didn’t hear or see it? Just a thought. Charlie (he of the ugly shirt) says that Les and his whole family were always oddballs. Tall Skinny Guy wants to know why Les didn’t come out to look. Charlie proposes they go ask him.
By them I guess he means literally everybody because they all go. Steve says, “Hey! Let’s not be a mob!” Real subtle. We also get a close-up of a bunch of feet and shoes. Because a mob only means business when you can see it’s shoes. Or a gang…because when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way…uh, sorry, got off track there for a minute. Anyways, back at Les, he’s still puzzling over the car issue. As they’re watching, the car sputters out by itself. Les is still saying he doesn’t understand what’s going on. They repeat (again) the list of stuff that’s not working and ask Les to tell them about it. Why would his car start and not theirs? They all start crowding him and asking what gives. He gets nervous and tells them to get back a bit. He agrees the car starting on it’s own is weird but it doesn’t make him a criminal (or an alien).
Steve steps forward and Les asks him what’s going on. Steve replies that they’re on a monster kick. That a family amongst them might not be who they think they are. May I step in and remind you that the ADULTS are thinking this because of a few weird lights and a 12 year old kid who thinks it might be invaders from space? Ok, just so we all know.
Steve says maybe they’re monsters from space, you know different from US. You know, the fifth column that’s from the vast beyond. I have no freaking clue what that even means. a little Binging brought me to a Wikipedia article about the Fifth Column and it seems to fit:
“A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilize openly to assist an external attack. This term is also extended to organized actions by military personnel. Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathizers with an external force.” – Wikipedia
Steve asks Les if he knows anybody that fits that description here on Maple Street. I get the feeling that Steve isn’t totally taking it seriously but if so then why is he even asking Les about it? Les wants to know if this is a practical joke or something. On cue, the car starts up again. Seems like something is screwing with Les big time. They all look at him suspiciously again and he gets annoyed (and a little nervous looking) and says they’ve lived right here for five years. “We aren’t any different from you! Any different at all!” Again, subtle. He says the whole thing is just weird. A little woman with brown hair wants to know why, if he’s so normal, does he – Steve tries to cut her off, to keep things from going any further but Charlie wants to hear what she has to say. Miss Brown Hair says that she stays up late and sometimes when she comes out on the porch late at night she sees Les on his own porch, staring at the sky “like he’s waiting for something”. Ok, first of all, Les is suspicious because he’s outside staring up at the night sky very late at night. She herself just said that she’s up very late and also goes out onto her porch at night. To me a guy doing a little stargazing on his own porch is far less creepy than the woman who is also out late staring at HIM.
Les retorts that he’s guilty of insomnia, nothing more. He starts to walk toward them and they all back away like he’s got three arms. They continue to back away and he calls them frightened little rabbits and says they’re sick. I agree. I’ve got your back Les. He also tells them that they’re starting something that’s even more frightening (which, I will concede is a great and accurate line). The director must know it’s a great line because we fade out after that.
When we come back a lady is lighting a candle. Guess the power’s still out. It appears to be Les’ wife. She takes her husband a nice, cold glass of milk. Wait. The power’s out so it’s probably warm milk. In the summer. Ick. Everyone is still outside, stalking the Les and his family. Next door, Charlie is perched on a step-ladder, the better to watch Les with. Charlie’s wife brings her husband a sweater. It must get a little chilly, Les-watching. Charlie has a beer. MUCH less suspicious than a glass of milk. His wife said it doesn’t feel right, watching them like that. She tells her husband that they’ve been friends ever since the Goodmans moved in. Very good friends. Charlie scoffs at that. Any guy who watches the night sky at night is MUCH weirder than the guy perching on a step-ladder staring at his neighbor. Charlie says a little weirdness (like stargazing) is fine under normal circumstances but when the entire street is down to using candles, why! It’s like being back in the dark ages! Methinks Charlie is a bit of a drama queen.
Steve starts to walk toward Les’ house and Les says they don’t want trouble but if anyone steps foot on his porch that’s what they’ll get. Les says (again) that he has insomnia so he goes for walk, looks at the stars. His wife chimes in and says that’s exactly what he does. she says what’s going on is some kind of madness. Steve agrees that it is some kind of madness. Charlie yells out that Steve better “watch who he sings with” until it’s all sorted out as he’s not above suspicion himself. Steve comes back with that none of them are above suspicion it seems, from the ages 8 and up.
Miss Brown Hair (the one who is also up at night, watching Les) says what are they supposed to do? Stand outside all night? You can do whatever the hell you want lady. Free will is a great thing. Charlie replies that that’s exactly what they’re going to do until the ‘guilty party’ tips their hand. Personally, I’d tell Charlie he can sit on his little spy perch all night for all I care because I’m going to bed. Maybe I’m just not good mob material. Steve’s pretty much with me. He tells Charlie he can go inside and shut up instead of self-appointing himself the hanging judge. One thing strikes me as weird. There seems to be twenty houses on the street and about ten to fifteen people total.
Charlie says that Steve would love that, wouldn’t he? Maybe they’d better keep an eye on Steve, too. The rest of the sheeple start to look at Steve suspiciously now. Tall Skinny Guy (who, we just now find out, is named Don) tells Steve that Steve’s wife has been telling some of the strange things he does. She looks shocked and a bit hurt. Of course, Charlie the Perfect wants to know what. Steve says go ahead. Let’s pick out every weird thing everyone does and set up a kangaroo court. Maybe Charlie would like to also set up a firing squad, too, eh? Steve asks Don how about it? Don is a little taken aback.Don says there’s no reason to get upset. Oh, no. I never get upset when people accuse me of being a space creature. Sorry, the sarcasm is starting to overload.
Anyways, Don tells Steve that Myra has talked about how Steve spends quite a few hours in the basement working on a…gasp! Radio!And since none of them have ever seen the radio then it must be suspicious! Maybe Steve just doesn’t invite any of you nosy asses into his basement. Charlie pushes his way through and wants to know what kind of radio it is that Steve has. I have to point out that Charlie looks like a complete asshat. The kind of guy who starts crap but never will finish it and then passes it off on others. Charlie wants to know who Steve talks to on his radio. Steve says he’s surprised that Charlie hasn’t figured it out, he talks to monsters, duh.
Myra breaks in and tells Steve to stop. She tells them it’s just a ham radio set and that a lot of people have them. She even offers to show it to them. Steve says no, they’re not showing anyone anything. Let ’em get a search warrant. Charlie starts to say Stule eve can’t afford to – but Steve cuts him off saying “don’t tell me what I can and can’t afford.’ And to stop telling him who and who’s not dangerous. Steve turns on the rest of the crowd and says they’re all in it, too. That they’re so eager to point a finger at someone, anyone else. But if they keep acting like that then they’ll end up eating each other alive.
Everyone looks slightly ashamed of themselves. Then they hear footsteps approaching. Even though there were only about ten people on the street before, now there’s about twenty. They all watch the figure approach. Then someone screams, “It’s the monster!” I’m guessing it’s the guy who left earlier. Don comes running up with a gun. Steve grabs it from him and asks what the hell he’s doing. Charlie grabs it from Steve telling him that Steve will get them all killed waiting for whatever is in the dark to get close. Way to go, dumbass. The first rule of owning a gun is to NEVER assume a gun is unloaded. The second rule is ALWAYS know what you’re shooting at.
We get a close up of the “creature’s” jeans, a hammer is hanging from a loop. So it is the guy from earlier. Since Charlie looks like a wuss and Steve is twice his size and muscle mass it does make me wonder why Steve doesn’t grab it back. And he should have. Because Charlie completes his jackassery and shoots the poor old man. They all run over to see that it’s Pete. The Brown Haired lady says “You killed him, Charlie.” Charlie says he didn’t know who it was. Exactly! You don’t shoot unless you damn well know what and who you are shooting at. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know. You are now a murderer. Charlie’s big excuse is that Pete came out of the darkness so how was he supposed to know it was Pete? So, a non-threatening figure walking up a dark street is just cause to shoot him? You could have called to ask, or, hey, how about this? Wait until he gets closer! He pleads with Steve, saying, “Steve? You know why I shot him, right? I thought he was a monster or something.” Steve backs away from him. Since Steve was the one telling them not to be idiots and shoot I don’t think he’s going to help you, Charlie. He says he was just trying to protect his home. From what? The guy strolling through his own neighborhood?
Immediately after this the lights go on in Charlie’s house. Despite their idiocy having just taken a life Don and Brown Haired Mouse Woman want to know why? Now they’re saying that maybe Charlie killed poor Pete because Pete knew who the real monster was. Oh, sweet Cthulhu. Really?! Les even joins in (I’m very disappointed in you Les). Charlie says he doesn’t know why his lights came on, that maybe somebody’s pulling a gag. Steve shakes him a bit and says that the “gag” just left someone lying dead in the street.
Charlie shakes loose and they all chase him, grabbing a few rocks as they go. I guess torches and pitchforks are hard to find in the suburbs. One of the rocks hits Charlie’s porch light and cuts poor Charlie’s head (boo freaking hoo). Charlie starts screaming that he’s not the monster but he knows who it is. The two main sheeple, Miss Brown Mouse and Don (who looks way too creepily excited) want to know who. Charlie points out the kid, Tommy. Tommy’s Mommy grabs him and says it’s not true. The kid looks terrified and Mrs. Brown Mouse starts screaming “Grab your torches and pitchforks! It’s the kid! He knew what was going to happen!” And, of course, how could he know unless he was the “monster”? I guess the body in the street, which, I might add is still there, didn’t slow down their feeding frenzy any. Steve yells at them to stop it (because that’s worked so well so far) and of course they don’t listen and start chasing the kid down the street like they’re going to tear him apart with their bare hands. Lights are coming on in all of the houses now and instead of being normal, rational people (although I think we passed rational about fifteen minutes ago) and thinking “Hey, maybe it’s just that the power was off and no one’s a space monster!” they all start accusing each other. People start yelling and shouting and grabbing weapons. Guns, rocks and even the hammer from poor Pete’s pants. It shows shots but it’s all a jumble so I’m not sure if anyone else got shot or what. People are basically running in circles on the road, instead of, oh, I dunno, their houses?
The camera starts to pull back for a wider shot of the street, then the town. A man’s voice asks someone else if they understand the procedure now. Just turn off their lights, phones and lawnmowers and then sit back and watch the ‘pattern’ of chaos. The second person watching asks if the pattern is always the same. The first man replies that it always is. They pick out whom they find most dangerous and go after that person, not realizing it is they themselves that are the true enemy. Then just sit back and watch.
It finally shows the two men talking. They look human but I’m guessing they’re spacemen and we’re their ant-farm. the Mustached Man asks if Maple Street is unique. The other man says certainly not. They’ll go from one to another, letting them destroy each other one at a time. They pop back into their ship to take off, presumably to another ‘Maple Street’.
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes and prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all it’s own. For the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.
This has been a long one so thank you for bearing with me. Now, from my snark you might be under the impression that I disagree with the underlying moral of the story. i don’t. I think Rod Serling’s summation at the end is perfectly said and drives home the point with deadly sharpness. It also hits two of Serling’s pressure points: Mob Mentality and Prejudice. The execution, however, is what I find a bit lacking. I do get partly why he chose the script he did. Things like that can start over the most petty of incidents and then before you know it, it’s grown into a monster that cannot be controlled nor stopped. An overwhelming tide of prejudice and hatred that can overwhelm empathy, rationality and reason. I think, though, he did a good enough job within the episode itself that the end bit with the ‘aliens’ (or whatever they are) is a bit too much. It edges it into the territory of ridiculous and it walks a very fine line as it is.Personally I think a line from Black Sabbath says it perfectly:
“If you listen to fools – the mob rules”
– Black Sabbath “The Mob Rules”
Thank you for bearing with this week’s rather long episode (and the somewhat excessive snark) and please join me again next week for the next episode of the Twilight Zone – A World of Difference.