A Stop at Willoughby
Gart Wiliams – James Daly
Mr. Misrell – Howard Smith
Janie Williams – Patricia Donahue
Helen – Mavis Neal Palmer
1960 Conductor – Jason Wingreen
1888 Conductor – James Maloney
Trigger Warnings: Suicidal thoughts, actions. Heavy snark.
Ah, a boardroom. Looks like fun. Looks like someone’s fidgety and tapping a pencil. At least he’s being considerate and tapping it on his knuckles so he doesn’t bother anyone. The Big Boss Man Smoking the Cigar is glaring at him disapprovingly. Tappy gets up to use the phone and wants Jake Ross’ secretary. Looking for Jake Ross, who is still out to lunch. Cigar Smoking Man wants Mulder! I mean, Jake Ross.
Tappy Guy wants Joni (the secretary) to get Jake. He’s out to lunch. And if he’s been gone since 12:00 then that’s a really long lunch. Tappy guy tells her to get Jake there now and after he hangs up he grabs his stomach with a wince of pain. Normally I’d suspect poisoning but since this isn’t that kind of episode I’m guessing that it’s an ulcer. Mr. Misrell (CSM) asks where Nervous Guy’s underling is with the three million dollar automobile account client. I’m not really sure what their business is, yet. Advertising? Insurance? Car dealership? Nervous Guy says it’s probably a big lunch rush but Mr. Misrell calls him an idiot and says the guy is probably chugging down martinis. He told Nervous that his underling was way too young to put on an account that large.
At this point there’s a knock at the door and a secretary hands in an envelope to Williams (Nervous Guy). He reads it to himself and does not look happy about it. Williams tells Mr. Misrell that it’s from Jake Ross. Misrell wants to know if Williams wants to share with the class. I’m guessing Williams probably really doesn’t but he does. Quite simply, Jake Ross is resigning and moving to another firm and taking his automobile client with him. Ok, I don’t know big business but is that legal to do? If Mr. Misrell is the boss there I can’t say it’s really surprising but it’s a dick move to Mr. Williams. Whom, if I’m understanding right, gave Jake the account in the first place.
Mr. Misrell is none too happy about this development. He won’t even let Mr. Williams sit down while he yells at him. He pretty much says that it’s all Williams’ fault. Even though Williams is just as surprised as Mr. Misrell and has clearly been screwed over by Jake. Misrell asks Williams what he’s going to do now that his pet project has flown away. Mr. Misrell is now doubting Williams’ taste in men. Whatever their business is, it’s a “Push, push push business! Push and drive!”
Misrell then humiliates Williams a bit more and repeats the whole push thing a lot more. Williams actually tells him to shut up and runs out. Outside the door, he grabs his stomach again. He looks up to see all of the secretaries looking at him. He goes across the floor to his own office. His secretary tells him that there are messages on his desk and fresh coffee. Then asks him if he wants anything. He says he wants a “sharp razor ad a chart of the human anatomy”. Not sure if he’s homicidal or suicidal. Either way, calm down dude! There are other jobs in the world. Although, I confess, I’d probably be feeling a tad homicidal to the guy who snagged my big account. He goes into his office and turns off the light. Isn’t that a little backward? He sits down at his desk and there’s a framed photo of a lovely, stylish woman. I’m guessing she’s Mrs, Williams. And with the way she’s dressed she’s not going to be happy at the loss of income if he’s fired for insulting his boss. But that’s unfair. We haven’t met her yet.
This is Gart Williams, age 38. A man protected by a suit of armour all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago someone removed the bolt, and Mr. Williams’ protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target and blown him apart. Mr. Gart Williams, ad agency exec, who, in just a moment, will move into the Twilight Zone in a desperate search for survival.
I will admit that at first I kept spelling his name Garth. Gart is a little weird. Mr. Williams is on a train heading home, the fake snow whipping around the dark night. The conductor, who has seen Williams enought to ask “how do you do tonight?” Williams replies that he’s in the pink. I’m assuming he’s being either sarcastic or bitter. My money’s on bitter. The conductor comments that it seems to get colder every year. Williams replies “That’s the way of the world. The rich get richer and the days get shorter.” Um, ok? Are the rich literally stealing the sunlight? My, Williams is in a metaphorical mood tonight. Gart leans back, still tense. That’s…quite the feat. I’ve never really seen someone relax-tensely. In his mind he keeps hearing Mr. Misrell saying “Push, push, push!” The man does have an unpleasant voice. Williams freaks out and snaps, “That’s enough!” startling a few passengers. Gart curls up with his briefcase and shuts the window on the evil snow.
He dozes off. Bright light awakens him. He notices right away that the light fixtures are different, older. The other passengers are gone and Gart is alone on the train. He raises the window shutter (which are now blinds instead of a pull-down shade) the sunshine streams in and the first thing Gart sees is a large sign proclaiming the town to be “Willoughby”. He sees a typical idyllic past scene. A gentleman and lady are sitting on a bench by a tree. The tree looks a tad thin to provide much shade but whatever. He also sees a couple of kids that look like they escaped from Tom Sawyer. There’s also a man riding a Penny Farthing. Which looks like this:
I had no clue what a Penny-Farthing was. To be completely honest, I had no idea what one was. If you don’t mind a little personal digression, I was playing a hide and find game about Jack the Ripper and it asked us to find a Penny-Farthing. We had to look it up. I can see why it was named that but at the time I thought it was some kind of coin. I’m honestly admirable of anyone who can ride one of those. They look quite uncomfortable. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that’s why bloomers became popular.
Anyways, Williams is stunned and looking bewildered. He also sees a coach for the bus depot. The friendly driver waves at him. A conductor announces that they have arrived at Willoughby. Williams asks what’s going on, where’s Willoughby? The conductor says that right outside is Willoughby. Williams says that there’s no stop on the line called Willoughby. And it’s summer outside! The conductor agrees and says that it’s mid-July. Williams argues that it’s November. Williams asks again where Willoughhby is. The conductor says that’s Willoughby, mid-July, 1888. Wait a minute…1888 was when Jack the Ripper was active. I think I’d make sure that Willoughby wasn’t in England (you never know, it is the Twilight Zone). And wasn’t Williams just asking for a razor and a chart of human anatomy? Holy Cthulhu! I know who Jack the Ripper is!
Um, anyways, The conductor gives the whole spiel. A nice, quiet town where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure. Why does this remind me of Gremlins II? Clamp’s Corner’s…where life slows down to a walk, Sorry, I keep getting distracted. The conductor wanders off, ringing the disembarking bell for Willoughby. Gart is the only one on the train. He starts to step onto the platform but is jolted awake from the past and back onto the train. Williams peeks out of the window to see if Willoughby is still there. It’s not. Just snow. The conductor asks him if he’s had a nice sleep. Williams agrees and also says he had an idiotic dream. Williams asks the conductor if there’s a Willoughby but the conductor says not on this line and walks away. Williams shakes his head a bit and then gets up to depart.
Williams is finally home and pouring himself a large drink. I can’t blame the guy but I don’t think it will do his ulcer any good. The lady from the picture comes down the stairs. She poses for a second and then snippily asks what he plans to do that evening. She asks if he’s going to get sloshed and sing “all-colored songs”. Um, is she referring to the Blues? If so it’s a pretty bigoted way to do it. And with Serling’s well-known hatred of blind prejudice we can tell right away that this is a specimen known as the “disagreeable, nagging wife”. A certain woman who pops up often in fifties/sixties programs. To do the Twilight Zone justice, though, it is a character that pops up very little. Most often it’s the husband who’s the jerk.
She knows all about his little spaz attack at work. Bob called his wife who then called Helen. I’m sure if it had been today it would have been live streamed by Bob with an, “OMG! Gart’s flipping out!” Hit like and share.
Moving on, Gart comments a bit bitterly that all the guys at work were very solicitous about him. Except that what he really means is that their compassion toward him is only because they’re relieved it’s not their heads on the block. She just wants to know one thing: Did he lose his job or not?
Oddly, he did not. Misrell called Gart before Gart left the office. Gart then goes off on a very sarcastic monologue about Misrell and his great, human generosity in letting Gart remain in his employ. He also adds that Misrell does not want to lose him because then a lot of clients would probably follow Gart and leave Misrell’s firm. Um, if Gart’s that good, Misrell, you might not want to be such a jackass.
Janie pours herself a drink, very calm now that her paycheck is secure and wants to know if there’s more. Gart tells her that’s it and then plops on the arm of a couch. He’s tired. Then I think you might find the sofa itself more comfortable than perching on the edge of it. He tells her that he’s sick and tired.
Janie tells him that he’s come to the right ward. They specialize in people that are sick. Because she’s sick and tired too, of a husband who’s favorite past-time is to wallow in self pity every time the competition gets too tough. Gart replies that some people aren’t meant for it. Or for big, pretentious houses they can’t afford and communities they don’t feel comfortable in. Or big country clubs that are more of a status symbol than club.
He says that, although he’s never been asked, he’d prefer a job where he can just be himself. A job where he doesn’t have to play pretend and act the part of an executive. A job where he doesn’t have to imagine himself “the bright young man who’s on his way up” because that’s not him. I don’t want to be unkind but yeah, Gart isn’t exactly a ‘young’ man on his way up. Unless young in the advertising world is late forties.
Janie, through this entire speech, has been turned away basically “Not listening, la la la la”. Gart says he’s a not very young, not very old, very uncompetitive, rather dull, quite uninspired, average type of a guy. With a wife who has an appetite. She wants to know where he’d be if it weren’t for her ‘appetite’. He knows where he’d like to be. Now he’s perched on one of the sunken living room steps. Dude, you have furniture! Quit perching like a gargoyle! He says he’d like to be in a place called Willoughby, the town of his dreams.
He says it was summer and warm and kids were barefoot with a fishing pole. It looked so pretty to him, like a Currier & Ives painting. There were bicycles and the almighty band stands. I honestly think you could play a drinking game with the number of times someone fondly wishes for a band stand. He says it was very serene and must be the way people lived a hundred years ago. I could probably go on all day about the fallacy of the ‘serenity’ of living a hundred years ago but I won’t.
He says it was a crazy dream and she agrees. On her way up the stairs she tells him to let her know when he wakes up. He begs her to wait a minute. She tells him he was born too late and he could be satisfied with a lazy summer afternoon and horse-drawn wagons. And band stands, don’t forget the band stands! So it’s her own fault for marrying a guy who’s big dream is to be Huckleberry Finn. She leaves Gart sitting on the living room steps and he starts talking to himself about how much he wants Willoughby, a place where a man can live his life full measure.
Gart’s back on the train, in the evil, evil snow. He hears a voice call “Willoughby” and looks outside but it’s still snowing. It’s the conductor, talking to Gart. The 1960 conductor. He tells Gart that he looked for Willoughby on every old timetable he could find but there’s no such place as far as he could see. That’s very nice of him. Gart tells him thank you and that it was probably just a dream. Gart closes the shade and leans back to nod off, trying to summon Willoughby again.
It works! The 1888 conductor is announcing Willoughby. I think he’s supposed to look elderly and gentle but he kind of looks like he could be Satan, to me. Gart raises his shade to look out at Willoughby. Now there’s a flower vendor and a band is playing in the band stand. The glorious, glorious band stand. He goes to disembark but the train starts moving. Although not very fast, really. I think he could hop off pretty easily. Gart calls for the conductor but the conductor is almost to the next car and doesn’t hear him. Wait a minute. Doesn’t the conductor…conduct the train? Or is it the engineer that actually drives it? I’m very confused.
The 1960 conductor turns around, hearing Gart call out in his sleep. He asks Gart if he’s ok and Gart says yes, fine, thank you. He vows that next time he’s going to get off at Willoughby.
The next shot shows a miserable Gart in his office. Misrell is going on about a new show and entertainer and, of course, push push push. I thought they were an ad agency not talent agency? Oh, well. Whatever. Gart has a conference call going on but before speaker phones so he’s just got the handset laying on his desk. It does seem like they’re talking about a new show. Again, I thought this was an ad agency. It’s kind of like Rod forgot what business Gart was in halfway through the show. Either that or he’s being sneaky and comparing it to the ‘push push push’ of show business. Williams keeps saying, “I understand” and chugging down antacids. Gart says he’ll do what he can but Misrell tells him to do more than he can.Point is, it’s a busy, annoying day at the office. Gart’s phone is ringing off the hook with problems. There’s also a Bradbury name-drop that I missed before. He’s got two telephones talking to him ad his secretary is telling him that the boss wants to see him. Williams runs away into the bathroom and sees little floating Misrell heads in the mirror, yelling at him. Williams smashes the mirror. I’m guessing he’s done for the day.
He calls his wife and tells her he’s coming home. He can’t take another day of it and wants to know if she’ll help him. Her kind and compassionate response? She hangs up on him.
Gart rides the train home. And he does not look happy. The conductor wishes him a good evening but Gart doesn’t respond. Gart pulls the shade to doze off and summon Willoughby again. It works. He’s in Willoughby again. And the glorious, magical, mystical band stand. You’d better get off now, Gart, because they take off fast in Willoughby. Gart leaves his briefcase behind and goes to disembark. It’s like ‘Cheers’. Everyone knows his name. Gart starts being pulled in by the beguiling band stand. Happily, the conductor checks his watch against the grandfather clock at the station.
There’s a very nice fade from the pendulum to a swinging light. Two men are looking at a crumpled body. The man with the light asks the conductor what happened. The conductor looks stunned and a little sick. He tells the man with the light that Gart yelled out something about “Willoughby” and just jumped off the train. The doctor says Gart must have died instantly. The guy with the light shakes his head and says, “Poor fella.” They load Gart into the back of an ambulance that the funeral home sent. The back of the door closes and it reads “Willoughby & Sons Funeral Home”.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking nestled in the hidden part of a man’s mind. Or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things. Or, perhaps for a man like Gart Williams who climbed in a world that went by too fast, it’s a place round the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity and is a part of the Twilight Zone.
Wow, for such a boring episode this was pretty long. Fortunately next week’s episode is The Chaser which is a bit more disturbing in essence but will be a lot more fun to talk about.