Monday, February 1, 2010
Nick of Time - a toupological analysis.
"Nick of Time" is a an episode of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone. It aired in 1960 and was Bill Shatner's first starring role in the series (the second appearance being the far more famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" which was produced three years later).
The story revolves around a young couple, Don and Pat, whose car breaks down during a trip across America. Waiting for their vehicle to be repaired, they decide to visit a small-town diner to get some food. At their table is a devilish-looking fortune-telling machine: throw in a cent, ask a yes or no question, pull the lever and the machine will spit out a piece of paper with, if you believe it, the answer to your question.
Only problem is, the machine appears to warn them (through responding to directed questions) not to leave the café until after 3pm. Why?
A strange compulsive addiction results in both of them, but particularly in Bill Shatner's already superstitious character, to find out what the hell is going on - and this is is only accentuated when the couple finds out what could have happened to them at 3pm (we won't ruin it for you). In fact, the strange device seems to have a curious insight about the couple's long-term fate too.
What does the machine know about the trip home? What about the more distant future? What should they do or not do? Questions, questions, questions...
Of course, there is a twist ending, which we also won't spoil by revealing it here.
We thought that this installment, written by Richard Matheson, was outstanding - packing more of a punch than Bill Shatner's later iconic appearance in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". They really don't make 'em like this anymore: no CGI, explosions or violence, rather a compelling drama with a powerful and thoughtful message that lingers long after viewing.
And that overriding message is inescapable: don't surrender to futile speculations of what might be before you have even tried to make the future happen - therein lies a prison of inaction; a crippling paralysis from which there is no way out.
Bill Shatner, looking particularly lean here, delivers a fine performance, a far cry from the caricature of dramatic pauses and strange emphases placed on random words that has sometimes come to dominate his professional image. The actor really can do subtle and understated (he always could), and his performance in "Nick of Time" is a perfect example of that often overlooked ability.
Now, let's turn to the toupee. If anything is evident from watching this episode, it's that Bill Shatner really is in toupee heaven.
Freed from the recently-ditched burden of endless spraying and styling designed to hide his potentially leading-man-busting thinning locks, here Bill Shatner is entirely at one with his still relatively new "Jim Kirk lace" (years before Star Trek started, but identical to the style of James T. Kirk in every way).
The toupee is resplendent in its freshness, looking lush, rich and full of life. It's a perfect fit; a symbiosis between actor and toupee. Bill Shatner's love affair with the toupee has outlasted four marriages, and here, like a giddy newlywed, it is clear that an electric spark exists between the actor and this hair in particular - Bill Shatner and his lace: two friends, partners and inseparable allies, always there for each other, literally through thick and thin.
An extremely proud Bill Shatner even does his best to tilt the toup towards the camera for its own close-up:
Throughout "Nick of Time", the toupee never once lets the actor down. Years later, as the stresses of this relationship became greater, the malfunctions would grow, ending in a messy break-up in late 1969. During the 70s, a lost and distraught Bill Shatner would engage in a series of torrid relationships with all manner of sleazy toups, devastated by his bitter separation from his first real toupee. But here, in the midst of "Nick of Time" that is all still many years away. This is Bill Shatner and his "Jim Kirk lace" in their heyday - and it is truly a moving and uplifting sight to behold.
"Nick of Time" is available on DVD as part of this set. We don't hesitate to use superlatives like "brilliant" and "fantastic" - it really is a great little episode and well worth seeing.