The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling
Episode directed by Jean de Segonzac
When I decided to start recapping this series, there were a few episodes that I knew were going to be VERY interesting to talk about as the show really did go into some strange territory and had some surprisingly big stars who were very taking these roles very early in their careers. This episode right here? This might just be the crown jewel of the series, at least from the episodes I can recall. This has Katherine Heigl (yes, THAT Katherine Heigl) going back in time to kill Baby Hitler. Yeah. Can this episode manage to be even HALF as interesting as that premise promises? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins IN THE FUTURE where Special Agent Katherine Heigl is, for some reason, the ONLY person they can send back in time (something to do with genetics) and has just finished making peace with her family as we’re going by Terminator rules here which means she can only go BACK in time, but not forward… unless anyone besides me saw Terminator Genisys in which they mess with that rule, but I’m still willing to pretend that movie doesn’t exist if everyone else is.
The plan seems to be that they’ll send her back to when Hitler was just a wee little baby and she’ll pose as the new house keeper that the Hitler’s have hired to pick up some of the household duties now that little Adolf is around. She has forty-eight hours to do the deed before the real house keeper arrives, so she’ll have to smother the bastard or throw him against a wall quick! Once she’s all the way back in Braunau, Austria (no specific date is given but it has to be 1889), we find out that the people there alternate between speaking German (an old beggar who’s trying to sell their baby) and speaking with a German accent (a police officer who wants to know what Katherine Heigl is up to). This means that we get to hear our star do her best German accent which is… not so good. I mean it’s fine for a TV show like this (and we know now that Katherine Heigl doesn’t have the most range as an actress) but at least they aren’t using British accents like SOME things I could name (*cough* Valkyrie *cough*). She manages to find Casa De Hitler and meets the father who REALLY does look and act like a guy who would have conceived Hitler.
Bit on the nose I guess (they got James Remer to play Daddy Hitler who would later go on to play the daddy of ANOTHER serial killer), but then again we ARE talking about Hitler here! The Hitler household consists of the father who is named Alois, a housekeeper named Kristina, and Klara Hitler who’s basically the real life Rosemary from Rosemary’s Baby. Agent Heigl gets settled into her temporary new home and later that night, after waiting for everyone to go to bed, she grabs her pillow and menacingly walks down the hall to smother the little dictator in his crib! WOO!! FOR AMERICA!! Unfortunately, she’s interrupted by Mrs. Hitler who walks in right before the smothering and catches Heigl red handed with a god damn pillow in her hands, though she doesn’t really react as you’d expect her to. Just a sort of a… “well that’s unusual” look on her face as she takes the pillow and places it in the far end of the crib. Now Lady Hitler doesn’t seem to be all there mentally considering that her last three children died (which is true) and so she’s very protective of the new baby; to the point that she has this magic key that’s supposed to stay with the baby and ward off evil spirits. Ghosts and goblins stay out, homicidal maids stay in. Got it. Oh, and for some reason (no idea if this is historically accurate), Mama Hitler is FORBIDDEN from touching the baby (no doubt at the behest of Daddy Hitler) which is a plot point I feel only exists so Agent Heigl has a chance to bond with the baby once it starts crying. Aw… he’s not so bad! Maybe we should give him another chance! Mama Hitler and Agent Heigl leave the baby’s bedroom and while walking through the halls they hear the sounds of passionate lovemaking from Daddy Hitler and the housekeeper which seems to be business as usual as far as the fragile wife is concerned.
I guess this means we’re supposed to like Baby Hitler more than Daddy Hitler? Seems to me like a bit of stretch. Hey, he may be fucking the maid, but at least he’s not gonna invade Poland! The next day, an opportunity presents itself where Daddy Hitler and the presumed sex slave (oops, I mean the housemaid) are out on a date while Mommy Hitler is passed out from exhaustion I guess. Agent Heigl goes up the stairs, enters the baby’s room, grabs the baby’s blanket, and… nothing. She can’t do it.
So now’s a good time to actually talk about the premise. First of all, it’s very obvious that this is a stupid idea and has ALWAYS been a stupid idea. Hitler was not the guy who set up the National Socialist German Workers Party (later to become the Nazi Party) and his views on politics, Nationalism, and genocide did NOT spring out of nowhere. Germany after World War I was rife with this shit, so killing one figurehead would definitely have an IMPACT, but probably not the dramatic one that this hypothetical situation (would you go back in time to kill baby Hitler?) would actually have. But you know what? That’s secondary, and I get that. The point isn’t the SPECIFICS of whether or not killing Hitler in the crib (or at any other time in his life) would save us from World War II, it’s about the more general questions of whether you would kill one person (or in this case one child) to save MILLIONS. The whole point of this episode is exploring that question, but I just think that it’s too… simplistic here, and the specifics of the story don’t make a lot of sense. We don’t get any backstory on Katherine Heigl and what kind of training she went through before this, but you’d think they’d have sent someone back who they were REALLY sure would do the job right, or AT LEAST give her say, a cyanide pill or some other poison so she can do it without getting caught! I mean that would honestly be a more interesting story to hear! Someone DID go back in time and killed Baby Hitler, now what? Unfortunately, that’s not where the episode is heading so instead we have to watch her struggle with the moral implications of smothering a child to death. She goes to a church to see if she can get… permission I guess, from a priest to kill a baby which doesn’t go well (what the hell did she THINK he was going to say!?) and then tries to convince Momma Hitler to run off with the baby which she obviously does not.
I guess she gets so distressed over this choice she has to make that she starts wandering the streets of Braunau when she JUST SO HAPPENS to run into Alois who starts spouting anti-Semitic garbage at her which is enough to convince her of what needs to be done. Here’s an idea! Kill HIM! Hell, she was willing to let Baby Hitler live if Momma Hitler ran away (ridding Hitler of his father’s corrupting influence, though that’s hardly the only factor to think about considering Alois dies when Adolf is only thirteen), so how is that any different than killing the prick in his sleep? Unfortunately, I wasn’t the one they sent back in time so this brilliant solution doesn’t come up and instead Agent Heigl starts coming up with a plan to kill the little bastard. Oh wait; he’s not a bastard because THAT WOULD BE TOO GOOD OF AN IDEA!! That night there is a dinner party where Daddy Hitler has some guests over, so everyone is too busy to pay much attention to the baby; a perfect opportunity for Agent Heigl to do what needs to be done! She takes the baby out of the house and starts heading in the direction of a nearby river. Kristina the housemaid is the only one to notice something is amiss and soon finds Agent Heigl standing on the edge of bridge. They’re eyes meet once, Agent Heigl says a prayer, and she jumps into the river with the baby in tow; both presumably dead.
Gee… I can’t imagine how THAT’S gonna turn out to be a bad idea. Good thing the show is here to do that for me! While heading back to the Hitler House, completely dumbstruck, Kristina notices a nearby gypsy trying to sell off her baby who you may recall from the beginning of the episode. Yup. It turns out that the Hitler we know was ACTUALLY of gypsy decent. An impressive feat considering Kristina was lucky enough to find a baby who would grow up to look like his non-biological parents!
Hopefully Forrest Whitaker can make sense of this.
“A moment of silence for Andrea Collins. She sacrificed herself for the good of mankind. But she also created the very monster she sought to destroy. History can never be changed. Not even… in The Twilight Zone.”
Okay… so is the implication that history already accounted for her going back in time, or is it that whatever mystical forces are at work in THE TWILIGHT ZONE ensures that history corrects itself from any time traveling interlopers? Not only that, the final message here misses the ENTIRE point of the episode! Fine, we need a twist at the end for this to be The Twilight Zone, but the main dramatic thrust of the episode was her trying to decide if taking one life was worth saving more, but that seems to have completely flown past Forest Whitaker here! When you get right down to it, this episode is pretty damn awkward overall; even more so than it’s dopey premise would suggest. It’s not consistent with any of its elements or theming for this to be either an exaggerated morality tale or a historical science fiction story, so the end result is two half solved puzzles that they’re trying to mash together into one story. They get the history right for the most part, but they go with this dopey idea that killing Baby Hitler (and the ending where Baby Hitler is basically saved) is the only factor that’ll lead to World War II and The Holocaust. We spend half the episode watching Katherine Heigl struggle with this choice, but we don’t know anything about her before this mission, so there’s nothing for us to latch onto when she starts having doubts. Is this out of character for her? Does she have a personal connection that led her to volunteer for this mission? We don’t know because I guess she’s supposed to come off as the every-person (the audience avatar) but that doesn’t really work because AS an audience member, I thought of like half a dozen ways for her to do this that don’t involve jumping in a god damn river! It’s a fascinating episode to watch as someone actually went ahead and made a twenty-two minute television drama about this very dumb idea (and the presence of Katherine Heigl doesn’t hurt), but its value is as a novelty and nothing more. There’s another episode later on in this series with Martin Luther King Jr that’s similar to this one, and I recall that being a much better episode as it focuses much more on the character out of time rather than barely scratching upon its silly premise. I will have to see it again to find out if holds up, but I’m certain that it’ll be way better than this goofy ass yet surprising straightforward attempt at telling a parable on the dangers of time travel… and Hitler too.
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