Super Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Harsh Mistress)

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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 Brad Turner

We’re back with another episode of That Twilight Zone series no one remembers! I PROBABLY should have finished a lot more of these before the NEW Twilight Zone show came out, but better late than never! It also would help if TV shows stuck around for more than a week now that everything is put on streaming services in all at once, but that’s beside the point as we’ve got MORE than enough episodes to go through right here and frankly at my pace we’ll probably loop back around to season two before I even get halfway through this series. ANYWAY! Today’s episode is one of jealousy, obsession, and Rock and Roll, so let’s get ready for some heavy handed commentary on the music industry and the wild lifestyles of musicians!

The episode begins with Corey (Lukas Haas; yes THAT Lukas Haas) who informs us through very awkward narration that he’s a wannabe rocker with no talent but a whole lot of heart; something we could have grasped by looking at the guy fail to bust out even the most basic of riffs on a store guitar, but why SHOW something when you can pedantically TELL it? Seriously, this is not a situation so subtle and nuanced that you need someone to hold the audience’s hand; especially when his playing is so bad that his friend Ricky (Sticky Fingaz; no, seriously) calls him out on it right then and there in the guitar shop! Corey however is undeterred in his quest to somehow be a rock star without having any talent which frankly wasn’t THAT unbelievable since this was came out in the year of Nickelback (ZING!), and he ends up buying the guitar with whatever cash he was able to scrape up. Maybe this is the turning point though where he’ll FINALLY learn how to play and apply his craft! Heck, the guitar looks just like the one of his idol Bobby McCain who was a MASTERFUL musician before dying tragically of a suicide, so maybe it’ll bring him good luck! In fact, now that he REALLY looks at it… it’s almost exactly like the one he had! It even changed color, and… I don’t remember the guitar being covered in blood when he bought it, do you? Wait a minute… HOLY CRAP!!

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“Oh you know EXACTLY where this is going!”

Okay, so if you’ve watched a couple episodes of the original Twilight Zone or even that one episode of Rick and Morty, you can probably guess where we’re going from here. Corey just found himself a MAGIC guitar that will give him all the talent in the world but at SOME sort of price, and since Rick isn’t there to fix it with his science-magic, Corey’s gonna have to find out the harsh truth on his own. After realizing that the guitar makes him play like a rock god (which is odd because it didn’t do that for him when he tried it at the shop), we cut to sometime later where the narration kicks in once again to inform us that he’s at an audition to be a session artist for some one hit wonder. The producer by the way conducting the auditions is Jim freaking Byrnes from Highlander the series, so already this episode is bursting at the seams with awesomeness! I mean think about it, we’ve got a pretty successful actor, a rapper, a beloved TV actor playing a sleaze ball, and the premise of an EVIL GUITAR!! I can’t be the only one loving this! Heck, let’s not waste any time here and get to the good part! Corey knocks it out of the park at the audition, gets his own record deal, and we cut to several months later where his first album is about to drop. To Corey’s credit (though I guess it could be the guitar influencing him) it’s clear that he has been putting in the time and effort for this album with a ridiculously long work hours and he even periodically bleeds at the finger tips for how much he plays, but it was all worth it because he’s FINALLY living out his dreams of being a rock star! The sheer amount of dedication and talent on display does not go unnoticed by Ashley (Tangi Miller) who I think is ALSO a producer on the album and the two of them hit it off; especially when they start talking about obscure rock bands! The ethics of a producer getting involved with their employees aside, he brings her over to his place where things start to go from Mark Knopfler to Barry White, but something seems to be… getting in the way. Oh right! The dork hasn’t taken the guitar off yet which is making things a bit awkward, but Corey soon picks up on Ashley’s not so subtle hints and starts to put it away when the darn thing starts to struggle! His fingers somehow get wrapped up in the strings and one of them even snaps which hits him right on the cheek! That’s right! THE MAGIC GUITAR IS JEALOUS! Oh, it gets better from there! Corey being somewhat miffed at the guitar being a buzzkill throws it on the ground so that he and Ashley can Marvin Gaye and get it on in peace, but at some point it finds its way back to its guitar stand, where just… stares at them!

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“When was the last time you strummed ME like that!?” “SHUT UP!!”

I’ve got to give it up to the crew on this episode! They have the rather Sisyphean task of trying to make a guitar look menacing, and I’ll be darned if they don’t REALLY throw their all into it! The ridiculously over the top close ups, the framing of it in certain scenes to give it a sense of menace, this is the kind of go for broke cheese that I am absolutely here for and I think they pull it off quite well! Case in point, the guitar WILL NOT TAKE THIS INJUSTICE LYING DOWN, so the next morning while Corey is brushing his teeth, Ashley picks it up to strum a bit and admire the guitar’s condition when the strap starts to tighten, and I mean REALLY tighten! Like… cut off oxygen tighten! LIKE STRAIGHT UP MURDER TIGHTEN! I mean I guess I’m not in much of a position to question the priorities of haunted musical instruments, but that seemed to escalate pretty quickly! We cut to a few minutes later where the paramedics are wheeling out the body and Jim Byrnes, god bless him, is playing the sleaziness up to eleven; trying desperately to manage this situation where his up and coming talent just killed a woman and is ranting about how the guitar did it! Now IN CASE YOU COULDN’T FIGURE THIS OUT ALREADY, Corey helpfully narrates that he did indeed love Ashley and he’s not happy with the guitar being so clingy, which thank goodness! I mean the scene immediately following that where he’s all alone and drunkenly yelling at his guitar would have TOTALLY gone over my head if he hadn’t prepped us for it first!

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“You may have opened a few doors for me, BUT YOU’RE NOT MY STRATO-MASTER!! What do you mean that sounded force!? YOU’RE WRITING MY LYRICS NOW, TOO!?”

Now instead of smashing the thing and releasing the ghost of Mozart or whatever, Corey just locks the thing in his closet, which I’m SURE will halt its evil schemes in its tracks! In any case, Corey heads to the music video shoot the next day with a DIFFERENT guitar that presumably doesn’t steal people’s souls and gets ready to perform when ZAP! The moment he plugs the guitar in the dang thing practically electrocutes him! Something must have gone wrong with the electricity, but what!? WHO COULD HAVE POSSIBLY TAMPERED WITH COREY’S NEW INSTRUMENT!?

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“NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH STRATOCASTER!!”

OH CRAP!! The guitar is not just after the people Corey loves! NOW it’s straight up trying to kill him as well! So what do we do now!? Can we maybe go with that whole smashing plan I had earlier? Nah! Instead Corey does what I can only assume is the human/instrument equivalent of hate boning someone and uses the haunted guitar to lay down some sick riffs for his rather dull looking music videos. Ooh well, I’m sure they’ll throw in some B-roll in the editing process to make it not look so much like a bunch of dudes on a sound stage. The song by the way isn’t really that great. The guitar work sounds fine, but it’s some sort of love song where the lyrics keep repeating the words “opening inside of me” and combining that with Lukas Haas’s sweaty face cross-faded with images of Ashley just makes the whole thing about as ridiculous as you’d expect from an episode with a murderous guitar. After about a minute of this, Corey finally springs his plan into action (presumably catching the guitar by surprise) and starts smashing it on the stage at which point he immediately runs out and hops into a car to drive… somewhere. Naturally the guitar is in the backseat because MAGIC, and Corey starts talking to it; telling it that it’s all over despite how great they sounded together and that he’s gonna destroy it once and for all. Now you’d think this would mean that the guitar will start attacking him as a means of defending itself, but frankly that’s giving Corey too much credit. Dude just turns left and smashes into a wall; killing himself and hopefully destroying the guitar in the process. What makes this ending worse is that Corey starts narrating again AFTER HE’S DEAD! I mean it’s a little bit funny to see the paramedics wheeling out his corpse as he’s telling us that this is the end of his story, but there’s no need for this!

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“IN CASE YOU WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION, THAT’S ME IN THERE! It’s not Ashley, it’s not Joe Dawson, it’s not even my roommate Sticky Fingaz. Are we all on the same page yet!?”

As you’d expect with any movie about a haunted object, the guitar somehow managed to survive and ended up back in some store with the episode ending just as someone else picks it up; starting the cycle all over again. I wonder what Forest Whitaker has to say about all this?

“A warning for all of you wannabe rock stars; make sure you have the talent to back up your ambitions because sometimes dreams die hard. Just ask Corey Williams. Currently on tour… in The Twilight Zone.”

Okay, so there’s a pretty big elephant in the room about this episode that I think we need to start talking about. Is it crass to write a story implying that musicians who committed suicide were actually being driven to do so by a magic guitar? I think if this episode had been more SPECIFIC about it, then that would have definitively crossed the line; like if they made any direct connections to Kurt Cobain or something like that. I mean I guess it’s still THERE considering the previous owner Bobby McCain killed himself with a gun (and Forest Whitaker’s moralizing tone isn’t helping things), but for the purposes of telling a haunted guitar story I think they kept it about as tasteful as the premise would allow. I really do like this episode for the ridiculousness of it all and I think the crew did a solid job selling it despite how patently silly the idea is at the outset. Really the only problem I have with the episode is the narration which is completely pointless and frankly breaks the premise of the show as far as I’m concerned. The only one who should be breaking the fourth wall in that manner is Forest Whitaker, so unless you’re ACTUALLY playing with that aspect of the series (like in the episode A World of His Own from the original), it can only call attention to itself in the worst way possible; not to mention that it’s just poorly done and awkwardly placed to begin with. If the suicidal stuff is something you know you wouldn’t enjoy (and I understand if you don’t) then this probably isn’t the episode for you, but honestly this is the kind of wacky stuff I’m looking for in a show like this and I’m sure we’ll get plenty more like it as we delve further into this series!

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If you like this recap and plan on buying the show, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

The Twilight Zone – The Complete Series

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