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Saturday, February 04, 2006

1.48 --- Dead Run

Directed by : Paul Tucker
Written by : Alan Brennert (story by Greg Bear)
Starring : Steve Railsback, Barry Corbin, Ebbe Roe Smith
First aired : 21st of February, 1986.

After his umpteenth traffic cockup, Johnny (Steve Railsback, The Stunt Man, Lifeforce), a hapless young trucker, is freshly out of work. He inquires about job possibilities with Pete (Barry Corbin, Dallas, WarGames), who is initially reluctant to take him on, but eventually relents and invites him for the initial run.

The following day, Johnny is amazed to find out what sort of a run this is going to be - Pete is actually shuttling sinners to hell. After picking up a fresh batch of damned souls at the arranged checkpoint, the two truckers proceed down to road to hell. During a break at the roadside inn, they overhear there were some disturbances "down there" and are advised to be cautious.

Arriving into hell, Johnny and Pete stumble upon full-scale riot staged by the damned. Johnny gets into the thick of it, and winds up rescued by Gary Frick (Ebbe Roe Smith, Turner & Hooch), former "company" trucker who died and got to hell himself, who explains him that hell is, right now, in a state of anarchy. He informs Johnny that the selection process is not being overseen by "the boss" (God, that is), and begs Johnny to try and make the difference, as there is a bunch of undeserving people getting tossed into hell for no good reason. He also reveals him the location to "the high road" before the hell security intervenes. The security officer finds the whole incident suspicious, and sends Johnny to the "manager".

The manager, a youngish looking fellow who only recently got this position, is a man of stern beliefs and principles. He tells Johnny that God indeed is too busy to bother himself with such trifle work as eternal damnation, and that he is in charge of hell as it stands. His mission : to banish all souls not conforming to his age-old standards. After listening to his sermon, Johnny decides to keep the job - but not for the reasons his boss might suspect.

On his very next run, he stops after the first checkpoint and starts randomly querying the
damned, and is surprised to find that within this batch of condemned are an elderly librarian who fought for freedom of speech, a junkie, a draft-dodger and a homosexual. He escorts them from his trailer and shows them the high road, saving them from eternal damnation, explaining them how he will continue to play this role and therefore reverse the injustice done to the undeserving.


As I mentioned before, the new Twilight Zone occasionaly had a political agenda. Dead Run, adapted from a short story by Greg Bear by Alan Brennert, is probably the most powerful of new TZ's "message" episodes so far, tackling at the time a very ticklish subject of opposition to vocal conservative majority.

Steve Railsback's Johnny is basically a clueless, but good-hearted character, who finds salvation in his work and decides to take a one-man crusade against divine injustice. An episode which is pro-gay would probably be enough on its own - however, Johnny also absolves a draft-dodger who fled to Canada, a liberal librarian and a drug addict of their sins, as Bear & Brennert really go for the jugular here.

Dead Run made a definite impact, and was commended by the Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Artists. And even though its message was broadcast 20 years ago, it still, it seems, didn't become fully accepted by some. For shame.

TZ Trivia : Gertrude Flynn, very effective in her portrayal of the tormented librarian, is a veteran of classic Twilight Zone episode Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up ? (26th of May, 1961.). It's probably also worth mentioning that Rod Serling would likely hate this episode - according to the folks in the know from the TZ Café forums, Rod was an old-school homophobe.

Enterprise Trivia : did the cast of The Next Generation meet on a TZ set, what ? After Jonathan Frakes in But Can She Type ?, not one but two TNG'ers appears in Dead Run - John de Lancie, oh so memorable as Q, is the mean right wing manager of Hell, Inc., while Brent Spiner, better known as the mortally pale android Data, appears in the role of the condemned draft dodger.

Comments on "1.48 --- Dead Run"


Anonymous Gilda said ... (9:58 AM) : 

Also, for fans of SF/horror TV, The gay man freed from the truck is played by John D. LeMay, who would later play Ryan Dallion on the Friday the 13th TV series.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:11 PM) : 

I have no idea whether you still maintain this site, but I had to post to thank you for this labor of love -- a great website that I found when I tried to Google information about an episode of NTZ that has haunted me for 30 years. Since I first saw "Dead Run" as a high school student back in the day, I've often thought about the episode, but had no idea what it was called, who had written it, etc. Thanks to you, I not only know these things, but also know that there are other folks out there in cyberland who also remember it. (The other NTZ episode that has stuck with me is "The Shadow Man," which ranks as one of the finest things I've ever seen on TV. Ditto the ep in which Melinda Dillon uncovers a pendant that allows her to stop time.) Thanks again -- thanks a million -- for maintaining this site! Take care.


Blogger Matthew Maloney said ... (4:42 PM) : 

What a terrific episode. Amazing. I bet Joe McCarthy is rolling in his grave. This is the kind of stuff he would of liked to have seen people executed for back when he was purging Hollywood.

You're right, it definitely goes for the jugular, but perhaps they could have been a bit more subtle. When its revealed a draft dodger is going to hell, its clear this isn't merely just about the injustice of rigid interpertations of the bible, but also right wing policy in general.

Good to see a message of support for gay rights 20 years before it was cool. Bravo.

One of my favourite episodes so far.


Anonymous Adrock said ... (11:34 PM) : 

Man, Q and Data in the *same episode*. Interestingly, I have no recollection of this from the original airing, even though I vividly remember "The Leprechaun-Artist" from the same episode. Did I turn off the TV after the second ad break, or did this one just make no impression on me because I was only 12 years old?


Anonymous Adrock said ... (2:11 PM) : 

Oh, and two more thoughts about this:

1) Greg Bear (author of the original short story) confirms on the DVD commentary that this was meant to rattle the chains of the Christian Right, but failed, since the network received only one letter against the story. I'd also point out that from a 2017 standpoint, with Christian Dominionists taking over the US government, his failure is particularly galling.

2) If this were made in 2017, it would have unified all the other New TZ episodes about people going to hell. We'd have gotten cameos from Jeffrey DeMunn, last seen confined to an empty bar in "Kentucky Rye", and Elliott Gould, condemned to a ghoulish Chinese restaurant in "The Misfortune Cookie", riding that truck at the end ...


Blogger MrSinatra said ... (1:16 AM) : 

First, amazing cast. Railsback has been a fave since the stunt man. Also, the building Q is at looks kinda like the building data and lore team up with the borg at.

The story is ok, but let's be real, it isn't right wingers being PC thugs trying to ban mark twain from libraries over the n word, is it? No, it's the left. And why do draft dodgers always wear military surplus?

There's actually a hidden msg in the episode, which is basically a fear the left has that they might be wrong... it's exemplified by the poor soul who moans he wouldn't be in hell, just for not believing in god, would he? The whole thing can be seen as the sub conscious fears of the left, but let's not get carried away...

My takeaway is that each person has to abide their conscience, as the driver does. This is rather subjective and perhaps incorrect if there is an absolute morality out there, but I think it's fair to say no one knows exactly what it is and so we all just have to try our best.


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