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Monday, May 22, 2006

2.10 --- The Toys of Caliban

Directed by : Thomas J. Wright
Written by : George R. R. Martin (story by Terry Matz)
Starring : Richard Mulligan, David Greenlee, Alexandra Borrie
First aired : 4th of December, 1986.

Meet Toby Ross (David Greenlee), a mentally handicapped boy living with his parents Ernest (Richard Mulligan, Little Big Man, The Big Bus) and Mary. Upon first sight, Toby does not differ too much from other kids his age, sans the handicap obviously. But, this vision is dispelled the moment we see him bring a toy unicorn to life from simply observing its picture - obviously, Toby is a bit more special than one might imagine.

After materializing too much donuts for his poor stomach, Toby is rushed to the ER for food poisoning treatment, and has to spend the night there. Ernest grudgingly agrees, under condition that they stay with him, and his seemingly spartan treatment of his son summons him a visit from the local social worker, Mandy Kemp (stage actress Alexandra Borrie), who drops by the following morning. Mandy tries to politely inform the Rosses of the benefits of special education classes, but Ernest adamantly rejects her overtures and angrily leaves the hospital.

Back at the Ross family home, Toby, alone in his room and feeling bored, "brings" ("bring" is the word he uses when reproducing things he sees in pictures) the scientific magazine his father took away from him at the hospital, purely from memory, and lets his imagination go wild. Later that day, Mary arrives to her room and, after seein Toby in a corner with his hands drenched in blood, suffers a fatal heart attack - Toby saw pictures of a human heart, and "brought" one for him to play.

Some time later, Mandy visits the remaining Rosses, and again tries to convince Ernest that an institution is the right way to go. Seeing he possibly can't rebuff her with simple rhetorics, Ernest unlocks a cupboard with books and gives Toby an encyclopedia of medieval weaponry. When he "brings" an authentic dagger, Mandy thinks it's a simple magic trick - when he recreates a medieval knight's armour, however, Mandy is a believer. This only seems to reassert her tendencies though, as now she believes even more he should be helped by experts. Ernest is still not backing down, and as he explains Mandy Toby can't "bring" anything living - all the humans/animals he "brought" came out dead - Toby snatches a photo of his late mother and, ignorant of his power, materializes her rotting corpse in a sofa. This is a bit too much for Mandy, who flees the scene.

Left to his own devices, Ernest buries Mary in his back yard, which served him as a mortuary for all Toby's mishaps over the years. While digging, he hears the police sirens wailing, and realizes the time is come. He returns inside, takes another book from the cupboard, then sits together with Toby and they start browsing it together. As he whispers his last words of love to his son, Toby sees - and "brings" - a vivid image of fire engulfing a house, which burns them both alive...seconds before Mandy arrives backed up with the local police.


It took them 10 episodes, but the season 2 finally produced a dependable - if horribly downbeat and unsettling - classic. Based on a story by Terry Matz, The Toys of Caliban is a thoroughly somber and dark episode, backboned by a very strong performance by Richard Mulligan (last seen playing a santa wannabe in season one's Night of the Meek). Do not come into this expecting a happy, or even just (to some level) ending - this one is a real, although brilliant, downer.

David Greenlee is pretty solid as Toby, and stage actresses Borrie and Anne Haney (playing Mary Ross) add extra flavour to this piece. Still, it is Mulligan's tormented parent who leaves the biggest impression here, torn between the love for his offspring and conventional way of life he sorely misses. The episode also raises the question of treating mentally challenged people, and the system seems to be vilified through the character of Mandy, with Matz and Martin sympathising with the parental side (although an exaggerated example is used). Credit also goes to the director Thomas J. Wright, who, aside from an odd Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred, stuck mostly to helming different episodes of various television shows - the scene in which Toby plays with a pulsating heart was disturbing on so many levels (just look at his shadow on the wall to see what I'm talking about).

Shakespeare trivia : "Caliban" from the title seemingly refers to the likewise named character from the Bard's The Tempest, a deformed prisoner of his own father Prospero.

Comments on "2.10 --- The Toys of Caliban"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:49 AM) : 

Good television (movies,books and radio) should leave a mark on you. Toys of caliban left its mark on me and after 15 plus years (i saw it on re run) its mark is still fresh.


Blogger Rosi said ... (1:47 PM) : 

Now that was a REAL Twilight Zone Episode, no warm fuzzies in the end, just weird, sad, stuff. Loved it!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (8:41 PM) : 

Only a few episodes stuck in my memory all these years, and this stands above them all. Haunting and dark, yet for all that I loved the core idea of being able to bring thoughts directly into physical form.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:37 PM) : 

I just saw this episode on the Chillr network - Mulligan is outstanding, a truly tormented and sad man. He never got the due as an actor that he deserved - this episode proved his dramatic skill was buried under all those silly faces from Soap and movies like Scavenger Hunt.


Anonymous Lakey lake said ... (9:24 AM) : 

The kid does a great job of playing a retard. Even down to the detail of his potbelly.

Which begs the question, why do all retards have pot bellies?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:03 PM) : 

I have another question for Lakey. Why do idiots not learn to respect the developmentally challenged instead of calling me by the sophomoric term of "retard"?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:47 PM) : 

That was the only episode from the series that sticks in my mind. We all laugh about it, but that shit was scary!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:23 AM) : 

Great Toys, I always like to buy Sensational Beginnings Code toys.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:02 PM) : 

I'm 32 years old and that episode still haunts me when I saw it as a little kid. I went to bed with my mind racing. I'm trying to watch this to see how my memory holds up to my impression. Anyone know where I can see it online?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:20 PM) : 

The kid had a belly from all those donuts he was eating! LOL
Seriously...please don't call him a retard. It's cruel and insensitive. Mentally handicapped is more suitable.

This was a very good episode loosely based on the original "It's a wonderful life"
Very sad and scary at the same time.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:44 AM) : 

This episode had such a profound effect on me. I love the Twilight Zone, but this one really stands out. I'm a parent, and I could really feel the struggle of the parents (kudos to Mulligan's acting). So sad... but a truly good and dark story.


Blogger The Night Watchman said ... (4:22 AM) : 

This comment has been removed by the author.


Blogger Matthew Maloney said ... (4:37 PM) : 

I thought Aqua Vita came close to a great Twilight Zone episode but yes, this is truly head and shoulders above anything I've seen so far from season 2. Its a certifiable classic.

God you really start to hate the social worker in this episode. Doubly so after she finds out whats going on and still resolves to take the kid away. Its infuriating.

Just on that, the discussion of what would happen to Toby if he was 'freed' is an interesting one. The script is so good on this. Basically the father just wanted his son to have as high a standard of life as possible and not be kept in a laboratory all his life. The character of the father and mother is very well thought through.

When he summoned the corpse of his mother that sent a chill down my spine!

Great TZ episodes really make you think. This one especially so.


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