Thursday, December 15, 2016


Original Airdate: November 11, 1984

Directed by Michael Gornick.

Written by Mark Durand, Based on the story "Slippage" by Michael Kube-McDowell.

Starring David Patrick Kelly (Richard Hall), Philip Casnoff (Chris Wood), Kerry Armstrong (Elaine Anderson Hall), Harriet Rogers (Mrs. Hall), David Lipman (Mr. Blake), Ruth Miller (Secretary).

SYNOPSIS: Richard Hall has been feeling pretty rotten lately, but you would too if your employer misplaced your paycheck. Or if you didn’t get an invite to the high school reunion. Or if your wife suddenly got the car registered in her maiden name. Or if everyone generally seemed to be forgetting about you. All of these have happened to Richard and he simply can’t account for it. Not unless it means that he is slowly being wiped from the face of existence. 

CRITIQUE: “Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” is a sentiment that you’d have a hard time sympathizing with if you had to watch everything you loved and cared for being systematically removed from your life. To have it happen at the point in your life that Richard Hall has it would be nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment. Richard is at a job where he gets to use his talent but one in which he feels creatively unfulfilled, with a pay rate and working conditions that leave a little to be desired. His relationship with his wife is comfortable if just short of lifeless. His memories of his beloved small hometown are growing smaller with distance.

The darkside has shown us that it is prepared to exact fitting judgment on the leeches and vultures of society, the lazy and the inhibited, but with “Slippage” we see that it is clearly without mercy, pushing men who are already low to the ground even lower until they're grinded into cosmic dust and scattered by nocturnal winds.

Richard’s plight is not dissimilar to those faced by the protagonists of episodes from THE TWILIGHT ZONE such as “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “Person or Persons Unknown.” A line from Kube-McDowell's story sounds like something that could've been lifted directly from Richard Matheson's source tale for the former TZ episode, "Disappearing Act":

"I feel like I'm being followed--like someone is tracking me down the paths I've taken through life and systemastically tearing them up behind me. And getting closer to where I am, all the time. It's as if I've done something terrible, and to punish me they are erasing the traces that I ever existed."

Richard and the others are people who see the carpet being pulled out from under them by God’s invisible hand, and they are rightfully terrified. At one point in the story Richard even wonders if his atheism is to blame for his situation: "I've never believed in God, Chris. Maybe--maybe He's finally decided He resents that." 

Richard seems to exhibit less outward fear than his predecessors, showing a mixture of frustration and confusion at the outset of his situation. He suspects infidelity between his wife and best friend (who lands the professional gig that Richard has been gunning for for some time) when he sees the letter from the DMV. He calls up his old school chum who was the head of the reunion committee and cordially tries to explain to the man’s befuddled wife who he is. When he goes to his elderly mother’s house and speaks to her through the front window only to be told by the woman that she has no son, Richard moves from outright despair (“Please don’t do this to me, mother”) to chuckling sadly to himself and admitting that he must have the wrong house. It’s at this point that we see Richard has begun to accept his ultimate fate, whatever that may be.

David Patrick Kelly, immortalized as a psycho street punk and nightmarish Snake Man for a generation of movie fans, is pleasurably at ease in his comparatively toned-down role here, looking quite comfortable in his flannel shirts and glasses. His calm, unmistakable voice draws us in, explaining in the end to his friend Chris that this existential conundrum he’s found himself in is partly his fault: “Richard Hall cared less and less to connect until he started to slip through the cracks of time.” It was Richard’s growing indifference with his lackluster existence that led to his removal (or reassigning, if you like) from our world. He doesn’t get the chance to go back to his cherished childhood and learn from his mistakes like Gig Young. "Not happy with your life?" ask the Powers That Be. "Then don’t have one."

There’s a note of irony made when Richard’s wife tries to get him to sit down and watch his favorite movie, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Of course it’s a loaded reference, pertaining to Richard’s own inherent desire to get a do-over and one that his spouse blurts out in her anger when she says she wishes he was never born. In Kube-McDowell's original story, Richard draws the parallel himself when he says he feels like the victim of a "new crime":

"You take a guy and ignore him, pretend like he's not there, until he cracks up. I feel like Jimmy Stewart in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, only there's no guardian angel."

When the haggard and sickly Richard reveals a trio of self-portraits he’s drawn to Chris, one of himself as a baby, adult, and old man, they act as a series of his very own Dickensian spirits, the final picture showing a what-if projection of the Ghost of Christmas Never to Come.

The program further demonstrates its canny use of simple effects to register a sense of the otherworldly. As Richard gives his final statement, the lights gradually dim upon his wasted frame until he is in complete shadow before he disappears altogether. The sequence could just as easily have been done with Richard himself slowly fading away, but the encroaching darkness gives the sequence a more imposing sense of doomed finality that greatly adds to the moment.

Although the final image of a door being blown open by a gust of wind is slightly confusing (are we to assume that Richard is not gone after all and that the story now has no point?), the preceding events still pack a solid punch in its warning to the viewer: Be very thankful for all that you have.

"Slippage" originally appeared in the August 1982 issue of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone.

Durand's adpatation for DARKSIDE remains very faithful to the original story's content, with only minor changes made to details concerning a favorite restaurant burning to the ground and Richard's disappearance taking place in his friend's car as they drive back to his apartment.

More importantly than that, Durand's script demonstrates more patience with the story's emotional beats, namely Richard's confrontation with his mother and final acceptance of his fate, and a better creative realization of the material (the touch with the three drawings is Durand's), making the televised episode more wholly satisfying as a drama

“Wouldn’t want anyone around here to think you were slipping…”


RATING: 3 Lizzies

Coming Up: Skeletons are the least of Roberta Weiss' troubles in "Inside the Closet."

No comments:

Post a Comment