Every weekday, we’re going to review an episode of Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi/horror TV series “The Twilight Zone“. We’re starting from the beginning and we will be working our way through every episode the series has offered, including the episodes from the 80’s. You can see all the reviews right here.
“What You Need” – Directed by Alvin Ganzer
Broadcast date: December 25th, 1959
This entry is strange in that the main character, Mr. Fred Rennard, isn’t really given much focus until several minutes into the episode. Rather, we are introduced to the co-star, an old man by the name of Mr. Pedott, a peddler of various items, much like Lou Bookman in “One For the Angels”. However, Pedott has a strange ability in that he can look at someone and see precisely what they’ll need, even if they don’t understand it themselves. For example, at the bar he’s decided to peddle his wares in, a woman asks for matches but is instead given a vial of cleaning fluid. Next, a down-on-his-luck baseball player is given a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Now, here’s how the two connect: the baseball player gets a phone call where he is offered a coaching job in Scranton, which he’ll need to take a bus to get to. Lamenting the fact that his only jacket is dirty, the woman comes over and helps clean it out using the fluid. Pedott obviously managed to put these two together and their chemistry is immediately felt. It’s obvious that this is the kind of thing Pedott lives for, the ability to do the right thing at the right time, even if people aren’t aware of what it all means in the moment.
Coming back to Rennard, the only way to describe him is that he’s a real son of a bitch who never amounted to anything and, as a result, is bitter at life for the hand he’s been dealt. Pedott gives him one chance with his gift, handing him a pair of scissors and telling him that these are what he needs. Heading home, Rennard’s scarf gets caught in the elevator door and he uses the scissors to cut himself free, saving his life. He realizes the power that Pedott has and, like the bastard he is, wants to take ownership of it. He tries to convince Pedott to keep feeding him information so that he can turn his life around. Cutting to the quick of it, Pedott manages to convince Rennard that he needs new shoes, ones with leather soles. After putting them on, Rennard feels cheated and comes after Pedott only to get hit by a car in a hit-and-run.
It turns out that Pedott saw the future and was faced with his own death. Giving those shoes wasn’t what Rennard needed, it was what Pedott needed to survive.
I find myself not knowing how to feel about this episode. On the one hand, I think it’s a great story about developing trust and gratitude for those who are altruistic in your life, even if they are there ever so briefly. On the other, the story feels somewhat incomplete without some more information. Pedott’s gift is otherworldly, so no real explanation is needed. In fact, it’s better without any reasoning behind it. But Rennard’s attitude? There isn’t anything to make us understand why he is the way he is. Even Serling’s opening monologue just paints him as a bastard but doesn’t explain why. Sure, he gets what’s coming to him but there isn’t a sense of justice.
Visually, there is a wonderful play with light and shadows, much like how Pedott, in his elderly sweetness, feels like “the light” while Rennard, with his dark look and stern demeanor, represents “the dark”. Furthermore, composer Nathan Van Cleave’s music is quite delightful in conjunction with the actions on the screen.
Overall, it’s a perfectly serviceable entry in the series but I don’t feel like I’d find myself aching to revisit it.