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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S2E6 "Eye of the Beholder"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 2 E 42 The Eye Of The Beholder

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Once unwrapped, she'll enjoy a nice Tomato Surprise.

Rod Serling: Suspended in time and space for a moment, your introduction to Miss Janet Tyler, who lives in a very private world of darkness. A universe whose dimensions are the size, thickness, length of the swath of bandages that cover her face. In a moment we will go back into this room, and also in a moment we will look under those bandages. Keeping in mind of course that we are not to be surprised by what we see, for this isn't just a hospital, and this patient 307 is not just a woman. This happens to be the Twilight Zone, and Miss Janet Tyler, with you, is about to enter it.

Air date: November 11, 1960

Janet Tyler, a young woman born with a hidesously disfigured appearance, is confined to a hospital, her face wrapped in bandages as she awaits the outcome of her latest medical procedure. This procedure is her eleventh thus far, and is also the last attempt to correct her appearance that her society will allow. If it fails, she will be forced to spend the rest of her life in a village full of similar "freaks". The result of the medication isn't what Janet expects, but it teaches her and the hospital staff that beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder.

Tropes of the Beholder:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Rod Serling's ending narration raises the questions of what this world is, where it's supposed to be, and why it is what it is, before saying that the answers make no difference.
  • An Aesop: Beauty is relative, and we should accept people for who they are instead of how they look.
  • Bandaged Face: Janet, until the end of the episode.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: When the doctor wonders aloud why Janet and others with her deformity can't simply be allowed to be different, the nurse warns him to be careful, as what he's talking about is considered treasonous.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Janet is unsuccessful in getting her face fixed, but she's allowed to live in a community of people who share her "deformity". At the very least, she'll be happy not to be alone anymore.
  • Broken Aesop: Not within the episode, but real-life merchandise based on it tends to feature the medical staff as gruesome ghouls intent on mutilating a beautiful woman... just because they're ugly to us. In the episode itself, it's made clear that in this world, Janet's appearance is considered horrific and terrifying, and the intention of the medical procedures is to repair a deformity in order to make her look normal, just as any real-world doctor might do. It just seems wrong to the viewer because the standard of what's "normal" and what's "deformed" is reversed from the human norm. Furthermore, there's clearly no malice involved whatsoever; the doctors and nurses are compassionate and worried about what will happen to Janet if her operation is unsuccessful, and in the end, they're deeply saddened by her having to live with what is, in-universe, a permanent and terrible deformity in a society that legally persecutes disfigured people. One of the doctors even has tears in his eyes as he watches her leave.
  • Crapsack World: The episode is set in a kind of fascist state where the Leader goes on rants about how there is only one standard for behavior, and everyone must conform to it under threat of severe consequences. Anyone who doesn't fit the Leader's standards for physical appearance, for example, will be banished to distant villages for "freaks", as we hear him rant about "glorious conformity". Say what you will about American beauty standards, but at least we don't drive people into exile for falling short. And if all that isn't bad enough, the doctor makes a reference to the "extermination of undesirables", and raises the possibility that this might happen to Janet.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: While laid up in bed, Janet talks about how her earliest memory is someone screaming in terror over seeing her face.
  • Dramatic Drop: The doctor drops his scissors as he says "no change at all" following Janet's unveiling.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: The doctors do this when they reveal this mystery society's difference in beauty standards.
  • The Faceless: Everyone (excluding Rod Serling) until the last few minutes.
  • Foreshadowing: The fact that the near-entirety of the episode is carefully filmed not to show the doctor and nurses' faces suggests that something's being hidden about their looks.
  • Hope Spot: Janet is coming off the last procedure she is allowed before being exiled to a distant village. She spends her recovery so desperately hoping to be considered normal at long last, so she is crushed when the surgery fails like the others did.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Being as "hideous" as she is, Janet remembers hearing a child scream at seeing her face, and when she sees that her medical procedure has failed, she bursts into tears.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Janet has had 10 previous procedures over the years to try and fix her face. The episode concerns the last one she's legally permitted to have before being sent away to a community of "freaks". She tells a nurse tending to her that she never wanted to be beautiful, only for people to not scream in horror when they looked at her.
  • Irony: Janet's panicked run through the hospital ends up taking her right to Walter Smith, a representative of the community she'll be sent to. The main doctor comments on the oddity of this turn of events.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: Inverted. Janet's face stays beautiful no matter how many times she receives medical treatment for her deformity. The doctor explains that her unique bone structure won't allow him or his nurses to surgically change it, so they're forced to try to cure her with medications and shots, to which she proves unresponsive.
  • Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: While the faces of "normal" people look sort of like pigs (to us, anyways), the male faces are biased to the right while the females are to the left.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Leader is based on Adolf Hitler. In his speeches, he continually stresses the importance of ensuring "glorious conformity", abiding by a single norm, proclaiming about how all that is different must be cut out like a cancerous filth, as differences weaken the state.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Janet's face isn't revealed till the end of the episode, but everyone keeps talking about how horrible and nauseating it is.
  • Persecution Flip: On a meta level. To us, the viewers, this episode is about a world where our idea of beauty is seen as so freakish it's socially disabling. In-universe, Janet has a severely disturbing facial deformity, and has had it since she was born.
  • Released to Elsewhere: Janet evokes this just before her bandages are taken off, asking the doctor if instead of being sent to live in a community of other deformed people, she can be "put away" if her treatment hasn't worked. The doctor replies that while the state sometimes permits "extermination of undesirables," it wouldn't be allowed for Janet due to her young age and record of good health apart from her disability.
  • The Reveal: Janet is strikingly beautiful. It's everyone else who's ugly. (From our perspective, anyway.)
  • Scenery Censor: When the nurse enters the doctor's office, her face is hidden by a desk lamp. For the rest of that scene the doctor's face is hidden by placing the camera directly behind the nurse.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Played for Drama. While Janet is running throughout the hospital in devastation, the televisions in the halls broadcast the Leader's speech to the state about conformity. At one point, Janet is facing a particularly giant screen. She throws an object at the screen to break it, not out of defiance, but emotional duress, because it reminds her too much of how she'll never fit in.
  • Sympathy for the Hero: The doctors and nurses have nothing but sympathy for Janet and her "condition". At the end, when Janet is taken to the community, they all have looks of pity and sadness on their faces, devastated that they couldn't help her.
  • Title Drop: Near the end of the episode, Walter Smith, a representative from the "freak" community Janet is being sent to, teaches her about a very old saying: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
  • Tomato Surprise: One of the most famous examples. As it turns out, Janet is actually conventionally beautiful... to us. In this world, she's as disfigured and hideous as we perceive the "normal" doctors and staff. When she meets Walter, who will take her to the community of people like her, she screams in horror, just like she described children reacting to her face.note .
  • Wham Shot:
    • After we're told that Janet's last procedure has had no effect, we finally get to see her face... and it's that of a beautiful woman.
    • As Janet has a Freak Out over continuing to look "ugly", the doctor has the lights turned on and turns to a nurse to ask for a sedative needle... revealing that he looks like a cross between a caveman and a pig.

Rod Serling: Now the questions that come to mind: "Where is this place, and when is it?" "What kind of world where ugliness is the norm, and beauty the deviation from that norm?" You want an answer? The answer is: it doesn't make any difference, because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this year or a hundred years hence. On this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 2 E 42 The Eye Of The Beholder