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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S3E6: "The Mirror"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 3 E 71 The Mirror

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Rod Serling: This is the face of Ramos Clemente, a year ago a beardless, nameless worker of the dirt who plodded behind a mule, furrowing someone else's land. And he looked up at a hot Central American sun and he pledged the impossible. He made a vow that he would lead an avenging army against the tyranny that put the ache in his back and the anguish in his eyes, and now one year later the dream of the impossible has become a fact. In just a moment we will look deep into this mirror and see the aftermath of a rebellion in the Twilight Zone.

In a Central American country, former peasant-turned General Ramos Clemente (Peter Falk) and his four lifelong friends D'Alessandro, Garcia, Tabal, and Cristo successfully completed an armed revolution to overthrow the decade-long dictatorship of General De Cruz, making them the new rulers of the nation. Before he is dragged away to prison, De Cruz warns Ramos that he will soon learn the consequences of ruling a nation by force. Pointing to a mirror in his office, he tells him that the mirror will show whomever owns it future assassination plots against them, and that Ramos will begin to see enemies everywhere.

Though the quintet rule well in their first days in power, Ramos receives objections from the others after his controversial decision to summarily execute prisoners whom he has declared enemies of the state. Garcia, Tabal, and Cristo leave the room one night, and when he looks in the mirror, Ramos sees D'Alessandro aiming at him with a rifle. Despite his protests that it must've been an illusion, Ramos kills D'Alessandro by throwing him from the balcony of the his mansion. The remaining three are horrified, but do nothing to challenge the descision. A few days later, looking in the mirror again, Ramos sees Garcia and Tabal coming at him with knives. He orders them to go check on whether De Cruz is being guarded well in prison, before calling the guards and telling them to shoot the two men when they arrive.

Cristo tries to talk some sense into Ramos by telling him that the mirror is evil, to no avail. Looking into the mirror again, Ramos sees Cristo supposedly offering him a poisoned glass of wine. Cristo attempts to make Ramos see reason, but ultimately he's shot to death. That night, Ramos is visited by a priest, Father Tomas, who pleads with him to stop the mass executions. Ramos refuses, prompting Tomas to tell him that leaders in power have only one real enemy, whom they never recognize until it's too late. Paranoid and isolated, Ramos looks into the mirror and sees only himself. He throws his pistol at the mirror, shattering it completely. Outside the office, Tomas hears a gunshot. Rushing inside, he sees that Ramos has committed suicide. He sadly tells the attending guard that the only real enemy that all rulers have are themselves.

The Tropes in the Mirror:

  • Alone with the Psycho: Cristo's last moments are spent inside Ramos' office, trying to convince his friend not to kill him while the paranoid ruler holds Cristo at gunpoint. It doesn't work.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Cristo's fate is sealed when Ramos sees him offering a glass of wine in the mirror, which Ramos immediately assumes is poisoned. The way the shot is done implies that it could actually be a simple toast done in Ramos' honor, and Ramos, in his paranoia, mistook it for deceit.
  • Banana Republic: Ramos seizes power in an unnamed country in Central America, which had been ruled by the tyrannical General De Cruz for the previous ten years. De Cruz's land wasn't owned by the people, instead by himself or foreign corporations.
  • Bottle Episode: The plot never leaves the office of Ramos' new mansion.
  • The Caligula: As soon as he comes to power, Ramos proves himself to be an extremely irrational, paranoid, and blood-thirsty tyrant. He begins seeing enemies all around him, orders mass executions around the clock, and becomes convinced that his loyal lieutenants D'Alessandro, Garcia, Tabal, and Cristo are plotting against him due to having seemingly foreseen it in the magic mirror. As a result, Ramos throws D'Alessandro off the balcony of his mansion, has Garcia and Tabal executed as enemies of the state, and shoots Cristo after believing that the wine that he offered him was poisoned. When he looks in the mirror and sees only his own reflection, Ramos shoots himself. In the end, his reign lasted for only a week.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Ramos intends to have De Cruz killed by being slathered with honey and eaten alive by ants. Whether he went through with this promise is never revealed, only that De Cruz was put in prison to await this fate.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ramos' ultimate fate, thanks to the mirror revealing to him the only true enemy all dictators have.
  • Dying Curse: De Cruz's warning that the mirror in his office will show Ramos his enemies, if he was actually killed.
  • Expy Coexistence: Ramos is a very pointed copy of Fidel Castro, down to the clothes, curly hair, beard, cigar and cap, and utter lack of redeeming qualities. Ramos even compared his revolution to Castro's in his very first scene, and De Cruz namedrops Castro's enemy Batista.
    • Tabal is a copy of Che Guevara, complete with the fiery attitude when he's annoyed.
    • Although he's missing the cowboy hat, Cristo has the long beard and Undying Loyalty of Camilo Cienfuegos.
    • Garcia has the thin mustache of Fidel's brother, Raul.
    • With his respect for fair trials and his formal manner of speech compared to the others, D'Alessandro is likely based on the bespectacled judge Manuel Urrutia Lleo, who served as Castro's chosen president until a falling out led Castro to force Urrutia to resign.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Ramos overthrows a dictator to save his land from said dictator's cruelty, only to become an even worse dictator himself. By the time he's assumed total control of the nation, he's so far gone that he tells Father Tomas that he doesn't care if a revolution happens to overthrow him, because all that matters is that he gets to enjoy absolute power for as long as possible.
  • The Generalissimo: General De Cruz, at the start of the episode, is a classic caudillo, with the traditional Chest of Medals and smug attitude. It also appears that the Head of State's title is just "General", as Ramos is referred to as such by all rather than "President". Eventually, Ramos becomes a heartless despot who kills people just because they piss him off, or because he's suspicious of them. He's also pretty incompetent; we don't actually see him do anything to improve his people's lives, not even copying the revolutionary reforms that Castro performed, and only orders executions.
  • Genius Bonus: Many details in the episode are clearer if the viewer knows the history of the Cuban Revolution:
    • De Cruz implies that Ramos waged guerrilla warfare from the hills, just like Castro did in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra.
    • Serling explains that it took only one year for Ramos to depose De Cruz. The revolution succeeded following a lightning guerrilla offensive against the battered Cuban Army in 1958, and Batista was swept out of power on January 1st 1959. In the eyes of the American public, he was deposed incredibly fast.
    • D'Alessandro is the first to arouse Ramos' suspicions, and therefore is the first one to die. He's based on Manuel Urrutia, the Cuban judge who was Castro's chosen president until disagreements on revolutionary policy led Castro to fire him six months after he became president, forcing Urrutia into exile in the United States.
    • Tabal and Garcia are ordered by Ramos to carry out mass executions. They're expies of Che Guevara and Raul Castro respectively, both who were directly responsible for overseeing and ordering executions in La Cabana Fortress, the most infamous mass executions of the Revolution. Just like their real-life counterparts, both don't express any objection to these orders.
    • Tabal and Garcia are sent away by Ramos, then arrested and killed. In a way, this reflects Castro's treatment of Che and Raul after the revolution. Che began expressing pro-China viewpoints after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which upset the staunchly pro-Soviet Castro. Che was sent away as a diplomat, then as an insurgent leader, ultimately dying in Bolivia in 1967. It's also believed that despite their lasting friendship, Castro sent Che away to avoid risking a political rival emerging. While Raul took up many high-ranking roles, he preferred to work quietly as head of the military and intelligence service, making it seem as if he'd faded into the background while his older brother was the face of Cuba.
    • Cristo is the last one to die and expresses absolute loyalty to Ramos, even trying help him rationalize his actions. Despite this, he does get visibly agitated at Ramos' increasingly psychotic leadership, especially when he kills Tabal and Garcia. His death is also the longest and saddest of the four, with him pleading his ruler and friend not to shoot him and see reason up into his dying moments. Garcia is based on Camilo Cienfuegos, considered by many Cubans to be the most loyal of Castro's lieutenants. Camilo was an idealistic humanist compared to his more ruthless comrades, speaking at length about his wishes for the revolution to respect human rights and dignity. Camilo was extremely popular, almost as much as Castro himself, and was always seen together with him. Camilo began falling into intrigues when he had to arrest his friend Huber Matos, an anti-communist who accused Castro of being a pro-Soviet dictator, with Camilo refusing to believe that Castro was one. On 28th October 1959, Camilo disappeared when his plane went missing over the Straits of Florida. Exiles believe that Castro ordered it to be shot down, Cubans believe that the plane crashed, or it was shot down by mistake. Camilo ended up being a beloved figure on both sides of the strait, with Cubans seeing him as a hero of the revolution and exiles seeing him as an anti-Castro martyr.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Tomas
  • Heel Realization: Father Tomas tries to talk sense into Ramos, and while it seemingly fails, when Ramos later looks in the mirror, he commits suicide when the only "enemy" that it reveals to him is... Ramos Clemente.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Ramos initially intends to overthrow his nation's oppressive dictator, only to become a dictator far worse than him.
  • Ignored Epiphany: After he's thrown D'Alessandro off the balcony, Ramos looks shocked at himself. Shortly after killing Tabal and Garcia, he begins musing on how he's just killed three of his closest friends, close to him as brothers, and yet he doesn't feel grief or pain about it, which to him is very strange. When he kills Cristo, he looks ashamed at himself too. But ultimately, Ramos continues being an utterly bloodthirsty and paranoid tyrant, ordering more and more executions.
  • Improperly Paranoid: Ramos starts killing everybody close to him because of what the mirror (supposedly) shows him, assuming them to be traitorous assassins without any further kind of inquiry. In the end, he finally kills himself because of this very same thing. The last line of the episode, other than Serling's denouement, showcases that this happens to everybody that gets the mirror.
  • Large Ham: Peter Falk's performance is incredibly overwrought. It's posssibly intentional, as Ramos is meant to mimic Castro himself, who was one of history's biggest hams.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never revealed if the magic mirror actually shows future assassination plots against its owners, or if the stress and paranoia of leadership caused De Cruz and Ramos to hallucinate the things they saw.
  • Motor Mouth: Ramos speaks extremely quickly, similar to Castro himself.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ramos Clemente is a not-at-all-subtle Expy of Fidel Castro, who had recently gained US enmity after a period of initial American approval, and was in the process of tightening ties with the Soviets. Similalry, Ramos' associates are based on Castro's closest acquaintances, such as Tabal being based on Che Guevara. The entire episode, which was aired six months after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, is a giant and utterly scathing Take That! to Castro and his communist state, especially the mass executions of Former Regime Personnelnote  without trial, which he ordered after his victory in 1959, and showcases the predominant American attitude to Castro's Cuba at the time. In his closing narration, Rod Serling even makes a note that "Any resemblance to tyrants living or dead is hardly coincidental." Funnily enough, General De Cruz himself mentions both Castro and his predecessor Fulgencio Batista, the former right-wing dictator of Cuba on whom De Cruz himself is partially based off on, in the first scene.
  • Paranoia Gambit: De Cruz seems to be well aware that his warning about the mirror was setting Ramos on the path to self-destruction, thus giving him potential revenge on his enemy.
  • Public Execution: Ramos orders the mass public execution of 1,000 prisoners, all of whom are former followers of De Cruz. These executions continue unabated for a week, much to the horror of the people, and it's unclear at this point if they're even actual followers or just civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ramos tells Father Tomas that he will continue sending people to death so long as he has enemies.
  • The Quiet One: Tabal is explicitly called this by Ramos, as he has less than five lines in the entire episode, despite his inspiration Che Guevara being quite the talker in real life. However, Tabal still keeps Che's fiery temper and passionate mindset.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Ramos' revolution is implied to be a straight copy of the Cuban Revolution, which had occurred just two years ago. His soldiers use M1 Garands and wear Ridgway caps like the rebels of Castro's 26th of July Movement, and Ramos becomes infamous for show trials and mass executions of political prisoners he orders immediately after taking power - just like Castro did. Ramos even wears the exact same fatigues that Castro wore in 1960, with the episode being broadcasted in October 1961.
  • Short-Lived Leadership: Ramos lasts only a week in office before he commits suicide, too out of his mind to care about the actual responsibilities of leadership.
  • Shoot the Dangerous Minion: Subverted. Ramos has every single one of his closest subordinates killed, not because they're actually good at their jobs, but because his paranoia gets the best of him.
  • Undying Loyalty: Cristo defines himself as a "follower" in terms of men and expresses nothing but absolute loyalty towards Ramos. It unfortunately doesn't save him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: De Cruz is hauled away by guards after Ramos orders him executed, but he's not heard from for the rest of the episode, so we don't know if he was actually killed.

Rod Serling: Ramos Clemente, a would-be god in dungarees, strangled by an illusion, that will-o'-the-wisp mirage that dangles from the sky in front of the eyes of all ambitious men, all tyrants—and any resemblance to tyrants living or dead is hardly coincidental, whether it be here or in the Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 3 E 71 The Mirror