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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S5E17: "Number 12 Looks Just Like You"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 5 E 137 Number 12 Looks Just Like You

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Foreground: Marilyn, before.
Foreground: Marilyn, after.

Rod Serling: Given the chance, what young girl wouldn't happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let's call it the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future in which science has developed the means of giving everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow, but it happens now... in the Twilight Zone.

Air date: January 24, 1964

A woman named Lana Cuberle (Suzy Parker) debates the merits of two images of perfect, beautiful women on a screen, number 8 and number 12. Her daughter, Marilyn (Collin Wilcox), wasn't listening. As it turns out, Lana is trying to help Marilyn decide which pattern for "The Transformation" she will become. Instead, Marilyn was looking wistfully at an old scrapbook of her mother's that shows what Lana looked like before The Transformation. Lana talks about how wonderful everything became once she decided to look just like number 12, but Marilyn has her doubts. Her Uncle Rick (Richard Long), who chose number 17 when the time for his own Transformation came around, tries to talk it over with her, but she remembers her father and his individualistic ideals. Uncle Rick is quick to remind her that he was also a number 17.

Eventually, Lana takes her to see Dr. Rex, also a number 17, and he goes through a big speech about how it's okay for Marilyn to be so anxious about The Transformation. How could she stand another minute of living such a horrid, ugly existence? It's perfectly norm-oh wait, she doesn't want it? Well, it is of course totally voluntary. No one will force you to become transformed, they will simply find whatever it is that makes you not want it and snuff that out. Rex sends her to Professor Sig, also a number 17, who continues to assure her the change is not compulsory, but that such "smut" as the nonsense of Shakespeare, Keats and Dostoevsky should not cloud her judgement. Those things were banned a long time ago, along with the physical and emotional ugliness of the past. Why shouldn't Marilyn undergo The Transformation and never again suffer a wrinkle or anything else that isn't curable with a glass of Instant Smile? But Marilyn persists with her delusions of the value in not looking the same as everyone else or being happy all the time, until Sig has a nurse commit her with "a mild sedative."

Lana visits, along with Marilyn's friend Valerie. Marilyn tries to tell them that "They" are lying and that The Transformation isn't something left to choice. The women don't understand; who are "they"? And why is Marilyn so upset about the change when all they want to do is to make her beautiful and happy? Valerie doesn't get why Marilyn is so wrapped up in what her father used to say—he's dead and she's had almost a dozen different fathers. (People have lots of those nowadays.) Marilyn goes into a fit, saying that her father was Driven to Suicide by The Transformation because of how his identity was taken away and wonders if Valerie can feel anything at all. Valerie insists, of course she can; she feels good, always, because life is pretty, life is fun, she is all and all is one. Marilyn develops a Madness Mantra in response: "You can't understand! You can't understand! You can't understand!"

Later, Marilyn tries to make a run for it, passing yet another number 17 orderly along the way. She stumbles into Dr. Rex, where her fate is sealed. She has "chosen" number 8. Lana and Valerie meet the new Marilyn, who is free of all her doubt and worry. She admires herself in a mirror—life for her is now just as perfect, fun and pretty as it is for Val, as it is for Lana, as it is, presumably, for everybody.

Number 12 Looks Just Like Tropes:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In the short story "The Beautiful People" by Charles Beaumont, the names of the protagonist, her mother and her psychiatrist are Mary Cuberle, Zena Cuberle and Dr. Hortel respectively. In the television adaptation, their names are Marilyn Cuberle, Lana Cuberle and Dr. Rex.
  • Adapted Out: The television adaptation omits Mr. Willmes, Mary's supervisor at Interplan who fires her when he learns that she does not intend to undergo the Transformation.
  • Adults Are Useless: All but Marilyn's father.
  • Anti-Villain: In the original story, Marilyn is forced into the Transformation by a court. That aspect is dropped here, which adds to the horror; nobody in this story is malicious in the slightest. They genuinely believe this is the right thing to do, and they're confused and heartbroken that Marilyn doesn't want to be just like them.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The transformation makes people beautiful, but has also stripped them of any individual thought or empathy. Even the concepts of Love become foreign. Marilyn's mother has undergone eleven different marriages as a result of it.
  • Break the Cutie: Dr. Rex is very proficient at this.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Just as the narration compares the procedure to current ways to "conform" to beauty standards, Marilyn smiles directly at the camera.
  • Canon Foreigner: The television adaptation features three supporting characters who did not appear in "The Beautiful People": Val, Uncle Rick and Professor Sigmund Friend.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Everyone is beautiful and forever young and nobody suffers any kind of sadness or fear...but this comes at the cost of lack of individuality, empathy and thought. People don't know how to love and personally connect anymore, creating whirlwind relationships (Maryln's own mother was married and re-married eleven times). And there is already one case of a suicide as a result of it.
  • Culture Police: The works of William Shakespeare, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Aristotle, Socrates and Fyodor Dostoevsky were all banned many years earlier as their ideas were considered subversive. Professor Sigmund Friend accuses Marilyn of introducing smut to the interview when she mentions that she has read them.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Marilyn's father died before the plot, but not before he taught her his individualistic ideas and gave her books to read.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In "The Beautiful People", Mary's father was killed in the Ganymede Incident. In the television adaptation, he committed suicide as he bitterly regretted undergoing the Transformation and his family covered up his death by claiming that he died in the Ganymede Incident.
  • Downer Ending: Although it's a Happy Ending from the characters' standpoint. Marilyn is forced into getting the transformation and comes out just like everyone else.
  • Driven to Suicide: Marilyn's father Jack committed suicide five years earlier as he believed that the Transformation had robbed him of his identity.
  • Fictional Sport: Marilyn mentions electronic baseball and super soccer.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Rod Serling delivers the ending narration as Marilyn is observing herself in the mirror... and the last shot of the episode is her turning to look at the viewer as the narration ends.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: The conversion process to make you one of The Beautiful Elite makes you blissfully happy about it in the process. Earlier on in this same episode, the young lady who didn't want to become homogenized to look as good as everybody else was told by her mother to "have a cup of Instant Smile." It was pretty clear that "Instant Smile" was far more than just a brand name for hot chocolate.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Related to Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul; The Transformation alters the minds of patients so that all they feel/understand is happiness. People who haven't had the transformation yet may have a drink called "Instant Smile."
  • Hollywood Homely: Invoked as part of the larger mentality of this universe. Marilyn isn't a stunning beauty or anything, but by the audience's standards, she's not unattractive either. It's just that, in an age where everyone can be surgically perfected, anyone who doesn't have the surgery is seen as ugly by comparison.
  • Hope Spot: Valerie asks to speak in private with Marilyn about her father, seeming to be the one sympathetic person who finally understands her... only for her to callously dismiss her father as being dead and having been a dull person, and also revealing that it's regular for people to get married and divorced several times these days.
  • Humans Are Morons: In fairness, it's suggested that people are essentially dumbed down by the Transformation.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: The hourglass shape seems to en vogue in the future.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Once every person comes of age, they are forcibly given plastic surgery and a personality change to make them beautiful and identical to everyone else.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Most characters are named after beautiful Hollywood stars: Marilyn (Marilyn Monroe), Lana (Lana Turner), Grace (Grace Kelly), Eva (Eva Marie Saint), Valerie (Valerie Allen), and Rex (Rex Harrison).
    • Two of the women who underwent the Number 12 transformation, as Lana did, are named Jane and Doe. This refers to the fact that the people of this society are all altered to match one of a small number of models, and are therefore essentially anonymous as they lack individuality.
    • The second psychiatrist that Marilyn sees is named Professor Sigmund Friend.
  • Minimalist Cast: While there are multiple characters in the episode, there are only four cast members: Collin Wilcox, Suzy Parker, Richard Long and Pam Austin.
  • No Peripheral Vision: As Marilyn tries to escape near the end, it only takes her going up against a wall to remain unseen by a passing nurse. Then again, the society proved themselves to be rather unintelligent after the surgery.
  • Only Sane Man: That's what Marilyn comes to realize at some point.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: When Marilyn and Valerie get into an argument about Marilyn's father, Marilyn says that she loved him because he loved her for who she was on the inside.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Well, a very sketchy one. If Marilyn's own father had committed suicide despite going through a process that would've basically dumbed him down and made him a smiling idiot because he knew something had been taken from him, then there's a slim chance Marilyn can regain some sense of her identity despite what was done to her. However, Dr. Rex also claims that "improvements" to the procedure now prevents the "difficulty adjusting to the idea," hinting that even this hope is gone.
  • Serial Spouse: Marriages are extremely short-lived in this society. Lana has had ten husbands, nine of them in the last five years, while Val's mother has had eleven.
  • Surgical Impersonation: The transformation.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The opening narration gives the date as 2000 "for want of a better estimate."
  • Unbuilt Trope: The episode is an absolutely vicious take on the Unnecessary Makeover trope, as a teenage girl who doesn't fit the conventional definition of beauty is repeatedly encouraged to get a surgical procedure to enhance her appearance and make her like everyone else. She repeatedly refuses and cites the importance of knowledge and character over appearance, only to be kidnapped and forced into it. The episode's ending with her as an exact copy of her friend and having lost any trace of her original personality is chilling. And it was made in 1963. It's less a Deconstruction and more of a prophecy about the onset of innumerable plastic surgery shows where women are encouraged to cut apart their bodies to be considered acceptable.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: One of the most chilling aspects of the story is that all the characters, including the villains, have nothing but the best intentions.
  • We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: No one has any, with all women besides Marilyn wearing leotards.

Rod Serling: Portrait of a young lady in love... with herself. Improbable? Perhaps. But in an age of plastic surgery, bodybuilding and an infinity of cosmetics, let us hesitate to say impossible. These and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future, which, after all, is the Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 5 E 137 Number 12 Looks Just Like You