The Once and Future King
In the present day (c. 1986), a young Elvis Impersonator named Gary Pitkin (Jeff Yagher) is performing his act in a underpopulated hotel lounge in Dubuque, Iowa, to general apathy from the patrons. Backstage, his manager Sandra (Lisa Jane Persky) informs him that she's booked him a residency in Las Vegas, and he is livid, realizing that his uncanny resemblance to the late King of Rock and Roll is going to pigeonhole him for the rest of his career, despite his genuine enthusiasm for rock and roll music. He passionately argues that Vegas killed Elvis, having little regard for his later career and the poor decisions he made during it. Sandra is unmoved - she pulled a lot of strings to get him this residency and if he turns it down, he can forget about her continuing to represent him. She bluntly informs him that he is a nostalgia act, and the music he plays isn't his music. She would know, having once met the real Elvis, briefly, toward the end of his life, when he spouted out paranoid and delusional ravings about how he wasn't really the King. Gary, frustrated at what this means for his future, storms out and, late at night, drives down a lonesome country road, before a drunk driver forces him to swerve off the road and into a ditch. He loses consciousness.
When he awakens, he is uninjured and, equipped only with the clothes on the back and his guitar, tries to hitchhike to get a ride. He is picked up by a truck driven by what appears to be another Elvis impersonator, who claims he is headed for Memphis. Gary, having nowhere else to go, accepts the ride, discovering on the way that he has gone back in time - the date on the newspaper he finds on the car floor says July 3, 1954. He realizes that the man in the car with him is the real Elvis Presley, and he's just 48 hours away from his legendary audition for Sun Records which launches his recording career. Elvis isn't sure what to make of this mysterious stranger, but when he gets to work at Crown Electric, his boss points out that the other young man could be his brother. Elvis is convinced that Gary must be his stillborn twin brother risen from the dead, and Gary decides to go along with this in order to try and steer Elvis onto the right track - to help prevent the mistakes that Elvis made in the history that he remembers. He and Elvis arrange to meet the following day - Independence Day - to rehearse for the recording.
Gary tantalizes Elvis with his promises of all the fantastic wealth and women that will come his way when he becomes a music star. Elvis is mostly pleased that he'll have the opportunity to provide for his beloved mother, Gladys. Gary, excited to hear his idol play, asks him to perform the song he'll be auditioning with the next day - and is shocked and upset to hear "I Love You Because", a treacly ballad. Gary is confused as to why Elvis isn't going to be singing the song history remembers him singing, the rockabilly number "That's All Right". When Gary plays it for him in a loose, rip-roaring style complete with trademark Elvis hip gyrations, the would-be King of Rock and Roll is mortified. Why, that sort of thing is indecent. Gary, not expecting this, immediately becomes defensive and makes the fatal mistake of calling Elvis, in his frustration, a "son of a bitch". For Elvis, always a Momma's Boy, this is beyond the pale. He now understands what Gary really is - a devil sent to tempt him. After all, he is playing the devil's music! Elvis decides to leave, and Gary desperately pleads with him to accept that this is his music. This sends Elvis into a rage and he attacks Gary. In the ensuing fight, his guitar is broken and then, in one sudden move, Elvis finds himself impaled on it. He dies instantly. Gary is forced to bury the King of Rock and Roll in a shallow grave, wondering what to do. He slowly begins to realize that he must take the place of the man he killed in order to live out the history he remembers, removing his clothes and beginning to speak like Elvis as he pledges to make his momma proud.
On the next day, July 5, 1954, Gary-as-Elvis, nervous and anxious, finds himself outside the Sun Records studio, and after some hesitation enters, his disguise fooling everyone. Gary, in the recording booth, patiently waits for Sam Phillips to be present to witness him performing. He starts an "impromptu" jam performance of "That's All Right" and, after Sam hears it and likes it, starts recording it as his audition, just as history remembers.
Dissolve to more than 20 years later, in Las Vegas, where the now-middle-aged Gary-as-Elvis, in full costume, is discussing how his life has unfolded since that fateful day. In honor of the man he killed and whose identity he assumed, he lived out his (and therefore Elvis') life exactly as he remembered it, making all the same mistakes not because he wanted to, but because he felt Elvis would have wanted to, and he owes him. Bitter and plagued with guilt, he admits he has wondered over the years if the actual Elvis Presley would have even become the King of Rock and Roll in the first place, a question which gives him headaches every time he thinks about it. The camera then cuts to his captive audience, a young woman we recognize as Sandra, his future manager. We are now seeing the encounter she mentioned before playing out in front of us. Ironically, Sandra insists that this imposter before her is the King, the only King. Gary smiles ruefully, tells her to be true to herself, and gives her his scarf before she leaves. He sits in his chair, staring out the window of his glitzy Vegas hotel suite in silence.
A Saucer of Loneliness
This episode contains the following tropes:
- Back from the Dead: Elvis believes Gary is his stillborn identical twin brother, Jesse. Gary does nothing to dissuade him from believing this. Weirdly, at first Elvis doesn't seem to notice the strong resemblance between them.
- Book-Ends: The episode begins and ends on a conversation between Sandra and Gary, who is dressed as Elvis Presley.
- Born in the Wrong Century: This is Gary in a nutshell. The opening narration even says he was born 25 years too late. He is passionate about rock and roll - which, his manager points out, makes him a nostalgia act. Sandra herself is a lesser example - in 1977, at a time when Gary notes that most of Elvis' fans were middle-aged ladies, she was a tender 18 years old, and swoons over the bloated, drunken, middle-aged King like it's 1956. (Presumably her adoration of Elvis is how she came to encounter Gary in the first place.)
- The Cameo: Two kinds.
- Actors: Elvis' Real Life best friend Red West appears as his boss at the loading dock.
- Characters: Sam Phillips, Marion Keisker, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black all appear and are identified by name in the Sun Records audition scene.
- Double-Blind What-If: Gary, as Elvis, speculates how history might have been different if the real Elvis Presley had lived to become the King, or if there even would have been a King at all. He comments that he lived most of his life in tribute to how he would have wanted it, with the rock and roll apparently being the only indulgence that Gary, not Elvis, had sought. We as viewers know that the real Elvis lived an identical life to Gary Pitkin, so he is indeed paying tribute to the life of the man he stole.
- Elvis Impersonator: Gary makes his living as one. Turns out he's more than just an impersonator...
- The Faceless: The drunk driver who runs Gary off the road is unseen.
- Identical Stranger: Gary is one to the young Elvis Presley, albeit with different grooming habits. His manager Sandra comments that he could be his twin - and Gary wryly comments that his twin was born dead.
- Irony: Appears frequently throughout the story.
- Gary tells Sandra he looks just like Elvis, but that doesn't mean he has to make the same mistakes he did. In fact, he does - every last one of them.
- Gary pledges to take on Elvis' life and identity, essentially becoming a prisoner of history, on the fourth of July, 1954 - Independence Day.
- Gary informs Sandra he'll never be caught wearing a white suit singing "My Way" in Vegas. In the final scene, he does just that.
- The real Elvis Presley hates rock and roll, saying it isn't "decent" and even breaks out the term "devil's music" to describe it. (Turns out this isn't ironic after all, because he isn't the one who sings rock and roll.)
- When Gary/Elvis sings "My Way" in the end, there's definitely bitter irony to it - because the whole point is that he didn't do it his own way.
- In the opening scene, Sandra flatly tells Gary that Elvis' music is not his music. She couldn't be more wrong. Later (albeit earlier, chronologically) she gushes to the exact same person that he is the King, the only King, and that nobody can ever replace him. She's wrong about that, too.
- Lost in Character: When Gary becomes Elvis, he never shakes his new identity for the rest of his life. Even when he confesses the truth to Sandra, he can't bring himself to drop his Elvis impression and speak to her in his normal voice or reveal his real name.
- Newspaper Dating: Gary is convinced he's gone back in time when he finds a newspaper on the floor of the pickup truck he's hitchhiking on - the Memphis Commercial Appeal, dated Saturday July 3, 1954. (Just to make absolutely sure everyone knows this is a newspaper from The '50s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower is on the front page.)
- Parents Know Their Children: In 1977, when Gary tells Sandra his story, he believes that he did not fool Elvis' mother Gladys, and that her knowing (or at least suspecting) the truth was probably what killed her (she died in 1958).
- Politically Correct History: Averted - Gary is wearing a t-shirt with Chuck Berry on it and Elvis' boss at the loading dock questions why he has a "Negro" on his shirt.
- Power Copying: This might be Gary's greatest skill. After having known the real Elvis Presley for a few hours at most, and having heard him sing for mere seconds, he is able to imitate him perfectly enough that he fools everyone who ever knew him - excepting perhaps his mother - completely.
- Stable Time Loop: Gary Pitkin goes back in time to July 3, 1954 and kills Elvis Presley the following day, assuming his identity and living out the rest of what history records as his life. He gives a message to the woman who will someday become his younger self's manager, which she then relays to him just before he goes back in time. He remembers this story and when he sees her younger self in the audience, he invites her to his hotel room, and so on, and so forth.
- Time Travel: Gary Pitkin travels back from 1986 to July 3, 1954 via the Twilight Zone.
- Vague Age: It's unclear just how old Gary is when he is sent back in time. The opening narration suggests he was born "25 years too late" - taking that literally, he was born in 1960, 25 years after Elvis, which would make him 26 (about the same age as the actor who plays him). But in the final scene, likely set in 1977 (as he says "it won't be long now"), he says "I've been him longer than I've been me", which would indicate he was no older than 22.
- Waxing Lyrical: Although he detests rock and roll, the real Elvis Presley frequently quotes the lyrics to songs he (or rather Gary) will go on to record.
- You Will Be Beethoven: When the real Elvis Presley impales himself on his own broken guitar neck and dies, Gary is forced to assume his identity in order to live out his life. This is one of the few works to explore the psychological ramifications assuming someone else's identity would have on a person in the long term.
- Your Mom: What sets Elvis off initially is when Gary inadvertently calls him a "son of a bitch" and he takes it literally.