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Recap / The Twilight Zone S2E42 "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

A woman, Janet Tyler, is confined in a hospital, her face wrapped in bandages as she awaits the outcome of an operation. This operation, the last allowed after multiple experimental treatments for her condition, is the only thing that might allow her to live in normal society, rather than being sent to a village of "freaks".

The Tropes of the Beholder:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Rod Serling's ending narration raises the questions of this world and why it is, before saying the answers make no difference.
  • An Aesop: Beauty is relative, and we should accept people as they are.
  • Bandaged Face: Miss Tyler, until the end of the episode.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: When the doctor wonders aloud why Janet Tyler and the others with her deformity can't simply be allowed to be different, the nurse warns him to be careful as he is speaking treason.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Janet is unsuccessful in getting her face fixed. But is allowed to live in a community of people who also share her "deformity". Where, presumably at least, she'll be happy.
  • Broken Aesop: Not within the episode, anyway, but in real life merchandise based on this episode 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, the doctors and nurses are compassionate and worried about what will happen to Janet if her operation is unsuccessful- 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 has tears in his eyes as he watches her leave.
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  • Crapsack World: The episode is set in some 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. Anyone who doesn't fit the Leader's appearance standards gets banished to distant villages for "freaks". We hear him rant about "glorious conformity". Say what you will about American beauty standards, at least we don't drive people out for falling short. And if all that isn't bad enough, the doctor makes a reference to the "extermination of undesirables" and raises at least the possibility that this might happen to Janet.
  • 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 the difference in beauty standards.
  • The Faceless: Everyone (excluding Rod Serling) until the last few minutes.
  • Foreshadowing: The fact that it's carefully filmed to not show the doctor and nurses' faces suggests something's being hidden about their looks.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Janet remembers such things as hearing a child scream at seeing her face, and when she sees that the operation has failed, she bursts into tears.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Janet Tyler has had 10 previous surgeries over the years to try and fix her face. The episode concerns the last one she's allowed to have before being sent away to a community. She tells the nurse that she never wanted to be beautiful, only for people not to scream when they looked at her.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: Inverted. Janet's face stays beautiful no matter how many times they try to alter it.
  • Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: While all the "normal" faces look sort of like pigs (to us, anyways), all of the male faces are biased to the right while all the females are to the left.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Leader is based on Adolf Hitler. In his speech, he continually stresses the importance of ensuring "glorious conformity" and abiding by a single norm. He says that all that is different must be cut out like a cancerous filth as differences weaken the state.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Miss Tyler's face isn't actually revealed till the end of the episode, but everyone keeps talking about how horrible it is.
  • Persecution Flip: On a meta level, anyway. To us, the viewers, this is about a world where our idea of great beauty is seen as so freakish it's socially disabling- but in-universe, Janet has a severe, disturbing facial deformity from birth.
  • The Reveal: Janet is strikingly beautiful — it's everyone else who is 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.
  • Sympathy for the Hero: Downplayed as they aren't really bad guys but the doctors and nurses have nothing but sympathy for Janet and her 'condition.' At the end, when Janet is taken to the community, you can see the looks of pity and sadness on their faces, seemingly very saddened that they couldn't help her.
  • Title Drop: Near the end of the episode, Walter Smith, a representative from the "freak" community, tells Janet that there is a very old saying: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
  • Tomato Surprise: One of the most famous examples of this trope. As it turns out, Janet is actually conventionally beautiful. To us, anyway. In this world, she's as disfigured and hideous as we perceive the "normal" doctors and staff. And, when she meets Mr. Smith, who will take her to the community of people like her, she has a minor freak-out, just like she described children reacting to hernote .
  • Wham Shot:
    • After we're told Janet's last surgery had no effect, we finally get to see her face... and it's that of a human's...
    • 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 the sedative needle... revealing he looks somewhere 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.