The Bittersweet Catharsis of One of The Twilight Zone’s Best Episodes

I am pumped for the Jordan Peele-hosted-narrated-produced THE TWILIGHT ZONE revival (2019). I’m a little less pumped that CBS is relegating exciting returns of their legendary franchises (see STAR TREK: DISCOVERY [2017-present]) to CBS All Access, but that’s not really the subject of my thoughts about THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959–1964) as of late. The timing of this news about Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE is serendipitous, since I’m watching through Rod Serling’s original masterpiece for the first time (the fourth, hour-long episodic format season of which is missing from Netflix for some reason). It may very well be the greatest television program of all time, and “The Big Tall Wish” may very well be its best episode. It’s certainly one of them.

“The Big Tall Wish” is the 27th episode of the first season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and aired on April 8, 1960. Directed by Ron Winston and written by Serling, it stars an all-black principal cast, an uncommon occurrence for television at the time. Later HOGAN’S HEROES (1965–1971) star, civil rights activist, and director Ivan Dixon played main character Bolie Jackson, a nearly washed-up boxer planning his big return. The prosthetics that give Dixon a nose that’s clearly been broken a number of times and other facial contusions are fine, but glare a bit in the high definition of today’s streaming options. Stephen Perry plays Henry Temple, a boy who lives in the same apartment building and looks up to Bolie. Kim Hamilton plays Frances Temple, Henry’s apparently single mother.

Bolie and Frances’ relationship is friendly but has a tinge of something more to it, although it’s never explicitly stated that the two are dating. He certainly represents a father figure for Henry. This casual, close dynamic is revolutionary in its own right. Anyways, in conversation with Bolie, Frances mentions that Henry has a habit of wishing for things that, coincidentally, often end up coming true. Obviously, since this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE, there are no coincidences. But let me be clear: nothing about the tone of “The Big Tall Wish” is sinister. It feels wistful, a little sad, but also heartwarming. It does reach desperation, however, when Bolie punches at his manager (or he might be the booker?) because the dude is a snake who’s essentially betting against Bolie. But Bolie misses and punches the wall, breaking his knuckles in his right hand just before the fight. Walter Burke, playing Bolie’s trainer, is a reassuring, great little character who fosters some camaraderie.

But as you might imagine, Bolie gets wrecked since he’s essentially using one hand. However, Henry watching at home wishes and wishes, replacing Bolie’s situation with his rival’s: he wins. No one remembers this sudden reversal of reality, but Bolie does have tinges of memory. Ultimately, he revels in the compliments and praise of people on the block as heads home, but when he gets there, Henry tells him he made “the biggest, tallest wish.” Bolie rejects this, and in a heartbreaking scene, he rails against Henry, telling him magic doesn’t exist. Henry pleads for him to stop, but Bolie’s negativity ultimately undoes the spell. He comes back to the ring, and he’s down. He’s lost. This time, neither Henry nor Bolie remember the victory “timeline,” and in a touching visit to Henry’s bedroom, Bolie seems to admit that magic may exist somewhere.

“The Big Tall Wish” is a bittersweet examination of race relations (Bolie’s opponent and manager are white, but so is his trainer), romantic relationships, cynicism, growing up, growing old, and father-son dynamics. I cried a couple times. Perry’s child performance can be a little strained at times, but the pure emotion in his voice and Dixon’s phenomenal performance gives the episode its powerful core. The magic is mystical, never really explained, and Bolie’s broken-down frame is ultimately revived by Henry. The episode is rife with symbolism and social commentary you can read into only as far as you release some of your expectations of a TWILIGHT ZONE narrative and consider the state of the African American experience in 1960. “The Big Tall Wish” is significant in its very deviance from its series’ traditional plots, but then, THE TWILIGHT ZONE did that really well. The episode’s heart, which doesn’t really conclude truly happily, is among the most relatable of THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s sensational supernaturalism. “The Big Tall Wish” is one of the more overlooked episodes of one of the most examined TV shows of all time, so check it out even if you’ve experienced a TWILIGHT ZONE marathon or two in your day.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store