Welcome to the first installment of Learning the Lessons of the Twilight Zone. The first episode we’re going to be learning from is Eye of the Beholder (S2E6). Warning: There will be spoilers.
There’s something special about an episode that really shows you little, but tell you a lot about the human condition and how we treat the concept of beauty. Beauty has always been something humans crave whether we know it or not. We see so many different things as beautiful, but then, and even now, there’s still these certain types of beauty that we tend to strive for within our own personal likes and dislikes. Some crave the beautiful that comes with just being normal, but in a society where “normal” changes every so often, we can’t really keep up. Enter Twilight Zone’s Eye of the Beholder, one of the few episodes that puts your face first with the obsession with beauty and the need for conformity in its own upside perspective.
Eye of the Beholder tells the story of Janet Tyler, a woman who has had up to 10 surgeries on her face to make it better. Janet is covered in bandages, lying in a hospital bed and pleading, almost starving, for any kind of interaction beyond the darkness she’s forced to see. We’re introduced to her as she embarks on her 11th, but after this surgery, there are no more options for her except for one, to go to a place where her “kind” is joined together to keep out of the way of the normals. With these surgeries, she strives to be a “normal” that everyone else is and that the state requires her to be. We don’t see Janet’s face until the final moments of the episode when we see what is normal and abnormal in this world.
Let’s talk about some things first within the episode first. An incredible achievement throughout this episode is how much we are told just through dialogue, mainly though Janet’s monologues, tantrums and pleading with the doctors and nurses. As I’ve said before, most of the episode transpires with Janet’s face completely unseen. We hear her through the bandages and don’t know her facial expressions. We’re so used to looking at people when they’re speaking, looking at faces to analyze what they say and dissecting their facial expressions, but we don’t get that here. In fact, Janet’s face isn’t the only face we don’t see. In very clever camera movements, we don’t see anyone else’s face either, including the doctors or nurses, until the last few minutes and it’s such a payoff when we get it.
Once we get to the shock of it all, we see the real face of what’s normal and what’s not. The nurses unwrap the bandages from her face for the first time. Slowly, but surely, Janet’s vision come into focus. We follow her as the bandages unwrap around her and we are introduced to the light too. We hope for triumph but the doctors and nurses jump back in horror. The surgery didn’t work. We see Janet’s face for the first time. She’s beautiful. She’s blonde. She’s looks like Janet Leigh and Marilyn Monroe’s baby. The doctor and nurse pin her down and this is when we see the different. While Janet’s face is beautiful (by our standards), the doctor and nurse are…. different. They have duck like lips, shallow eyes and look like they came straight out of a toxic Whoville. They’re the normality in this world. Janet is the ugly one.
The Lesson: This episode follows in line with that old classic saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” By saying this, it means that beauty exists in the eye of the person who is observing. It is created by the observer who decides what is beautiful to them. Take that in the context of this episode where beautiful is turned fully on its head. The ugliness that we would think isn’t beautiful is the most beautiful of all. The beautiful, that we associate with, are shunned and hauled off to live separate from that society.
What’s cool and a bit sad about Eye of the Beholder is that it can be in any lifetime. Janet went through 11 facial surgeries in order for her to look like everyone else to conform and to be beauty in the eyes of the state and everyone around her. She went through all of this not to be shunned by anyone and to be desired. In this lifetime, we see beauty in many different ways. We all have our different perspectives of what we find beautiful whether it be looks, personality, etc. There’s always gonna be something different we see to what other see. Sometimes we also only see one type of thing as being beautiful and shun anyone else who doesn’t live up to our/anyone’s standard of beauty.
Another lesson this episode tackles alongside the idea of beauty is the idea of conformity. The idea that you have to be like everyone else in order to live your best life and succeed in a life where everyone is the same. If you can live up to this idea of conformity, in Twilight Zone land, you’re golden. If you can’t conform to the ideas that people have set for you or people want for you: Get out. The confliction that Janet and everyone like Janet had to go through is absolutely heartbreaking, but it really shows that you don’t have to change in order to be loved, accepted and found beautiful because in the end, she found a community where her “ugliness” was considered beautiful and that’s the biggest lesson of all.
Similar Episodes: The Number 12 Looks Like You (S5: E17)