A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
Oh, look, a political thriller.

It's 2018 as I write this, and "collusion" is still in the air. But no one has suggested that Trump has been replaced by a Russian agent using a malleable-body serum and a Christmas cookie cutter mold.

Yet.

"The Hundred Days of the Dragon" is Outer Limits' first and last foray into straight political thriller. It's not big on horror, or science fiction. Other than the basic premise of a malleability serum, which is basically a quick version of plastic surgery, there aren't any supranatural elements at all.


Part of the reason may be that Allan Balter co-wrote the episode along with Robert Mintz. When I saw Balter's name, a lot of the reviews I've read clicked in my mind. Why? Because although Mintz wasn't much of a TV writer, Balter and his partner William Read Woodfield did a lot of work on Mission: Impossible. You might not recognize the episode names, but Balter and Woodfield did some of the most well-known MI episodes of the show's first few seasons. Including "The Execution", which they intended as a statement against the death sentence. Where the IMF basically terrorize a hitman into selling out his boss by recreating the gas chamber and "executing" him. So seeing Balter write an episode of OL making political statements and having secret agents who can disguise themselves isn't at all surprising.


So let's recap. "Oriental" despot Li-Chin Sung has a scientist working on a malleability serum as part of a plan to bring the U.S. to its knees. The scientist perfects the serum and demonstrates it on Major Wong, an agent chosen because of his physical resemblance to William Lyons Selby, the frontrunner for President of the U.S. The agent has also memorized Selby's life and can perfectly mimic his voice. With the aid of the serum and a metal face mold, he looks just like Selby.

Major Wong then goes to Chicago where Selby is campaigning. Selby conveniently doesn't have any security so Wong breaks into Selby's hotel room, knocks him out, injects him with the serum, erases his now-malleable fingerprints and gives him a stranger's face with a second mold, then injects himself so he can mold his face to look like Selby. The agent then shoots Selby dead and as "Selby", claims that a man broke in trying to assassinate him and he shot him in self-defense.


And yes, one Wong makes a Selby. Sadly, they didn't call the candidate "Wright".

Everyone buys this, including Selby's running mate, Ted Pearson. Played by Phillip Pine, another HITG who is probably best known for playing Colonel Green on Trek's "The Savage Curtain".


The rest of the episode after this setup is basically "Selby" acting different enough that soon Ted and the real Selby's daughter Carol notice that things aren't quite right. Meanwhile, "Selby" meets with Sung and prepares to announce the withdrawal of troops from a contended valley in Asia. Since the real Selby told Ted he was against the withdrawal, Ted figures that something isn't quite right. Meanwhile, "Selby" and Sung casually sit in the Oval Office and plot the replacement of politicians and businessmen.

They send an agent, Wen Li (HITG James Hong), to replace Pearson. For some reason Wen Li goes in with his face already transformed into Ted's. Ted sees Wen Li before he makes his escape, which pretty much tips the game. Ted has no trouble convincing the Secret Service and FBI to believe him. Selby's body has been cremated and "Selby" has cancelled his dental appointment, preventing them from identifying the imposter from the dental records. Fortunately, Selby's son-in-law is a TV scientist and has heard of the malleability process, and puts it all together for Ted.


Sung sends Wen Li after Ted again to kill and replace him. It's not clear if they think he'll actually do something to stop the withdrawal, or they just think the VP position is that important. This time the Secret Service are watching and capture the guy. They also get the serum and Ted confronts "Selby" at a reception and accuses him of being an imposter. He injects "Selby" with the serum and smooshs his face. This somehow proves that "Selby" is an imposter, but Ted refuses to declare war on the unnamed Oriental country. The Secret Service take smoosh-face Wong away, and that's the end of the episode.

The basic message of the episode is "Give peace a chance". But other than a brief conversation between Ted and his wife Ann (Joan Camden, still a Margaret Hamilton/Terri Garr mash-up who later appears in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork"), nobody really pushes the message.


Which makes the denouement a bit weird. The unidentified Oriental country has basically committed an act of war by assassinating a U.S. Presidential candidate and letting their man get elected. And Ted, who was pushing for keeping the U.S. troops in the contested valley, says, "Nope, guess there won't be a war. No missile firing today."

It's not really an abrupt turn because we never find how pro- or anti-war Ted is. It just doesn't track with what we've been watching. Admittedly, Ted has no real proof that the enemy was responsible for the impersonation. Smooshing Wong's Selby-face doesn't prove anything. Forcing him into a dental exam and checking his teeth against Selby's record would at least prove Wong ain't Selby, but it wouldn't connect Wong to his superiors.


The episode does a good job of recreating a political campaign through a combination of filling rooms with extras, and mixing footage of political parades with tighter shots of Selby and Ted in a car while crowd noises play over the sound track. There is a mildly tacky photo of "Selby" donning an Indian headdress and meeting with an Indian chief while he campaigns. Yay, early 60s!

And yes, "Hundred Days" is lit unlike most SF shows of the period. Thanks to director of photography Conrad L. Hall, who is credited with bring the noir lighting to the first season of OL. They lost a lot of that in the second season except in bits and pieces, and it was the show's loss. Hall does a lot with shadows, whether it's the vaguely tropical plant shadows moving in the opening lab, or the darker shadows that characters step into until they step out. Mace in "The Chameleon" and Paul in "Corpus Earthling" get the shadow treatment, too.


There are also just some quirky bits of acting. I particularly like the bit where the scientist, Dr. Sui-Lin, takes out the face mold and caresses it like he's Gollum and the mold is his Precious.


The main problem is that there just isn't much to the episode. The (vaguely Communist Chinese) enemy kills a candidate, substitutes a disguised agent, the agent gets found out, that's it. There are a few Mission Impossible-style shenanigans. If the IMF were tasked with killing enemy candidates and taking their place, it would be a lot like this episode without them making dumb mistakes like disguising themselves as the victims before they kill them. The Commies have the advantage that the Secret Service seem to be absent for most of the episode, too. If Selby and Ted had actual security, the episode would be over much quicker.

So "Hundred Days" isn't what I'd consider a great episode. It's a bit too mundane for OL, and there are a few too many plot holes for it to be a decent political thriller. It's a "great adventure", just like the narration says. And the show is the better for having it. But it's not must-see TV.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
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Jan 13, 2018
The thing that stood out for me was the Vice President living in a house with a screened back door someone could sneak into. I agree with your assessment of the lighting on the first season and the episode overall. Not a highlight of the series, but not terrible either. Then again, I think it was only the second episode. "O.B.IT." is almost a political thriller, albeit with more over sci-fi-fi elements.
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