The Twilight Zone

Season 1 Episode 27

The Big Tall Wish

Aired Unknown Apr 08, 1960 on CBS
out of 10
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144 votes

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Episode Summary

An over-the-hill boxer gets a boost from one of his biggest fans - a little boy with an unwavering belief in magic.

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  • The Big Tall Wish

    I thought I was going to hate this. I read Stephen King's Danse Macabre back in high school; if you're unfamiliar with the book, it's King's overview of the horror genre in literature, film, and television, and it's a fun read, especially considering I was a teenager desperate to find new things to try. The only problem is, King's very opinionated. That's good, because it makes him passionate and invested in what he's talking about, and he's smart enough to justify most of his opinions. But there are sections of Danse which can be outright dismissive, like King's tirade against the filmography of Ed Wood, and his somewhat condescending take on The Twilight Zone. Basically an excuse to boost The Outer Limits by taking the better known Zone down a few pegs, King criticized Serling's purple dialog, his often predictable reliance on twists, and, as is relevant to today's first episode, Serling's occasionally soppy sentimentality. Even though I'd long since realized that, much as I admire King and enjoy his work, I don't always agree with his critical judgment, I still had it in my head that "Wish" is a "bad" episode.

    Now that I've actually seen it, I no longer think this is true. Maybe "The Big Tall Wish" benefited from my lowered expectations, but this one worked for me. Sure it's soppy, but there's enough pain and sadness that the soppiness feels earned. After all, this is the story of a little kid with the power to make whatever he wants happen, just by wishing it; only, it doesn't matter, since any wish he makes big enough to make the world better, nobody's going to believe it long enough for it to take hold. This episode would make a fine companion piece for "It's A Good Life," a third season episode in which a sociopathic eight year-old (ie, an eight year-old) holds an entire town hostage with the power of his mind. Both episodes transform the intensity and passion of a child's ability to believe in the impossible into a power with a demonstrable effect on reality. In "Good Life," this effect just happens to be absolutely terrifying. "Wish" is more optimistic about the dreams of young boys, or at least one young boy. Henry just wants everything to work out for the people he loves. But it's just not as simple as wanting.

    Henry's had some luck with his wanting before; his mother, Frances tells family friend Bolie Jackson that was short on rent last month, and Henry made what he called "the big tall wish," and a check that just happened to match the amount she needed came in the mail next day. But that was an easy enough wish to pull off. The check came from Frances's aunt, and required little in the way of suspension of disbelief. It was easy to assume it was all just a coincidence; Henry seems like an intense kid, he's probably always saying crazy stuff. But his next wish isn't so simple. Bolie is a washed up prize-fighter going back into the ring for a match there's no hope he can win. He's broken, beaten, and down on his luck, and he could use a lucky break. Only, when Henry gives him that lucky break, wishing so hard that he changes the outcome of the fight right at the moment when Bolie seems most likely to lose it, Bolie can't quite accept his good fortune. He wants to, he really does, but he's sure deep in his hear that the world doesn't work this way. Losers don't get second chances, and little kids can't change the world just by wanting it. So Henry's wish loses its magic, and Bolie is brought back to the fight, and this time he loses just like he knew he would.

    Given the episode's reputation as a mire of sentiment, I was surprised by that ending. There's not a lot of hope in it. Bolie's still a good man, and no one dies or suffers unduly, but the sight of a good man so wrecked by experience that he can't accept it when he's given an amazing gift isn't exactly a pick-me-up. You could read Bolie's lack of faith as a refusal to accept a hand out, even one given with the best of intentions, but it doesn't play that way. The moral or message or punchline of "Wish" is that magic does exist; it's just that most grown-ups are too wrecked by their own lives to accept it. I suppose there's a religious allegory in there somewhere, but the episode doesn't seem to be pushing one. It's more interested in the way innocence allows children the freedom to believe that life could be better than it is, and adulthood means accepting that, no, it probably can't.

    "Wish" overplays this card to a certain extent; a decent chunk of the episode is taken up with Bolie talking about how miserable everything is, and saying how he can't accept that life might not be miserable. This starts off as sad and understandable, but by the end, well, we get it. Bolie is a depressed dude, he has every reason to be glum, and we don't really need him to flat out say, "I guess there's no magic because no one believes in it any more." We get it. We just watched twenty-five minutes demonstrating it. There's also a scene between Bolie and a guy at the boxing arena that exists entirely to remind us that Bolie is supposed to lose this fight, and that he's got integrity, and while it's not a bad scene, in retrospect, I'm not sure why it's there. Maybe to justify Bolie's later inability to accept Henry's wish? That's fine for what it's worth, but the first half of half of the episode is building towards a plot that never really comes into focus. It almost might've made sense to focus more on Henry, since he's the one who goes through the character arc, even more so than Bolie. At the start of the episode, Henry believes can wish the world different; at the end, he doesn't.

    Still, by and large "Wish" is effective, because Henry's arc is a powerful one, even if we see it mostly from the sidelines. The story's simplicity is one of its strengths, because it doesn't chicken out in the end or offer any compromising optimism, but it's also not painfully grim. It's simply stating the facts. Bolie doesn't die in the end when he loses the fight, and while he's disappointed, he's still essentially enough himself to make it a point to come wish Henry good night. Life goes on; it just doesn't have room for big tall miracles.

    For all its tendency to overstate its message, "Wish" also has its share of subtleties. This is the first episode we've had with a predominantly African American cast, but no one makes a big deal out of it. You could read Bolie's lack of belief or Frances' poverty as symptomatic of being a repressed minority in world run by greedy white dudes, but you don't have to. The episode makes you put those pieces together on your own. There's also the contrast between the two realities Bolie experiences; when he wins the fight, everyone's clapping him on the back and congratulating him, but when he loses, nobody will look him in the eye. The acting in the episode is strong on all counts, and I especially liked how Perry plays Henry--a sweet kid, but there's something a little too intense about him. When he makes his big wish for Bolie, he has to run up to the TV screen and press his face against it, in a way that's so nakedly desperate it almost makes you uncomfortable, whether or not he succeeds. Kids are like that; when you get down to it, kids believe harder than anybody. In the end, that might be what won me over on "Wish"; the idea that maybe the world is full of kids with the power to make wishes, big or tall or otherwise, but growing up means accepting wishing only goes so far.moreless
  • An interesting episode that touches on the power of believing.

    While the episode uses "magic" as the key ingredient the boxer needs to believe in for him to come out victorious, this could just have as well been about believing in oneself and about the power that belief instills in giving one that extra edge needed to overcome the odds.

    The boy in the story pleads for his hero to believe what he does, but alas, the old boxer has grown too cynical and doubtful to believe the way a child would, and as a result, falls short. This episode may not have that odd, but thrilling ending the series is known for, but it does have a lesson we can all learn from: a lesson about the power to believe, and even about mind over matter.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • When Bolie goes to visit Henry on the roof of the building, Henry is tending to two rabbits in a cage. When Bolie arrives, Henry closes the door of the cage, but it swings open slightly. However, when Henry walks back to the cage, the door is closed.

  • QUOTES (7)

    • (Opening Narration)
      Narrator: In this corner of the universe, a prizefighter named Bolie Jackson, one hundred and eighty-three pounds and an hour and a half away from a comeback at St. Nick's Arena. Mr. Bolie Jackson, who by the standards of his profession is an aging, over-the-hill relic of what was, and who now sees a reflection of a man who has left too many pieces of his youth in too many stadiums for too many years before too many screaming people. Mr. Bolie Jackson, who might do well to look for some gentle magic in the hard-surfaced glass that stares back at him.

    • Henry: Feelin' good, Bolie? Feelin' sharp? Take a tiger tonight, huh, Bolie?
      Bolie: Take a tiger. I'm gonna take a tiger, Henry. I'll give him a left then a right and one to the stomach and then pick him up by the tail and throw him right up into the ninth row.
      Henry: You're lookin' good, Bolie. You're lookin' sharp.
      Bolie: You gonna watch?
      Henry: You fooling? I'll yell so loud you'll hear me all the way to St. Nick's.
      Bolie: You know, a fighter don't need a scrapbook, Henry. You want to know what he's done, where he's fought? You read it in his face. He's got the whole story cut into his flesh. St. Louis, 1949. Guy named Sailor Leavitt. A real fast boy. And this--Memorial Stadium. Syracuse, New York. Italian boy. Fought like Henry Armstrong. All hands and arms, just like a windmill on the wind. First time I ever got my nose broke twice in one fight. And move south, Henry. Miami, Florida. Boy got me up against the ring posts. He did this with his laces. Tired old man. Tired old man trying to catch a bus, and the bus has already gone. Left a couple of years ago. Arms are heavy, legs like rubber, short of wind, one eye almost gone. There I go, running down the street trying to catch that bus to glory.
      Henry: Bolie, you are going to catch a tiger tonight. I'm gonna make a wish. I'm gonna make a big tall wish, and you ain't gonna get hurt none, either. You hear, Bolie? You've been hurt enough already, and you're my friend, Bolie. You're my good and close friend.

    • Bolie: Little boys, little boys with their heads full up with dreams. When do they find out, Frances? When do they suddenly find out that there ain't any magic? When does somebody push their face down on the sidewalk and say to them, "Hey, little boy, it's concrete. That's what the world is made out of--concrete." When do they find out that you can wish your life away?

    • Bolie: Listen, kid, I've been wishing all my life. You understand, Henry, I got a gut ache from wishing, and all I've got to show for it is a face full of scars. And a head full of memories of all the hurt and misery I've had to live with and sleep with all my miserable life.

    • Bolie: Henry, I can't believe. I'm too old. And I'm too hurt to believe. I can't, boy, just can't. Now, Henry, there ain't no such thing as magic. God helps us both, I wish there were

    • Henry: I ain't gonna make no more wishes, Bolie. I'm too old for wishes. And there ain't no such thing as magic, is there?
      Bolie: I guess not, Henry. Or maybe... maybe there is magic. Maybe there's wishes, too. I guess the trouble is--I guess the trouble is not enough people around to believe. G'night, boy.
      Henry: Goodnight, Bolie.

    • (Closing Narration)
      Narrator: Mr. Bolie Jackson, a hundred and eighty-three pounds, who left a second chance lying in a heap on a rosin-spattered canvas at St. Nick's Arena. Mr. Bolie Jackson, who shares the most common ailment of all men, the strange and perverse disinclination to believe in a miracle. The kind of miracle to come from the mind of a little boy, perhaps only to be found in the Twilight Zone.

  • NOTES (1)