S01E09 – Perchance To Dream
“Edward Hall has a bad heart —and a [terrible] problem. Desperate, he barges into the office of Dr. Rathmann, a psychiatrist, and explains that each night, he’s been dreaming in chapters, as in a movie serial. The setting is always the same: an amusement park, in which Maya, an alluring carnival dancer, entices him into a funhouse and onto a rollercoaster…with the intention of scaring him to death. He knows if he goes to sleep again, he’ll suffer a fatal heart attack - and yet, if he stays awake much longer, he feels sure his heart won’t stand the strain. Whatever choice Hall makes… he’s brought a one-way ticket into the Twilight Zone.”
When CBS agreed to produce the Twilight Zone, it was under the condition that Rod Serling script a minimum of eighty percent of the episodes. That was a mostly unheard of practice back in those days, but it served as a testament to Serling’s status as a writer. According to The Twilight Zone Companion, to fill in the remaining twenty percent, an open call for submissions was issued. However, after fourteen thousand(!) manuscripts proved unusable, Serling invited a number of established authors to a screening of the pilot to see if any would be a good fit. Out of all those who attended Serling chose only two; Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson. Apparently the man had an eye for legendary talent.
Perchance To Dream became the first of Beaumont’s twenty-two contributions as a screenwriter to air and it’s a heckuva start to his Twilight Zone career. Everything in this episode clicks, from Richard Conte’s harried characterization of the doomed Edward Hall to director Robert Florey’s imaginative use of expressionistic set design. And the story of a man who visits a psychiatrist because he’s afraid he’ll die if he goes to sleep, only for the audience to discover at the end that the whole visit had been the dying man’s dream all along… that’s pure Twilight Zone.
In addition to all that, Beaumont’s story also has a number of Easter eggs, most notably the title’s reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. One of the more obscure shout outs, though, is found in the name of the predatory woman from Edward’s dreams, Maya. Though its meaning has been fluid throughout the history of Eastern philosophy, the modern understanding of the word Maya typically refers to the delusional state people fall into when they confuse the illusory physical world created from their own perceptions with what is actually real. Edward himself seems to reference this state of mind when he relates to the psychiatrist how he envisioned Maya in the back seat of his car. “I knew intellectually that I was alone,” he explained, “but I also knew that my imagination could make me see something if I thought about it long enough.”
Basically, Beaumont was using a Buddhist concept to drop a clue as to what was really happening in the story. So, while on the surface Beaumont’s first script for the Twilight Zone doesn’t appear to be quite as moralistic as Serling’s episodes had been so far, there are still some metaphysical musings in it if you dig deep enough. And as the series would progress, Beaumont’s Christian existentialism (as one of his biographers coined it) would come more and more to the forefront. A good fit for the Twilight Zone indeed.
Twilight Tidbits: According to Beaumont’s pal William F. Nolan (no slouch in the writing department himself), the author often drew inspiration from his own fears. Nolan recounts a trip the two took through an amusement park fun house during which Beaumont became convinced the ride attendant had entered the ride and planned to kill them both.