S01E13 – The Four Of Us Are Dying
“Arch Hammer is a penny-ante con man with a unique talent—he can change his face to look exactly like men he's seen in photographs. Using this skill, he impersonates a dead trumpet player in order to seduce the man's girlfriend, then duplicates a murdered hood to extort money from the gangster who had him killed. Later, to elude some pursuers, he imitates the face of a boxer from a weathered fight poster. But Hammer hasn't counted on the fact that wearing other people's faces can lead to walking in their shoes…”
You have to hand it to Rod Serling, when he wanted to make sure you knew a character was a no good louse, he didn’t mince words. Take his introduction for Arch Hammer at the beginning of The Four Of Us Are Dying for example. “This is a cheap man,” Serling intoned in his familiar baritone, “a nickel and dime man, with a cheapness that goes past the suit and the shirt; a cheapness of mind, a cheapness of taste, a tawdry little shine on the seat of his conscience, and a dark-room squint at a world whose sunlight has never gotten through to him.” No ambiguity there, huh?
No misdirection either. Arch Hammer is about as slimy a character as they come. With his ability to take on the appearance (and apparently the voice and mannerisms as well) of any person he sees, you would think he could have had a lucrative career as a spy or an actor. Instead, he just uses his gift to run petty cons, taking advantage not only of other criminals like the mob boss Penell, but of innocents like the lovesick Maggie. Unfortunately for Hammer, he’s in the Twilight Zone, so justice eventually catches up to him in the most ironic way possible; the man with the ability to take on the appearance of anyone he desires dies because he loses focus and can’t remember his own true self.
Truth be told, you don’t necessarily have to be a shape shifter to face such a dilemma. As Bishop Robert Barron explains, “Any number of Catholic mystics and spiritual masters over the centuries have spoken of the ‘false self,’ with its tendencies toward attachment, violence, and pride. And they have urged… the discovery of the true self, grounded in love, connection to others, and the transcendence of egotistic preoccupations.” Now, as Peter Kreeft once explained, we can’t really know our full ‘true self’ until we go to live in the presence of God…
“All my life I search for this unique, individual self—my true self—and yet I never fully find it. Only God knows it fully, for he designed it. And only God can give it to me because he created it and is creating it right now, sculpting it with all the tools of heredity and environment that make up my life. None of us knows who we really are once we stop fooling ourselves. That knowledge and that destiny await us in our home. Our home is in heaven because our true identity as individuals is waiting for us there. The character's identity is found in the author's mind and nowhere else.”
Still, it’s not a futile effort to search for our true self in the here and now. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church suggests, a bit of contemplation on the Holy Trinity can put us on the true path of self discovery…
“In the communion of love that is God, and in which the Three Divine Persons mutually love one another and are the One God, the human person is called to discover the origin and goal of his existence and of history. The Council Fathers, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, teach that the Lord Jesus Christ, when praying to the Father that ‘they may all be one ... as we are one’ (Jn 17:21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine Persons and the union of the children of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (cf. Lk 17:33)”
So, if self giving is the key to discovering our true face, it’s no wonder Arch Hammer was doomed. He was constantly putting on false selves for personal gain and never once gave an ounce of himself to anyone. Losing his true self forever was only a matter of time.
Twilight Tidbits: Serling’s screenplay for The Four Of Us Are Dying was based loosely on an unpublished short story by George Clayton Johnson, who would not only go on to become a regular contributor to The Twilight Zone, but also for a little show called Star Trek, beginning with its premiere episode, The Man Trap.