The Twilight Zone: “Nightsong”

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by  Gérard Delafond.

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by Gérard Delafond.

 

Love unrequited, or so she thinks. Andy Fields is a woman with a broken heart. She believes she was abandoned by her childhood sweetheart and appears to be doomed to spend the rest of her life alone, playing records late at night as a DJ in The Twilight Zone episode “Nightsong.”

The Revival of The Twilight Zone, and Andy’s Lover 

Rod Serling was the creator of the original The Twilight Zone and writer of most of its scripts. “Nightsong,” however, was created for the revised series of The Twilight Zone, which made its appearance in the 1980s. The show aired on October 11, 1986, and stars Lisa Eilbacher, Kenneth David Gilman and Antony Hamilton. This episode was written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Michael Reeves. Serling is listed on IMDb as a contributor, though he had died 11 years earlier. The show was produced by Philip DeGuere.

In the opening scene we find the 96.3 KGRR night DJ, Ace Campbell, saying goodbye to his listeners. (Ace is played by Kenneth “Kip” David Gilman, who not only has an extensive list of television appearances on his resume, but is also known as “one of theater’s most important actors,” due to his versatility and talent, according to his IMDb bio.) Ace introduces the midnight D.J., Andrea Fields, or “Andy,” played by the beautiful Lisa Eilbacher. Lisa Eilbacher became famous through her early appearances on Western television shows, such as GunsmokeBonanza, and Wagon Train. In 1984 she starred as Jenny Summers, who assists her friend, Eddie Murphy, in his investigation of a murdered friend in Beverly Hills Cop.

Back in the DJ booth, as Ace Campbell rises from his seat to leave, Andy (Eilbacher) enters the room and prepares for her shift. Of course, the first thing the viewer should notice is the floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with record albums–this is truly a classic show! As Andy sorts through the albums, Ace Campbell flirtatiously asks her why they are no longer dating, Andy doesn’t have an answer. “I guess I’m just not ready for more than a few laughs,” she replies. Ace, now a compassionate friend, advises her that she needs someone in her life besides herself.

The Campbell walks out the door at the same moment Andy finds an album by her former boyfriend. Andy follows Campbell out the door and asks how the album appeared in the studio. Campbell, confused, explains he found it in a dumpster. Andy mumbles that she promised herself she would never listen to the album.

Apparently Andy changes her mind. She returns to the broadcast room and places the record on the turntable then introduces “Nightsong” by Simon Locke. As she is listening to the music she suddenly notices a shadow on the wall. A man appears in the room. The man is Simon Locke, (played by Antony Hamilton, who also played Max Harte in the 1990 revised television version of Mission Impossible.) Andy, shocked, approaches him slowly, then slaps him. Locke begs her not to be angry. “After five years, isn’t it a little late?” she asks. Locke patiently explains that he needs to speak to her. Andy screams at him to get out, holding her face in her hands, sobbing. When she looks up, he has disappeared.

Andy is distracted when she leaves her shift and is almost hit by a motorcyclist, then Locke appears out of nowhere to save her. Her car is dead and he offers to help, but she angrily slaps him away. As they walk down the street, arguing, Andy confronts him with her knowledge of his many affairs. Locke has no excuse for his behavior or treatment of her. “I just got lost,” he says quietly.

In the next scene, we see the two of them in an all-night diner discussing his two cancelled record contracts and his failed band. As they talk, we realize they not only dated, but grew up together. She reminds him of how he once wanted to be a comic book hero, the Golden Condor. (The Golden Condor could be a reference to a 1980s cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold and film remake starring Tyrone Power.)

Once again, Locke and Andy argue and he leaves the diner. Later, when she’s lying in bed and listening to his album, she calls out his name and he suddenly appears by the window in her bedroom. By this time the audience is clear that they are witnessing the appearance of a ghost, but Andy seems oblivious to this detail. She tells Locke she realizes all of his songs were about them and they start to dance.

This time, it’s Locke who pulls away as he tries to explain that he can no longer have a relationship with her. Andy begs him to try. “Maybe it will work this time,” she says.

He shakes his head. “This time there’s no coming back,” he replies, but Andy shouts at him, refusing to allow him to explain what the audience already knows. “There’s something you just don’t understand,” he tells her, then asks her to follow him.

They drive out to the desert on his motorcycle. Locke explains that this is where he went to run away from life. He is speeding on a dirt road and Andy is frightened and tells him so, but Locke drives faster. He shouts back to her that he was afraid of failure, that he panicked, just took off, but he is not slowing the motorcycle. They finally reach the top of a cliff and Simon takes her hand, then drags her down, past the rocks and tall grasses, to the bottom of the cliff.

“All this time, that one obscure album that no one heard. No one cared. Then you played that album. I felt stronger and came back,” Locke explains as they continue to climb down. He also tells her that he was the man on the bike that almost killed her at the station. Then he tells her to forget Simon Locke, that she can do better.

“I never stopped loving you,” Andy replies.

“Well you can stop now,” Locke explains. “You can start living again,” he tells her. He moves some brush aside and exposes a crumpled motorcycle with a skeleton tangled in the twisted metal. Yes, Simon Locke is a ghost. “Forgive me,” he whispers. “Forgive me, please,” and just as suddenly as he appeared in the studio, he has now disappeared.

In the next scene, Andy is back at the station taking requests when a young woman calls and asks for Simon Locke’s “Nightsong.” Andy complies and dedicates the song “from Andrea to Simon, with love.”

The Problem

This episode seems to represent the problem with the revised version of The Twilight Zone. The original Twilight Zone was often intense, spooky. The shows are cautionary tales, warning us that everything is important, and nothing is as it seems. Later versions seemed to lose that focus. They were often well-written, but lacked the eeriness of Serling’s stories, something Serling took great pride in with his original series. Supernatural television had changed. Along with horror films, directors suddenly decided that more was better, and audiences felt that more was too much. Instead of leaving the horrific details to the imagination, they often treated audiences as if they lacked the intelligence to understand the subtleties of plot and dialogue and spelled it out. In this particular episode, it wasn’t enough to show a mangle motorcycle, they had to show Simon Locke’s skeleton, as well.

Serling is credited with introducing the paranormal to family viewers in an acceptable manner, making it clear to viewers that what they may consider to be strange and abnormal is actually a common and accepted part of their lives, and they would know this if they paid closer attention. In this respect, “Nightsong” stays true to Serling’s goal. Although it is clear to the audience that Simon Locke is a ghost, Andy doesn’t see it until the end of the show. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the start that this show lacks the skillful touch of Rod Serling.

Resource:

  • “Nightsong.” The Twilight Zone. Original air date: October 11, 1986. Season 2, Episode 27b. Dir. Bradford May. Writer: Michael Reaves. Players: Lisa Eilbacher, Antony Hamilton, Kip Gilman