Original Air Date: (May 15, 1964)
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard Donner
In the wild futuristic year of 1967, Wallace V. Whipple (Richard Deacon) is the pompous owner of a vast Midwestern manufacturing company which he inherited from his father. He frequently strolls about the factory swinging a key while lecturing employees about the need for increased mechanization. In order to save money and increase efficiency, he decides to install a machine named the “X109B14 modified transistorized totally automatic assembly machine,” which will knowingly lead to mass layoffs.
“These are the players — with or without a scorecard. In one corner a machine; in the other, one Wallace V. Whipple, man. And the game? It happens to be the historical battle between flesh and steel, between the brain of man and the product of man’s brain. We don’t make book on this one and predict no winner….but we can tell you for this particular contest, there is standing room only — in the Twilight Zone.”
Despite eliminating the employment for many people, Mr. Whipple remains defiant and calloused. He fires his foreman Mr. Dickerson (Ted de Corsia) who is distraught over losing his job so he gets drunk and attacks a machine one night until Mr. Whipple takes a policeman’s gun and fires, but Dickerson survives. Nevertheless, Mr. Whipple is unfazed, and soon his chief engineer Mr. Walter Hanley (Paul Newlan) regrettably resigns before he can be replaced by machines. Soon the machines begin to turn on Mr. Whipple and he begins to panic inside his echoing, empty factory.
Later, a disheveled Mr. Whipple shows up at a local bar. His demeanor has clearly changed. Now, Mr. Whipple somberly speaks with Mr. Dickerson about his pathetic life –he has no family nor children and sees his livelihood as little more than a cog in a machine. It turns out that Mr. Whipple himself has been dismissed by the Whipple Company board of directors! The factory has now been transformed into a fully mechanical factory. In the closing scene the new factory robot (“robby the robot”) is shown whimsically swinging a key on a string, just like Mr. Whipple once did.
“There are many bromides applicable here: ‘too much of a good thing’, ‘tiger by the tail’, ‘as you sow so shall you reap’. The point is that, too often, Man becomes clever instead of becoming wise; he becomes inventive and not thoughtful; and sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Whipple, he can create himself right out of existence. As in tonight’s tale of oddness and obsolescence, in the Twilight Zone.”
To this day, Mr. Wallace Whipple remains a supremely disagreeable character. Unlike his father before him, Mr. Whipple seems to have no empathy for is employees. In an age where advanced technology has displaced millions of jobs, “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” has shown itself to be a prescient episode. Throughout The Twilight Zone series, we have seen a great number of brilliant little stories bearing skepticism of the fruits of modern technology –and with good reason.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The robot that ultimately replaces Mr. Whipple in the factory is “Robby the Robot,” a prop originally featured in Forbidden Planet (1956). “Robby the Robot” previously appeared in Season 1’s “One for the Angels” (as a miniature toy) and memorably in Season’s 5 “Uncle Simon.”
- The machine “X109B14 modified transistorized totally automatic assembly machine” is the same giant computer prop used in the earlier Season 5 episode “The Old Man in the Cave.”
- The W.V. Manufacturing Corporation has 283,000 employees, however the machine leads to 61,000 layoffs and saves $4M in profit. Eventually, though, all the employees are laid off.
- Rod Serling’s initial working title for this episode was “Automation.”
- Apparently, scenes in this episode were featured in a Smithsonian exhibit focused on technology and the information age which ran from 1990-2004.
- Richard Deacon (1922-1984) plays William Whipple in this episode. He was born in Philadelphia, PA but raised in Binghamton, NY where he first met Rod Serling. After serving as a medic in World War II, Mr. Deacon began his acting career where he appeared in television shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It To Beaver, and The Jack Benny Program along with minor roles in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). This was his only episode in The Twilight Zone series. He was known to be a skilled gourmet chef and remarkably charitable as well as a closeted homosexual all his life. He died of cardiovascular issues in 1984.
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This episode still has so much to say about how damaging our dependency on technologies has become. A recently vast power outage reminds me of that. Thank you for your review.
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