On Rod Serling’s “A Thing About Machines”

“Mr. Finchley… what is it with you and machines?”

“Mr. Bartlett Finchley, tall, tart, and fortyish, looked across his ornate living room to where the television repairman was working behind his set and felt an inner twist of displeasure that the mood of the tastefully decorated room should be so damaged by the T-shirted, dungareed serviceman whose presence was such a foreign element in the room” (57). So begins Rod Serling’s wonderful short story which became the basis for the equally classic episode of The Twilight Zone.

Mr. Finchley (played by Richard Haydn in The Twilight Zone episode of the same name) is snobbish and fastidious. His house is perfectly symmetrical, but he is a curmudgeonly luddite of the highest order. He distrusts phones, clocks, radios, cars, and television sets –all machines pose little more than a nuisance to Mr. Finchley. Nevertheless, he is a bachelor and a recluse, a malcontent who is little satisfied with the present age in which he resides, and his present employment is as a writer for various fine gourmet magazines.

When his secretary Edith Rogers abruptly quits, Mr. Finchley begs her to stay, professing his own loneliness and fear. He has developed an acute paranoia that the machines in his household which he believes are conspiring against him. As soon as she departs, a message has been typed up by the typewriter all by itself “Get out of here, Finchley.” Then the television begins communicating directly to Finchley, his electric razor turns on him like a reptilian beast, and his car rolls out into the street nearly striking a young boy. Finally, later in the evening Mr. Finchley is chased out of his own house and run down by his car, which pushes Mr. Finchley down to the bottom of his pool.  

“In that one brief, fragmentary moment that lay between life and death he saw the headlights of the car blinking down at him through the water and he heard the engine let out a deep roar like some triumphant shout” (78).

Some time later, a gaggle of neighbors and policemen are left scratching their heads at the death of Mr. Finchley, he is “a lightly lamented minor character who would be remembered more for his final torment than his lifelong tartness” (80). Rod Serling includes another ponderous epilogue to this short story. About a year later, the grim cemetery caretaker can be found recounting an unusual story. His electric mower has a tendency to suddenly veer off course and smash directly into Finchley’s headstone. As it turns out, the caretaker is also stubborn rejectionist of newfangled machinery –he is a strict traditionalist, preferring to do things the slow and hard way, and so the tale ends with a meditation on a frequently explored theme in The Twilight Zone.  

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “A Thing About Machines.”

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