Examining The Twilight Zone; Examination Day

8 Jun

I’d never seen this before, or read the story it was based on.

Henry Slesar presents us a vision of the future, a young boy reaching his 12th birthday where he has to take a Government exam. It’s not specifically stated what kind of test this is, but when Dickie is told he’s just drunk a truth serum, I suddenly started paying attention.

So what’s the problem?

Dickie is eager to do well, he wants to pass the test. Big mistake, it turns out this is a dystopian future where they don’t want smart kids. Sucks to be Dickie them, because they kill him.

How does he try to overcome this?

He doesn’t. The kid isn’t told the nature of the test. I’m sure if he’d been told beforehand, he’d have dialled his answers back if he could.

What mistakes does this episode make?

We get no real warning that anything is awry, other than Mom’s statement about him being not like other kids. It’s too vague.  Him suddenly being dead and the parents being asked if they want a Government or private burial comes literally from nowhere. It’s quite a shock for a short story.

The story this is based on runs exactly the same way, an unexpected death with no real clues to it prior.

Ways to fix Examination Day?

1) Use of Chekov’s gun to establish stupidity is the norm in this society. It’s not such a massive shock when they kill Dickie for being smart then.

2) Have Dickie allude to having lost a smart friend who already took the test, he’s sad his friend died but is still eager to be tested himself. It’s the old bait and switch. Dickie still dies, but we understand why now.

3) The Harrison Bergeron defence. Use this idea to place Dickie into a better society that lives behind his stupid society. Mum & Dad can still be told Dickie is dead, but he’s not. He’s alive and well and living in Sandusky, Ohio. Where all the brainy people live.

4) Have Dickie be an identical twin. One passes, the other doesn’t. When they’re given the results, Dickie chooses to sacrifice himself so his brother might live. You’ve still got a dead kid, but Dickie gets to go out as a hero.

5) Have Dickie deliberately try to fail, but he’s found out under the truth serum. They kill him because this is an overt display of high intelligence. A much more satisfying outcome.

The ending of this story was so sudden, it annoyed me. I’d fix it by combining elements of idea 4 and 5. Dickie is a twin, but they detect his attempt to cheat and kill him and his brother.

Henry Slesar is usually a decent writer, I think he didn’t do a very good job here though.

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