Tales From the Darkside 201: The Impressionist

The episode begins with an impressionist's surprisingly weak act. Spiffy Remo, the titular entertainer does a few of the classics, like Laurel and Hardy, and a Jack Benny, none of them impressive enough to explain the character's supposed celebrity.

He at least gets Benny's body language right, even if the voice is just plain awful. Backstage he argues with the club's manager - he wants more money, the manager wants him to do an impression of someone who hasn't been dead for twenty years. It's a conundrum. One that gets a little more complex when a government spook in a Hawaiian shirt shows up-

He has an offer for Remo - one that he's unlikely to refuse!

Spirited away to a government lab, the plot is laid out - aliens have landed, aliens who have mastered Fusion technology, which could cure all of Earth's energy problems! There's just one thing getting in the way of a deal - they can't manage to communicate with the alien, who speaks in a combination of gestures and squeals!

So naturally the government passed over all the world's linguists and body language experts, and went straight to an impressionist. The show tries to explain this away by mentioning that the alien seems most comfortable when its gestures are copied, but I'd imagine any number of language experts could manage the same feat while having a greater grasp of the underlying linguistic principles that might eventually make communication possible.

Remo refuses the offer at first, but once he's been threatened with prison and financial ruin, he changes his tune. The government is on something of a clock, you see - the alien is beginning to ail, and soon they'll have to allow him to leave the planet. This is behaviour far more reasonable than I've come to expect from televised depictions of the government's secret dealings with aliens, but it actually makes perfect sense. After all if they were to hold the alien against his will there's no guarantee they could get anything before he dies - and it's not like another helpful alien would show up after humans killed the first one.

Remo's conversations with the alien get off to a rocky start - the scientists crack his language, and are able to program a computer for simultaneous translation, but he's too scared of the alien to let him mimic the movements correctly. It's only when the government spook threatens to close the project down that Remo is able to break through his mental wall, and finally speak with the alien as friendly equals.

The alien hands over the technology that the government wants, and Remo returns to his life as the world's most beloved out-of-touch impressionist. After breaking the interplanetary language barrier, however, trying to sound like movie stars from the 40s seems oddly hollow by comparison. Then, one night, after he's done the show Remo wanders off into a field behind the club, and who should stop by for a visit?

It's the alien! Come to pick up his friend for a ride to infinity, and beyond! It was at this point that I became worried that the show was going to go all twilight zone and have the aliens eat him or something, but instead the credits simply roll, giving us a completely happy ending!

You know, come to think of it, this episode wasn't really horror-y at all, just a simple sci-fi parable about a man finding his calling in life. And a sweet one, at that.

Thanks for such a humane start to the second season, Tales From the Dark Side! I'm sure the bleakness will quickly follow.

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