With recent developments revolving around COVID-19, this country has found itself in a deadly game of tug-of-war. With people demanding their “freedom” to do whatever they wish in the face of a pandemic that (as of this posting) is still infecting and causing deaths with no signs of a readily-available vaccine, I couldn’t help but feel that even here…I was thinking of a Twilight Zone episode I hadn’t seen in years.
It turns out that on Social Media, some others were thinking the same as I was…leading me to craft this little Retro Recap of the Season 5 episode, The Old Man in the Cave.
In an unnamed town with nary a working automobile or electricity, we see a number of disheveled people huddled around some boxes of canned food. One person claims the food is “pre-bomb,” and safe to consume. However, another says they should wait to hear what The Old Man has to say about the food.
Eventually, a man named Goldsmith (John Anderson) returns to the townspeople to deliver a message from The Old Man in the Cave. Along with advising them all to prepare for inclement weather (which could spread radioactive contamination), Goldsmith says the Old Man has proclaimed that the canned goods are toxic, and are not to be consumed.
It is then that the camera whip-pans, and we find Rod Serling standing in the street, delivering his opening monologue:
What you’re looking at is a legacy that man left to himself. A decade previous, he pushed his buttons, and a nightmarish moment later, woke up to find that he had set the clock back a thousand years. His engines, his medicines, his science, were buried in a mass tomb, covered over by the biggest gravedigger of them all: a bomb. And this is the earth 10 years later, a fragment of what was once a whole, a remnant of what was once a race. The year is 1974, and this…is The Twilight Zone.
As the townspeople begin to dispose of the cans, a Jeep pulls into town, with four armed men. One of them gets out, and introduces himself as Major French (James Coburn). He claims that the town is now to be placed under a Constabulary, and expects full cooperation from the people.
When Goldsmith speaks up against this declaration, French threatens to hang him for insubordination if he doesn’t cooperate. Claiming that there are only around 500 people left alive after the bombing, French says that his command is the new way to retain order in a lawless country. Upon seeing the canned goods, French inquires why the townspeople haven’t partaken of them yet.
Hearing about how The Old Man in the Cave cautioned the town against this, French laughs, telling how he’s heard tales of other “cults” the meager populations across the country have gathered into, and assumes that this is more of the same.
When Goldsmith offers scant details as to the identity of The Old Man in the Cave, French demands they find out more about the town’s reclusive benefactor.
French, his men, and the townspeople are led to the cave, which is sealed shut by a metal door. When French asks how the Old Man can survive inside the cave, Goldsmith claims he does not know…only that notes and messages are given to him, and this information he relays to the townspeople.
French’s men then use a hand grenade to blast open the door, but the metal holds strong. Yelling through the door to The Old Man that ‘this is just the beginning,’ French and his men return to the town with the citizens…where they then start passing out the canned goods to the townspeople!
Goldsmith claims that the canned goods could be poisoned by Strontium-90 (a radioactive isotope), but French calmly eats from one of the cans, and feeling no ill effects, once again claims the stoic man is overreacting.
Goldsmith however, does not relent. He claims that they don’t know where the cans came from or who processed them. If the food has been poisoned by radiation, they’ll be dead in 10 days.
But French’s words and actions, are more than enough to cause the starving townspeople to ignore Goldsmith. He again pleads with them as they begin scooping up the canned foods, before one of French’s soldiers breaks into a store with the words “contaminated” on the door, and starts passing out liquor bottles from inside!
By nightfall, the townspeople (sans Goldsmith), have opened the food and drank from the liquor supplies. During this time, French has a conversation with a man named Jason (John Marley), before Goldsmith comes over to him.
French taunts Goldsmith for not partaking in the food and spirits, claiming he (French) has helped these people, and inquires why the stubborn Goldsmith does not “unbend.”
“You came as intruders,” says Goldsmith, “But now you’re murderers. Only God knows how many people will die because of tonight. The Old Man in the Cave warned us about this food dozens of times. He warned us.”
The talk irritates French who then loudly calls for attention, claiming Goldsmith has lied to the townspeople, and has made up The Old Man to hold sway over them all. Soon, he has riled up the townspeople, and they take Goldsmith back to the cave, demanding he open the metal door.
Once again, Goldsmith pleads for reason, claiming that they should think logically. Though they have suffered hardships over the past 10 years, The Old Man has succeeded in helping to keep them alive. He claims they shouldn’t need to intrude, but his words fall on deaf ears, and he consents to their demands.
Activating a hidden switch in the nearby rocks, the metal door opens, and the townspeople and soldiers rush inside. What they find causes them to come to a halt.
There is no Old Man…only a large computer, it’s lights blinking, and the sound of information processing through it’s system.
French demands that the people need to kill their ‘tyrant’ if they are to be free of it, and Goldsmith quietly watches as the townspeople destroy the machine.
Some time later, we see the town, with it’s citizenry strewn about it’s streets, unmoving…including Major French and his soldiers.
We then hear movement, and see Goldsmith, walking about, quietly looking at those who have been poisoned by the canned food and liquor. As his eyes fall upon French’s corpse, he speaks aloud.
“When we talked about the ways that men could die,” says Goldsmith, “we forgot about the chief method of execution. We forgot faithlessness, Mr French. Maybe you’re not to blame. Maybe if it weren’t you, it would have been someone else. Maybe this has to be the destiny of man. I wonder if that’s true. I wonder. I guess I’ll never know…I guess I’ll never know.”
As Goldsmith walks further among the dead, Serling delivers his closing monologue:
Mr Goldsmith: survivor. An eyewitness to man’s imperfection, an observer of the very human trait of greed, and a chronicler of the last chapter. The one reading, ‘suicide.’ Not a prediction of what is to be, just a projection of what could be. This has been…The Twilight Zone.
And that was The Old Man in the Cave.
The episode does leave several questions unanswered, such as the relationship Goldsmith has with “The Old Man.” The image of the perfect-and-clean machine sitting in a cave feels quite “artificial,” let alone we do not know how the computer stays powered on. Did Goldsmith craft it? Did he know of it’s capabilities prior to the bombing, and hid it in the cave? There are a number of questions here that Serling chooses not to answer, instead focusing on the battle of wills between Goldsmith, and Major French.
Throughout the episode, Anderson’s portrayal of Goldsmith is one that never wavers in his “faith” (or the chiseled, placid look upon actor John Anderson’s face). Though he does give-in and open the metal door in the end, he presides over the townspeople mainly like a priest trying to keep his “flock” alive in these troubled times. He will offer words of encouragement, but he will not strike back at those in the town who come against him.
It is notable how Serling has given these people a man-made savior in the form of the machine, but unlike man himself, it is not prone to emotions like selfishness or greed…just giving calculations and information that is able to keep the people alive, even through the worst of conditions. It’s information looks to be a help to everyone in the town, and survival is not based on a caste or class system.
It is also notable that some in the beginning of the episode, defend The Old Man. It’s prediction at the start of 80% inclement weather shows it doesn’t always get everything perfect, but has gotten enough right to keep the people willing to listen to Goldsmith for over 10 years. There is talk about how the people attempted to grow crops in areas that were deemed unsuitable by The Old Man, resulting in dead or mutated vegetation that most likely made them put more faith in the machine’s messages.
The portrayal of Major French could easily have been turned into a belligerent tyrant, but Coburn imbues his character as a man who is looking for logical answers to Goldsmith’s hold over the people, even as he and his men are brandishing weapons.
We even find out that French went to college and that he seems well-studied, with a personality that is more realist. French has to see The Old Man in order to believe Goldsmith. He has to taste the food before he’ll believe it to be poisoned. Without the proof, French believes he is justified in his actions, and that he is “helping” instead of “hurting.”
The Old Man in the Cave is an episode that uniquely blends together faith and logic, leaving the viewer to ponder the events of what has happened. In the end, with The Old Man destroyed, Goldsmith is on his own, with the viewer to assume that he will most likely try to get by as best he can, but now runs the risk that without guidance, he may die soon.
Much of the episode feels pretty simplified in where it’s going, with the townspeople’s mob mentality putting me in mind of other instances in The Twilight Zone, from the episodes The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or The Shelter. Unlike those episodes, the violence here does not reach the nightmarish levels we’ve seen before, as the people here are merely looking for hope, guidance, and a possible break from the miserable life they’ve lived after the bombs fell.
Much like Serling’s underrated episode from season 4 titled He’s Alive, The Old Man in the Cave is a story that shows there are themes made almost 50 years ago, that can still resonate in today’s time, but just under different circumstances.
Times may change, but there are certain elements of humanity it seems, that are everlasting…and in some cases, some of those elements can still prove dangerous to many.
Movie Musings: Palpatine’s three key manipulations to becoming Emperor (aka “It wasn’t all Jar Jar Binks’ fault”)
“All democracies turn into dictatorships–but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it’s Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea. What kinds of things push people and institutions in this direction? That’s the issue I’ve been exploring: how did the Republic turn into the Empire?…How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship?” – George Lucas , from the April 21, 2002 edition of Time Magazine
Of all the incidents within George Lucas’ prequel trilogy for his Star Wars saga, the one that has come to light in recent years, has been the constant talk that Jar Jar Binks was responsible for the rise of The Empire. Plus, thanks to a small bit in a Robot Chicken sketch on Cartoon Network, a rumor developed that the dopey Gungan was not only a secret Sith Lord, but the true “Phantom Menace.”
Regarding these fan-theories, I find the secret Sith Lord one to be ridiculous. As for bringing about the rise of the Empire, like most things that people think are so simple, there’s more to that story than people realize.
As we’ve seen from our own real-world political systems, it is often a number of people being manipulated, to get some of those in power what they want. With this post, I hope to shed a little more light on the political chess game of the prequels, and hopefully show ‘a certain point of view’ some may not have considered before.*
Let us consider Palpatine’s first major move to become Emperor. It would involve someone from Naboo…but not Jar Jar.
*Note: This post only takes into account the films and their script information. It does not take into account the Expanded Universe.
In The Phantom Menace, Naboo Senator Palpatine (under the guise of Sith Lord, Darth Sidious) manipulated the Trade Federation to blockade his peaceful homeworld. With a security force made up largely of volunteers, their armed forces would not have stood a chance against the thousands of battle droids the Federation unleashed across the planet.
In regards to her political stance, Queen Amidala put great faith in diplomacy and negotiations, and refused to go to war. Upon hearing that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had sent two Jedi (Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to negotiate a settlement, she was confident the matter would be resolved amicably.
Acting on orders from Palpatine, the Trade Federation attempted to kill the Jedi, but the two succeeded in getting to the capital city of Theed, and alerting the Queen to what had happened.
Though Amidala wished to remain with her people, Qui-gon recommended she escape with them, feeling her first-person account of what was happening, would convince the Senate to help her planet.
Arriving in the Republic capital of Coruscant, Padme was met by both Palpatine and Valorum. Though the Supreme Chancellor informed her that he had called an emergency meeting of the Senate to hear of her situation, Palpatine later told Padme in private, that he doubted anything would be done.
“The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates,” he said. “There is no interest at all in the common good.”
Palpatine also claimed that some felt Valorum himself was compromised, and that he was under the thumb of the bureaucrats. To save their planet, Palpatine floated two options.
The first option, would be to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. This would (hopefully) allow for the election of “a stronger Supreme Chancellor,” who might be able to help them.
The second option, would be to submit a plea to the courts…which would probably take more time than the Senate to come to a decision regarding the blockade.
When Palpatine and Amidala appeared before the Senate, the Queen’s words were shouted down by the Trade Federation’s members. Objecting to the ‘accusations,’ they claimed Amidala had no proof, and that a committee be sent to Naboo to find out the truth.
Valorum attempted to intervene, before his vice chair Mas Amedda had a few words in private with him.
“Enter the bureaucrats,” Palpatine whispered to Padme. “The true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum’s strength…will disappear.”
It sounded like Palpatine’s words rang true when Valorum conceded, asking Padme if she would allow the Trade Federation’s request to be accepted.
The young ruler refused, claiming she had come for a proper resolution of help, not to see her people be ignored further. It wass then that she took Palpatine’s advice, and called for a vote of no confidence in Valorum.
Following these events, Palpatine ended up being one of the senators nominated to succeed Valorum. Telling the Queen the news, he explained that their planet’s current situation could create “a strong sympathy vote,” that might sway the election in their favor.
In the end, Padme and her companions returned to Naboo, and with the help of Jar Jar and the Gungans, took back control of the planet.
As the Trade Federation leaders were led away, the newly-elected Supreme Chancellor Palpatine greeted the Queen. With a smile, he promised that they would bring “peace and prosperity to the Republic.”
Of course, within that smiling optimism, was the mind of a devious tyrant, happy that his plans were still moving forward.
Yes, Jar Jar Binks did have a hand in Palpatine’s rise to power. No, it wasn’t all his fault.
When we first meet Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones, he is in residence at Amidala’s senatorial apartment on Coruscant. Following the Battle of Naboo, he was chosen as a representative for the Gungans in the Galactic Senate.
Though he was just there in a physical manner, when Padme was forced to go into hiding due to several assassination attempts, she appointed Jar Jar to act as a full representative to Naboo in her stead.
At the time, Padme and a number of other Senators were strongly opposed to “The Military Creation Act” in the Senate. With the rise of the Separatist movement (being led by former Jedi, Count Dooku), there were fears that the powerful group could overthrow the Republic. While some felt a military act would quell the Separatists, Padme and a number of other Senators still believed that diplomacy could win out.
Of course, she couldn’t have foreseen Palpatine’s next move. This would occur due to two pieces of information, uncovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The first was the discovery of a Clone Army, that was being created on the planet Kamino, for the Republic (though the order was placed through an unknown Jedi named, Sifo-dyas).
The second revelation occurred on the planet Geonosis, where Obi-Wan found the Trade Federation’s droid factories creating a droid Army, that was to be utilized by the Separatists to attack the Republic.
While some senators felt that a ready-in-waiting Clone Army could be advantageous to the Republic, senator Bail Organa expressed concern that there was not enough support in the Senate to approve such a thing in case the Separatists did swiftly decide to attack.
This was when Palpatine’s advisor Mas Amedda made a shocking proposal: give the Supreme Chancellor emergency powers. This would allow him to override the Senate’s indecisiveness, and immediately approve the use of the clone army.
“But what senator would have the courage to pose such a radical amendment?” questioned Palpatine.
“If only…Senator Amidala were here,” muttered Amedda.
These words seemed to be leveled at Jar Jar, and wanting to do right by Padme and his homeworld, he volunteered to raise the issue in the Senate. Much like how Padme had been sucked in by Palpatine’s manipulations 10 years before…now too, would Jar Jar!
Explaining the dire situation facing the Republic, Representative Binks’ request was approved by a majority of the Senators, and Palpatine addressed the delegates.
“It is with great reluctance, that I have agreed to this calling,” he said. “I love democracy, I love the Republic. The power you give me, I will lay down, once this crisis has abated.”
And thus, the clone army was ordered to Geonosis to try and stop the Separatists. However, the Separatist Leaders and Count Dooku succeeded in getting away, and thus, the Clone War began.
Palpatine had now gained special powers beyond the Senate, and a massive army at his command…but, he was not all-powerful…yet.
As the Clone War entered it’s third year at the start of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine began to finalize his grand scheme. All he needed…was a powerful-yet-confused young Jedi.
Palpatine had befriended Anakin after the Battle of Naboo, and while Anakin seemed to believe in the Chancellor, he saw nothing wrong with the Senate giving him even more power. Unlike Padme, Anakin favored more direct action, and less diplomacy.
During a battle over Coruscant, Palpatine had tested Anakin’s resolve to kill Count Dooku, and Anakin had reluctantly beheaded the former Jedi at the Chancellor’s request. Palpatine could sense his power over Anakin…but, he needed to push him to further doubt his allegiance to the Jedi, to win him over to his side.
This would occur in several ways.
The first was Palpatine appointing Anakin to be his ‘personal representative’ on the Jedi Council. The council found this decision ‘disturbing,’ but made a concession: Anakin could serve on the council per the Chancellor’s order…but he would not be granted the rank of “Master.”
This decision infuriated Anakin, but so did a secret request by the Jedi to spy on the Chancellor for them…a request that was made in secret by his mentor, Obi-Wan.
However, what weighed most heavily on Anakin’s mind, was a vision in which Padme had died during childbirth. In Attack of the Clones, he was unable to save his mother from death on Tatooine, and vowed he would not lose Padme as well. Anakin spoke to Master Yoda of his fears, but all Yoda would tell him was that he must accept the deaths of others he cared for…something which Anakin was unable to do.
Palpatine sensed these roiling emotions in Anakin, and told him of a Sith Lord called Darth Plagueis, who it was said could save others from dying. However, it would require knowledge of the Dark Side of the Force, to gain this ability.
“Is it possible to learn this power?” asked Anakin.
“…not from a Jedi,” Palpatine had responded, sensing that he had piqued Anakin’s interests.
When next they met, Palpatine revealed himself as a Sith Lord…but as he expected, Anakin did not kill him. Instead, Anakin reported Palpatine’s identity to Mace Windu, hoping that the Jedi would jail the Chancellor, and allow Anakin the chance to find out more about what Palpatine knew. Instead, Mace felt the Sith Lord was too dangerous to live, and attempted to kill him upon their confrontation!
Fearing the loss of the power to save his wife, Anakin attacked Mace, giving Palpatine the chance to electrocute the Jedi Master with Force lighting, and throw him through a window to his death.
Palpatine knew he now had Anakin in his clutches. Promising the two of them would discover Plagueis’ secret to ‘cheat death’ together, Anakin then pledged his allegiance to the Sith Lord…and was bestowed the mantle, of Darth Vader.
Anakin even gave into Palpatine’s words that all the Jedi had to be destroyed, or they would surely try to take over the Republic. With the promise that their deaths would lead to strengthening his new powers, Anakin led a battalion into the Jedi Temple, and was even willing to slaughter children if it meant keeping his wife alive.
He then traveled to Mustafar, where he dispatched the Separatist leaders. This would mean an end to the Clone War, but the real nightmare was about to begin for the Republic.
During the slaughter on Mustafar, Palpatine called an emergency meeting of the Senate.
Appearing before them with his ‘scarred and deformed’ visage, he told how the Jedi had attempted to overthrow the Republic and kill him, and were now in the process of being ‘hunted down and defeated.’
This should have come as a shock to many in the Senate. The Jedi had been a part of the Republic for many generations, and yet the announcement that the “Jedi rebellion had been foiled,” led to cheers from many (though not from Bail Organa or Padme Amidala, who quietly watched the horror that was unfolding before them).
It was then that Palpatine declared that to ensure a ‘safe and secure society,’ the Republic would be reorganized, into the first Galactic Empire.
This declaration that signaled the fall of the Republic, was met by a look of shock from Padme, as the Senate chamber erupted into a cacophony of approval.
“So this is how liberty dies,” sighed Padme. “With thunderous applause.”
And as Revenge of the Sith drew to a close, it seemed that the Power of the Dark Side had triumphed. The Jedi Order had been destroyed, there was a massive military force at the beck-and-call of the new Emperor, and Palpatine was now the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy.
Though the Sith had taken over the Republic, it would take some time before the Empire would be defeated.
Much like how Palpatine had manipulated Anakin into becoming his apprentice, he soon hoped that Luke Skywalker would be able to replace Vader. However, Luke was not so easily swayed. Though caught off-guard at times, he proved to be stronger than his father had been, resisting the Emperor’s temptations, and even helped redeem his father when Vader threw his master down a shaft in the second Death Star.
And as we’ve seen via The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine survived to terrorize the galaxy another day…but that is another story that we can delve into at another time.
For now, I hope I have opened your minds a little further, and we can give Jar Jar Binks a little more of a break.