Main cast: Bill Pullman (Major Ben Darnell), Carl Lumbly (Dan), Sean Campbell (Sgt Gilson), Todd Talbot (Pvt Rasky), Michael David Simms (General Briggs), Emily Holmes (Belinda), Karen Elizabeth Austin (Grandma), Calum Worthy (Boy), Jianna Ballard (Girl), Don Wallace (Grandpa), Cary Elwes (Gerald), and Brian Dennehy (Camper Ben), and Henry Rollins (The Host)
Directors: Bill Pullman and Joe Dante
A View Through the Window isn’t just Bill Pullman’s second directorial effort; it is based on a pretty well-known short story of the same name by Robert Leman. While there are some creative liberties taken here and there, the basic structure of the story is the same.
Major Ben Darnell is summoned by General Briggs to investigate a strange occurrence is the middle of the desert: a “dimension pocket of sorts”, in which a family looking like they are straight out of Little House on the Prairie live peacefully, unaware that their home and the surrounding countryside are somehow visible through some kind of dimensional window to the soldiers in the desert. When the men can see the family, the family can’t see them – the dimensional window is clearly one way only.
Ben isn’t a happy man. He blames himself for the recent death of his daughter, and he and his wife have never spoken to one another ever since. One of the prairie family members is a woman whom he calls Belinda, who seems to be the mother of the boy and girl in the family. Belinda is either a divorcée or widow, Ben reasons, and she and her children live in a lovely house with her parents. Every day, as Ben studies the family and especially Belinda, he begins to believe that he can understand her more than anyone else. She looks lonely, and perhaps she can understand the pain he is going through too.
And then, he discovers that there may be a way for him to cross over to the other side…
The original short story is cold, clinical, and full of jargon. While this may be off-putting on paper, this distancing actually makes the twist at the end even more terrifying. I mean, when you have detached academics suddenly crapping their pants in terror, then yes, the crap has really hit the fan. Here, however, they’ve made the protagonist far more human, and the script puts Ben as the active participant in the major events here instead of just an academic who only observes things most of the time. This dilutes the intensity of the twist, yes, but it gives that twist a hint of tragedy that also works. Hence, this episode works very well for me – especially since Bill Pullman is giving his all in his role as Ben, far more than he is required to give.
In Quiet Please, we have another unhappy protagonist: Gerald, who is at the end of his rope. He can’t stand the constant bombardment of noises from all around him, and there is a serial killer on loose in the neighborhood, all of which adds to the chaos in his world. He discovers that, just nearby, is the Archer State Park, “50,000 acres of nature untouched by man”. He immediately heads over for a much-needed R&R… only to bump into the obnoxiously loud and noisy Ben, who also has a pretty noisy dog too and that camper just won’t leave Gerald alone.
This is an episode that plays its cards very early. In fact, I’m sure savvy folks would have already guessed the twist from just reading the previous paragraph. Still, Brian Dennehy manages to make his character super annoying – so I guess his mission is much accomplished – while it is cute to see Cary Elwes play a neurotic mild-mannered fellow whose anxieties hide an acerbic interior.
However, this episode is stuck in the thankless position of having to follow a much superior episode. In any other Night Visions duology, it would be a pretty good episode. Here, it kind of pales in comparison. Still, it’s solid in its own right even if the payoff is kind of predictable – very predictable.
All in all, this combo is easily the best in the series so far. If you have to watch only one double-episode in the entire series, make it this one.