The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 15 – A Quality of Mercy

In the last days of the WW II a platoon of exhausted American GIs is performing surveillance on a mortar team trying to destroy an enemy position inside a cave in the Philippines.  Sgt. Causarano and his men are discussing the weakness of the Japanese force in the cave.  They approximate it to be twenty men most of whom are injured and therefore unlikely to mount any offensive operations against the Americans.  In addition, because of their good defensive position extracting them will definitely require American casualties.  They decide the best strategy is to bypass this target and move onto a more dangerous force that is less difficult to assault.

At this point a new officer arrives to take command of the patrol.  Lt. Katell informs Causarano that he is going to run things by the book and the first order of business is a frontal attack on the cave.  The Sgt. respectfully advises the Lt. that at this late stage of the war a frontal attack on a target that isn’t a threat is overzealous and a waste of American lives.  Katell states that in a war killing the enemy continues from the beginning of the war right until the very end.

The men reluctantly prepare for the assault but just as he is preparing to call the charge Katell drops his binoculars and as he is looking down at them a confusing change occurs.  Instead of being night it is broad daylight and instead of Causarano, the sergeant picking up the binoculars is in a Japanese uniform and is addressing Katell as Lt. Yamuri.   Panicking, Katell (who looks and is dressed as a Japanese officer) bolts away from the Japanese encampment and runs toward a cave.  But as he approaches it an American soldier inside the cave sprays machine gun fire toward him and is answered by a Japanese machine gunner firing back at the cave.

In the next scene Katell/Yamuri is trying to understand what is happening but he is very confused.  He learns from the Sgt. that the year is 1942 and the scene is near the battle of Corregidor in the Philippines.  At that point a senior Japanese officer appears and admonishes Yamuri for not finishing off the American force in the cave.  He tells Yamuri that it is a small force of twenty men, most wounded and would be easily overwhelmed by a frontal assault.  Now it is Yamuri (Katell) trying to convince an officer that bypassing the cave would be prudent.  But the officer accuses him of cowardice or battle fatigue.

As they prepare to storm the cave, the scene shifts back to the American camp in 1945.  But before Katell can get his bearings a messenger announces the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb and orders to suspend hostilities.  After his disorienting experiences Katell seems greatly relieved not to have to pursue the attack he earlier demanded.

As we’ve noted earlier, Rod Serling served in an infantry outfit in the Philippines during WW II.  His disdain for needless loss of human life probably matched the feelings of many men who had served in the war.  The acting in this episode is very good.  I especially enjoyed the characterization of Sgt. Causarano.  His war weary but professional attitude was very appealing.  Dean Stockwell as the Lt. was also good.  Of interest is a cameo as one of the soldiers by Leonard Nimoy in his pre-Spock era.  B+