Janet Tyler is a patient in a hospital. When we first see her, she is lying in a hospital bed with her head wrapped in bandages. Her doctor provides the back story as an annoying expository lecture to her of facts that she is obviously aware of.
He tells her that the injections she has been given are meant to alter her horrible facial deformity that makes her a source of horror and a member of a group that is forbidden to remain in the normal population. A number of attempts have been made to cure her of her deformity and this is the final attempt allowed by law. If she remains deformed, she will be exiled to a reservation for people with her affliction. We learn that this world mandates conformity including conformity of appearance.
Janet becomes extremely agitated as the Doctor repeats this litany of her misfortune. She starts yelling and complaining about the unfairness of discriminating against her appearance. The Doctor agrees to remove her bandage that night instead of waiting another day.
The Doctor is shown in a scene talking to a nurse and reveals that he is extremely sympathetic to Janet’s plight and even talks treason by saying that appearance shouldn’t be the basis for acceptance in society. In this scene as in all the scenes up to this point, the faces of the “normal” people, the doctors, nurses and orderlies, are heavily shadowed so that we can’t tell what they look like.
Finally, the Doctor removes the bandages in a painfully slow and boring scene and we are informed by the words and body language of the staff that Janet is still hideous. Then we are shown her face. She’s actually a pretty cute blonde. And now we see what the “normal” people look like. They’re hideous pig-snouted freaks with bizarre sharp cornered lips and other ugly features.
Knowing that she’s still a hideous monster Janet freaks out and starts running through the hospital disgusting everyone she meets. Finally, by accident she runs into the representative of the freak reservation who is there to indoctrinate her into freak society. Of course, he’s a leading man type and she quickly seems to relax and adjust to the idea of living in the freak colony. As he gives her the pep talk, he concludes by telling her to think about the idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
This is a very famous episode and it’s been parodied several times. But the message is anything but subtle and is pounded on the nose throughout the show, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But ironically, the ugliness of the “normal” people and the attractiveness of the “freaks” has the opposite effect than the message from the lesson. We are attracted by Janet and her friend and repelled by the other people. So the real lesson we learn is avoid weird looking people because they’ll gross you out.
This episode is annoyingly didactic and normally I would punish it with a very low mark but it’s so laughably obtuse in its tone deafness that for its unintentional comedic value I’ll give it an A-.