Monday, April 11, 2016

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Shattered Glass

The image of shattered glass is an important one in the visual arts.  In broad strokes, shattered glass suggests the falling of a transparent or invisible, heretofore unseen barrier.  When glass shatters, we become aware of that barrier or lens, and the fact of its existence.  

In cult-television history, shattered glass has been seen often to suggest the transition from one realm of existence to another, to show us the passage between realms of reality.

Take for example, the fifth season opening to Rod Serling's classic anthology The Twilight Zone (1959-1964).  We see a transparent window shatter, turning to dust, and it is one indicator that we are moving from our dimension or reality, to a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.

Intriguingly, our first good view of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964 - 1968) shows him behind shattered glass.  This fact suggests his invincibility in some sense. Assassins have attacked U.N.C.L.E. HQ, but their bullets have not reached their intended target; they were stopped at a barrier.  Solo survives.

In some cases, shattered glass symbolizes the crumbling of a main character's sanity.  In the finale to Twin Peaks (1990-1991) for example, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is possessed by the malevolent spirit Bob, from the Black Lodge, and bangs his skull against a mirror, shattering the glass.  The visual implication, of course, is that the character's sanity is also shattered.

Similarly, in Chris Carter's Millennium (1996 - 1999), a first season story called "Walkabout" opens with an apparently mad Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) punching at a glass barrier, a door.  The glass cracks, but he cannot escape, and his hand is bloodied. In this case, the implied notion is that Frank is separated from both the audience and his sanity, and can't breach the wall to get back.

Shattered glass means different things in different series.  In Star Trek's (1966-1969) "The Squire of Gothos," Trelane (William Campbell) creates the facade of an Earth mansion using a device hidden behind a glass mirror. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) destroys that mirror. When the looking glass is shattered, so is the illusion of reality.

Space:1999's (1975-1977) "Seed of Destruction" features an alien hall of mirrors on a distant asteroid, and when the glass of those mirrors is shattered, so are the plans of the dark agent of Kalthon.

One (very impressive) episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), called "Frame of Mind," finds Riker (Jonathan Frakes) unable to determine what is real in his life, and what is illusion. When the illusory life is exposed as an alien fake, Riker's whole field of sight shatters like pieces of glass.

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