Tom is strolling the school grounds, picking up litter. He pauses to watch the students on the athletic field-- in the background a soccer game is in progress, while in the foreground a group of students practice a drill routine. The headmaster chides Tom for stopping his work. When Tom says that there isn't much to pick up, the Headmaster says that they try to encourage a sense of community. The Headmaster admires the drilling students, whose every move is in harmony and synchronization. When Tom says he was always the kid who colored outside the lines, the Headmaster replies that they aren't preparing the students at Sperling to be groundskeepers. A fight breaks out in the soccer game, with a boy tackled by several others. The attackers tell the Headmaster that the boy kept the ball for himself, trying to score the point, putting himself before the team.
Morning presentation begins. As the headmaster and the other instructors observe, the students perform their choreographed drill routine in perfect unison. Every movement is precise, dress and cover flawless. They all wear black pants and white sweatshirts decorated with an inverted triangle superimposed on a circle. Along the three sides of the triangle are the words unity, commitment, strength. The clean-cut students present a wholesome appearance as they vigorously drill. We continue to hear the energetic music as Tom uses his keys to enter the headmaster's office. He locates Bellamy's file. The first thing he sees inside is a photograph of the Headmaster with Bellamy. Also in the file is a report on the Alpha Spike. A plant topples from a windowsill, its pot shattering on the floor. The next papers in the file are charts showing the Alpha Spike with the words "Applicant accepted" on the bottom of each. As Tom begins to photocopy the papers, the music ends, signaling that Presentation is over. Before he leaves, he finds a cassette tape labeled Bellamy lecture. A remote control found in a glass-fronted bookcase opens a hidden panel. Behind the panel, there is audio equipment, including a reel-to-reel tape machine. There's also a board with three breakers labeled Boy's dorm, Girl's dorm and Edmund Hall.
At Edmund Hall Chapel, Tom encounters three boys leaving the building. Tom begins searching the building. When he opens the door to the chapel, we see first the shadow of a hanging body, then the boy's sneakers panning up to his shirt where a note is pinned saying "It's hard when you don't fit in." As the body is removed to an ambulance, Sheriff Wade questions Tom Veil. Tom had seen the dead boy around but had never talked to him. As he puts it, being noticeable around there runs against the rules. The Sheriff wants to know what a groundskeeper was doing in the chapel. Tom tells him he was there because the circuit breakers for the sprinklers are in the basement, and he looked around the first floor because he saw the boys coming out when they should have been at Presentation. The only one he can name is Kyle Mencks. Mencks and the other two boys insist they were at Presentation, and other students quickly back them up. When Sheriff Wade questions Kyle alone as to why Jack Griffin would lie about seeing him, Kyle isn't angry; he's very reasonable and understanding, saying it was probably just a mistake, since the dress and hair-length codes tend to make them look alike. Tom is frustrated at not being believed, the more so when Wade tells him to stick around until everything is cleared up.
Tom goes to the dormitories that night. The students are restless, tossing and turning as a monotonous hum drones through the dorms. Tom opens the circuit breaker panel there, with labels in similar font and color to those in the Headmaster's office. In the hall, he is overcome by drowsiness, and falls asleep on a wooden bench, to be awakened the next morning by Kyle Mencks. Kyle is very smug as he tightens the tie on his impeccable uniform. He asks Tom if he is aware of the school policy that everyone is to be in their assigned quarters after curfew. As squad leader of the underclassmen, it is Kyle's responsibility to report anything that might look questionable. Tom tells Kyle his slick act only goes so far, that the truth has a way of coming out. Kyle is amused at that, saying that around there, truth is what the community can accept. It would come down to Tom's word against his, Sperling's best and brightest or a groundskeeper. He recites the school credo: Unity! Commitment! Strength! On unity the hands are clasped at one shoulder, on commitment the hands clasped near the heart, on strength the arms are outstretched.
In the chapel the students sing America, the beautiful. It begins with one boy standing, a single, pure, clear voice soon joined by a young girl. The students stand to join in, first two more, then four more, then a row, then two rows, the chorus growing incrementally as the music swells until finally they are all standing and singing. They file out of their rows to form one large wedge like the triangles on the sweatshirts they wore at presentation. At the front of the wedge is the Headmaster's pulpit. He exhorts them on the need to work together as a team, with unity of purpose. The students recite the answers to his catechism: Unity is a cohesive team. Commitment leads to purity of purpose and strength. Strength is through the power of numbers. He uses the symbolism of one arrow that can be easily broken, while the arrows held together are too strong to break. The assembly ends with the students repeatedly chanting "Unity, commitment, strength."
Sheriff Wade returns. He has run a check on Jack Griffin and found nothing. Tom admits that Jack Griffin is not his real name, that some people are trying to find him and he doesn't want to be found. Wade doesn't think very highly of the elite, over-privileged students of Sperling and would pick Tom "10 times out of 10" to go get a beer with, but he can't just accept Tom's assurance that he's not a criminal and leave it at that. There will be a hearing because it appears that Danny Gannon, the boy who was hung, did not commit suicide. Tom tells him his real name. When Wade asks if it will be another dead end when he runs the name Thomas Veil, Tom says "That's my name. Whatever you find or don't find, I'm telling you the truth."
A thought suddenly hits him when he talks to the Sheriff about the students not betraying unity of purpose and strength. He returns to the dorm that night. Again the students are restless, but this time in addition to the monotonous hum we hear a male voice in measured tones: "Unity of purpose is strength. What is good for the community is good for everyone. Harmony is community. Community is strength. A voice raised against the group must be silenced. The community must prevail. There is strength in numbers. The individual is alone and weak." Tom removes plugs from his ears shortly before the litany begins to be repeated.
Back in his room, Tom listens to the tape in which Dr. Bellamy is discussing subliminal induction techniques. Bellamy says that in a properly selected group of adolescents, they can diminish individual drive and channel it into a desire to cooperate and work within the group. He has determined that those with a marked Alpha Spike are more predisposed to subliminal induction and believes an entrance exam could be devised to weed out those who would be less susceptible. Tom is interrupted by a knock at the door. Vicky, Kyle's girlfriend, is in tears, saying that she overheard Kyle talking to the other boys and believes he killed Danny. Tom is uneasy about her being in his room and asks if it can wait until morning. He tells her she shouldn't be in danger as Kyle doesn't know she overheard, but she's still frightened. She clings to Tom, begging him to hold her, saying she'll do anything. When she reaches up and kisses him, he cries "Don't" but hears the click of a camera shutter. Kyle is outside the window taking pictures. Tom looks back toward Vicky, who smirks triumphantly before she leaves the room.
Tom goes to Kyle's room the next morning and asks why he's doing this to him. Kyle has had the pictures developed and can add to them Vicky's graphic testimony of how Tom seduced her with champagne and raped her. Tom offers to leave Sperling but that's not at all what Kyle wants. He tells Tom to stay there and be his dog. "When I say fetch, you'll fetch. When I say sit, you'll sit." When Tom alludes to Danny's death, Kyle says that Danny discovered a secret about Sperling that he couldn't handle. He says some people have to report any irregularity to the authorities; it makes them feel safe. He doesn't deny Tom's accusation that he killed him, saying that Danny disobeyed a direct order: Kyle told him to back off and he wouldn't. The first thing Kyle wants Tom to do is call the sheriff and tell him he was mistaken about seeing him at the chapel the morning Danny was killed. Tom can't see how he can explain changing his story, but Kyle tells him that's his problem. Back in his pickup, Tom removes the tape recorder hidden under his shirt.
Tom breaks into the Headmaster's residence and chokes him with a belt to try to get some answers. He wants to know who runs Sperling and who supports it. Also, who supported Bellamy's research into the Alpha Spike and who's behind the subliminal induction program. The Headmaster points out that no one will believe the word of a disgruntled employee ranting about brainwashing, but Tom informs him that murder is involved and that he knows enough to open an investigation that will bring the place crashing down on the Headmaster's head. The Headmaster asks what he wants to know but just then Tom is hit on the head and falls unconscious to the floor. The Headmaster is surprised to see Kyle there. They tie Tom to a chair and tape his mouth. Kyle informs the Headmaster that he knows everything that has been going on at Sperling. He has something none of the other students have: earplugs. He killed Danny because he was going to blow the whistle. Kyle doesn't want things to stop. The way he sees it, Sperling is creating absolute followers, soldiers. The only thing missing is someone to lead them, which will be Kyle. He tells the Headmaster that they will have a new relationship, that the Headmaster will be his dog. The Headmaster argues he can't be blackmailed, but Kyle reminds him that he can't afford to have the truth about Sperling exposed.
Tom is locked into a cell by Sheriff Wade. The sheriff has the photographs and a sworn statement by Vicky. Tom tries to convince him that he never touched Vicky and that she came to his room on Kyle's orders. Wade tells him Danny took the pictures and that they were found in Danny's room by the headmaster. Vicky hadn't had the courage to come forward, but Danny was going to. The sheriff is momentarily interested when Tom claims he has a tape proving that Kyle killed Danny Gannon, but figures he's being strung along when Tom says it's hidden, that they would have to go get it. Tom unsuccessfully tries to convince him that the headmaster is involved and that they are brainwashing and using subliminal induction on the students at Sperling.
The Headmaster is back in his office when the phone rings. We hear only his side of the conversation. "He's our groundskeeper ... He was about to become somewhat of a nuisance, but not to worry, I took care of that problem ... Tom Veil ... I've never heard of him ... He said his name was Jack Griffin ... No, sir, it's too late for that, he's in the legal system now." The sheriff gets a telephone call and tells the caller that they have jurisdiction and can come get Veil. He is disquieted though; at one point in the conversation he asks if they're sure they have the right man. Tom adds to his doubt, pointing out that the caller told him Tom's name, the Sheriff didn't tell them. If Wade found no warrants when he ran a check on Tom Veil, how can there be outstanding warrants now? Tom begins to tell him his story that began in the restaurant eight months before.
Tom tries to convince Sheriff Wade that the men coming to get him will look like federal agents and have all the right paperwork but it will be an act, but Wade believes that Tom has lost his hold on reality. We can hear the sound of cars coming to an abrupt halt outside. Wade lets Tom out of the cell and tells him to turn around. As he prepares to handcuff Tom's left wrist, Tom thrusts back with the other elbow, a hard blow that enables him to grab the sheriff's gun from his holster before he can recover. Pointing it at the sheriff, he asks where his car is. The men in suits, finding the building empty, hurry out to their cars and speed out of the parking lot. After they pass, Wade sits up from the seat of his car and the car moves off.
When the car stops, Tom orders the sheriff to get out. The sheriff asks if Tom is going to shoot him but Tom is taking him to get the tape made in Kyle's room. He plays if for Wade, then lays the gun beside the cassette player on the hood of the car, turning it around so that the grip is towards the sheriff. There is a moment of uncertainly as Wade picks up the gun and holds it on Tom. Tom asks what he's going to do. He answers "I'm gonna get in my car and you're gonna disappear." He takes the tape and returns the player to Tom. Once in the car he radios for two units to meet him at Sperling Academy with an arrest warrant for Kyle Mencks and to detain the headmaster for questioning.
Tom Veil picks up his bag and walks along the highway, heading towards a stone tunnel showing a glimmer of daylight on the other end.
[Jack Griffin was the name of Claude Rain's character in "The Invisible Man."]
Synopsis © 1995 Marge Brashier
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December 14, 1995