I’m going to be slowly working through all five season of The Twilight Zone (1959–1964, 156 episodes) and periodically posting responses along with some video stills to episodes I view as worth highlighting upon. While being the first syndicated network show that could be adequately categorized as “sci-fi”, Rod Sterling’s concepts were ahead of their time and his writing style peculiarly poetic. The breadth of the series influence is far-reaching and I’ve figured my viewership fundamental to my interests.
I’ll begin by highlighting the first episode ever broadcast: “Where is Everybody?”“the place is here. the time is now. and the journey into the shadows we are about to watch could be arching.” >
The first installment of The Twilight Zone presents a man who finds himself in a deserted town. He has forgotten his identity and searches for other people in vain. A phone booth in the middle of the park rings with no one on the other end. A cigar in an ashtray of the police station is found still burning. This scenario is closer to an elaborate practical joke than a post-apocalyptic situation.
A visit to a drugstore results in the character stumbling upon a spindle of books all titled “The Last Man on Earth”. Still holding onto the impression he is merely under the spell of a bad dream, a theatre abruptly lit in the evening brings the man to his peak of anxiety—the most cinematically pleasing-scene being when he flees the theatre in fright and crashes into a mirror, his reflection being his only animated companion in his state of isolation.
484 hours, the equivalent of a trip to the moon, several orbits, and return. The man’s delusions were a product of his existing alone in a small box without any human contact for this elongated period of time, a military exercise in simulating space travel.
As this episode was made a decade prior to the first successful moon mission in 1969, this particular story serves as testament to some of the fears and uncertainties produced by lunar travel. Sterling also seems to be alluding to the general weirdness and the strange subsequent experiments of the late 50’s United States government. Paranoia is a frequently used literary tool of Sterling, one that he was particularly adept at implementing.
To make a brief contemporary comparison, the Mars 500 is an eerie, yet somehow awesome elaboration on the idea of simulated isolation for the purposes of space travel. Six astronauts from various regions of the world spending 520 days together in an authentically replicated spaceship with numerous mock situations related to interstellar travel, the only human contact limited to twenty-minute delayed verbal correspondence with the monitoring base and e-mail. All in a mysterious warehouse in Russia for the intent of studying the physical and psychological effects on a crew during an expedition to Mars.