Tag Archives: Rod Sterling

The Twilight Zone—Season 1—“Time Enough at Last”

“…Henry Beamis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers, a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but it was conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world of time clockers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Beamis will enter a world without bank presidents, or wives or clocks or anything else….”

Mr. Beamis is not “an efficient member of [the] organization”. His superior reprimands him for being “a reader”, a quality unappealing in an employee. Beamis’ ritual of scanning through texts at work is a direct result of the autocratic rule of his wife who refuses to let him read, rejecting the custom as “sacrificing the art of conversation”.  Sterling crafts for us a situation where the society of a man rejects his hermetic habit of books. Albeit, this is not a Farhenteit-451 construction in which books are considered completely deplorable and to be done away with by force. While the libraries still stands and the texts are still available, it seems that the forces in Mr. Breamis’ world, the company he keeps, prevent him from his indulgence.

Mr. Beamis sneaks away while at work to read within a bank vault, inadvertently functioning for our protagonist as a bomb shelter. In this appears a perfect juncture to insert an apocalypse, a cataclysm by hydrogen bomb. It seems impossible for much of the television and movies produced during this time (late 1950’s) to not address world war fears and the development of nuclear armaments. This particular episode is really most interesting for it’s presentation of the post-apocalyptic moment, after the breaking of Beamis’ pocket watch, which cracked due to the bombing, into a new mode of time. The destroyed innards of the bank serve to symbolize the ceasing of a world created upon a very specific system of values, a collapse of civilization.  The destruction of  a structure created for the purpose of storing and dispensing forms of capital, is the initial indicator of the end of the world. A tape recorder reels out the speech dictated by the head banker to his secretary for the Thursday night banquet (“a constant remembrance that the bank, like a political office, is a public trust”) self-destructs as the sole survivor first moves with timid steps through the remains of a past-life vanished. The “battered monuments” of infrastructure, (a pay-phone, a neighborhood bar, a mailbox) help to confirm the mysterious extinction of Beamis’ former environment.

On a side note, one of the cinematography effects I appreciate about the scenes portrayed of a world-burned-out are the obvious markings of the shot taking place on a set, like the weird way the horizon looks and how the sky appears totally motionless. There is something exciting about the idea of imagining the world destroyed and then constructing such a vision, “a smashed landscape”, on a closed set in warehouse in southern California.

There is a moment when Beamis almost succumbs to his loneliness, finding a small handgun amongst the rubble. At the moment when he is about to exact his own demise, a beacon of hope presents itself—a fallen pillar of the public library. This is the most beautiful portrait of destruction, Beamis excitedly running up the debris-ridden stairs littered with novels by famous authors. These works appear to be his saving grace, his reason to live.

Of course, it seems rather obvious from the beginning that this bespectacled man with lenses thick like magnifying glass will suffer some strange fate related to his sight. Indeed, upon his greatest moment of joy, his exuberant embrace of time unconstrained, he leans over and his glasses fall from his face, smashing to pieces on the ground.

It’s fair to say that this is a morose story. Without doubt, it would be unlikely for Beamis’ fate to not become somehow twisted, for everyone else’s apocalypse to become his own utopia. Still, we are never led to view Beamis as a morally corrupt man deserving a harsh sentence. Instead, we witness a man saved from death twice only to suffer a grueling sentence, to be stripped of his vision and, ultimately, his will to live by Sterling’s exploitation of a frailty.

This episode contains the classic sort of irony characteristic of Rod Sterling and The Twilight Zone, the appearance of a situation that reveals itself as not possibly being what it seems. The viewer can understand at an early point that the plot will somehow manifest a shifted version of reality by the end, the last moments destined to make sense of the scenes prior and generate an end with a resemblance of shrouded explanation. What is commendable about The Twilight Zone is it’s unwillingness to edify, the series reluctance to provide unprecedented glimmers of optimism or explicit morals. The whole premise of Sterling’s creation is to depict an altered dimension more-often-than-not with a rationale not based in our own immediate realities. So nice about this approach to storytelling is the expressive freedom present in creating a world where things are inexplicable and left with an aura of the unknown. This allows for the tales to present ideas not constricted by the rules of reason, or as Sterling would say, in The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone – Season 1 – “The Lonely”

This particular episode contains some strong concepts: outer-space imprisonment, loneliness, and the capabilities of a robot to serve as a cohort.

Solitary confinement takes place on an asteroid, a version of criminal punishment in the future, imprisonment being outdated. Sterling utilizes the desert as an allegory for space and infinity, a theme he will continue to explore in future episodes. The man held captive is delivered a crate during one of the routine supply deliveries that take place every three months. It’s a gift from a compassionate deliveryman to help the man through his fifty-year sentence for murder. When asked what the contents of the crate are by one of the other members of the crew, he states, “I’m not quite sure, really. Maybe just an illusion, maybe its salvation. I don’t know.”

It’s a machine, though “physiologically and psychologically she is a human being with a set of emotions and a memory track.” Violently opposed at first to a machine aiding him through his time, the man becomes enamored with “Alicia” in discovering that she, though a robot, has feelings too. In questioning his situation after eleven months, the man wonders whether what is occurring is a relationship between man and woman or man and machine. The one certainty is  that she not only caters too but also develop his tastes. His loneliness is eliminated by the presence of “Alicia”.

With much time passed, the delivery crew returns with fated news—the man has received a pardon and is being shipped back to earth, though he is only able to carry fifteen pounds of baggage. The problem of most significance in this episode is presented in the separation of the man from “Alicia”. “She’s not a robot,” the man pleads, “She’s a woman. You don’t understand. If you leave her behind that’s murder.” Fully-succumbed to the emotional companionship of his cyborg companion, the man refused to give up his love.

Until the man who originally brought the robot, effecting desperate measures, shoots Alicia in the face.

Similar to a Stepford Wives scenario, a robotic imitation serves the role of a female in the image of the man who makes her possible. Of interest in this case is the man’s dismissal of reality, his lack of acknowledgment in regards to the robotic nature of his love. However, when reminded of her internal components (electronics, exposed through her blow-open face) he is able to abandon his feelings and return home.

A commentary on loneliness as much as the possibilities of a cybernetically guided future, “The Lonely” posses questions even today of our attachment to and enchantment by technologically-aided devices. Perhaps the commentary also inadvertently alludes to the effect of technology to create an impressive illusion of reality, a perfect Twilight Zone scenario.

The Twilight Zone – Season 1 – “Where is Everybody”

“it is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition,  and it lies between the pith of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”

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.