There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone.
It’s a stirring intro, no doubt, and it never fails to put me in the mood for a half-hour of suspense and surreality. Since its debut in October of last year, The Twilight Zone has consistently delivered a superior television experience (though even this fine show occasionally misfires: if I have any complaint, it is how frequently the protagonist degenerates into screaming madness about 15 minutes in.)
Continuing my tradition of recapitulating episodes in batches of four, here are episodes 20 through 24:
By far the weakest of the bunch, at least to me, is the first: Elegy. A three man crew of a deep space mission crash land on an “asteroid” (you’ve got to love those entirely Earth-like asteroids on this show.) They appear to have traveled back in time some two centuries to mid-20th Century America—except that all of the inhabitants of the area seem to be frozen in time. Rather than coming to the logical conclusion that the place is an exhibit in a museum, they instead become increasingly hysterical and spend much wasted time trying to get the dummies to respond to shouts. It turns out that the asteroid is actually a cemetery with myriad themed plots for the wealthy deceased. In the end, the crew are duped by the cemetery’s caretaker into becoming permanent residents. It’s all rather silly.
Mirror Image, in which a sensible young woman discovers that there is another her attempting to take over her life, is better. For one thing, it is one of the few episodes starring a woman. For another, rather than going insane, she quite reasonably comes to the right conclusion as to what’s happening. Also, the obligatory helpful young man is far less creepy than the one we saw in The Hitchhiker. The only flaw comes in the second act, when our heroine spends several minutes retelling the events that the audience has just seen happen to her: Twilight Zone often suffers from passing in the second act. Disregarding that, it’s an interesting premise, and the best stories are the ones that keep you pondering after they have finished.
There was a lot of buzz around the water cooler regarding the third episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. After a strange meteor causes a local power outage, the inhabitants of a suburban neighborhood quickly become suspicious of each other and soon degenerate into violent anarchy. It’s a pretty clear metaphor for The Red Scare. I’d dismiss it as hackneyed, but McCarthyism is too recent a memory. Mistrust is a cheap commodity, easily traded.
That brings us to last week’s episode, A World of Difference, which I quite liked. A corporate businessman sits down to make a call to his wife. When the phone doesn’t work, he hears a director call, “Cut!” and discovers that he’s really on a soundstage, and everyone believes him to be an actor. He is then confronted by an angry ex-wife and a much put-upon agent, who corroborate his new identity. There is a fine ending that leaves one questioning which is the true reality? And in the end, what does reality even mean?
Coming up next, the April 1960 Astounding!
Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!
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