THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "Where is Everybody?" & "One for the Angels"

fifthdimension

"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."

So begins a journey through the unknown. Every week, you will witness my exploits in making my way, chronologically, through the vast fifth dimension we know as The Twilight Zone. If I return from my voyage, I hope to be a better man; enlightened, educated, socially aware and profoundly moved.

 

Oh, and yeah, spoilers are likely. So, for the uninitiated, please beware.

 

 

Season 1, Episode 1 - WHERE IS EVERYBODY?
Originally aired on October 2, 1959

101"'Up there', up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars, waiting- waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in the Twilight Zone."

With this episode, so began the five season run of perhaps the greatest television series to ever grace the airwaves. This story was actually Serling’s second choice. His first choice was a story about a society where the elderly, once they reach the age of 60, are euthanized for the benefit of everyone else. It was considered too dark and depressing, so Serling turned his gaze to the sky for this episode of a man who appears on the horizon as if born out of the wilderness. He has no recollection of who he is or where he has come from and the town he stumbles upon only furthers the confusion. Empty and deserted, it appears as if everyone in the town suddenly left just before this man’s arrival; there is still fresh coffee, cigarettes, a cinema and most of the amenities of a small town; but there are no people to be found anywhere in sight. He searches endlessly in vain, constantly trying to keep a joking attitude, often talking to and interacting with people who of course are not there. Ultimately, after exhausting himself, his mind breaks and the episode reveals the underlying secret to the man’s predicament. What we expected to be nothing less than the end of civilization (particularly after the episode gives a close up of the book, “The Last Man on Earth”) is revealed to be much less catastrophic but also as equally disturbing on a personal level.

Compared to some of the heights to come, this maiden voyage is a little slight and rather simplistic. It never gains much momentum through the repetitious acts of the man going from store to store only to find all the necessities of life but no actual life. Also, Serling’s final thoughts show a rather naïve view of space exploration and what awaits us in the beyond, and he almost seems to be railing against our, especially in 1959, headfirst manifest destiny to conquer outer space. He would offer later on in the series a more effective argument against our almost-arrogant desire for space exploration, but here he presents an effective exploration of isolation and loneliness only to rather superficially and errantly parallel that to our attempt to reach out to space. In its favor, much of the dialogue adds some levity and personality to our blank slate of a man, and the final reveal still does hint at the cautionary tales of science fiction-cum-real life horrors that the series would crystallize in our minds and pop culture. A decent start and a great harbinger of what was to come.

 

Season 1, Episode 2 - ONE FOR THE ANGELS
Originally aired on October 9, 1959

102"Lewis J. Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: Pitchman. Formerly a fixture of the summer, formerly a rather minor component to a hot July. But throughout his life, a man beloved by the children, and therefore a most important man. Couldn't happen, you say? Probably not in most places, but it did happen in the Twilight Zone."

A bit of an odd offering for only the second episode of the series. It is rather light and quirky by comparison, usually the kind of fare offered only after we have become very comfortable in the schematic of a series to keep things varied. Yet, if it isn’t a particularly memorable episode overall, it is most certainly memorable for containing one of the most enjoyable and purely likable characters Serling ever devised. Ed Wynn’s pitchman, Lou Bookman, is a gentle and genuinely affable man. Wynn as an actor was always a bit unusual, and he imbues a great delicacy to the character, a very empathetic quirk where his character is shrewd enough to survive at his job, but honest and caring enough to not be too successful or too cunning. He is a fixture of the town, always there on the sidewalk, talking to the passersby and spoiling the local children with free gifts and kindness to spare.

Lou has a problem though, Death has come calling. Murray Hamilton’s Death is all business; for him the end of a life is a simple business transaction to be handled with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. He has no sympathy, but he equally has no malice. He does however rather foolishly reveal the three circumstances by which Lou can manage to delay his departure, upon which Lou is able to convince him to agree on the third condition, “important unfinished business,” which Lou states he has by giving a touching story of his desire to tell a glorious pitch, “one for the angels.” There are consequences of his deceit of Death, and ultimately Lou finds a little girl’s life on the line over his deal with Death.

The resolution to the plot can likely be seen coming for most astute viewers, and the handling of Lou’s great pitch to Death to save the girl’s life is rather clumsily edited—though this is likely to hide that Serling seems uncomfortable crafting a very formidable pitch. That Lou could actually rope Death in for long enough to save the girl’s life is far-fetched at best and it is rather ridiculous to see a force of nature, an employee of the firmament of life, Death himself sitting captivated by some luxury, foreign neckties. To be fair though, Wynn pulls it off with conviction, shrewdly smiling while spinning a great tale. But for a man such as Serling, this is child’s play (no pun intended). His final voice-over reveals the sentimental heart under the surface, but there are countless other episodes where he manages this in more convincing and memorable fashion. Here, Ed Wynn manages only to salvage the rather pedestrian episode with his heartfelt, empathetic portrayal. Guess he is a damn good pitchman, after all.

The Fifth Dimension is a weekly feature chronicling guest blogger Phil Ward\'s voyage in watching every episode of the original Twilight Zone series in chronological order, exclusively on JustPressPlay.

Jan
26
2010
Phil Ward • Contributor

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