THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "The Lonely" & "Time Enough at Last"

fifthdimension

Two marvelous episodes, both ultimately dealing with the theme of isolation and loneliness. Even more, one could almost start where the other ends, the climactic end-of-the-world as seen from a singular viewpoint melding into a view of a planet with only one inhabitant.

 

Season 1, Episode 7 – THE LONELY
Originally aired on November 13, 1959

107Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Jack Smight

"On a microscopic piece of sand that floats through space is a fragment of a man's life. Left to rust is the place he lived in and the machines he used. Without use, they will disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that act upon them; all of Mr. Corry's machines—including the one made in his image, kept alive by love, but now obsolete in the Twilight Zone."

Most fiction that deals with the idea of solitary confinement does so with the focus on the size and detail of the confinement; cramped quarters, dark and dank, no knowledge of the passage of time and so forth. Serling plays it a bit differently, though the last point, the temporal dislocation, is still certainly palpable. But by placing our inmate on an uninhabited planet, the dwarf Ceres, Serling uses the opposite mentality for the breakdown of this man, that of having too much room. Loneliness may be a concern for those cramped in an 8x8 dark room, but they only have space to spend with themselves and thus it is the claustrophobia that overwhelms. Here though, Jack Warden is faced with a different kind of claustrophobia, one that suffocates him at every turn, staring out in the vast and sun-drenched terrain with only himself. The sympathetic captain of the supply ship that periodically brings Warden supplies has now left a new supply, a box that is only to be opened after they have left. Inside the box is a woman, a robot woman, to keep Warden company. At first he rejects her, but eventually and upon seeing her capable of simulating emotion, he begins to warm to her. This eventually turns into a symbiotic relationship, drawn on the need for a physical presence as much as any actual attraction. Of course, in the Twilight Zone, irony is only a heartbeat away, and eventually Warden is acquitted and the captain and his ship return to take him home, and their ship has no room for a robot woman.

“Home” is the key word in the finale of this episode. Serling plays on the old adage, “home is where you make it,” and for Warden he has domesticated himself with his illusion of a woman, a wife almost. Serling smartly keeps us relatively uninformed about Warden’s life outside this planet, thus at the end we are left with much doubt over the captain’s assurance that Warden is leaving behind his loneliness when in fact, he may simply be on the journey back to a different kind of isolation and loneliness. The only misstep is perhaps Serling giving the female robot too much emotional capability. I think Warden’s desperate need for companionship could have been even more elegantly realized had he created her emotional responses as a figment of his intense desire. Nonetheless, the point is powerfully made. Serling’s final narration leaves us with more than a twinge of remorse, his emphasis on the rust and decay of these machines and seemingly equating their degeneration with that of the morsel of happiness and love Warden found in that robot.

 

Season 1, Episode 8 – TIME ENOUGH AT LAST
Originally aired on November 20, 1959

108Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: John Brahm

"The best laid plans of mice and men and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis...in the Twilight Zone."

I think many would likely agree with Henry Bemis when he exclaimed at the end, after discovering he has all the time in the world to read but no glasses to read with, that it simply isn't fair. Perhaps the hardest thing to accept, and yet also most memorable aspect, is that Bemis isn't a particularly unlikable guy. In fact, his wife, his boss, the judgmental customers of the bank, all make him a sympathetic presence. It doesn't seem the punishment fits the crime, so to speak; that unlike most episodes, there seems to be little action on Bemis' part to bring about the apocalyptic and tragic reaction.

Then I think, well, Bemis is a victim. He's been left, as Serling notes, part of the rubble, part of what mankind has brought upon and given to itself: total destruction. Mankind has run headfirst into destruction, chaos, order and science that in its wake is left a man who only wanted to cherish the arts, to sit and relish in the experience of a good book. Bemis isn't deserving of the fate, he is simply Serling's human face to the ultimate catastrophe brought about by mankind's ignorant race into weapons capable of total annihilation; the value of war and conquest over that of artform and beauty.

The truth though lies somewhere in the middle. Bemis certainly is the tragic consequence and he isn't condemned for the atrocity explicitly. It is sad what happens to him, but, he isn't innocent (after all, Serling could have written him to not break his glasses and to live eternity in peaceful reading--that would have been a truly chilling ending). Rather, I think the implication is clear: Bemis' bookworm doesn't even notice the events around him; doesn't even look or read the newspaper headline foreshadowing the destruction of the world and instead he buries himself in fantasy and fiction. Ultimately, some awareness and responsibility for the world must be established in each human psyche and Serling implies that it is perhaps men like Bemis, learned men who live in the world but care not for the follies of this world, who are responsible for such mass destruction to happen, unwittingly allowing such atrocities to build up around them. Ultimately, Bemis is punished for mankind's foolishness and ignorance, but equally for his own form of ignorance. And now, he can spend his days alone with the remnants of the world he chose to ignore.

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.

Feb
18
2010
Phil Ward • Contributor

Popular

New Reviews