THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "And When the Sky Was Opened" & "What You Need"


Two more Serling episodes; the first a haunting eulogy for the manifest destiny of space exploration as experienced by three men; the second a cautionary tale about knowing when to fold 'em and when to walk away.


Season 1, Episode 11 - AND WHEN THE SKY WAS OPENED
Originally aired on December 11, 1959

111Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Douglas Heyes

Once upon a time, there was a man named Harrington, a man named Forbes, and a man named Gart. They used to exist, but don't any longer. Someone – or something – took them somewhere. At least they are no longer a part of the memory of man. And as to the X-20 supposed to be housed here in this hangar, this, too, does not exist. And if any of you have any questions concerning an aircraft and three men who flew her, speak softly of them, and only in the Twilight Zone.

“Death has a plan.” It’s likely remembered as the immortal words from the recent, and damn entertaining, Final Destination film series. But others have thought of the same ideal, perhaps not in literal words, but over the course of this episode Rod Serling examines what happens when three men and an aircraft materialize alive and as the title implies, rip a whole in the fabric, and design, of our existence. Three men on an early trip to outer space on the maiden voyage of the X20 aircraft disappear from radar for 24 hours then reappear. One of them is taken to the hospital while the other two go to a bar to drink off the experience. After one of the men starts getting a strange feeling, he goes to call his parents who tell him they have no son and then, in an instant, he is gone. Only Rod Taylor as the other astronaut remembers he even existed. As Taylor explains to Jim Hutton, the other astronaut in the hospital, Hutton too informs Taylor that he knows of no other man. Taylor, frantic, runs to a mirror and sees nothing and then runs away down the hall and he too is now gone forever with nobody remembering his existence. Finally, Hutton is left alone and terrified and as a nurse enters his room—the room is empty. No evidence remains of any of them and in the hanger of the X20 there is only a lonely tarpaulin. 

One of the astronauts mentions in the episode that he had a feeling maybe they should not have returned from that ship and their flight and that they no longer belonged in the world. The title of the episode gives the impression of a hole being ripped or created by the men’s journey into space. Rod Serling wrote this episode when space exploration was in its infancy and appears, as he typically does, to be cautioning us against going somewhere perhaps we do not belong. The horror here is that the fabric of the universe is something we cannot understand and we do not know what consequences face us when we charge headfirst into the unknown. The film’s most effective element is in those final couple minutes when we see two men both come to their own individual realization that not only their life is at its end, but their entire existence: accomplishments, family, friends… alone gone. Rod Taylor gives an over-the-top performance, but it is extremely effective in highlighting the erosion of the man’s cocksure flyboy attitude into a crazed frenzy; a man so sure of himself turned into a panicked and confused hysteria. Ultimately, Serling chastises the arrogance of man and attempts to erase it from our collective memory. Literally, it seems as if the universe has conspired to bury and remove the secrets of these men, maybe to prevent us from seeing what lies beyond our doorstep, or maybe save us from whatever we cannot comprehend.


Season 1, Episode 12 - WHAT YOU NEED
Originally aired on December 25, 1959

112Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Alvin Ganzer

Street scene. Night. Traffic accident. Victim named Fred Renard, gentleman with a sour face to whom contentment came with difficulty. Fred Renard, who took all that was needed—in the Twilight Zone.

An episode which carries with it today and perhaps in any time of recession, an added bit of levity and relevance. It features Fred Renard, a man who is implied to be in financial hardship (Serling’s opening narration intones he has a chip on his soldier the size of the national debt) and personal agony and who is looking for a way out. He meets a man, a peddler actually, who is a clairvoyant. The peddler has the ability to look at a person and give them what they will need. He demonstrates this inside a restaurant and Renard takes notice and asks the peddler for what he needs. The peddler gives him a pair of scissors which save his life when his scarf is caught in an elevator. He seeks out the peddler again and this time receives a leaky pen that “predicts” a winning race horse. Still not satisfied, Renard accosts the peddler yet again and the peddler is not willing to help, but he then senses that Renard is likely to kill him in rage, and so he complies. His gift turns out to be self-satisfying and proves that too much of a good thing can be the end of you. 

A very middling effort from all involved though I did appreciate that what we would expect from the opening words to be a sympathetic character is actually the villain, cruel and selfish. There is perhaps a little empathy in seeing a man so frustrated by life he is driven to such anger and resentment. I guess it could be argued that the peddler was also to blame for his gifts, given out of sympathy but also hesitant fear, fueled Renard. The ending has the ironic shift we would expect and shows that the peddler was not a subservient genie in a bottle and for all his kindness, he could choose to not help someone. Ultimately though, it’s a flawed episode—for instance, the magic pen seems outside the realm of clairvoyance, the slick shoes seem almost comical, and I’m not sure I buy or like the sudden shift of Renard into a murderous rage (though I don’t buy it, an interesting angle could be that the peddler is only guessing instead of knowing). Decently played by all but I doubt it is one I will remember once I have seen the entire series.

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.

Phil Ward • Contributor


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