THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "The Four of Us Are Dying" & "Third From the Sun"

fifthdimension

Now comes two of the more intriguingly directed episodes, full of tilted cameras, expressive visuals and engrossing atmospheres. Both as well have two of the great endings to the series, both of which wind up casting a new light on the preceding drama.

 

113Season 1, Episode 13 - THE FOUR OF US ARE DYING
Originally aired on January 1, 1960

Written by: Rod Serling, based on a story by George Clayton Johnson
Directed by: John Brahms

He was Arch Hammer, a cheap little man who just checked in. He was Johnny Foster, who played a trumpet and was loved beyond words. He was Virgil Sterig, with money in his pocket. He was Andy Marshak, who got some of his agony back on a sidewalk in front of a cheap hotel. Hammer, Foster, Sterig, Marshak— and all four of them were dying.

The episode closes with our main character, Arch Hammer, stammering at gunpoint that the man holding the gun “has got the wrong guy.” Indeed, the man thinks he is shooting someone else, his son in fact, boxer Andy Marshak. You see, Hammer is a man with an extraordinary gift; he can make his face appear like that of anybody he sees. The problem is, he just uses his gift to be a petty crook and conman, or as Serling glibly states over the opening narration, he is a “cheap man, a nickel-and-dime man… a cheapness of taste, a cheapness of mind…” and so forth. Hammer only looks at what other people have, women, money, fame and so forth. The episode starts with him stealing a trumpeter’s girlfriend and then impersonating a gangster to bribe some money which ultimately gets him in trouble as his face shows one thing but his body shows another and he is figured out. His on-the-run impersonation of Marshak leads to his ultimate demise. 

Mostly this is a middling episode, not much that goes beyond the concept and pretty dull. John Brahm manages to steep much of the street action into a nice neon-infused and slightly off-kilter urban milieu which is fitting for a character who lives almost exclusively through others’ tinted glasses. Still, for me the episode is almost exclusively in the insinuation of the final sequence. For all of Hammer’s pleas that he isn’t the right guy, Serling and the audience know better. His own sins have gotten him to this point and when you take someone else’s identities, you unwittingly shoulder their inequities and Hammer ultimately had to pay for the wager he made when he changes his face that one last time. He finally managed to hide behind someone even worse than himself and it cost him dearly.

 

114Season 1, Episode 14 - THIRD FROM THE SUN
Originally aired on January 8, 1960

Written by: Rod Serling, based on a story by Richard Matheson
Directed by: Richard Bare

Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the third planet from the Sun. And for William Sturka and the men and women with him, it's the eve of the beginning in the Twilight Zone.

I’d like to think that Ronald Moore watched this episode, or read Richard Matheson’s short, before creating his masterful update on Battlestar Galactica. An overriding theme in that show was the cyclical nature of existence and that all these events had, in one way or another, happened before and all would happen again. *SPOILER* The series ended with the remaining band of humans landing on Earth, the 13th colony, and “starting over” only to have the show cut ahead 150,000 years in the future to show mankind was on the same destructive path yet again. *END SPOILER* On this episode, two government employees, their wives and one man’s child are attempting to escape the coming apocalyptic war that is foreshadowed by the increasing nuclear arms race they see happening first hand. One of the men has found an inhabitable planet just like theirs many millions of miles away and they decide to steal a spaceship to take their families there and leave the destruction of their planet behind them. Of course, the twist seems obvious to those familiar with the Twilight Zone, and ultimately their destination is not away from Earth, but to it. 

The episode doesn’t give us a year or timeframe, so it is not clear exactly when the ship would arrive on Earth. One of two scenarios could occur; these men could be from long ago and we gravely would see that history has indeed repeated itself in the creation on nuclear weapons and Serling’s warning is that they will only lead to our destruction (as he has shown before on the show); or, these men land in present day (1960 anyway) and the sad reality is they have only traveled all this way to see we over here have gone done the same sad path. Ultimately, I think Serling realizes it just doesn’t matter which scenario is true. The reality of our situation remains the same. Perhaps worse, Serling is positing that we are not unique, our mistakes are apparent and that somewhere someone has paid the price for the same negligence, arrogance and plain idiocy as we have all displayed.

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.

Jun
04
2010
Phil Ward • Contributor

Popular

New Reviews