THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air" & "The Hitch-Hiker"

fifthdimension

The first of these two episodes is among the most strongly moral and critical episodes of the series; piercing and biting words from the heart of its creator. The second a less moralistic tale but no less skillfully compiled, personifying that which every person fears and some may not even know has happened.

 

115Season 1, Episode 15 – I SHOT AN ARROW INTO THE AIR
Originally aired on January 15, 1960

Written by: Rod Serling (story by Madelon Champion)
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg

Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events. Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, of desperation. Small human drama played out in a desert ninety-seven miles from Reno, Nevada, U.S.A – continent of North America, the Earth, and of course the Twilight Zone.

“… it fell to earth, I know not where.” Or so goes the poem from which the title of the episode derived its name.  Truth be told, Serling was tipping his hand quite baldly to anyone familiar with the second half of the opening phrase to Longfellow’s poem. Nonetheless, I suspect many are not familiar. The basic plot is a new spaceship, 4 ½ years in the making we are told, has been launched on a space exploration only to be lost very shortly after liftoff. We meet the crew, the remaining four alive, after they have crashed on what the captain presumptuously calls an unknown asteroid. It quickly becomes only three men left and among them is Corey, a brash and disrespectful officer who cares only about himself and his own impending dehydration. He filches water from the dead astronauts without permission and constantly berates the colonel’s humane orders. Ultimately, Corey winds up with all the remaining water and after hiking some distance from the crash site discovers what is one of the most disturbing and ironic twist the series ever hashed out.

It’s a well crafted episode overall, the landscape lending itself to daunting vistas and expressive lighting and Rosenberg paces and frames the action so that the surroundings remain monotonously foreboding while the human drama plays out, seemingly realizing that despite the wilderness most of the drama is actually internal. It is also an exceedingly sparse episode, just three men and the desert. There is no plot, only survival. The tale of men trying to survive in the wilderness, lost and starving and succumbing to the hysteria of the situation is nothing new in the narrative arts. And while it similarly isn’t necessarily unique to the Twilight Zone, Serling’s handling of the episode is peculiarly, and rather uniquely cruel and almost snide. Late in the episode, as Corey marches on to his haunting revelation, Serling chastises him with a narration that exudes a healthy amount of vitriol. Usually a slightly bemused and critical guide to our stories, here Serling is a much more forthright and punishing presence. There seems to be anger in his voice at the selfishness inherent in mankind. Even in the screenplay itself as near the end as Corey is standing over a dead astronaut and exclaiming that code and rules have no place in this “place,” making wrong-headed assumptions and blinded by his own shortsighted need to survive at any cost.

 

116Season 1, Episode 16 – THE HITCH-HIKER
Originally aired on January 22, 1960

Written by: Rod Serling (from a radio play by Lucille Fletcher)
Directed by: Alvin Ganzer

Nan Adams, age twenty-seven. She was driving to California, to Los Angeles. She didn't make it. There was a detour, through the Twilight Zone.

I suppose the final impact of the final twist to this episode has been lessened over the years with the concept have been used many times, but I imagine that in the 40s when the radio play was written and even in 1960 when this aired, people didn’t really see it coming. This is probably one of the few episodes where what we talk about afterward isn’t the moral implications or even really the dialogue or scenario but rather the overriding atmosphere and unrelenting nature of the man who just keeps appearing no matter how far our leading lady drives. There’s a very disquieting air to the man right from the beginning and it fuels Nan (our lady) to distrust him immediately and only grow more frightened as he keeps appearing. It’s a similar experience to that of Spielberg’s Duel where no matter how fast and far we go, we can never escape that coming force.

I like the efficiency of this episode and I like the way it treats itself almost as a radio program, filling in details with thoughts and comments. I like how the camera subtly suffocates the viewer to ratchet up the tension and the cutting and contrast in those final few moments, the lighting giving an unease and a duality which ultimately belongs between two dimensions. It works almost perfectly as a 25-minute short; where Spielberg may have given us one too many close calls and repetitious car chases, there are just enough incidents in this episode to build the suspense and mystery before giving us a final jolt. The realization with that ending is almost soothing in that the worst had already actually happened and out stranger meant only to guide, not harm. He also gave space enough for Nan to figure it out on her own, thus the final somber acknowledgment is at the very least a peaceful closure.

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.

Jul
01
2010
Phil Ward • Contributor

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