14 December 2010

Don't read this

Unless you have already seen “Where Is Everybody?” from season 1 and “King Nine Will Not Return” from season 2 of The Twilight Zone. There will be spoilers. And these episodes are worth seeing unspoilt.

This one bit, though, do please read — Houston’s year of many premières:

[ link → A lovely premiere! ]

In all, six new works got airings this year — a record for me.

And there’s more to come in 2011!

Congratulations, Houston! Bring on more of the music!

Below this, though, do not read per instructions above. Go watch the two episodes, and then come back.

This post will still be here.

In discussing the pitching of “Where Is Everybody?” to CBS, Rod Serling mentions a small fantastical element in the source teleplay which was dropped from the actual episode (the very first to be vroadcast in the first season of The Twilight Zone).

— And remember, you’re not reading this unless you’ve already watched both episodes referenced above —

The airman who is trying not only to figure out where he is, but even simply to remember his own name, runs into a cinema at one point. Originally, Serling had him grab a ticket at the door, stick it in his pocket, and then — at the end of the episode when we at last understand what was going on, and that it was all in the airman’s mind — we find that ticket stub in his uniform pocket.
So — was it really all in his mind?

Serling said that it was decided to drop this, because that element was too irrational for television at the time; that the studio insisted that there be a perfectly rational explanation for everything. That Ticket Stub of the Irrational, had to be sacrificed.

Curiously, the actor playing the airman, Earl Holliman, in his recorded commentary to the DVD recalls suggesting to Serling that, when the airman is in the phone booth, he should tear out a page of the phone book — and that it was this page of the phone book which would defy the pat, rational explanation at the end.

Perhaps Holliman’s phone-book page and Serling’s ticket stub are somehow conflated. Or it may be that, inspired by the screenplay, Holliman came up with the idea of that errant page all on his own. Serling may not have mentioned the priority of the ticket stub. Or may have, and at this remove, Holliman may have forgotten.

In the first episode of the second season, “King Nine Will Not Return,” Serling manages to work in the lost notion of the super-rational ticket stub. Without merely copying himself, Serling constructs another story of an airman who finds himself inexplicably alone, in the desert miles away from any other being, and with nothing but the ruined hulk of his B-25 for company. (Apart from the odd hallucination; an element which is entirely absent from “Where Is Everybody?”)

At the end of “King Nine,” however, when we are made aware of the rational explanation for the airman’s peculiar adventures, and someone brings him his clothes back — there is inexplicable sand in his shoes.

Call this one example of the playful reworking of ideas which manages to create an overall unity, without devolving into repetition, in The Twilight Zone.

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