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“The Twilight Zone” S01E01 Review: “Where Is Everybody?”

Every weekday, we’re going to review an episode of Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi/horror TV series “The Twilight Zone“. We’re starting from the beginning and we will be working our way through every episode the series has offered, including the episodes from the 80’s. You can see all the reviews right here.

Where is Everybody?” – Directed by Robert Stevens
Broadcast date: October 2nd, 1959

The episode opens with Earl Holliman, who plays a man who has no recollection of who he is or where he came from, walking down a dirt road and stumbling upon a diner where loud music is blasting from a jukebox. Wishing to get some food, he calls out for some service but no one hears him or comes to take an order. Instead, he is left to his own devices, curious as to why there is no one around.

Leaving and continuing down the road, Holliman wanders into the small, picturesque town of Oakwood. As he walks up and down the streets, he realizes that there is no one around. He mistakes a mannequin in a car for a person but quickly learns of his mistake. However, before that realization, his desperation for some kind of human contact is palpable. All he wants is to talk to someone, to have some sort of exchange.

As he goes from building to building, he starts to find strange signs that point to people being around him, only there’s no one there. He finds a lit cigar in the police station, a running faucet and lathered shaving bristle in a jail cell, and the phone booth rings, although no one is on the other end when he hurriedly picks up the phone. This all leads to him feeling a strange sensation of being watched, like there’s always something just behind him.

As the episode progresses, Holliman realizes that the jumper he’s wearing is an Air Force uniform and that he must be somehow with them, although he still doesn’t remember his name or his purpose. He just ambles around, slowly losing it and falling apart at the seams. It all culminates with him having an anxiety attack and running through Oakwood, stumbling wildly and crashing into objects. He falls against a street corner pole and pushes the crosswalk button while begging for help.

It is here that the twist of the episode is revealed as the camera cuts to several military men observing Holliman and his distress. The camera then shows Holliman is being held in a small metal box with electrodes on his head and torso. He is begging for help and the military decide to end the experiment. We find out that Holliman, whose character’s name is Mike Ferris, is an astronaut who underwent a test to see how long he could remain in solitude before cracking. The purpose of this was to see if he could make it to the moon and back, a portent of reality. Everything that he experienced in Oakwood was nothing more than a hallucination that he concocted to deal with the isolation and loneliness of being held in a box for over 484 hours.

As he is taken away by a stretcher to get medical attention, he stops the paramedics and looks at the moon. He calls out, “Hey! Don’t go away up there! Next time it won’t be a dream or a nightmare. Next time it’ll be for real. So don’t go away. We’ll be up there in a little while.

The episode is masterfully crafted and beautifully written. With Holliman being the only character until the last few minutes, he is responsible for carrying all the emotional weight, which he does phenomenally. His distress and fear is magnified by the expert direction of Stevens and cinematography of Joseph La Shelle, who uses wide shots of the emptiness and solitude of Oakwood to its advantage. The beauty of this town quickly wears away and everything feels sinister, all in the space of

Bernard Herrmann’s (Psycho) score is also delightful, adding to the tension and always making it clear that things aren’t what they seem. You can hear some of it below, which I highly recommend. It’s the kind of music that immediately feels like it’s from the 50’s but there is something timeless and haunting about every note.

I can’t imagine what watching this episode back in 1959 would’ve been like. I know that it would haunt me for days, imagining someone having to be alone for over 20 days so that we could say we’ve been to the moon. Hell, even the thought of someone going to the moon might seem ridiculous in and of itself, so sending someone to experience that kind of unease would be unthinkable.

“The Twilight Zone” has long been an iconic and incredibly important series. Watching this first episode makes me understand how it attained that status.

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