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.
“Walking Distance” – Directed by Robert Stevens
Broadcast date: October 30th, 1959
For the past several reviews, I’ve started with a synopsis of the episode but today I’m going to change it up. I’m doing so because I have a specific thought running through my head about “Walking Distance” and I have to get it our right away: this episode is simply magnificent. It’s one of those episodes that embodies everything we know and love about this series while ending with a wistful yet beautiful moral.
The episode follows Martin Sloan (Gig Young), a marketing VP out of New York City who felt overwhelmed by the constant rush of noise, meetings, and chaos. That’s why he got in his car and sped out of town, arriving at a gas station in the countryside. It just so happens that he is only a mile and a half from Homewood, the town where he grew up. Deciding that is well within walking distance, he ventures into town for a trip down memory lane. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s not only walked a mile and a half but also gone back in time 25 years to the time of his childhood. He walks as an adult through the same places that he as a child wandered.
As yet unaware of this time travel, he gets his childhood favorite at the local ice cream parlor while nostalgically remembering his younger days. He meets a small boy who is playing with marbles, stopping to tell him about the various names he had for his own set. He goes to the park to enjoy the local band and watch people ride the merry-go-round. It is in the park that he remembers how he carved his name into the pole of a gazebo. Looking at the same one he is reminiscing about, he sees a young boy doing the same thing. Coming closer, he realizes that this is himself, only 11 years old. The younger version of himself runs off in fear at the intensity of the older Martin, not realizing who he is. Obviously shocked, he goes to his childhood home and meets with his parents, who don’t recognize him nor do they believe his wild story.
Skipping ahead, the tale ends when young Martin falls off the merry-go-round and injures his leg, ultimately causing older Martin to have a limp. Old Martin, feeling guilty for causing this, sits at the merry-go-round until his father shows up, who tells him he believes the story Martin is telling. What ensues is a beautiful discussion about how older Martin can’t stay, that young Martin has his own life and his own summer to enjoy.
Old Martin suddenly appears in the same ice cream parlor from before, only now he’s in his original timeline. Going back to the gas station, he gets in his car and heads back with a clearer perspective on how to live his life in a better way.
What makes this episode so magnificent is that it’s something we can relate to. Much like in “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”, nostalgia is a powerful feeling. Here, however, Martin is fine with having grown older. He simply wants to appreciate his childhood memories and savor the twinges and stirrings that hit his heart and memory. Even in the episode, when he tries to talk to his younger self before the injury, his intent was simply to tell him to enjoy the summer, to enjoy his youth for he’ll never get that opportunity again.
Like with other episodes of the show, it’s mysterious and unexplainable but that’s just fine. Some things don’t need to be explained, like how Martin travelled back in time, because the ultimate message is so poignant and powerful that it transcends the need for such reasonings. Martin finds the ability to enjoy his adult life by coming face-to-face with his childhood and applying his own message that he wanted to give to his younger self to his own adult life.
Before I end this, I need to mention Bernard Herrmann’s absolutely beautiful score. It amplifies the visuals and story to a higher level and it’s simply sublime.
This is the kind of TV episode that makes you want to call your parents just to hear their voice, to ask them to pull out old photo albums so that you can reminisce over days gone by. It’s an episode that celebrates life and it does so in a truly beautiful way. To all who read this, find the time to slow down in your own life to appreciate and cherish where you are, what you have, and what you can. It may not be ideal but it can get worse. By giving yourself a few moments to clear your head, you can always aspire for more. And maybe you’ll find the time for a chocolate ice cream soda with three scoops along the way.