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.
“The Lonely” – Directed by Jack Smight
Broadcast date: November 13th, 1959
James A. Corry is a convicted criminal who is sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid that is nine million miles from Earth. He has spent nearly five years alone, with nothing but rocks and sand to keep him company. The only interaction he gets is the regular three-month supply drop, where he gets to meet with the captain, Allenby, and crew of the small ship. However, they are only there for a short while, teasing him with the potential for the company, which makes their appearance all the more painful.
His only hope is that they bring news of his pardon, which will eliminate 45 years of his sentence. Alas, their visit brings only sour news. However, Allenby leaves behind a large metal crate as a sort of gift for Corry, who utters the beautiful line, “Allenby? I don’t much care what’s in it. But for the thought, for the decency, thank you.” This is before he opens the crate, so we see the decency of Corry, which suddenly makes his imprisonment all the more cruel.
When the crew leaves, Corry opens the crate to discover inside is a robot that is made to look like a real woman, who is named Alicia. Indistinguishable from the outside in nearly ever way, Corry shockingly rebukes her. After all this time alone, one would think he would embrace having a companion, even if it’s not “real”. His horror and dismissal is confusing but we learn that the reason for this is because he sees her presence as a mockery, a joke at his need for human companionship. Her attempts to convince him that she is able to feel what he feels, to experience the same kind of sensations and emotions he runs through, are met with disbelief and hostility. It’s only after he throws her to the ground and then sees her weeping does he realize her range of emotions. He apologizes and the two form a strong relationship.
Eleven months go by and he admits that he’s fallen in love. He no longer sees her as a robot but rather as a real woman, the illusion having worked and a veil having been pulled over his eyes. When Allenby returns to let him know that a pardon was issued and he can leave, but only him due to weight restrictions, Corry is devastated and refuses to leave Alicia behind. Allenby sees how far down the rabbit hole Corry has gone and decides that the only way to convince him of the reality of the situation is to shoot Alicia in the face, exposing the wiring and cogs that make her function. Shocked into reality, Corry leaves with the crew to head home.
Stories of loneliness and solitude have always had a strange effect on me. It might be because I work from home, so I rarely get out and see people but these tales tug at my heart and force my empathy to go into overdrive. The performance of Jack Warden as Corry is magnificent and Jean Marsh – who you might remember from Return to Oz and Willow – is charming as Alicia. Seeing the two bond and ultimately fall in love, defeating their loneliness, feels almost magical. Even millions of miles from everyone else, they made it work.
There are some obvious glaring issues when looking back at this episode but I also have to remember when it was released. Clearly people can’t breathe on an asteroid without a suit or helmet. Also, how would the gravity be the same? These are niggling points but what makes them so charming in retrospect is how people viewed science fiction. These weren’t details that we need concern ourself with. Rather, the fact that we wanted to explore new planets and encounter otherworldly experiences was enough to set our imagination on fire.
The first true sci-fi episode of the series, “The Lonely” is charming, it’s heartbreaking, and it easily fits into any discussion centering around the “uncanny valley” phenomenon. Was Allenby wrong for shooting a robot to convince Corry to come home? Should he have left the two in their love? Should he have found a way to bring Alicia along? With only 20 minutes to get Corry off that asteroid and back to humanity, it’s a nearly impossible situation, but I feel that he did what was necessary. Now it’s up to Corry to find a way to connect with humanity again.