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.
“Time Enough at Last” – Directed by John Brahm
Broadcast date: November 20th, 1959
One of the most iconic and recognized episodes, “Time Enough at Last” has been become an enduring classic of “The Twilight Zone”. The episode stars the incredible Burgess Meredith (Rocky, “Batman”) as Henry Bemis, a bank teller who is obsessed with reading at every opportunity. Faced with the prospect of losing his job and unable to read at home because of his controlling wife, it’s obvious that Bemis is becoming increasingly upset at this lack of opportunity to dive into a book.
One day, he sneaks off to the bank vault during his lunch break to get in some reading. While there, an H-bomb goes off and knock him unconscious. When he comes to, he wanders through the rubble and debris only to find that he is the last person alive. His wife is dead, his bank destroyed, the town he lives in wiped off the face of the Earth, Henry Bemis is alone. However, he doesn’t seem upset by this. Rather, he is initially almost delighted in this relative peace and quiet. His only concern is what his life will be like. What does a life alone look like for him? Will he be doomed to spend each day eating and sleeping with nothing else to do?
As the reality of the situation becomes more apparent to him and boredom reigns supreme, he begins to lose it. He is desperate for some sort of activity to break the boredom. He even contemplates suicide when he finds a gun. But as he puts the barrel to his head, he sees that he is near the ruins of the public library.
He stumbles across a veritable treasure trove of literature. He organizes everything so that he has years of reading ahead of him. But as he leans down to pick up a book he set down, his glasses fall off his face and they shatter, leaving him unable to read. He weeps, heartbroken that his greatest joy was so cruelly taken away from him.
There are many reasons this episode has endured for so many years and become one of the greatest episodes ever released in the series. For one, Meredith is fantastic as the bookish and diminutive Bemis. He perfectly exemplifies the role of a man who is passionate yet frightful. All he wants to do is read but the authoritarian figures in his life (namely his wife and boss) have such power over him that he can’t put his foot down and take some time for himself.
For another, the production value is magnificent. While the bank and Bemis’ home are tight, contained locations, the devastated aftermath of a post-apocalyptic world feels open and desolate. While he may be free from the walls closing down upon him, Bemis is surrounded by nothingness in every direction. Plus, those matte paintings are magnificent.
Additionally, it tackles the concepts of loneliness versus being alone wonderfully. For some people, being around others doesn’t bring them a sense of pleasure. There are other objects that give them all they need. In the case of Bemis, all he wanted was to be left alone to read. When he was lamenting his loneliness, it wasn’t for lack of people, it was the boredom that was driving him mad. Once he found the public library and the books there, his loneliness vanished away and he was perfectly content, even exhilarated at the prospect of being alone. It’s a rare distinction that the episode beautifully captured.
Lastly, this is a tale that resounds with so many people, especially those who feel like they are trodden upon regularly. This is an episode where the “small kid” somehow beats everyone else, giving all those like him hope that they too can rise above the rest. Except here, in typical “The Twilight Zone” fashion, the twist is so horrifying, it actually feels almost too cruel. Poor, poor Mr. Bemis.