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.
“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” – Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Broadcast date: January 15th, 1960
The story revolves around three men who are the sole survivors of a crashed spacecraft, the first of its kind, who believe they have landed upon an asteroid that is in the same orbit as Earth. Led by Colonel Donlin, who is sticking to the rules and wants to ensure morality stays with the men, there is also Pierson, who is on Donlin’s side, and Officer Corey, who is clearly a man that believes in survival of the fittest…no matter the cost.
As the three come to terms with the fact that they are now on an unknown world, they begin scavenging out in different directions to see if they can find something other than rocks, hills, and sand. Donlin, sitting at a fire, waits for Pierson and Corey to come back, except only the latter does. Corey concocts a lie, thinking it will slip past Donlin, who picks up on the inconsistencies immediately and realizes that Corey must’ve done something to Pierson. The two then venture out to find Pierson’s body, walking for miles. They eventually stumble upon him and realize he’s still alive. Donlin cradles Pierson, who scrawls a strange symbol into the sand before passing away. Meanwhile, Corey grabs Donlin’s gun, kills Donlin, and continues on his own. He walks across the rocky terrain for what seems like days before he comes across something that clicks everything into place: a telephone pole and signs for Reno, Nevada. The men never left Earth, instead crashing somewhere on the border of California and Nevada. Corey begins weeping, realizing that he became a killer for nothing, that he should’ve heeded the call of morality that Donlin so expressly demanded.
Watching this episode, it becomes clear that Rod Serling loved this concept so much that he used it again when helping to write the screenplay for Planet of the Apes. And while it’s a twist that is now quite foreseeable, back then it must’ve beens something incredible. In a way, the twist was the opposite of the previous week’s episode “Third From the Sun”. While that episode revealed that the planet they were going towards was Earth, in this one we are led to believe that they had left our planet only to come to the realization that they never did.
Once again, human nature is the focus of the twist. While there are times when the twist is something physical or revelatory in practice, this reveals that who we are as people can be the most horrifying twist of all. It’s a great episode and one that I know I won’t forget any time soon.