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“The Twilight Zone” S01E16 Review: “The Hitch-Hiker”

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 Hitch-Hiker” – Directed by Alvin Ganzer
Broadcast date: January 22nd, 1960

Nan Adams is a young woman on a cross-country drive to Los Angeles who slid out and popped a tire. While it’s getting fixed, she sees a hitchhiker in a dark outfit. As she continues her journey, she keeps seeing him on the side of the road, constantly beckoning with this thumb for a lift. She becomes more and more uneasy and frightened by the sight of him, unsure of how he keeps appearing on her path. She narrates her fears and concerns as the miles pass and the encounters keep piling up.

Along her journey, she runs out of gas at night and walks to a station. It is there that she meets a young sailor who is heading towards San Diego, so she invites him to join her as a way to feel protected and safe. As they’re driving, she sees the hitchhiker on the side of the road and swerves to avoid him. However, when she questions the sailor, he says he didn’t see anyone. Seeing him again, she tries to hit him only to have the sailor force the car to the side where he gets out and leaves her, afraid that she’ll get him hurt. She does her best to get him to stay, even essentially offering herself, such is her desperation.

Nan pulls to the side of the road near a diner to call her mother, aching to speak to someone she knows. However, someone she doesn’t know answers the phone and lets her know that her mother is in the hospital after a nervous breakdown. The reason? Supposedly, Nan died in a car accident several days ago. Walking back to her car, she gets in and lowers the visor and opens the mirror to reveal that the hitchhiker is in her backseat. He simply says, “I believe you’re going my way?”

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While many other episodes have a certain cheesiness to them, this episode plays it straight and intense. There is no tongue-in-cheek wink to the audience, making Inger Stevens’ performance as Nan all the more phenomenal. She begins the episode with a certain carefree joy, a lightness in her demeanor. As the days pass and the hitchhiker sightings add up, the stress and fear take their toll, which is all wonderfully conveyed in her portrayal.

Furthermore, this episode tackles something that many of us fear: our impending demise. Nan was so worried that something might happen to her that she didn’t realize something already HAD changed. How she let that pass her by is a matter for a different time because we started this story immediately after her death. Going ever deeper, it addresses the idea that we can’t escape our fate, no matter how far we may drive or what desperate acts we are willing to undertake. After all, when the reaper comes knocking…

Goodness, what an absolutely magnificent episode. From the visual direction to the presentation of the story, this is one of those entries that makes you realize the genius and impact of “The Twilight Zone”.

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