“Where Is Everybody?”
Aliens. Monsters. Talking dolls. Time travel. Space flight. Alternate universes. Nuclear annihilation.
Over its five-year run, the Twilight Zone took viewers to a wide array of times and places, entertaining them with some wildly imaginative and entertaining tales. But it all started with a man walking around an empty town and wondering … well, to quote the title, “Where Is Everybody?”
It served as an ideal introduction to Rod Serling’s fifth dimension. Greater episodes lay ahead, but this story of a military test pilot who finally cracks after spending two and a half weeks alone in an isolation booth put viewers on notice — without getting too trippy — that this was no ordinary series.
A likable protagonist with a problem? Check. A situation that is familiar yet strange? Check. A clever twist at the end? Check. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to that “middle ground between light and shadow.” Fun, isn’t it?
In one respect, the episode turned out to be atypical — the story it depicts could happen. The odd circumstances all occur in the mind of a hallucinating astronaut, who, as it turns out, is doing something perfectly normal, especially for 1959: preparing himself for the rigors of space travel. Viewers could relate, and yet Serling subverted their expectations just enough to create an entertaining yarn.
Dialogue was always one of Serling’s strong points. That’s never more apparent, ironically enough, than here, in a story where the hero, Mike Ferris, spends almost the entire time talking to himself. It’s a testament to Serling’s writing, Earl Holliman’s acting, and the hard work of a talented production crew that this one-man show never feels like a one-man show.
Nice touches abound: a smoldering cigar in an ashtray in a town where no one can be seen. A swinging jail door that threatens to imprison our hero. A mannequin seated in a car that, at first glance, appears to be a real person. A book rack filled with copies of “The Last Man on Earth.”
And my personal favorite: when Ferris comes tearing down the steps of a movie theater balcony and runs right into a full-length mirror. (Until he breaks it, we don’t know it’s a reverse shot and that we’re seeing his reflection.)
It ends on a hopeful note — something not many Zone protagonists could count on. Ferris is carried away on a stretcher to the hospital for tests. He looks up at the moon — which, we have to remember, hadn’t been visited yet — smiles and says:
Hey, don’t go away up there. Next time, it won’t be a dream or a nightmare. Next time, it’ll be for real. So don’t go away. We’ll be up there in a little while.
We were in for plenty of entertaining dreams and nightmares, it turns out. And we weren’t going anywhere.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!