Spotlight on Season 4: “On Thursday We Leave For Home”

“The ideal Twilight Zone started with a really smashing idea that hit you in the first few seconds, then you played that out, and had a little flip at the end. That was the structure.” — Richard Matheson (writer of “Nick of Time”, “The Invaders”, and a dozen other TZs)

That structure worked like a charm for four of Twilight Zone’s five seasons. During Season 4, however, it went to an hour, making it virtually impossible to follow the established formula for an “ideal Twilight Zone”. Small wonder that CBS pared it back to a half-hour for the final season.

Are you sure you want less of me?

Are you sure you want less of me?

But although the move to an hour did result in some stories that were obviously padded and dramatically flat, some excellent episodes aired that season. Indeed, it showcased some of the finest writing in the entire series.

I highlighted one example last year in a post on Charles Beaumont’s “Miniature”. Now I’d like to do the same for a key scene in Rod Serling’s “On Thursday We Leave For Home”.

TZ The Best of Season 4 - Thursday

The episode focuses on the inhabitants of Earth’s first extra-terrestrial colony in space. They’ve lived on a planet known as V9-Gamma for many years, and they’re tired of trying to scratch out a feeble existence in what turns out to be a rough, barren terrain.

James Whitmore plays Capt. William Benteen, the leader of the group. It’s his job to see that all the many responsibilities for survival are carried out. But Benteen also functions as a kind of unofficial morale officer. He provides some much-needed hope by telling them that they can expect to be rescued soon.

TZ The Best of Season 4 - Thursday4

And he tells them about Earth. They’ve been gone so long that many of them barely remember it. Some of the children, who have been born on V-9 Gamma, know nothing of it first-hand.

Listen in as the colonists gather one evening and Benteen tells young Jo-Jo about their home planet:

Benteen: “I remember the Earth. I remember it as a place, a place of color. I remember, Jo-Jo, that in the autumn … the leaves changed, turned different colors: red, orange, gold. I remember streams of water that flowed down hillsides, and the water was sparkling and clear. I remember clouds in the sky: white, billowy things that floated like ships, like sails. You see, in ancient times that’s the way men moved their ships across the water. They unfurled large sections of canvas against the wind, and the wind moved them. And I remember night skies. Night skies. Like endless black velvet, with stars, sometimes a moon, hung as if suspended by wires, lit from inside.”

Jo-Jo: “What’s night, Captain?”

Benteen: “Night? Night is a quiet time, Jo-Jo, when the Earth went to sleep. Kind of like a cover that it pulled over itself. Not like here, where we have the two suns always shining, always burning. It was darkness, Jo-Jo, darkness that felt like … like a cool hand just brushed past tired eyes. And there was snow on the winter nights. Gossamer stuff. It floated down and covered the Earth, made it all white, cool. And in the mornings we could go out and build a snowman, see our breath in the air. And it was good then. It was right.”

Jo-Jo: “Captain, why did you leave there?”

Benteen: “Well, we thought we could find another place like Earth, but with different beauties, Jo-Jo. And we found this place. We thought we could escape war, we thought we could — well, we thought that we could build an even better place. And it took us thirty years to find out that we left our home a billion miles away to be only visitors here, transients, ’cause you can’t put down roots in this ground. But it was too late. So we spent thirty years watching a clock and a calendar.”

The other four seasons of Twilight Zone are filled with Serling’s lyrical touches. But only in an hour-long episode could you find a passage like this. The expanded running time gives his writing a chance to breathe, and to enrich the characterization of Benteen as a true father figure to the colony. You don’t have to be told that he fills that role, you can see it … and it makes the final scene even more devastating.

TZ The Best of Season 4 - Thursday6

And, at the same time, we can enjoy the beauty of Serling’s writing. Indeed, this passage is enough to make us look at our natural world anew.

“This is what they’ve done for three decades,” Serling says in his opening narration. “Survive. Until the memory of the Earth they came from has become an indistinct and shadowed recollection of another time and another place.”

Thanks to the power of his writing, that memory is anything but “shadowed.”

You can enjoy “On Thursday We Leave For Home” on DVD and Blu-ray, or stream it on Hulu and Amazon Prime.


For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 07/31/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I think it’s a credit to your writing that when I read these posts, even though I have seen the episode more times than I can remember, I read this and I want to watch it again.


  2. What Dan said, Paul! Another great post. I haven’t seen this one in forever, but I must watch it again soon.

    The passage you quoted reads like it is almost a ready-made libretto for an opera or musical production. If they ever try to bring Twilight Zone to Broadway or Carnegie Hall, this is the episode to do it with!

    • Thanks, Mike! It’s rife with dramatic possibilities, no question. And yes, if you haven’t seen it in a while, check it out. Heck, you can watch it right here, if you like! Feel free to come back after you do and share your thoughts.

  3. This episode is even more fitting with recent talk of sending a “colony” of people to Mars in the near future. Those who volunteer and are chosen are expected to make a one-way trip! Nice spotlight on a oft-forgotten episode/season.

    • Look at that: it’s a 50-year-old series, yet my blog post is as timely as today’s headlines. Thanks, Mandy! Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Thanks! :) Yes, much as I enjoy the TZ classics, I sometimes like to spotlight the lesser-known episodes, if only to show that TZ wasn’t just gremlin wing-walkers and broken eyeglasses.

    Scenes like the one above prove that it was a series that not only thrilled the eye and tickled the brain, but one that touched the heart. And you find episodes that do that in every season.

    I’m glad you feel this post is a “winner,” my friend. The real credit goes to Serling, though! :)

  5. Adrian Hernandez

    Captain Benteen’s story to Jo-Jo about earth was moving and the images produced in my mind from his story are easily seen. Great writing.
    I totally agreed with Benteen’s logic and reasoning to keep the colonist alive and to have civilization in such a horrid place. Finally the rescue ship arrives and Col. Sloane is eventually perceived as a threat by Benteen.
    Then as Benteen realized at some point, (what scene would that be?), that his authority for his people would slowly but surly be removed, he develops feelings of hostility toward Col. Sloan. The final choice by Benteen is almost gut wrenching. A decision that cannot be undone.
    A fine work.

  1. Pingback: Serling the Self-Critical | Shadow & Substance

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