Unconquered Space: Exploring a “Parallel” World
“From a science-fiction standpoint, space has been conquered.”
I did a double-take when I read that sentence. Michael Doran, managing editor of the pop-culture site Newsarama, was theorizing why the producers of the new Fantastic Four movie decided to drop the original space-based explanation of how the quartet gained its powers.
In other words, we may have more to explore in real life, but a space setting in science fiction? Been there, done that.
He may be onto something, but I’m glad to say I’m not that jaded. Maybe if I immersed myself more in the genre, I’d feel differently, but space still has a pull on my imagination. And I think it always will.
In fact, I strongly suspect that my enjoyment of everything from rocket launches to unexplored planets goes hand in hand with being a die-hard fan of The Twilight Zone.
Think about it. The idea that strange worlds and maybe even other dimensions are out there is daunting, but it’s also exciting. Isn’t that why we smile when we hear Captain Kirk’s words at the start of every episode of Star Trek?
I got a sense of that recently as I rewatched “The Parallel,” from TZ’s oft-neglected fourth season. It’s about an astronaut named Gaines who takes a routine space flight, only to come back and realize that everything isn’t quite the way it should be.
I’ll save the details for a future post (you can watch it here on Hulu), but I’m not ruining anything by telling you that by the episode’s end, Gaines is certain that he temporarily spent some time on an alternate Earth.
He tells his colleague (Col. Connacher) and his commanding officer (Gen. Eaton) about it. They leave Gaines and step into the hallway.
Eaton: “What do you think?”
Connacher: “I don’t think. Not on this one, sir.”
Eaton: “What kind of trauma? Something to set him tilt like that?
Connacher: “Can we call it ’tilt,’ sir?
Eaton: “Oh, what else? Another dimension? Another world parallel to ours? You call that rational?”
Connacher: “Up there, who knows what’s rational and what isn’t? We don’t even know the rules, sir, let alone the facts. We’re like little ants that have just made it to the desert. Now we say we’ve conquered the Sahara, and we haven’t conquered anything. We’re only starting to find the mysteries, General. We haven’t even begun to solve them. We’re going to do a lot of groping through a lot of dark nights, through a lot of dark space, before we find the clues, let alone the answers. We’ve got a long way to go, sir.”
This passage, I believe, hints at why The Twilight Zone remains so timelessly popular. There’s so much to explore, to ponder, to figure out — not only “out there,” but right here. There are mountain peaks and ocean valleys almost as foreign to us as Jupiter’s moons. Mysteries past, present and future to solve.
Serling understood that, and he never lost that sense of wonder. It’s built into the very DNA of The Twilight Zone.
Space, conquered? Oh, no. I’m with Connacher. We’ve got a long way to go.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 08/12/2015, in Twilight Zone and tagged Fantastic Four, Rod Serling, The Parallel, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.
Col. Connacher’s remarks remind me of the epilogue in “The Incredible Shrinking Man”.
Ah, yes, “the infinitesimal and the infinite …”
I love this! One of your best posts, Paul, really. This is first-rate content in first-rate prose. I want to write like this! (Do you offer lessons?)
You are certainly right to lift up the sense of wonder as crucial to “The Twilight Zone.” The general public seems to remember so many of the just plain bizarre or even horrific elements — the gremlin on the wing, Anthony wishing folks into the cornfield, Talky Tina — or the “twists” (Oh no, his glasses broke! Oh no, the doctors have pig faces!) — when, really, the Zone seems mostly about wonder. Sometimes that wonder is Rudolf Otto-quality wonder in that it both repels and attracts… but stories like “Night of the Meek” or “Kick the Can” or “A Game of Pool” or “Walking Distance” — all those seem much nearer to the essence of the show than, for example, that Dan Ackroyd bit at the beginning of the 1982 movie (“Oh, what a scary show that was!”).
I confess (I hear it’s good for the soul) that I have not seen “The Parallel” — I will watch it asap in prep for your promised future post. Thank you for this one, in the meantime, though. Really great stuff.
Wow, Mike — thanks! I certainly appreciate the high praise. :)
You’re right about how the appeal of TZ goes beyond the surface elements. The twist endings and the wild stories are a big part of the fun, of course, but without a sense of wonder undergirding the whole affair, TZ wouldn’t be the timeless classic we all know and love. I think that’s why this quote jumped out at me as I was watching. I heard it and immediately thought “blog post.”
And yes, check out “The Parallel” when you can. It’s not a GREAT episode, to be honest — Steve Forrest is kind of dull in the lead role, amid other problems — but it’s thought-provoking, as you can tell from this post. With any luck, we can pick up the discussion the next time I write about it!
I think there will be a big renewed interest in space due to our journey to Mars. It might do what the space race and moon landing did in the past.
I hope so. I’ve also heard that the book “The Martian” has been credited with “saving” NASA because its success has renewed interest in space travel and Mars. That may well be a bit hyperbolic, but it can’t hurt. We need something to fire people’s imaginations again.
I don’t know whether “The Martian” has “saved NASA,” but certainly something needs to save NASA’s budget for planetary, Earth science. Some self-proclaimed “supporters” of NASA want to see the agency *only* focus on outer space, denying the agency any opportunity to apply what we learn from the wonders “out there” to our planetary challenges “down here.” But NASA is and should be charged with (and enabled and adequately funded to) explore *all* the wonders, above and below, especially this wonderful world we inhabit.
Ok. End of rant. :)
Oh, rant away! You apparently follow the agency closer than I do, so I’ll gladly concede your point. :) As for how “The Martian” may have affected NASA, check this out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/achenblog/wp/2015/05/05/andy-weir-and-his-book-the-martian-may-have-saved-nasa-and-the-entire-space-program/
This was actually the first episode I ever saw, as a nine-year-old back in the ’80s. It was good enough to get me hooked!
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