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!