Lost Lines: Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last” and “The Obsolete Man”
Rod Serling wasn’t just an imaginative, award-winning writer. He was also a surprisingly quick one.
“He’d come in at 9, and by noon, he had completed a teleplay”, Twilight Zone‘s casting director once noted. “I had never seen anybody write that fast.”
Small wonder, then, that Serling managed to crank out almost two-thirds of the show’s final output: 92 scripts, out of 156 total. He was a one-man machine, which makes the high quality all the more remarkable.
His scripts often ran long, though. That inevitably meant some cutting was in order. But you know what? I’ve found that many of his “lost lines” are as quotable as what wound up on the air.
Take a few lines from “Time Enough at Last”. They come as Henry concludes his argument with Helen, who has defaced and then destroyed his book of poetry. She asks him if he’s going to put on a clean shirt, and he replies:
“I’m going to bed, Helen. I learned those poems by heart. I’m going to bed and say them to myself. And you can’t vandalize what’s inside my mind. You can’t climb in there and pencil out some beautiful language.”
I love those last two lines. They’re poetry in and of themselves. I also like how Henry, despite his meekness, strikes a small tone of defiance. He won’t stand up to Helen, unfortunately, but he won’t allow her victory to be complete.
Maybe that’s why those lines were dropped — not because of time, but because they ran at least slightly counter to Henry’s character. Still, while it’s probably best that they were eliminated, I wish they’d been included.
Another interesting edit comes from the final scene of “The Obsolete Man”. Fans will recall that the chancellor returns to the judgment chamber, only to find his subaltern now in charge — and ready to pronounce sentence on the deposed leader.
He protests, of course, but is quickly surrounded by the murderous mob. Serling delivers his outro, and the scene fades.
But in an earlier draft of the script, the chancellor is apparently spared. There’s no mob. He’s informed by a “Voice” that he’s obsolete, has disgraced the State, and has been removed from office. He’s then asked if he wishes to make a comment. He replies:
“There is little hope for us. Very little hope. Because we have stock-piled the wrong weapons. We have captured countries… but not minds. We have enslaved people, but convinced no one.”
He starts to walk away, then surveys a long line of people, apparently waiting to be judged. He stops and adds:
“We put on armor… and we called it faith. And we are naked of faith. We have no faith at all. We are obsolete. We are the ones who are obsolete.”
Again, nice language, but I don’t mind the omission quite as much this time. I like what the chancellor has to say, but I doubt he’d suddenly be able to calmly diagnose the emptiness of the ideology he had, until a few minutes earlier, sworn to uphold.
Still, the part about capturing countries but not minds, and enslaving people, but convincing no one? Well done. I wish that could have been included somehow.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” William Faulkner once said. He’s right. It’s just harder to witness the homicide when the victimized words came from the man who gave us The Twilight Zone!
The cut lines above can be found in Volume 3 and Volume 4, respectively, of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling” (Tony Albarella, editor).
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!