Seeing Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last” Through New Lenses
Some episodes of The Twilight Zone seem to be above reproach. Like my personal favorite, “Eye of the Beholder“. Or the bittersweet, poetic “Walking Distance“. Or the one with what is surely the biggest gut-punch ending of all, “Time Enough at Last.” Who can criticize that one?
Okay, there was the post I did about how the twist feels unjust to me. But beyond that, who could say a negative word about the episode that many fans say is their all-time favorite?
Whoops. Me again.
Actually, it’s not a negative word. I can’t help loving this episode either. The writing, the acting, the directing, the set design … it’s all world-class. Truly.
But I do have a technical quibble with it.
Mind you, I’m not normally one to nitpick the Zone on such details. As I mentioned in my review of The Twilight Zone Companion, I give the show wide latitude in this area. I don’t roll my eyes if, for example, a TZ says Mars is X number of miles away, and that estimate isn’t even close. So what? TZ isn’t really a sci-fi show at heart, anyway — it’s a fantasy drama with sci-fi trappings.
But there’s a technical detail in “Time Enough at Last” that’s hard to overlook, especially because — unlike most of the show’s other gaffes — it’s crucial to the plot.
I’m talking about Henry Bemis’s glasses.
The fact that the man is practically blind without them is central to the twist. When — spoiler alert! ;) — they fall and break at the end, our hearts break with them, because we know that Henry has just seen his happy plans to read all those books shattered.
But how can the same pair of glasses help him see both up close and far away?
As anyone who wears glasses can tell you, most people whose eyesight is imperfect are either far-sighted (hyperopia, where you need help seeing things up close) or near-sighted (myopia, where you need help seeing things far away). The glasses you get depend on your problem.
I’m near-sighted, personally. Everything up close looks sharp, but anything beyond the reach of my arms is fuzzy. I have glasses (and contacts) that correct that. But if I had hyperopia, I’d need a different pair of glasses. What fixes one problem can’t correct the other.
Sure, some people have both problems. The only way to address that is to have a different pair of glasses for each situation, or to have bifocals.
Henry Bemis has one pair of glasses. And yet we’re clearly shown that he can’t see anything, either up close or far away, without them.
No, they aren’t bifocals, which have a distinctive line across each lens. And “progressives” weren’t around back in 1959.
So if the pair he broke are the ones we saw him putting on as he exited the bank vault — which brought all that blurry rubble into focus — then he should be able to read to his heart’s content.
My guess is that because Rod Serling didn’t wear glasses (nor, I’ll bet, did Lynn Venable, who wrote the original short story), he wasn’t thinking about such a distinction when he wrote the episode. To those blessed with 20/20 vision, hey, glasses are something that help you see. So if they break, then everything must be a blur, right?
Not exactly. What a twist ending, eh?
So dry your tears, Henry — and pick up a book!
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!