Can You Recall Which Twilight Zone Episodes Had a Mid-Point Narration?
For many Twilight Zone fans, Rod Serling’s narrations are the highlight of every episode. He’ll step in, usually after a short introductory scene, to enlighten us about the characters and hint at what lies ahead. Then he’ll return at the end and deliver a wry commentary on what we’ve just seen.
But on four occasions — three times in Season 1, and one time in Season 3 — he talks to us briefly before the episode concludes. Let’s take a quick look at these narrations and see what they tell us.
Season 1, Episode 5
October 30, 1959
“Everyone thinks [The Twilight Zone] is a scary show, but it’s actually a beautiful show,” filmmaker J.J. Abrams once said. Although this quote covers the series as a whole, it clearly applies to “Walking Distance,” which Abrams singled out for praise on other occasions.
Serling’s penchant for nostalgia is on full display in this moving story about Martin Sloane, a corporate man run ragged by his high-pressure job. Badly in need of rest and a change of perspective, he makes an impulse visit to his hometown, only to find that everything is just as it was when he was growing up.
He sees himself as a young boy. He even meets his parents — dead in his time, but alive here — who are astonished to hear a grown man insist that he’s their young son. Confused and frightened, they send him away.
Martin (Gig Young) leaves their front porch, but not the town. He moves through the streets, dejected, as Serling tells us:
A man can think a lot of thoughts and walk a lot of pavements between afternoon and night. And to a man like Martin Sloan, to whom memory has suddenly become reality, a resolve can come just as clearly and inexorably as stars in the summer night. Martin Sloan is now back in time. And his resolve is to put in a claim to the past.
Fortunately for Martin, things end on a somewhat happier note. He can’t remain in this earthly paradise, but he later has an encouraging talk with his father. And he manages to return to the present with a healthier outlook on life.
“Time Enough at Last“
Season 1, Episode 8
November 20, 1959
Many Twilight Zone fans consider this their all-time favorite episode. Along with “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” it’s probably the most famous foray into the fifth dimension. Even people who have never seen the series know about the gremlin on the wing — and the plight of poor Henry Bemis, weeping amid stacks of books, smashed eyeglasses at his feet.
But before we get to that heartbreaking moment, we watch Henry (Burgess Meredith in his first TZ) stumbling through the smoking landscape of a nuclear blast. His home, his neighborhood, the bank where he worked … everything is in shambles, and he seems to be the sole survivor. As he wanders about in shock, Serling speaks up:
Seconds, minutes, hours — they crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness. A neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox at what was once his house is now a rubble. They lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more. Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight-hour tour of a graveyard.
That tour, of course, brings him to the public library and hundreds of books — his own personal nirvana. Moments later, though, he was teaching countless viewers about the importance of carrying a spare pair of eyeglasses.
“I Shot an Arrow Into The Air“
Season 1, Episode 15
January 15, 1960
Ah, those early days of the Space Race. They heralded so much promise, but they also prompted a certain amount of fear. What would we find up there? Heck, what if we didn’t even make it, but thought we did?
Such a scenario seems implausible, even with the rudimentary equipment then in use, but Serling’s point wasn’t scientific accuracy. It was asking hard questions about how human beings behave under pressure. And for Officer Corey (Dewey Martin), the answer is most unflattering. It isn’t long before he’s resorted to murder to ensure that the small store of remaining supplies will last him long enough to find civilization on the asteroid he thinks they’ve landed on.
As he scrambles up the barren hills (shot on location in Death Valley), his victims lying in the canyons below him, Serling addresses him:
Now you make tracks, Mr. Corey. You move out and up like some kind of ghostly billyclub was tapping at your ankles and telling you that it was later than you’d think. You scrabble up rock hills and feel hot sand underneath your feet and every now and then, take a look over your shoulder at a giant sun suspended in a dead and motionless sky…like an unblinking eye that probes at the back of your head in a prolonged accusation.
Mr. Corey, last remaining member of a doomed crew, keep moving. Make tracks, Mr. Corey. Push up and push out because if you stop…if you stop, maybe sanity will get you by the throat. Maybe realization will pry open your mind and the horror you left down in the sand will seep in. Yeah, Mr. Corey, yeah, you better keep moving. That’s the order of the moment: keep moving.
And move he does, right up until he crests one final hill and sees where they really are — his hysterical lapse into apparent madness surely echoing for miles.
“I Sing the Body Electric“
Season 3, Episode 35
May 18, 1962
When The Twilight Zone began, Serling anticipated having Ray Bradbury be a regular contributor. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. “I Sing the Body Electric” turned out to be TZ’s only Bradbury-scripted episode. The story of a motherless trio of children acquiring a custom-made robot grandmother is certainly intriguing, but it lacks the magic we usually got in the more sentimental Zone tales. It’s just okay — which means it’s below par for TZ.
That said, there are some nice moments along the way. The centerpiece of the story deals with the oldest girl, Anne (Veronica Cartwright) having trouble accepting the new grandmother (Josephine Hutchinson). Hurt by her mother’s untimely death when she was so young, Anne is afraid to be vulnerable again, and she reacts angrily to the new arrival. By the end, however, she’s mellowed and come to accept her, and the family is happy.
Over a montage of them being cared for by Grandma, Serling tells us:
As of this moment, the wonderful electric grandmother moved into the lives of children and father. She became integral and important. She became the essence. As of this moment, they would never see lightning, never hear poetry read, never listen to foreign tongues without thinking of her. Everything they would ever see, hear, taste, feel would remind them of her. She was all life, and all life was wondrous, quick, electrical – like Grandma.
We see them as grown young people in the final scene, saying goodbye to their computerized caretaker. She’ll be taking care of a new family soon, but she assures them she’ll never forget them. And maybe someday, she’ll receive the gift of life herself. How this will happen isn’t explained, but it’s a nice thought, to be sure.
Have a favorite mid-point narration? They’re all appealing in their own way, but I’d vote for the one in “Time Enough at Last.” The wording is just letter-perfect. For my money, it’s Serling at his poetic best.
Which one do you like and why? Feel free to sound off below.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 02/23/2023, in Twilight Zone and tagged I Shot an Arrow into the Air, I Sing the Body Electric, Rod Serling, Time Enough at Last, Twilight Zone, Walking Distance. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.
I find it a bit surprising that none of the hour-long episodes had a mid-point narration. “No Time Like the Past” would have been a perfect candidate, since it always seemed (to me, anyway) like two related half-hour episodes cobbled together into one hour (which honestly wouldn’t have been a bad format for more of the hour-long episodes).
Good point! I’m convinced that a big part of the reason these middle narrations were so infrequent is because of the short running time of the half-hour eps. They were forever trying to make things more concise. And what’s the big knock on Season 4? That many of the episodes are padded. So you’d think that’d give Serling additional chances to step in and give us more narration.
But let’s face it — the man was running himself ragged enough as it was. Spending more time in front of a mic wasn’t exactly the best use of his time, alas.
Your posts are so well-written! I’ve wondered about mid-episode narrations before but had no idea they were this rare.
I thought “It’s a Good Life” could be considered to have mid-episode narration, but reading through it I’m realizing it’s just a LONG opening.
Also, there’s the weird false-end narration of “A World of His Own” which I’ve always loved. But still, not technically mid-point.
Out of the official ones “Walking Distance” is my favorite. It adds nicely to the poignancy and nostalgia. I’ve always felt the one in “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” is a bit awkward and forced. Like maybe the network was uncomfortable with such a long stretch without character dialogue. Still, it’s odd for Serling to give the dialogue and not have it be a voice-over of Corey talking to himself.
Thanks for the compliment! :)
You’re right about “It’s a Good Life.” In fact, I devoted a previous post specifically to it: https://thenightgallery.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/its-a-good-life-meeting-the-monster/
I’m a fan of the “World of His Own” ending as well. It came at the end of Season 1, and you can see Serling was in good spirits. His TZ gamble had paid off.
And I’m right there with you on the narrations in this post. The first two are excellent, while the one for “I Shot an Arrow” is meh. I mean, it’s not BAD, but it feels a bit forced and stilted. Like something that he added at the last minute and therefore lacked his usual polish.
I’ve always loved the one from I Shot An Arrow Into The Air.
It fits very well on all the occasions, but I especially enjoy his overview of Corey in “I Shot An Arrow Into The Air”, kinda/sorta being his conscience. I can imagine that a voice over could have been added to “The After Hours”, when Miss Marsha White (Anne Francis) is alone in the closed department store during overnight hours. Also, since there is really no ninth floor, is there actually a ceiling over the roof of the building? And why did Miss White seem so perturbed about being asked by the “odd” saleslady if she was happy?
When they say there’s no 9th floor, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a floor above the 8th floor. That floor is probably called the storage floor.
Right, that’s what I’ve always thought. Though I wonder if it ever WAS a regular shopping floor, since there’s a counter display up there. But maybe it’s an extra one in storage … with the mannequins.
You’re right, the “I Shot an Arrow” one is very much like the voice of conscience nipping at him as he walks along. Has a noir-ish feel, really. I prefer the other narrations here, but you make a good point, Howard.
And yes, “The After-Hours” could have employed a mid-point narration, but I prefer it without. The silence adds to the creepiness. As for the roof, we know there’s one somewhere! But is the “ninth floor” like an attic where the mannequins are stored … or a passage to the fifth dimension? One that opens only once a month? 😯
As for why Marsha was perturbed, I think it’s because she was started to remember in a very subconscious way, and she didn’t like it — so she got snappy.
Nice article as always, Paul!
Besides the four episodes you mention plus “A World of His Own,” the other TZ episode with three Serling narrations was “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” It’s not even close to having a “midpoint narration,” but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
I appreciate you mentioning those other two episodes, but I really can’t count them. Serling’s scene at the end of “A World of His Own” is mere seconds from his concluding narration — making it, for my money, all part of the same narration. The same thing is true with “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” He comes in as usual as the opening scene is winding down with his narration, it fades out, the title card comes up, and Rod keeps speaking. Again, to me, that’s all one narration. A two-part one, I guess one could argue, but still. No other scene takes place in between — just fade out for commercial, fade in … more narration.
For something to be a true midpoint narration (though the one in “I Sing the Body Electric” comes quite late), at least one full scene should take place between the time Serling finishes one narration and begins other. I realize I’m being somewhat technical here, of course. But that’s how I view it. I know not everyone will agree, though, and that’s cool.
I’m going to agree with you Paul. Time Enough At Last is the perfect mix of action and narration. I didn’t realize this was only added four times. I guess I thought the narrations were cut to allow for another commercial (watched on SyFy too long).
The narrations help move the story along, but I wonder if they would work if it wasn’t Serling narrating. It’s easy to think of him being close by as these episodes play out. I’m not sure anyone else could pull that off.
“Walking Distance” would be my vote. I just really like this story over all the others cited.
Excellent choice, Frank. That episode is a real gem.
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