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Old 07-29-2021, 07:24 PM   #19 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Title: “And When the Sky Was Opened”
Original transmission date: December 11 1959
Written by: Rod Serling (from the short story by Richard Matheson)
Directed by: Douglas Heyes
Starring: Rod Taylor as Lieutenant Colonel Clegg Forbes

Charles Aidman as Colonel Ed Harrington
Jim Hutton as Major William Gart
Maxine Cooper as Amy
Sue Randall as Nurse
Paul Bryar as Bartender
Joe Bassett as Medical officer
Gloria Pall as Girl in bar
Elizabeth Fielding as Blond Nurse


Setting: Earth
Timeframe: The near future (I tried to get a date from the newspaper but it’s too blurred)
Theme(s): Alienation, fear, panic, paranoia, a sense of not belonging, cover-up/conspiracy
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A


Serling’s opening monologue

Her name: X-20. Her type: an experimental interceptor. Recent history: a crash landing in the Mojave Desert after a thirty-one hour flight nine hundred miles into space. Incidental data: the ship, with the men who flew her, disappeared from the radar screen for twenty-four hours...But the shrouds that cover mysteries are not always made out of a tarpaulin, as this man will soon find out on the other side of a hospital door.


Having returned from an experimental flight into space, their aircraft crashed in the desert, one of the pilots visits the other in hospital, and he’s agitated. He tries to explain to his friend that there were originally three of them, but nobody - including the man in the bed - remembers the third officer. Forbes, the guy trying to convince the other guy, Gart, remembers the third officer, Harrington, after they had hit a bar started feeling really strange and weak, and said he felt as if he didn’t belong here anymore. When he goes to phone his parents, Harrington is shocked and scared to find that they don’t seem to know him; they say they have no son. He advances the theory that maybe he wasn’t supposed to come back. Maybe none of them were. Maybe it was… an error? Something that shouldn’t have let them through slipped up and did?

Forbes goes to get him a drink but then picks up a newspaper from one of the tables. Instead of the headline he read earlier, proclaiming THREE SPACEMEN RETURN, now there are only two spoken of, like the paper he saw in the hospital room, the one Gart showed him. Turning around, he sees the phone booth Harrington was in now empty, and the barman can’t remember him coming in with anyone, says he was alone. The drink Harrington dropped a moment ago, the smashed glass, is gone, the floor completely clean as if it has never happened. Angry and confused, Forbes runs out of the bar.

He goes back to his motel room and puts in a call to Anderson Air Force Base, and while he waits for the return call his wife arrives, but he can’t convince her either; she seems never to have heard of Ed Harrington, as if the man never existed. As his desperation increases, the base rings back, but they never heard of any officer named Harrington. Running off again, Forbes goes back to the bar, thinking his pal is in there hiding, that it’s all some elaborate joke, but of course he’s nowhere to be seen.

That was yesterday, now he’s back in the room with Gart, who still can’t understand who he means when he talks of Harrington. Something Ed said comes to Forbes though, something about him not having been meant to be here. Suddenly terrified when he can no longer see his reflection in the mirror, he rushes out, and suddenly nobody knows who he is. He’s vanished too, leaving only Gart, alone now in a one-bed room that had been three, then two. He picks up the paper, half-knowing and fully dreading what he’ll see, and he sees it. The headline: LONE SPACEMAN RETURNS.

And then, he’s gone too. The room is empty, and nobody remembers any of the three space pilots, their historic flight, or the craft they flew in. They’ve been erased from time.

Serling’s closing monologue

Once upon a time, there was a man named Harrington, a man named Forbes, a man named Gart. They used to exist, but don't any longer. Someone – or something – took them somewhere. At least they are no longer a part of the memory of man. And as to the X-20 supposed to be housed here in this hangar, this, too, does not exist. And if any of you have any questions concerning an aircraft and three men who flew her, speak softly of them – and only in – The Twilight Zone

The Resolution

Like a large percentage of episodes, there is no explanation for why the three space pilots vanish from existence. A vague, half-hearted theory is expounded by Harrington, essentially that God (though God is not mentioned) made a mistake letting them come back home, that they were never supposed to. But the lack of a logical reason for what happens does not lessen the impact; in ways, it only strengthens it. You can see the progression, as the newspaper headline changes from three spacemen to two to one, but it’s still something of a shock when, at the end, the nurse opens the bedroom in which up to then three men had been recovering and tells the general that it is empty.

The Moral

None, other than sometimes things are not meant to be, or maybe even God slips up occasionally, but that time always rights itself one way or the other.

Personal notes

You have to give it to Forbes. When asked by a ravishing beauty at the bar what it was like up in space, he can only come up with “it was really… out there.” Like something a hippy might say, even though they haven’t been invented yet. Smooth!

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Weird to see two guys happily smoking in a hospital ward. Wouldn’t even be able to smoke in the building these days!

Oops!

Forbes crashes right through the door of the bar, but doesn’t seem to sustain any appreciable injuries. This seems unlikely. Not only that, no alarm goes off. Is there no security in a bar of all places, where there’s expensive equipment, booze and maybe money?

Questions, and sometimes, Answers


How is it that of the three of them only Forbes remembers events before Harrington vanishes? He remembers Ed being there, remembers drinking with him, remembers the original headline and his own note for a telegram to his wife, telling her they were both at the motel, though when he gets the note and uses it to try to convince her he’s not gone crazy, it has only his name on it. Gart does not remember Harrington at all, so why does Forbes? Is it because he spent so much of what would turn out to be the last moments of Harrington’s existence with him, while Gart stayed behind in the hospital?

And if Gart does not remember Harrington, how is it that, moments before he too vanishes, he remembers Forbes existing when nobody else does? What happens to the newspaper headline? Does it no longer exist? Have the timelines realigned so that the mission never took place, or was the craft mysteriously (sorry) lost in space?

And isn’t that…?


Rod Taylor (1930 - 2015)

Who needs to be told who this man is? Famous for, among other movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, worked with movie giants Rock Hudson and James Dean, as well as his female namesake Elizabeth Taylor on Giant.


Jim Hutton (1934 - 1979)

Famed for, among other things, but mostly, his role as sleuth Ellery Queen in the TV series of the same name which was very popular in the 1970s.


Sue Randall (1935 - 1984)

Found fame as the teacher Miss Landers in the American sitcom Leave it to Beaver

Themes

Loss of self, mostly; usually a condition of the mind, where one finds oneself not belonging, alien, an outsider. In this episode the feeling is literal, as the contention is that none of these men should have come back, and now time is reasserting itself and “cleaning up the mistake” by erasing them from existence. In an odd way, there are echoes of George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four here, where the Ministry of Information constantly changes newspaper articles, editing out or changing the faces, names and deeds of people no longer considered loyal to the Party. Here though, the editor is unseen (said to be God) and the intent is not malicious revenge nor a desire to punish or obfuscate, but the natural realignment of the time line.

Paranoia and panic are evident here too, and why wouldn’t they be, when everything you have taken to be true is suddenly turned upside-down, and you’re the only one who seems to remember how things were? How do you maintain your sanity in the face of every other person telling you you’re wrong, that it didn’t happen that way, that your friend never existed? And how much more does that panic increase when you begin to literally fade away?

There could also be an oblique reference to military cover-ups here. When something doesn’t go to plan, and there are those left who can expose the error, quite often (at least in fiction) they are tracked and hunted down and killed, so that any embarrassing evidence is erased. Forbes even suspects, wildly, everyone of being involved in some massive conspiracy to drive him mad, though he refers to it as a “gag”.
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