View Single Post
Old 09-15-2021, 07:48 PM   #74 (permalink)
Born to be mild
Trollheart's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,255

Note: I'm still working on these, and a ton of other stuff as well, so don't expect the rush of episodes that constituted season one. In general, if I get one a week posted I'll consider it an achievement.

"You're in the desert now, you idiot! You're gonna need water!"

Title: “King Nine Will Not Return”
Original transmission date: September 30 1960
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Buzz Kulik
Starring: Bob Cummings as Captain James Embry
Gene Lyons as Psychiatrist
Paul Lambert as Doctor
Jenna McMahon as Nurse

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Dislocation, loneliness, time travel, death, responsibility
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A

Serling’s opening monologue

This is Africa, 1943. War spits out its violence overhead, and the sandy graveyard swallows it up. Her name is King Nine, B-25, medium bomber, Twelfth Air Force. On a hot, still morning, she took off from Tunisia to bomb the southern tip of Italy. An errant piece of flak tore a hole in the wing tank and, like a wounded bird, this is where she landed, not to return on this day, or any other day.

Captain Embry, officer in command of a USAF B-25 Bomber which has crashed in the desert wakes to find himself alone in the wreckage. He has no idea where his crew are, and can’t remember bailing out (there’s no sign of a parachute), so if he didn’t then how come he’s alive? And where is the rest of his crew? He searches the hulk of the plane but there is no sign of them. Then he thinks he sees one of them in the cockpit as he investigates a dropped canteen outside, which seems to be belong to another of them, but the crewman vanishes and he realises it was just his imagination.

But it’s not his imagination that he’s still alone in the unforgiving heat, with no supplies and little water, and no idea of how he got there, or more importantly, how he’s going to get out of here. Embry begins to entertain the notion that he may not even be here, may be dying out in the desert and just hallucinating all of this. Then he comes across a grave marker for one of the crew, and a moment later jet fighters streak across the sky. He’s never seen such aircraft before. And yet… he knows what they are. He can name them. He shouldn’t even know what a jet is - in 1943 even the Nazis were only experimenting with them, and the US would not have had any jet aircraft, but he can recall what these planes are.

His mind begins to snap under the strain, and he talks to an invisible crew, telling them that they have to get the plane back in the air. He even tries to physically lift it himself. Breaking down entirely, he wakes up in a hospital bed, where the doctors are talking about him, saying that he was supposed to have captained the bomber, but King 9 had another captain, and now it has somehow mysteriously reappeared in the desert after seventeen years. It’s in the newspapers, and they reckon the story must have sparked off old memories, perhaps guilt at not having gone on that fateful flight in which all of the crew were lost, and driven Embry into some kind of psychosis. They assure him that he couldn’t possibly have gone back to the desert, and yet, when his clothes are brought in by the nurse, sand is found in his boots.

Serling’s closing monologue

Enigma buried in the sand, a question mark with broken wings that lies in silent grace as a marker in a desert shrine. Odd how the real consorts with the shadows, how the present fuses with the past. How does it happen? The question is on file in the silent desert, and the answer? The answer is waiting for us - in the Twilight Zone.

The Resolution

It’s a good one really. It’s not made clear as the episode goes on if Embry is actually in the desert, dead or dreaming, and even at the end we’re not sure. Using the newspaper report as a catalyst for his “return” is clever, what psychiatrists and criminologists today would call a trigger event.

The Moral

I don’t see one, maybe guilt can do terrible things to a person?

Serling's Appearance

Here, for the first time (other than the jokey one in the final episode of the previous season) we see Serling in person, as he appears in the sand just to the right of the crashed bomber.


Madness is once again centre stage, or at least, the possibility of madness. How else to explain it when you’re standing outside your crashed bomber in the desert, alone and with no idea how you survived? As the pressure mounts on Embry his mind cracks, and we’re led to believe this is what wakes him up in his hospital bed. But what about the boots? War is another theme, as this is one of only a few so far episodes set in or against the backdrop of war, and that old chestnut, loneliness, comes back to haunt us. One of the worst things man can go through is an extended period of being alone, with nobody to talk to and nothing to do, no way out, which is why solitary confinement is seen as such a harsh punishment. Mystery is a staple of the show, and there’s certainly a mystery to be unravelled here, though like most Twilight Zone episodes, there’s no simple solution at the end.

Another theme played very strongly on here is that of responsibility and duty of care. Several times Embry shouts out to his crew that he is responsible for them, that as captain he is supposed to take care of them. It’s almost like a frantic father worrying about losing his children. Quite touching really, given the usual hard-man attitude espoused by airmen and how they’re usually portrayed. Makes Embry’s character more approachably human and fallible, and someone we can identify with.

And isn’t that…?

Robert Cummings (1910 - 1990)

Apart from perhaps having one of the most unfortunate names in showbusiness, it seems he was one of the great “also-rans” of Hollywood. He starred opposite Betty Grable in her last movie and was also in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, and yet he always seemed to be, according to himself, second choice for movie roles. He was tapped for Bewitched (which surely would have made his name) but didn’t get it, though he did later guest in one episode, and though he had his own eponymous show on TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and got to officiate at the opening of Disneyland alongside Ronald Reagan, and had two stars on Hollywood Boulevard, to say nothing of gaining no less than five Primetime Emmy nominations and winning one, he doesn’t seem to have liked making movies. He often said to his wife that he wished there was some other way he could make a living.

Mildly interestingly, given the theme and setting of this episode, Cummings starred in two movies with desert in the title and two to do with flying, as well as one with king in the title. Yeah, I know: big deal, but you see, I notice these incidences of serendipity. Oh, and he was also in The Flying Nun… okay, okay, I’m going, I’m going! One more thing: he actually was a pilot. Yes I know where the door is, thank you very much!

Gene Lyons (1921 - 1974)

Like most actors of this era, he played in lots of western/cop TV shows, but our interest in him would lie with his role in Star Trek’s “A Taste of Armageddon”, and I personally remember Ironside, the wheelchair-bound detective (very much ahead of its time) on which he was a regular.

Paul Lambert (1922 - 1997)

Remembered for the original Planet of the Apes movie as well as Spartacus (alongside Kirk Douglas) and (often uncredited) roles in Apocalypse Now, Death Wish II, American Graffiti and All the President’s Men.

Questions, and sometimes, Answers

The radio on the B-25 crackles, but though Embry talks into it, giving his details, nobody answers. Is this because the frequency is no longer used or recognised, or because this is a dream/vision and he’s not really using the radio at all?

How is it that the plane has suddenly appeared in the desert after all this time? There’s no evidence around it of its having been, for instance, covered by sand dunes that have blown away to reveal it, indeed the ground all around it is flat and even.

Those clever little touches

The plane is called King 9, shortened to K9. K-9 - canine? And like a faithful dog, it appears it’s been waiting for its master all this time in the hot desert sand.


I find it a little disappointing how similar this episode is, in its basic essence, to the season one episode “The Last Flight”: a pilot from the past (in that case, World War I) comes into the future (the show’s present) and has no idea how they got there. There are, of course, major differences between the two stories but I would have preferred something more original to kick off the second season. I also mark very clear lines back to the pilot episode: we have almost a one-man story here, with two other characters only showing up at the very end and fulfilling pretty minor roles (and one nurse with one line), he has no idea what’s going on and faces going mad. He even nods back to “Where is Everybody?” by considering that he might be imagining all of what’s happening.

It also closely parallels the ending of the pilot episode, where both men are completely alone in a world which turns out to be one of their own imagination (though the ending of this one does cast doubt on that), both looking for other people but only encountering what you could term as ghosts, or maybe impressions of living beings. Embry sees mirages and visions, whereas the guy in the first episode of season one sees what appear to be models, when he sees anyone at all, otherwise it’s half-glimpsed suggestions of people - a movie theatre without a projectionist, a cigar left behind seemingly in a hurry, music that seems to be a band but there’s nobody there.

Finally, there are loose parallels too to “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”, as the setting is the desert and there is only one person left to try to navigate it; also the idea that it is somewhere (or when) else is used here, though in the other episode it was assumed to be an alien asteroid. Here, it’s assumed to be 1943 when in fact it’s 1960. A canteen of water - vital kit of course for desert survival - also features in both episodes, as do graves.


A new section, in which I’ll discuss how predictable, or not, the story was, and if I guessed what it was about after, say, the first five minutes.

In this case, no, not at all. I had no idea what was going on.

The WTF Factor

And another, in which I’ll assign each episode a rating of 1 to 10, based on how much of a twist (and an unpredictable one) there is in it.

Factor here is 9

Personal Notes

There are several firsts as the new season opens. The famous theme is used for the first time, as well as Rod Serling’s actually appearing in each episode instead of just doing the voiceover, though only (at least here) at the start. It’s also the first time I’ve seen an episode of the show where the vast bulk of the dialogue is silent, which is to say, takes place inside Embry’s head as he’s thinking, sort of talking to himself. The only actual spoken dialogue are a few outbursts from him when he’s trying to find his crew, and then the scenes in the hospital. It’s quite clever because in a way, Cummings as Embry fulfils the role of Serling in creating a kind of running narrative.

I find myself wondering at the title. Given that there is mystery and an element of fantasy here, could Serling be making an oblique reference towards the third and final part of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? Also, there is a nod back to Dickens here surely, when Embry, finally losing it, sinks to his knees and grasps handfuls of sand, which turn out to be the sheets of his bed in the hospital, almost exactly as Ebenezer Scrooge claws at the soil of his own grave and then wakes up in his own bed. And again, when the doctor tells Embry he’ll be all right now; isn’t this the same feeling Scrooge has when he realises he is not after all dead?
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote