Ever since I was a kid staying at my dad’s house on weekends I used to love watching the old Twilight Zone episodes they’d run on TBS. If you were lucky you could catch their annual Twilight Zone marathons which ran all weekend long; Dad would let me stay up till the wee hours taking in the classic episodes, glued to the couch with eyes droopy but fixated on the black & white screen.
Each episode stood alone & even today they make for great television viewing, with ROD SERLiNG’S familiar narrative bookending each story. Twilight Zone was drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and suspense, sometimes horror – often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist. It was & remains awesome.
I still enjoy a lot of those stories, but perhaps the one that has left a lasting impression is Twilight Zone Episode #7 – “The Lonely”, originally aired November 13, 1959. “The Lonely” takes place in 2046, & is about an inmate named Corry (played by JACK WARDEN), who at the start of the episode is sentenced to solitary confinement on a distant asteroid for 50 years. In his 4th year of confinement he is visited by a spacecraft that regularly brings him supplies & news from Earth, but the ship & its compassionate Captain (JOHN DEHNER) can only stay for a few minutes each visit, as the asteroid’s orbit & the ship’s fuel consumption rate make longer visits impossible.
This captain tries to make Corry’s stay more tolerable by bringing him things to take his mind off the loneliness, & on this particular visit he delivers a crate containing something he tells Corry not to open until the transport leaves. This gift, as it turns out, is a robotic woman named Alicia (JEAN MARSH), & her purpose is to keep him company. Her presence in actuality, tests the depths of Corry’s loneliness & the strength of his desire for human contact, which is really compelling to watch play out. He’s initially disgusted at the idea of a cold, mechanical, human-like machine, & he treats her quite cruel as he views her existence as nothing more than a mockery towards him. But slowly her human traits & displays of real(ish) emotion force him to accept & cherish her presence as if she were a real, live woman. He comes to truly value her personhood, raising all sorts of interesting philosophical questions about consciousness, attributes of identity and perception. It’s in these scenes I recall falling in love with “The Lonely”.
The twist of the episode comes when the ship returns for one of its quarterly visits, & Captain Allenby brings news that Corry has been pardoned after a review of past murder cases; they only have 20 minutes to leave. Corry, it seems, can return home to Earth immediately, & he is delighted, until he learns that there is only room for 15lbs of luggage, far too little for his robot companion. Frantically he tries to find a way to bring Alicia with him, arguing that it is not a robot, but a woman, insisting that Allenby simply does not see it for what it is. The transport crew is surprised at the sight of Alicia at this point, thereby forcing Captain Allenby to draw his gun, shooting the robot in the face. The robot breaks down, malfunctioning, its face a mass of wire & broken circuitry which repeats the word “Corry”. Captain Allenby then escorts an inconsolable Corry back to the ship, assuring him he will only be leaving behind loneliness.
…As with a lot of the Twilight Zone episodes, “The Lonely” highlights a very real aspect of humanity in a very unreal surrounding. Every human being wants & needs a degree of contact & interaction, affection with their fellow human beings. Even those who say otherwise usually do so out of fear of rejection, as opposed to any genuine disinterest. The existence of others provokes & encourages us physically, emotionally, intellectually, & the absence of that stimulation can serve as retribution. So while the character Corry is serving his time on an asteroid thousands of miles from Earth, he could just as well be right here in our own community, living down the street, which is something that compelled me to identify with it so many years ago to begin with – yet “The Lonely” really does drive the point home in a beautiful way.
It also tells how extreme loneliness can give way to affection & even possible desire, how a broken man becomes whole again…For those who have yet to tap into the Twilight Zone vaults I really do encourage you to as there are many provoking gems.
Also – feel free to share with me which Twilight Zone episodes you recommend or enjoyed! I’d love to hear your thoughts.