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The Twilight Zone (Episode #113): “The Parallel” (airdate 3/14/63)
The Plot: An astronaut orbiting the Earth blacks out only to awaken back on the planet’s surface. He returns home to his wife and child and discovers that something isn’t quite right. Or at least it’s a bit too right.
The Goods: Astronaut Robert Gaines (Steve Forrest) is the man of the hour as his scheduled launch into space approaches. His wife and daughter watch on the television while his colleagues at ground control monitor his every move. But shortly after reaching orbit a bright light hits the capsule, and he awakens back on Earth. It seems he disappeared from radar for several hours until the capsule was eventually found intact on dry land a few miles from the launchpad. What exactly happened between his blackout and impossible landing remains a mystery, and he’s released from the hospital with no memory of those missing hours.
His arrival home is quickly marred by memory conflicts though when the things he knows, or at least thinks he knows, are all wrong. First he notices a new fence in front of his house that his wife says has been there for years, then he realizes his ranking has somehow changed from a major to a colonel. And when he asks about President John F Kennedy? No one recognizes the name. A look through some encyclopedias reveals a whole host of historical figures and events that are missing or completely changed.
It seems he’s found… another earth! (Now available on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack!)
As the episode’s title so subtly hints Gaines’ space trip has apparently dropped him into a parallel universe. Or has it? He begins to question his own sanity while his fellow military members do the same. There seems to be no proof to support his claims, but what exactly does it mean if he is in fact telling the truth? If he’s in this alternate world, where’s the Cpl. Gaines that they sent into space? How did he end up here? How can he go back? How come everyone he knew personally back in his own world are still his friends and family here, but complete strangers like Kennedy and an American ace pilot who crashed during the war have been altered or removed all together?
Hopefully you won’t be needing answers to any of those questions because the story works it way slowly to an inexplicable deus ex machina-type ending where Gaines is magically transported back to his own world without answering a single one. We never discover what caused it or what happened to the other Gaines, and we’re never given a reason to care.
The concept here, that a duplicate Earth could exist somewhere, is a fascinating one explored many times in film, TV and books. But while it’s a strong, albeit familiar, starting point the episode does absolutely nothing with it. He appears to be in a parallel universe. Then he goes home. The end.
Two episodes ago we saw an example of an overly familiar and predictable story saved by an engaging and entertaining lead performance in “Printer’s Devil.” Unfortunately, there’s no such savior here. Once again the story is one we’re familiar enough with to have a sense of where it’s going, but instead of “surprising” us with an ending revealing a cause or conflict we get a flat lead performance from Forrest and an uncharacteristically weak and empty wrap up from Serling. Imagine the possibilities that could have been explored in an alternate world where things are just a little bit askew from what you know to be true… do that and you’ve already created your own better version of this episode.
What do you think?
The Trivia: John F Kennedy was assassinated eight months after this episode originally aired. He obviously never became President in the parallel world, so I’d like to think his ninety-four year old doppelganger is still knocking boots with Jackie and Marilyn somewhere in the Twilight Zone.
On the Next Episode: “A man contemplates what to wish for when he is offered only one wish by a genie.”
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.