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The Twilight Zone (Episode #20): “Elegy” (airdate 2/19/60)
The Plot: A few astronauts land on a planet where no one moves a muscle.
The Goods: A spiritual cousin to the very first episode of the series, instead of one man stranded in a world without people, three astronauts land on an Earth-like planet where there are people, places and even farm dogs. Mysteriously, either these common nouns are all tied for Most Realistic Statue or they’re all trying to do their best Marcel Marceau impression. Things look idyllic, but everyone is idle. A woman is perpetually being crowned as a local beauty queen; a bearded gent is forever being named the new mayor; and one man alone sneaks his way through the unmoving masses to spy on our adventurers and to withhold an explanation for what’s going on.
Half the appeal of the episode is the mystery and the creative pay off. Charles Beaumont took writing duties on this one, adapting a story of his own that was published in “Imagination” seven years prior. It’s a truly strange set of circumstances, and the revelation of why everyone has stopped moving is a wholly satisfying in the way that a science fiction twist demands.
The acting from Kevin Hagen, Don Dubbins, and Jeff Morrow is passable but nothing to write home from your frozen asteroid about. Cecil Kellaway plays the enigmatic Wickwire – fulfilling the tradition of a slightly foppish, far-too-smiley character that holds the key to knowledge above the other characters like an overgrown bully keeping a tether ball at the top of the pole.
What’s really on display here is the production design which features a small town recreated as set pieces with actors standing perfectly still for incredible amounts of time. None of them are credited, but instead of opting for dummies or some cheap early version of in-camera effect, the production got day players to pose and stay motionless for entire takes. There are a few small tremors, but the effect is ultimately a really cool one (even if we know it’s just people being as still as possible).
Thank Serling for Wickwire. Without his character, this story is simply about three men walking through a picture portrait rendered in 3D. They’re ready to settle down in towering homes stretched out along streets lined by even higher towering trees. They’ve landed here with almost no fuel, so why not make the most of it? Despite wanting desperately to return home, they three have hit the jackpot when it comes to far out worlds.
Of course, what’s completely benign in The Twilight Zone is almost always sinister. However, Elegy is one of the few episodes that doesn’t seem to have a comeuppance for the guilty. These astronauts are blank slates that may represent technology, advancement or nothing at all. It’s not like they all get together and beat up a puppy at the beginning. They’ve landed here by chance, and Wickwire is more than happy to explain what’s going on as soon as they relax and have some refreshment. Their only real crime is being human.
In a twist that would make Isaac Asimov smile (and probably did), Wickwire reveals what he really is, what he’s doing, and what he’s put in their drinks. Ultimately, the question of what you wish for the most is explored here with unique clarity. It’s also a conclusion that can be seen in more than a few different ways depending on your personal spiritual beliefs – a treat in sci-fi storytelling (and a rarity in the sometimes heavy-handed storytelling of The Twilight Zone). Wickwire is either a savior or a saboteur, a gatekeeper or a mad”man”. Whatever the case, this is one of the episodes that earns its ending with ingenuity. It’s the kind of creepy ending that sticks to your back and carries a scythe.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: In the original story and script, there is a frozen car race instead of a beauty pageant.
On the Next Episode: A young woman starts seeing herself while waiting for a bus. Look for it Monday over at Twitch.
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
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.