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The Twilight Zone (Episode #67): “The Arrival” (airdate 9/22/61)
The Plot: A plane lands at an airport, but there’s no one on board. No crew, no passengers, and not even any luggage. FAA investigator Grant Sheckly thinks that’s pretty weird.
The Goods: If you’ve watched much in the way of TV and/or movies over the years then you probably think you know where this episode is going and what the final twist will be. An empty plane, a small group of people baffled by the situation… the episode should have just been called “An Occurrence on Flight 107” or “Jacob’s Airstairs” right? I was pretty confident that I had the ending figured out too.
But I was wrong.
Grant Sheckly (Harold J Stone) is a fairly cocky FAA investigator who arrives at the airport and immediately takes over the investigation. He questions everyone involved with Flight 107’s takeoff and landing from Buffalo and tells them to forget about whatever theories they may have and just relay the facts. His first clue that something is amiss within the mystery is that the passengers seemingly exited the plane while flying away from Buffalo. Okay, maybe that was my first clue. Jumping out of a plane heading towards Buffalo makes perfect sense, but why risk it when you’ve already escaped?
And even if they had all jumped from the plane a la DB Cooper who exactly landed the damn thing and responded perfectly to the ramp agent marshaling the plane in to the stop? Sheckly knows there’s more at play here, and his suspicions are confirmed when the handful of men start recalling different aspects of the plane’s appearance. They each recall different seat colors and different tail numbers even when staring right at it. Clearly they’re all under mass hypnosis for purposes yet to be determined.
Or they’re the latest victims of Allen Funt’s hit show Candid Camera.
Sheckly goes with the former explanation, but when the others are understandably doubtful he decides to prove his theory with a simple act.
I know what I’m doing. Start the engines! If this plane is imaginary then so are those engines, and so are those props. So if I stick my hand in them nothing is going to happen. But if my theory is for the birds and those props are real, make sure you notify my wife.”
Now, lord knows I’m no genius. I’m not even an FAA investigator, but while Sheckly points out repeatedly that he’s the best there is I have to call foul on his thought process here. His theory is that the plane isn’t real and is instead a false suggestion. The episode has already shown the men touching the plane and even walking around inside, so it appears to be physical enough. But to prove his theory Sheckly’s going to stick his hand into the blades.
Why not find an outsider who couldn’t have been hypnotized to look at the plane? Why not toss a shoe into the goddamn blades of death? Sure sure, for the purposes of the episode he has to stick his hand in, but it just doesn’t pass the common sense test.
That said, the scene does lead to the episode’s best moment. And no, it’s not when the plane up and disappears before our eyes. It’s what happens immediately following.
The high of that patented Twilight Zone bump slowly fades though as the ending gets dragged out just a bit too long. Sheckly runs around badgering folks for answers just as the pieces are falling to place for viewers too. We figure it out about the same time it’s revealed to Sheckly himself, but we still have to sit through a couple more minutes of his rambling, and it takes some of the sting out of the revelation. Still, this is a pretty solid episode that gets points for not going with the easy and obvious ending and instead chooses to show that the borders of The Twilight Zone extend beyond the physical world and into our very minds.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Director Boris Sagal also directed one of the best Richard Matheson adaptations with the fantastically creepy The Omega Man (from I Am Legend).
On the Next Episode: “A suburban dinner party is interrupted by a warning of an impending nuclear attack. As the neighbors scramble to prepare themselves, they turn against the one family that installed a permanent bomb shelter.”
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.