Features and Columns · TV

Exploring the Twilight Zone #7: The Lonely

By  · Published on June 14th, 2011

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The Twilight Zone Episode #7 – “The Lonely” (airdate 11/13/59)

The Plot: An inmate serving his sentence in solitary confinement on a far away asteroid struggles with both his sanity and humanity after receiving a very special gift. A gift… with boobs.

The Goods: James Corry (Jack Warden) is four years in to a fifty-year sentence for murder on his own private asteroid, and his only human contact comes every few months in the form of a rocket ship bearing supplies. He counts the days until the next delivery as it means he’ll get precious time talking with the compassionate Captain Allenby (John Dehner). The ship arrives and he rushes around his small shack setting up a chess board and playing cards as this human interaction has to last him several long months. Circumstances dictate the ship make a quick turnaround leaving no time for conversation or games, but Allenby leaves a surprise for Corry as consolation for his pardon review being refused yet again.

The gift is a robotic woman named Alicia (Jean Marsh), and her presence will test the depths of Corry’s loneliness and the strength of his desire for human contact. He’s initially disgusted at the idea of a cold, mechanical, human-like machine, but slowly her human traits and displays of real(ish) emotion forces him to accept and cherish her presence as if she were a real, live woman. When news arrives almost a year later that his pardon has been granted and he can return to Earth he’s forced to make a decision that comes at a terrible cost.

As with many episodes of The Twilight Zone, this one highlights a very real aspect of humanity in a very unreal surrounding. And I don’t just mean the asteroid with an inhabitable atmosphere. Everyone wants some degree of contact and interaction with their fellow human beings. Even folks who claim otherwise usually do so out of fear of rejection or depression as opposed to a genuine disinterest. The presence of others stimulates us physically, intellectually, and emotionally, and the absence of that presence can be as severe a punishment as anything else. Corry doesn’t need to be on an asteroid thousands of miles from Earth as isolation can be manufactured just as completely here, but the conceit of this episode is that it allows for this extreme physical representation to truly drive the point home.

Warden does a great job in the role, and even though we know he’s committed a serious crime we can’t help but feel sympathetic to his situation. Extreme loneliness gives way to affection and possibly even desire, and a broken man becomes whole again. Rod Serling wrote the episode, and he manages to layer in some subtle commentary on the prison system alongside the story. Can a punishment possibly be too severe? Can society change their views on the value and effectiveness of incarceration? Would prison sex with a robot count as a conjugal visit?

But here’s the thing, and I promise this is (probably) the only time you’ll see me say this, Serling’s script drops the ball at the end of the episode in a really big way… and I have two options that would have been far better. Be warned as this should be considered spoiler territory (albeit for a TV show from half a century ago). Corry is unable to accept leaving Alicia behind once he’s given the pardon, so Capt. Allenby shoots the robot in the face, Corry shrugs at the reality of the exposed wires in her noggin, and they all fly home. Terrible ending. Here are two far better choices. One, and this is actually how I expected the episode to end, Corry simply refuses to leave. He chooses the “woman” who has become his salvation over the people of Earth who sent him away in the first place. Two, and this is actually my preferred ending, Allenby shoots Alicia which causes Corry to snap and kill the captain… which means he’s convicted of murder all over again and destined to end up back in confinement.

What do you think of the episode?

The Trivia: Ted Knight stars as one of the uncredited astronaut/deliverymen. The perfect smarminess that would become his trademark on TV with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and films like Caddyshack is evident even this early in his career.

On the Next Episode: A bookworm (Burgess Meredith) who would eagerly trade the people around him for a little time to himself finally gets his wish.

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.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.