Episode 1 – “Where is Everybody?”
Written by Rod Serling
Starring: Earl Holliman (living, age 91 as of 2/14/2020)
Original airdate: October 2, 1959
Directed by Robert Stevens
Stevens would direct 2 of the 156 Twilight Zone episodes. He died in 1989.
A man walks along a path into a strange town.
The place is here. The time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we are about to watch, could be our journey.Opening Narration by Rod Serling for “Where is Everybody?”
It opens with a man (Holliman) checking out a diner. Coffee is brewing, pies are cooking.
He calls out for people and looks around and while it looks like there should at least be workers in the kitchen, nobody is around.
Next he goes outside and sees a woman in a car. He calls out to her, starts talking about wondering where all the people in town went?
“Hey Miss! Miss! Over here!” As he closes in on the woman in the car, he explains that he can’t find anybody else in town and that he doesn’t remember who he is or how he arrived here.
When he opens the door he realizes that the woman is a mannequin. Then he enters the mannequin shop and still can’t find anybody. After another minute, he walks outside and hears a telephone ringing!
When he answers the phone, nobody is there. He hangs up and calls the operator and hears a voice, but it’s only a recording of the operator. Then he struggles to exit from the phone booth. Anxiety and stress are beginning to affect him. He’s starting to sweat.
After exiting the phone booth through a normal, albeit difficult, door he decides to check out the police station next. Surely there will be someone in there, yes?
No. He enters the jail area with running water and shaving kit prepared but, again, nobody is around to use it. The cell door creaks and threatens to close on him, locking him inside the cell. Escaping, his panic level is rising as he goes into the office area and finds a smoking cigar.
He runs out of the police station and cries, “Hey! Where is everybody?!”
Fade to black. This would be a commercial break if there was one. When we return to the action, the man is back in the diner eating a sundae. He’s a little calmer, but there is still an underlying tension and confusion in his voice.
He tells himself in a mirror that he wants to wake up. Wants to find somebody to talk to. There’s a book rack in the diner with a bunch of books titled, “The Last Man on Earth.”
He leaves the diner and plays Tic Tac Toe in the dirt outside. Nightfall is coming and the streetlights illuminate. He heads inside a movie theater.
Looking at movie posters, he suddenly realizes that he is in the Air Force. He runs around the lobby of the movie theater yelling that he’s in the Air Force.
He wonders if there was a bomb? But if there was, why isn’t anything destroyed? He then goes inside the theater and a movie starts playing on the projector.
Excited, he heads upstairs to the projector room.
But nobody is up there. Just the haunting projector running … tick, tick, tick, tick.
Running downstairs is the best camera shot in the episode.
He runs toward the viewer and we don’t realize it’s a mirror until he crashes into it.
Now he’s in full panic mode and losing his mind. When he emerges outside and runs down the dark street we see a camera at an angle with a bicycle in the distance. We see him running toward it and …
Then he trips over it. When he looks up and sees a giant cyclops eye, his stress has turned to terror. He can’t process that it’s simply an Optometrist office.
He runs over to the empty street, sweating profusely, frantically pushing the button to walk across the street safely.
He cries out for help. Anybody, somewhere, anywhere, “Help!”
At this point the flashing lights, “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!”
And now viewers can’t wait to find out where the people are?
… SPOILERS ahead, you’ve been warned that the twist ending is revealed after this (hurry, go and just watch the episode before having the fun ruined …
Spoiler section – THE TWIST ENDING
The part that always fascinated me with Twilight Zone episodes was the twist ending. Some I figured out, most were surprises including this first episode.
The man we’ve been watching isn’t really in a town that has no people. He is in the Air Force and his name is Ferris.
He’s been part of an experiment inside an isolation booth.
They are trying to measure how loneliness impacts the astronauts traveling in the long trip in space.
We cut inside to Ferris in the box, pushing the panic button.
Ferris has snapped. The officials order him taken out of the box.
We learn in the final moments as they pull him out that he’s been in the isolation chamber for 2 1/2 weeks.
The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in The Twilight Zone.Rod Serling’s Closing Narration for “Where Is Everybody?”
This is an excellent episode to start the series. Serling chose a central theme which seems amazingly fitting: loneliness. As if he wanted to explain that these little, self-compacted stories in the anthology series each episode would do more than basic sci-fi/fantasy entertainment: they would have a message that transcends the black and white TV images.
By the time I review all 156 episodes, I’ll rank them and I’d guess on this Valentine’s Day in 2020 that this episode is probably in the top 25 (just a guess at this point, need to rewatch and review them all again). It has an unusual, unsettling storyline and a great twist ending. Earl Holliman’s acting isn’t overdone, there is a progressive crescendo as we build to the end.
The episode is understandably a little dated now in its presentation of a small town, particularly the phone booth. In 2020 everybody has cell phones and the use of phone booths has been obsoleted. If younger, first time viewers can suspend their belief at this historically accurate oddity, this episode still packs punch.
There are various fire extinguishers which look like diving tanks instead of the modern day version. Of course the cars look every bit like something from Back To The Future when Marty McFly goes back in time to 1955. Cars just looked cooler in the 50s than they do today, so no problems there. The advertisements for products and pricing is pure 50s as well. 40 cents for a banana split? Wouldn’t that be nice?
The camerawork, the angles, the extreme close-ups, the use of black and white with shadows are all excellent. Cinematography for this episode is by Joseph LaShelle who died in 1989 at the age of 89. LaShelle was a master craftsman of black and white film — and it shows.
Editing was by Roland Gross who also died in 1989 at the age of 80. He was an Academy Award nominee for the Best Film Editing category for the movie, None But The Lonely Heart.
The legendary Twilight Zone score is by Bernard Herrmann who died in 1975. Herrmann worked with Alfred Hitchcock and on many other TV shows and classic films like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). A legend gone too soon who died of a heart attack at 64. Too young for such a great talent.
If one could define a nearly perfect Twilight Zone or really any other sort of pilot, this would be an example. I’m going to take a very tiny half star away for one minor thing that somewhat plagued some TZ episodes worse than others: flowery dialogue. Serling liked to have characters who spoke things that probably sounded great on paper, but didn’t always translate well to screen. This will likely be a recurring complaint of mine during the series.
Here some of the character Ferris’ dialogue speaking to himself was a little too convenient. Like he was being pure exposition and not really speaking aloud like someone in his position would. For example, how does he realize he’s in the Air Force just being inside the movie theater? Is it seeing the movie posters of airplanes? It isn’t entirely clear how this “aha!” moment is struck and a minor flaw in the episode. I know he looks at the flight suit he’s wearing and it is an Air Force outfit, so that could explain it better.
I realize it’s a dream state essentially, but some of the dialogue didn’t ring as true. Ferris didn’t need to speak as much as he did. His facial expressions were fantastic and showed the horror. I don’t think he’d be trying to have quite as many conversations with himself.
Overall episode rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Easter Eggs & Meta Toast
This section is for behind the scenes and meta information on publishing this review. Over the course of posting all these reviews, I may update with links to related posts. This post was published on Valentine’s Day 2020 at precisely 1:43pm PST.