With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all most half of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?
The Twilight Zone (Episode #37): “King Nine Will Not Return” (airdate 9/30/60)
The Plot: A WWII bomber pilot wakes up in the middle of the African desert trying to figure out where his crew went.
The Goods: Welcome to season 2! We all made it, and we made it together!
As with the first season, this new round of episodes opens up with a lone military man trying to understand what’s going on while slowly going crazy. It’s a fascinating parallel because even though Rod Serling was clearly obsessed with the military (being a former fighter himself), it’s telling that he chose to introduce fans to the series and re-introduce a new season of the series using the talents of a single actor breaking down due to guilt and isolation.
That lone actor here is the fabulous Robert Cummings playing Captain James Embry. Embry wakes up face down in the sand with the wreckage of his plane, The King Nine, just a few feet away. His crew on the other hand, is nowhere in sight and he alternates between thinking through his situation in voice over and yelling for them.
Beyond Cummings’s forceful skill, what really nails this story down is the nuance of the environment. Little camera moments that reflect the heat of the sun off his canteen or off the plane give a sense of magical realism to a place already prone to out of body experiences. Plus, the chopped-up soliloquy from Embry gives subtle hints to his state of mind even while he’s losing it.
What’s truly brilliant about this episode – one inspired by the discovery of a WWII-era plane found in the desert after nearly two decades – is that it exists in a world where the audience knows a lot about science fiction and the fantasy that this particular series can bring. It’s Serling working against himself.
So here’s a radical idea.
Embry is the audience. He wakes up not knowing what’s going on, he stumbles his way through a few facts, he questions his reality in several ways (is it a dream? a hallucination? time travel?), and he finally loses his mind while calling out, “Let me in on it! Oh God, let me in on it!”
Serling knew that his own television series had worked against itself by creating a brand of expectation every week, but instead of Shyamalaning it (read: crumbling under the pressure), he twisted the twists and delivered something truly character-driven, led by an actor who crushed the hell out of the role. Then, he delivered exactly what the audience expected after shaking that expectation: a twist that let them in on what was going on.
At the end, we see why Embry is lost in the desert, but instead of seeking out the answer to the puzzle, Serling has given us several answers. Only one of them turns out to be real, but the truth is that all or none of them could still be the case. Serling is still firmly in control of what we’re seeing.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: This was a season of firsts, including the first-ever on-screen introduction done by Serling. This episode gave birth to iconic image of him standing in a suit, telling us all what we were about to see.
On the Next Episode: Being careful what you wish for takes an interesting turn into The Twilight Zone and breaks a display case in the process.
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.