Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #79: Five Characters In Search Of an Exit

By  · Published on October 10th, 2011

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #79): “Five Characters In Search Of an Exit” (airdate 12/22/61)

The Plot: A man awakens in a round room and discovers he has no memory of how he got there. Neither do the four costumed weirdos trapped there with him.

The Goods: An Army major (Bill Windom) awakens in a cylindrical room with metallic walls and no roof, and he’s immediately confused. An understandable reaction to be sure, and it’s only heightened when he nearly trips over a clown. Light shines down from the night sky above, and soon the major discovers he’s sharing this apparent cell with more than just a melodramatic circus clown… a beautiful ballerina, an unconvincing hobo, and a bagpiper (probably) going commando are also trapped in the room.

It’s either the beginning of a very dirty joke or the intro to an episode of The Twilight Zone. Either way, the punchline is a nasty one.

The major is frantic and desperate to not only figure out where he is but how to get out of there. Oddly, the other four seem at peace with their situation. His insistence though drives the group to begin theorizing as to why they’re there and where exactly ‘there’ is. Hell, purgatory, a dream… it could be any of these or none. All they know is they feel no hunger or thirst, and they have no real sense of how they got there or what their lives were like before.

And then there’s the ominous bell that rings thunderously from above every few minutes.

Theories and beliefs aside, the one thing they all eventually agree on is that they should try to escape. They form a human ladder, and while common sense dictates that the guy who’s freeballing it should have been on the bottom they actually let the bagpiper climb over the poor hobo and clown. The episode glosses it over, but tit definitely adds to the terror and unpleasantness of the situation.

The ending falls into the category of ones that The Twilight Zone is most known for… a twist or shocking revelation that unsettles the viewer and makes them see everything that came before through different eyes. The one here isn’t necessarily all that powerful, but it adds a fresh layer to the single room thriller and toys with the concept of god, man, and our purpose in life. It also hints at the idea of mankind being at the whim of a child-like god, something Star Trek and the final episode of St. Elsewhere would try a bit differently some years later.

What do you think?

The Trivia: Writer/director Vincenzo Natali credits this episode as a major inspiration for his film Cube.

On the Next Episode: “Hot shot new Lieutenant Katall tries to make his mark on the last day of WWII in the Pacific and gets a unique perspective on his actions.”

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.