Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I'll fly away

"Third from the Sun" (TWILIGHT ZONE, originally broadcast January 8, 1960)

I must admit to a certain amount of distraction as of late, to the degree that I didn’t believe I’d be doing anything here at all until this abysmal election was finally over and done with.  With that in mind, I chose something that is more or less thematically compatible with my current disposition.

Based on the short story by noted fantasist, Richard Matheson—and adapted by Rod Serling—“Third from the Sun” follows the plight of troubled family man and scientist, Will Sturka (Fritz Weaver), whose work in a government weapons plant offers him a distinct vantage point into his nation's foreign policy.

"You a defeatist, Sturka?  That's dangerous thinking.  You'd better mind what you say."  "And what I think, too, eh?"  "And what you think."

Amid a pronounced increase in bomb-making and hushed rumors of imminent nuclear war, Will and his friend and colleague, Jerry Riden (Joe Maross), have been plotting an exit strategy for months—one that involves pirating an experimental government spacecraft capable of reaching other galaxies.

Jerry, who’s been test-piloting the new ship, has also mapped out a destination—a planet 11 million miles away, with people and an atmosphere not dissimilar to their own. 

"11 million miles...in a ship we're not even sure will leave the atmosphere."  "That's the risk, though."  

But a superior from work by the name of Carling (Edward Andrews) has been watching Sturka closely, and seems aware something is amiss just as he and Jerry are about to make their move.

"It's coming, boy, it's really coming...and a big one, too!"
And move, they must, because a global nuclear war is about to commence any time now.  "You see if I'm not right...48 hours and we'll have them aloft." And so, despite Carling's hinting that he is on to them, they can wait no longer to gather their families.

"But I have a date tonight."  "Break it, Jody, will you?" 
"Everyone I talk to lately, they've been noticing..."  "Noticing what, Jo?"  "That something's wrong.  That something's in the air."
"It'll be a holocaust.  It will be hell...the end of everything we know.  People, places, ideas--everything"
"We're leaving...you and Jody and I, Jerry and Ann.  We're leaving tonight."

But as they assemble on the final evening before their planned late-night departure, playing bridge to keep up appearances, Sturka's budding nemesis, Carling, pops up once again to shake the tree.

"I was just telling your wife she makes wonderful lemonade.  Hot night, too.  This is a night for a front porch...or sleep.  But nothing else."

"You're a little nervous, Mrs. Sturka.  You're very nervous."

After a tense game of cat and mouse, Carling departs, letting Will know beyond doubt that he knows what they're planning.  And just as he's out the door, Will's boss is calling on the phone—they're sending a car to pick him up.  And so the time is now...or never.

"Third from the Sun" is one of the classic Twilight Zone episodes, for a number of reasons—including its taut, compelling script and Richard L. Bare’s memorably expressionistic, claustrophobic direction—but what really makes this one tick is the intense back and forth between Sturka and Carling.  As Will Sturka, Fritz Weaver’s visceral tight-rope act of barely-masked contempt and paranoia is wonderfully offset by the loathsome Carling (Edward Andrews, amiably detestable as ever), who enjoys the game and doesn't mind letting on, if only because he just can't help himself.  

"You ever think there might be people on one of those stars out there?"  "The thought has crossed my mind."
In times like these, it's easy to relate to a man like Will Sturka.  A man made cynical by a world beholden to its hate and fearsa world bent on destroying itself.  A man of ideals coming to grips with a society that seems to have run out of them.  

And when he's left no choice, and forced to leave his world, it's little wonder we're optimistic for himfor them.  It's our nature.  Sure they'll make it...what else is there? What, there's people there, you say?  Are they sure they picked the right one?