Director: Richard L. Bare
Writer: Richard Matheson
Cast: William Shatner, Patricia Breslin, Guy Wilkerson, Stafford Repp, Walter Reed, and Dee Carroll
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 11/18/1960
Production Code: 173-3643
While stranded in a small town, newlyweds Don and Pat Carter (William Shatner and Patricia Breslin) decide to eat lunch in a local café. Looking for ways to pass the time, Don inserts a penny into Mystic Seer—a napkin holder containing fortune cards—and receives an ambiguous response to a yes/no question. Before long, Don finds himself unable to resist the supposed power of prediction possessed by a simple toy.
“Nick of Time” teaches a lesson on the importance of knowing when to quit, a premise that Rod Serling tried but failed to sufficiently analyze in season one’s “The Fever.” Although supernatural undertones are ostensibly absent from this entry, fans of The Twilight Zone will certainly appreciate the philosophical themes explored in Richard Matheson’s teleplay.
By refraining from the scenery chewing for which many of his characters (e.g. Bob Wilson from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” Captain James T. Kirk, etc.) are famous, William Shatner made credible the notion of a young, level-headed office manager losing his composure when confronted with an enigmatic napkin dispenser. Also worth mentioning are the numerous close-up shots of the grinning, devilish bobblehead attached to said napkin dispenser, which give the appearance of a taunting, self-aware entity and thereby further accentuate the psychological torment experienced by Don.
“Nick of Time” presents an intriguing study on human nature. That being said, Matheson’s narrative lacks an adequate level of conflict for a standard-length episode (an ominous twist ending does, however, work to compensate for this minor shortcoming).
An examination on how easily the minds of intelligent, rational people can become enslaved by superstition, “Nick of Time” demonstrates why coincidences and self-fulfilling prophecies should be treated exactly as such. Specifically, only when faced with the prospect of addiction, abandonment, and loss of opportunity does Don realize the necessity of taking initiative and working hard for his achievements, the value of which could never be truly appreciated while attributing all positive outcomes to a silly fortune-telling machine.
“Nick of Time” likewise offers a commentary on the ways in which compulsive behavior tends to impact innocent bystanders. Note that as the hours pass, Pat grows visibly distressed by the obsessive actions of her husband, whose excuses and justifications nearly ruin a once ideal relationship—a sad testament to the corrosive effect that perpetual gambling (or drinking, drug abuse, and extramarital sex) can have on the family unit.
Though somewhat light on substance, “Nick of Time” provides an enlightening glimpse into a dark aspect of human psychology. Audiences are therefore advised to view this educational, albeit ironically amusing, episode.
Overall Quality: 9/10
If you enjoyed this post, please enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.