Director: John Brahm
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Burgess Meredith, Vaughn Taylor, Jaqueline deWit, and Lela Bliss
Composer: Leith Stevens
Air Date: 11/20/1959
Production Code: 173-3614
Unable to cope with the incessant nagging of his wife Helen (Jaqueline deWit) and employer Mr. Carsville (Vaughn Taylor), absent-minded bank teller Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith)—a compulsive reader—retreats into a world of fantasy. Hiding in the bank vault during an extended lunch break, Bemis discovers that human civilization has been devastated by a hydrogen bomb. No longer required to interact with people, Bemis decides to spend the rest of his life reading books from a local library; but a terrible twist of fate stands in his way.
A harrowing critique of the oppressive and creativity-stifling nature of modern society, “Time Enough at Last” earns its reputation as a profound, deeply disturbing episode of The Twilight Zone. Especially outstanding is the performance of Burgess Meredith, whose meek, delicate manner should compel viewers, at least those of a sensitive inclination, to sympathize with the character of Bemis—a self-absorbed, albeit harmless, individual.
It should be mentioned that in the early scenes, the oblivious and inconsiderate tendencies of Bemis—a man whose social etiquette leaves much to be desired—serve to irritate the audience. During the post-apocalyptic sequences, on the other hand, Bemis conveys a heartfelt desire to be surrounded by people in spite of his inability to converse with them—an ironic insight that should allow introverts, quiet types, and social outcasts to establish a deep and lasting connection with Bemis, an otherwise annoying, unlikable person.
Despite failing to wear protective clothing, Bemis never develops radiation poisoning while roaming the wasteland. Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction may therefore struggle to invest in Rod Serling’s narrative, which lacks an air of realism to complement its underlying message. (The haunting atmosphere of said wasteland may, however, distract the viewer from certain minor shortcomings of this episode.)
Also deserving of criticism, Bemis—sheltered from the bomb by circumstance alone—employs an inordinate amount of exposition to explain the obvious reason for his survival.
Though mean-spirited, the plight of Bemis—a loner from start to finish—offers insight into society’s cruel disregard for those perceived as different or unusual in appearance, personality, or demeanor. Specifically, the characters in this episode frequently harass, berate, and undermine Bemis instead of teaching him to cope with the demands of a stressful work environment, leaving him unprepared for the daunting challenges that await him in a world without companionship.
The quintessential episode of The Twilight Zone, “Time Enough at Last” combines Cold War subject matter with penetrating commentary on the ignorance and callousness of man. Worth commending in particular is the pathos of Meredith, known for starring in season two’s “The Obsolete Man” and “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.”
Overall Quality: 10/10
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