Director: David Orrick McDearmon
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Russell Johnson, Paul Hartman, Bartlett Robinson, John Lasell, James Lyndon, Raymond Bailey, Raymond Greenleaf, John Eldredge, James Gavin, Jean Inness, Lew Brown, Carol Rossen, Nora Marlowe, and Pat O’Malley
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Air Date: 1/13/1961
Production Code: 173-3648
After discussing the nature of time travel with his peers, socialite Pete Corrigan (Russell Johnson) stumbles a hundred years into the past. Realizing the date to be April 15, 1865, Corrigan warns the police about John Wilkes Booth and his plan to assassinate the President of the United States. Though Corrigan remains unable to plead his case in a compelling fashion, a mysterious individual named Jonathan Wellington (John Lasell) appears interested, almost suspiciously so, in the potential danger facing Abraham Lincoln.
“Back There” benefits from the performance of John Lasell, whose enigmatic portrayal of “Wellington” serves to conceal a major plot twist from the audience. That being said, the efforts of a solid cast are undermined by Rod Serling’s muddled—albeit occasionally thought-provoking—use of time travel.
While working to prevent Lincoln’s untimely demise, Corrigan is complemented by an ominous musical arrangement from Jerry Goldsmith—a factor that accentuates the dramatic impact of a conflict frequently employed in science fiction fare (i.e. one or more characters traveling back in time to modify the outcome of unpleasant or catastrophic circumstances).
Corrigan immediately and inexplicably arrives in the past upon stepping outside one evening, leaving ambiguous the means by which time travel is accomplished. For this reason, “Back There” may frustrate those who prefer that temporal displacement be explored from a scientific rather than metaphysical perspective.
Also worth criticizing is the character of Corrigan, whose approach to saving Lincoln resembles that of a raving lunatic—hardly the response that many would expect of an esteemed figure. While one can surely empathize with Corrigan’s desperation to avert the tragedy at Ford’s Theatre, viewers may question why the protagonist—an otherwise intelligent and reasonable man—never employs a modicum of restraint when informing the authorities of Lincoln’s fate.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
By operating on the premise that certain aspects of history can be altered while others cannot, “Back There” puts an intriguing spin on the time travel trope. No attempt is made, however, to explain why significant events (e.g. the assassination of President Lincoln) must occur without disruption, even though subtle changes to the timeline are shown to have taken place upon Corrigan’s return to the present.
Notwithstanding any logical flaws, “Back There” is a captivating thought experiment. Fans of The Twilight Zone are thus advised to view this entry, which offers a bizarre but delicately handled twist on the death of Abraham Lincoln.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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