Comparisons between episodes of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone and our own dismal reality
In what may be the greatest understatement of the century, 2020 has been a rather eventful year. Wildfires, a global pandemic, isolation, protests throughout the world, political turmoil, deaths of public figures – you could write a new version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for each month of the year. So, why not look to retro television for comfort? Why not explore a simpler time, when the greatest fears we had were looming nuclear war, human short-sightedness, crippling loneliness and the catastrophic realities of climate change?
1. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (Season 5, Episode 3)
A man recovering from a nervous breakdown is the only person on his plane who can see the monster just outside the window. He attempts to warn his fellow passengers, only for people to assume he’s lost his mind. The fear of flying is certainly one many people these days are familiar with, as travel becomes a major factor in the spread of COVID-19. With the US government claiming it’s safe to reopen and many people ignoring mask and distancing guidelines, it can be easy to doubt one’s own concerns. Like the man on the plane, we find ourselves questioning if the invisible force of death is actually there. Are we overreacting, or do we really see an imminent threat?
2. Where is Everybody? (Season 1, Episode 1)
A man finds himself alone in an abandoned town, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He finds himself searching empty streets and abandoned shops for any sign of human life, only to be left alone with just his own thoughts for company. This certainly brings back memories of the beginning of shelter in place, when nothing was open and we all thought it would blow over within a week or two. Remember when it was pessimistic to say we wouldn’t be back to normal until fall? Good times.
3. It’s a Good Life (Season 3, Episode 8)
The citizens of a small town are cut off from the world at large and kept at the mercy of a six-year-old boy with reality-warping powers. They live in a state of constant anxiety about what fresh horror awaits while pretending everything is fine to avoid angering someone who doesn’t seem to understand that actions have consequences. What a classic American mood? The townspeople, in their defeated acceptance of the new normal, are certainly relatable to the average person in 2020 watching things fall apart while baking bread, submitting assignments, and occasionally looking at the red sky to say, ‘Sure, this might as well happen. What’s next?’
4. The Midnight Sun (Season 3, Episode 10)
Two women are in their apartment building, slowly being consumed by unbearable heat as they await the end of the world. They cope with the loneliness by supporting each other as the world outside erodes. While the twist in this episode is certainly not one of the series’ best, the despair of the two women as the radio presenter snaps on air and paint boils on the canvas feels painfully relevant as wildfire season is upon us. Staying inside and distracting ourselves with hobbies is really all we can do, as we smell the smoke and watch the destruction on the news.
5. Time Enough at Last (Season 1, Episode 8)
An absentminded, bookish man is left alone in a ruined city after a bomb destroys everything and everyone he once knew. This episode is one of the classics, and it’s easy to see why. The sense of loneliness permeates the entire episode, even before the bomb drops. Our protagonist can only find solace from his abusive wife and belittling employer in the pages of his books, but once he’s lost the interactions he’d taken for granted he finds himself sinking into depression. Unfortunately, like many of us who’d had grand quarantine plans of learning a language or writing a book have discovered, having all the time in the world doesn’t necessarily mean we can finally indulge in our dreams.
6. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Season 1, Episode 22)
A small community is torn apart and devolves into a violent blame-game after the electricity goes out. In a time of abundant anti-Asian hate crimes in response to the “Chinese virus” pandemic, this episode is an excellent example of what not to do. Yes, things are bad – there is no denying that. However, we need to remember that we have to look out for each other. We can’t go around blaming others for everything that’s gone wrong – we have to work with them to solve our problems. Wear a mask. Donate to fire relief funds. Call your representatives. Order takeout from local restaurants. Check in on your friends and family. Do whatever you can to support those around you.