Original Airdate: Oct. 2, 1959
A new morning ritual has begun, an original episode of “Twilight Zone” to go with breakfast prior to work, and to act as capstone for the workday a review of episode. 156 episodes of Rod Serling’s classic show begins with the amazing “Where is Everybody?” that finds Mike Ferris (Earl Holliman, “Forbidden Planet”) carrying the weight of the show as he wanders through an empty town trying to remember how he got there, who he is, why things seem wrong, and why he feels as if he is being watched.
Holliman’s depiction of a slow mental breakdown is sheer brilliance and director Robert Stevens captures the tone and mood of isolation and foreboding with a deft hand. The masterful music by Bernard Herrmann is the crowning achievement. It is expertly layered in, as are the cues that help reinforce the state of wrongfulness that haunts this episode.
From a slowly closing gate, to a boiling pot of coffee, to a suddenly appearing burning cigarette these are just some cues that set Ferris, and us, on edge. Another factor that bolsters the story is that Ferris acts logically, he searches for people, he proceeds towards clues, he moves in reasonable directions, and then snaps.
The final climatic reveal may not carry all the power it once did, but to watch it now one must remember that this is the show that created the tropes that are oft mimicked. This episode, the first, is one oft referred to in pop-culture lore. A new show coming soon, “Last Man on Earth” will undoubtedly mine this episode for material in honor of its enduring legacy, it already took its title from a book within this episode.
“Twilight Zone” was the forerunner in great suspense television, oftentimes commenting on post-WWII, Cold War American society at a time when to do so sometimes meant the end of career or liberty. To hide such commentary cleverly in science-fiction and suspenseful tales like “Twilight Zone” gave writers freedom and now looking back through the lenses of history we are often able to clearly discern what might have not been so easily decipherable back then. “Where is Everybody?” starts the series off on strong footing and anchors it clearly in brave new territory. It was an bold move to launch this series with this episode where almost all of the story has only one actor on screen. Holliman is the right actor to carry the burden of the launch of what would become a hugely iconic and important series.