Twilight Zone Sn1 Ep7 “The Lonely”

Original Airdate: November 13, 1959

“The Lonely” seems to channel the bleak tone of “Where is Everybody?” with the story of a man isolated from all contact, only this time instead of an amnesiac stumble through the story we get a dark tale of a future where felons serve their time alone on asteroids scattered throughout space.  Their abysmal loneliness is broken up four times a year when supplies are brought in and the felon can briefly interact with the crew.

Our guide through this world is convict James A. Corry (Jack Warden, “All the President’s Men”) who was convicted of murder even though he was acting in self-defense.  The isolation is taking its toll and threatening to overwhelm him.  A sympathetic Captain Allenby (John Dehner, “The Right Stuff”) bestows various projects upon him to occupy Corry’s time as he waits and hopes for a pardon.  This visit however, Allenby, brings something unique and world-rending.

As the crew departs a desperate Corry rips open the package and tears into the instruction manual.  As Corry reads the various instructions the camera pans around to reveal a robot, not a clunky mechanoid, but an exceptional human woman, Alicia (Jean Marsh, “Frenzy”).  Alicia is robotic female companion programmed to feel pain, wants, needs, and emotions.  Her presence, appearance, and programming is going to upend Corry’s beliefs and scrape the surface of some philosophical debates such as: A.I., human/robot relations, and synthetic emotions.

Unfortunately, “The Lonely” spends so much time getting into Corry’s story, presenting his situation, and allowing him to delve deeply into his misery it doesn’t save much room for philosophical introspection at any significant level.  What we end up with is some minor presentation, which back in 1959 must have been exceptionally revolutionary to even conceive of, much less address.

“The Lonely” is one of “Twilight Zone’s” darkest episodes yet.  It’s tone is as bleak as the pilot episode, the isolation component is brutally extreme, and the ending is abrupt and sucks the air out of the room.  I was not expecting it to end like that, to be truthful I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.

The success of the ending relies primarily upon the well-written characters of Corry, Alicia, and Allenby.  These three characters, their various relationships, and realistic interactions anchor this fantastical tale in something tangible.  This is why when the climax comes and is executed with such cool efficiency it had such a stunning effect.  As I have rolled this end around in my head I can’t see a better end, I can see another way it could have resolved, but it wouldn’t have been as stunning.

Rod Serling wasn’t afraid to challenge his audiences and I respect that.  Too much television, and film, today is so afraid of alienating anyone that writing is reduced to pandering.  I would rather have something like “The Lonely” that makes me viciously uncomfortable, than placates me with falsehoods.  I have spent more time thinking about “The Lonely” than the episodes on either side of it (“Escape Clause” and “Time Enough at Last”) and I think that speaks volumes about the power of the writing and story of “The Lonely.”  It may not be the most enjoyable episode, but is well-written, fantastically shot in Death Valley, and the ending’s delivery is magnificently timed and will stay with you for a while to come.

  

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