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Twilight Zone: Time Enough At Last (1959)

 Reviewed by Melissa McGahee

“The thing of it is, is I’m not entirely sure I want to be alive.” – Henry (Burgess Meredith)

Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is a middle-aged bank teller who spends his time reading novels, and burying his head in newspapers. He relies on every written word to preoccupy and help him forget about the existence that is his everyday life. He’s married to a battleaxe named Helen (Jacqueline deWit) who bosses him around and forbids him from reading. She colors over the words in his books and then baits him into reading her poetry. He becomes excited and opens the cover only to find every word crossed out. She’s evil.

His boss, Mr. Carsville (Vaughn Taylor) is no more sympathetic than the wife. Bemis is dragged into Carsville office and berated for his adoration for reading. Sure, poor Henry does read on the job and ignores the customers in the process, but he has no other time to read.

Bemis is an overall mousy guy who does what he is told. He’s soft spoken and tries to reason with both his wife and boss, but to no avail. He finds solace in the written word. There’s an obvious escape that he holds onto in the books that he reads. After being banned by nearly everyone, he becomes desperate for to read. He locks himself away in the small bank vault with his newspapers and novels. Meanwhile, the entire world is taken out by nuclear explosions, and when Bemis exits the safe he realizes that he is the only survivor.

Finally, there are no more interruptions and he is able to enjoy all that others have taken away from him. He has time enough at last to read whatever it is he wants. Like every “Twilight Zone,” the solution is not that cut and dry. There is a moral to be learned. Here, the lesson is a tough one. Still today, when men and women are miserable they find a way to forget about their worries. Instead of confronting what is wrong and finding a viable solution, they drown their sorrows in an addiction. There’s chat rooms, video games, soap operas, liquor, etc. Although one can easily argue that Bemis’s addiction for literature is far less damaging, it still played a most confining role in his life. He should have left Helen, stood his ground and found a job that better suited him. Instead, he just waited until the literal end of the world. In the aftermath he gave into his addiction, but even then arose a confining force.

Burgess Meredith is amazing. He was in four episodes of the original “The Twilight Zone”, including one of the best, “The Obsolete Man.” Coincidently, in that episode he also had an affection for books. He played a librarian. Meredith also narrated “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in 1983. His voice added the much needed credibility that the film required to succeed. Without the introduction of Serling who had died in 1975, the movie needed someone who was truly connected to the series. They could have not chosen better. As Henry Bemis, he is sympathetic and good natured. One can’t help but root for the character despite his obvious flaws.

There are so many great episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” that it feels redundant to compliment. Still, the constant examination and explanation of human behavior that the show offers, never seizes to amaze. It is the mirror into the viewers’ own beliefs that spark such an unyielding interest in the show. There is always a character to relate to. There are always emotions that the fans understand, and because of that it will never lose its popularity.

“Time Enough At Last,” is an outstanding episode that stands the test of time. It is a reflection of the errors in human nature and at the end, the ever so popular cliche, “be careful what you wish for,” may ring in your ears.

Ringside Report Rating: 9/10

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