Whenever I come across someone who hasn’t seen The Twilight Zone, I usually persistently recommend that they watch it. If I’m lucky enough to be the one to introduce them to The Twilight Zone, I always start at the beginning. It’s not my favorite episode, and it doesn’t even crack the top five if I’m being honest but there’s something about the very first episode of The Twilight Zone that not only sets the tone for the series; it asks the perfect age-old question. What if?
In “Where Is Everybody?” the story begins with a man walking down a dirt road and a narrator tells us the time and place. Which is here and now. Our protagonist hears loud music as he’s walking and comes across a gas station. Upon entering he finds the place empty but the music playing and coffee on the stove as if someone is there. Assuming that the owner is somewhere in the back, the man yells back his order and discovers he’s got American money on him. He states that he’s got a bit of a problem because he can’t remember his name, doesn’t know who he is and isn’t sure how he got there but he’s not too worried about it. The man casually sips his coffee and comments that he’s going to wake up soon.
As the episode progresses however, the man begins to lose his mind as he can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching him. It’s not just the feeling either, there’s physical evidence that he isn’t alone. Such as the coffee on the stove or the lit cigar in the ashtray at the jail. When the sun sets the entire town lights up and in the movie theaters a picture plays. But the man, whose name we learn at the end is Sergeant Ferris, can’t find any other person. It’s just him.
When I was little, I would spend weekends with my aunt Debra and The Twilight Zone was one of the many shows we bonded over. I remember this episode specifically because of how uneasy it made me feel. Even though I was sitting snuggled close to Debra on her couch, the more Ferris panicked the more I did as well. Debra’s house is old, so it creaks and groans from time to time. It always seemed to do it the most whenever we watched The Twilight Zone. That contributed to my unease feeling during this entire episode. I may have been scared while I was watching but once it was over I was in love. I’ve watched the series many times over since then and Rod Sterling is one of my biggest idols.
To me, it’s the attention to detail that makes The Twilight Zone so great. There’s the blatant stuff, like the jukebox and the mannequin in the car but there’s also the more shuttle things. At the beginning of the episode Ferris knocks over a block in the gas station and breaks it. The time reads six fifteen when he picks it up. At the end of the episode, Ferris repeatedly bangs his hand against a clock in the wall of his box, breaking the glass and it’s revealed to show the time to be six fifteen. Does that mean that earlier he was having a moment where his mind was aware he was inside a stimulation? For that split moment was Ferris actually looking at the clock on the wall and there just was no technology for that to be properly shown in the late 50’s/early 60’s? Or just a clever play to show that Ferris was existing between two worlds at the same time?
“Where Is Everybody?” is such a simple idea but it’s executed so well the feeling of unease stays eternal with the episode. I dig just about everything about this episode. My only question being why not keep walking? It may be the only town for miles or there could be another town just over the hill. Perhaps even take the car that the mannequin was sitting in and drive away. To me, being watched in open space is not as daunting as being watched in a confined one.
The first episode of The Twilight Zone is a great starting point. It sets the tone of the show, give shout a taste of weirdness and even still leaves you wondering after it’s explained itself. “Where Is Everybody?” may not be a top five for me but it’ll always be an instant classic and one of the first I run to when I get to bring someone into the greatness of the show.