The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Elegy”

Original Air Date: February 19, 1960
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Director: Douglas Heyes

“And while there are men, there can be no peace…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Based on Charles Beaumont’s 1953 short story of the same name, this was the second of nine episodes directed by Douglas Heyes’s for The Twilight Zone. It stars Jeff Morrow, Kevin Hagen, Don Dubbins, and British/South African actor Cecil Kellaway –a two time Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor in The Luck of the Irish and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

“The time is the day after tomorrow. The place: a far corner of the universe. A cast of characters: three men lost amongst the stars. Three men sharing the common urgency of all men lost. They’re looking for home. And in a moment, they’ll find home; not a home that is a place to be seen, but a strange unexplainable experience to be felt.”
-Rod Serling

Three astronauts: Carl Meyers, James Webber, and Peter Kirby are lost in space with a damaged spacecraft. A meteor shower knocked out their navigation equipment six months prior in September 2185. In search of a place to repair, they land on an asteroid over 655 million miles from earth. It strangely has a breathable atmosphere and appears much like earth did hundreds of years ago but it cannot be earth because it has two suns. They find towns and farmlands with statuesque people and animals stopped as if frozen in time -a mayoral inauguration, and a pageant scene and so on. One of the astronauts suggests perhaps the people are, in fact, moving but just significantly slowed down.

The trio of astronauts split up and each goes slightly mad until one strange little man finally reveals himself: Jeremy Wickwire. The astronauts explain to Mr. Wickwire that they are out of fuel and stopped here to gather themselves. Wickwire asks the men about earth at which point we learn that an “atomic war” took place in 1985 and much of the earth was destroyed. Wickwire then reveals the truth about this unusual asteroid: that it is actually a cemetery, an extension of a mortuary service on earth called “Happy Glades” wherein wealthy people were offered the chance to achieve their dreams in death, forever frozen in time. Everyone on the asteroid is dead and embalmed as if in the midst of their requested activity (the rest of the people are “human imitations” to serve the greater purpose). Mr. Wickwire explains a bit about himself as well, that he is nothing more than a scientific device activated only when needed -and he has not been activated in over 200 years.

Mr. Wickwire proposes a toast to these three travelers, however in reality the German wine (Liebfraumilch) he offers them contains “eternifying fluid” which kills humans. There is no antidote and the astronauts begin to slowly die. Just before their deaths Mr. Wickwire asks what their greatest wish might be, to which they respond to be on their ship returning home. At the end of the episode we see the three astronauts embalmed and frozen on their ship for all of eternity as Wickwire dusts off their bodies with the backdrop of whimsical music. It is a horrifying conclusion indeed.

“Kirby, Webber, and Meyers, three men lost. They shared a common wish—a simple one, really. They wanted to be aboard their ship headed for home. And fate—a laughing fate—a practical jokester with a smile stretched across the stars, saw to it that they got their wish with just one reservation: the wish came true, but only in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The dark theme of mankind destroying itself in an atomic war looms large over this episode. We watch as George Santayana’s observation -“only the dead have seen the end of war”- is played out in a crude and shocking interstellar cemetery, an otherwise quiet respite wherein dreams of human peace are achieved only in death.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • A distance of 655 million miles away would actually place the asteroid in our solar system, likely in between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn.
  • Inside the spaceship, “equipment” originally constructed for the film Forbidden Planet was reused for this episode, and shows up in a number of other Twilight Zone episodes. The sound effects heard inside the spaceship will be used again six years later as some of the sounds on the bridge of the starship USS Enterprise, in the original Star Trek television series.
  • The set of the room of the frozen mayor addressing the crowd had been used in the previous episodes “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” as part of Barbara Trenton’s home, as well as in “The Purple Testament” as the lobby of an Army hospital. It would be used again as a hallway of a college campus in “Long Live Walter Jameson”.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

1 thought on “The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Elegy”

  1. Hearing the same sound effects from the Enterprise bridge later on in earlier TV endeavors like The Twilight Zone was interesting. Strangely I don’t remember that from this episode which I’d enjoyed chiefly for its story that reminded me of one I previously learned in school.

    Liked by 1 person

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