Original Air Date: November 18, 1960
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Richard L. Bare
“We’ll drive out of this town and go where we want too go – anytime we please”
“Nick of Time” is a subtle, simple episode delivered flawlessly. It exposes the trappings of paranoia and superstition when people do not believe in their own destiny. It is an exploration of character rather than a more complex episode requiring sophisticated special effects. Superstition is an easy blackhole to follow into, but not always an easy activity to walk away from.
“The hand belongs to Mr. Don S. Carter, male member of a honeymoon team en route across the Ohio countryside to New York City. In one moment they will be subjected to a gift most humans never receive in a lifetime. For one penny they’ll be able to look into the future. The time is now, the place is a little diner in Ridgeview, Ohio. And what this young couple doesn’t realize is that this town happens to lie on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.”
Newlyweds Don and Pat Carter (played by William Shatner of Star Trek fame and Patricia Breslin respectively) are on a road trip to New York to celebrate their honeymoon in Manhattan. Their car breaks down in Ridgeview, Ohio so they decide to grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant, the Busy Bee Café. When they sit down their attention is drawn to an odd novelty toy on the table that bears the head of a plastic devil. Written on it are the words “The Mystic Seer.” It is a fortune-telling machine. For a mere penny the machine will offers fortune in response to “yes” or “no” questions.
Don, prone to superstition, begins asking the machine all manner of questions. He asks about a promotion at work and moments later his promotion is confirmed in a phone call, he asks if they should leave the cafe before three o’clock and when they do they are very nearly hit but a passing truck. Don frantically brings Pat back to the cafe. He starts asking the machine many questions until Pat finally stops him. The mechanic tells them their car is ready and they leave arm in arm, hopeful about their life together. They are empowered by the belief that they are in control of their destiny, not some otherworldly superstition. Don has been saved in the “nick of time” by his new wife’s rationality.
As Don and Pat depart the cafe, another disheveled couple arrives and begins asking questions of the machine. “May we ask some more questions now?” the man says. “Can we leave Ridgeview today? Is there any way out? Any way at all?”
“Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence — having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The idea for “Nick of Time” came to Richard Matheson while having dinner with his wife at a café in San Fernando where he saw a fortune telling machine.
- The devil’s head was not in the original script and was added later by the art department.
- William Shatner also stars in the Season Five episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which is one of the most recognizable episodes of the show (it was also written by Richard Matheson).