Original Air Date: November 17, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Anton Leader
“You know, Mrs. Bronson, I keep getting this crazy thought. This crazy thought that I’m gonna wake up and… none of this will have happened. I’ll wake up in a cool bed. It’ll be night outside, and there’ll be a wind. Branches rustling, shadows on the sidewalk, a moon. Traffic noises, automobiles, garbage cans, milk bottles… and voices.”
“The word that Mrs. Bronson is unable to put into the hot, still, sodden air is ‘doomed,’ because the people you’ve just seen have been handed a death sentence. One month ago, the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit and in doing so began to follow a path which gradually, moment by moment, day by day, took it closer to the sun. And all of man’s little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries—they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival. The time is five minutes to twelve, midnight. There is no more darkness. The place is New York City and this is the eve of the end, because even at midnight it’s high noon, the hottest day in history, and you’re about to spend it in the Twilight Zone.”
“The Midnight Sun” reveals a disturbing vision of the future: the Earth’s orbit has been altered causing the planet to rapidly approach the sun. As such, the Earth has begun warming at a drastic rate, causing chaos all over the world. The camera pans to a thermometer that shows 110 degrees Fahrenheit even in the middle of the night (hence the episode’s title). An artist named Norma (Lois Nettleton) and her landlady Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde) are two of the last remaining residents at their New York City apartment building. The others have departed for places like Toronto while electricity and water are severely restricted and the streets of New York sit empty, devoid of cars, filled with trash.
Norma and Mrs. Bronson listen to the radio which announces the widespread abdication of police throughout the city while looters run free with impunity. Moments later, the radio broadcast is terminated. Then, a half-crazed man sneaks into their apartment and steals some the last remaining water, but he soon comes to his senses and begs for their forgiveness, claiming the heat drove him mad, and that he is truly a good person.
Meanwhile, the temperature now rises to 120 degrees, and the ladies begin to swoon in the heat. Mrs. Bronson goes insane when she sees Norma’s latest painting of a rushing waterfall. Mrs. Bronson leans onto the scalding window sill and promptly collapses and dies. Norma cradles Mrs. Bronson as the thermometer bursts and her painting begins to melt away.
Suddenly, Norma awakens on a couch in the middle of the night beside Mrs. Bronson and a doctor who explains that Norma has been running a fever. Her nightmare of a scalding hot Earth was merely a fever dream –in reality the Earth is moving away from the sun and people are actually freezing to death. Norma says, “Mrs. Bronson, I had such a terrible dream. It was so hot. It was daylight all the time. There was a midnight sun, there was no night at all… Mmm, isn’t it wonderful to have darkness and coolness?” With a look of pure dread, Mrs. Bronson says, “Yes my dear –it’s wonderful.”
“The poles of fear, the extremes of how the Earth might conceivably be doomed. Minor exercise in the care and feeding of a nightmare, respectfully submitted by all the thermometer-watchers in the Twilight Zone.”
Unlike other earlier episodes which had a tendency to dwell upon the idea of nuclear destruction, “The Midnight Sun” highlights the fragile ecosystem of which we are all part. When the climate begins to shift even slightly the entire organic whole suffers. This episode offers a prescient narrative which highlights a coming environmental catastrophe awaiting future generations. Admittedly, it may have been in error to watch this episode during the summer.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- “The Midnight Sun” aired on the day the U.S. consolidated its drive for “push-button warfare” with the first successful launching of a Minuteman missile from an underground silo.
- Rod Serling’s original script featured two characters who did not appear in the completed episode: a police officer and a refrigerator repairman.
- The melted painting effect was created with wax and a hotplate.