Original Air Date: March 14, 1963
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Alan Crosland, Jr.
“Do you have any messages for the angels?”
“In the vernacular of space, this is T-minus one hour. Sixty minutes before a human being named Major Robert Gaines is lifted off from the Mother Earth and rocketed into the sky, farther and longer than any man ahead of him. Call this one of the first faltering steps of man to sever the umbilical cord of gravity and stretch out a fingertip toward an unknown. Shortly, we’ll join this astronaut named Gaines and embark on an adventure, because the environs overhead – the stars, the sky, the infinite space – are all part of a vast question mark known as The Twilight Zone.”
Major Robert Gaines (Steve Forrest, famous for his role in the television show S.W.A.T.) is an astronaut soon to be launched into space while his nervous wife (played by celebrated television actress Jacqueline Scott) and daughter Maggie remain at home. Shortly after exiting earth’s atmosphere, Gaines loses contact with Capcom and a blinding light suddenly appears. The next thing Gaines knows, he finds himself waking up in a hospital bed. Gaines is then questioned about what happened after he lost communication, including how he was able to safely on earth without damaging the craft, but unfortunately Gaines cannot remember anything.
He returns home to his wife and daughter, but as he walks up the steps to his front door he spots a white picket fence that was not there before he left. He is also now referred to as a Colonel rather than a Major. His wife and daughter sense something strange is afoot because they simply do not recognize this man anymore. In response, he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation at the Army Psychiatric Division which yields nothing out of the ordinary –except for the fact that Gaines keeps referencing someone named President John F. Kennedy. No one has ever heard of a President Kennedy before, and as Gaines looks through an encyclopedia he realizes historical events have also changed. Is he going crazy? Has he been abducted by aliens? Is this all a cruel joke?Meanwhile his colleagues make the disturbing revelation that Gaines’s spacecraft is not the same vehicle they had previously launched into space. It is distinct in certain superficial, unremarkable ways.
Believing he is going insane, Gaines is brought back to his ship where he begins hearing voices again. He runs back to his ship before suddenly being transported back to the moment he lost consciousness. Gaines is now orbiting the earth while his Capcom colleagues try to get in touch with him while in space. Just then the blinding light passes. Gaines lands on earth and demands to know which person is President of the United States (Kennedy is confirmed) and then he explains his story –despite losing communication for only six hours, Gaines was trapped in an alternate reality for nearly a week. His colleagues try to poke holes in his story but they soon receive another fragmented communication from someone claiming to be Colonel Robert Gaines.
The true Robert Gaines returns home, delighted to find there is no white picket fence waiting for him.
“Major Robert Gaines, a latter-day voyager just returned from an adventure. Submitted to you without any recommendations as to belief or disbelief. You can accept or reject; you pays your money and you takes your choice. But credulous or incredulous, don’t bother to ask anyone for proof that it could happen. The obligation is a reverse challenge: prove that it couldn’t. This happens to be The Twilight Zone.”
The idea of a parallel universe has also been explored in earlier Twilight Zone episodes like “Mirror Image” or the altered reality of “And When The Sky Was Opened” or even the concern for human isolation in space as in “Where Is Everybody?” While “The Parallel” can be uncomfortably long at times, I appreciated the introduction of alternate realities resulting from the mystery of space travel. It is easy to forget today, but a half century ago during the advent of the space age, humanity wondered what strange new worlds we might unveil in the vastness of space. Perhaps in some ways we should still be asking ourselves these questions as private space travel continues to become more of a reality in the 21st century.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This episode represents an early example of the infinite multi-verse or parallel universe theory (the idea would also be used in the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”).
- Rod Serling initially began writing the teleplay for this episode in 1961, but it was rejected by producer Herbert Hirschman. After rewrites, the story was greenlit for production. Some of the rewrites included references to Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Wally Schirra to the script to add topical believability at the time.
- The house featured in “The Parallel” also featured in “Mute” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town.” It was used in The Philadelphia Story (1940) as well as in other MGM films and television productions.
- The consoles used in the Capcom communication center are the same as featured in The Outer Limits as well as in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
- This is one of four episodes in which Rod Serling’s classic line “submitted for your approval” is featured: “Cavender Is Coming,” “In Praise of Pip,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch” were the other three.
- Gaines’s daughter Maggie can be spotted reading a science fiction magazine entitled Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds which appropriately features a a story of a lone man floating through space.
- Producer Bert Granet noted how the censors blocked certain aspects of Gaines’s private relationship with his wife from being made too clear during the alternate reality sequence.