Original Air Date: May 2, 1963
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Buzz Kulik
“This is William Benteen, who officiates on a disintegrating outpost in space. The people are a remnant society who left the Earth looking for a millennium, a place without war, without jeopardy, without fear, and what they found was a lonely, barren place whose only industry was survival. And this is what they’ve done for three decades: survive; until the memory of the Earth they came from has become an indistinct and shadowed recollection of another time and another place. One month ago a signal from Earth announced that a ship would be coming to pick them up and take them home. In just a moment we’ll hear more of that ship, more of that home, and what it takes out of mind and body to reach it. This is the Twilight Zone.”
A group of colonists from earth is stranded on a far away desert planet known as V-9 Gamma, a place where two suns beat down all day and all night onto the hot sands. These colonists were once a band of 113 pioneers who initially arrived on the planet via a space ship called Pilgrim I (in the year 1991!) hoping to form a new settlement. Now, they have lived on the planet for nearly thirty years under the leadership of Captain Benteen (James Whitmore). Benteen was a mere teenager when onboard the Pilgrim I, but he has since assumed the title of Captain as the group’s de facto leader. He spends the long hot days providing leadership and moral support to the depressed group of colonists (in fact, we begin the episode by witnessing a woman who has killed herself in despair). Benteen manages a rudimentary radio tower in the hopes of finding a passing rescue ship from earth. When a dangerous meteor shower strikes the planet, the group runs back into the cave dwelling where Captain Benteen describes a lush, beautiful place called earth to a young member of the group named Jo Jo.
“Well, we thought we could find another place like Earth, but with different beauties, Jo Jo, and we found this place. We thought we could escape war, we thought we could, well, we thought we could build an even better place. And it took us thirty years to find out that we left our home a billion miles away only to be visitors here, transients, ’cause you can’t put roots down in this ground.”
While they all fantasize about earth and of one day being rescued, Benteen appears before them as a religious cult leader, offering reassurance, stability, and guidance –but suddenly they hear the sound of engines emanating from outside the cave. The group emerges to find a rescue ship entitled the Galaxy 6 helmed by Colonel Sloane (Tim O’Connor). The colonists are overjoyed! They ask many questions of Colonel Sloane about earth and its people. They also celebrate by playing a game of baseball. At first, Captain Benteen is also elated at the thought of being rescued, but he quickly discovers his authority is threatened by the presence of Colonel Sloane. Benteen tries to host a group meeting but the people do not listen to him. Not willing to relinquish his power, Benteen attempts to persuade the group to remain together even after arriving on earth, but the colonists are resistant. Benteen tells Colonel Sloane that these people are mere children, and that they in fact need him.
Next, Benteen attempts to actually remain on this desert planet, because arrival on earth will bring all manner of new problems for which they are ill prepared. However, Colonel Sloane intervenes and requests a vote of who would like to return to earth –every hand is raised except Benteen’s, and so he fatefully decides to remain behind. His pride has conquered his reason. He tries to sabotage the Galaxy 6 but it fails. As the ship prepares to leave on Thursday Colonel Sloane searches for Benteen to hopefully persuade him one last time to leave, but Benteen is nowhere to be found. He remains lost in a fantasy of his role as leader. It is only after the Galaxy 6 has taken off that Benteen suddenly realizes his mistake. He roams out of the cave and lifts his hands high above his head, begging for the ship to return, but alas it will not. Benteen has sealed his own fate.
“William Benteen, who had prerogatives: he could lead, he could direct, dictate, judge, legislate. It became a habit, then a pattern and finally a necessity. William Benteen, once a god, now a population of one.”
This episode represents a sort of reversal of Season 1’s “The Lonely.” In “On Thursday We Leave For Home” Rod Serling presents a wonderfully alluring character examination as one man –a semi-religious figure not unlike Moses — is forced to reckon with his relinquishing authority. In this case the corrupting nature of power has overcome Benteen’s own personal desire for self-preservation. While much of the fourth season struggles with pacing issues as a result of its transition from half hour installments to the hour-long format, “On Thursday We Leave For Home” is a fitting and well-balanced tale, seemingly containing nothing extraneous to fit into the hour-long run-time, and it offers another glimpse of Rod Serling’s knack for crafting heavy-hitting narratives with rich dialogue. Ironically this episode takes place in the distant futuristic world of 2021!
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The rescue crew’s ship and uniforms were leftover props from MGM’s 1956 film Forbidden Planet, a frequent source of props in The Twilight Zone.
- A crew member shirt, also used in the episode “Death Ship,” was offered at auction in late September 2015 by Profiles in History with a winning bid of $1,600 by Mathew G. Perrone, a private collector.
- This episode contains elements of Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Eye of the Beholder.”
- The interior cave set, is believed to be borrowed from the underground lair of the Morlocks used in MGM’s 1960 production of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
- Actor James Whitmore also appeared in Planet of the Apes (for which Rod Serling helped to create the initial script) among a number of other classic films.
- This episode takes place in 2021, and Los Angeles has become the largest city in the world.
- When asked about baseball, Colonel Sloane claims that the Los Angeles Dodgers came in tenth in the 2020 World Series, however in 2020 the Los Angeles Dodgers actually lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.
- The character of William Benteen was apparently born in 1976.
- Sounds effects used inside the spaceship were the same used in Star Trek: The Original Series.
- The young boy Jo Jo is played by Director Buzz Kulick’s son, Danny Kulick.
- The emblem worn on the rescuers hats is the same as the emblem which appears on the space suits from an earlier Season 4 episode “Death Ship.”
- Captain William Benteen is named after one of General Custer’s officers at the Battle of Little Big Horn: Capt. William Frederick Benteen.
- This episode is somewhat notorious for having several scenes in which sound equipment can be clearly seen in the shot.
- The colony is said to be a billion miles from earth, however in truth that would still place it within our solar system.