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|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||David Orrick McDearmon|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Featured music||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Original air date||January 13, 1961|
|“||Witness a theoretical argument, Washington, D.C., the present. Four intelligent men talking about an improbable thing like going back in time. A friendly debate revolving around a simple issue: could a human being change what has happened before? Interesting and theoretical, because who ever heard of a man going back in time? Before tonight, that is, because this is—The Twilight Zone.||”|
On April 14, 1961, young professor Peter Corrigan (Russell Johnson) is involved in a discussion with colleagues at the Potomac Club on the question of whether events in history could be changed if time travel were possible. After bumping into an attendant named William on the way out, Peter feels faint. Confused by the gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages on the street, he notices that he's wearing clothes of a much older style and decides to walk home. He finds that his "home" is a boarding house, and in discussion with the strangers he meets there, he discovers that he has been transmitted back in time to April 14, 1865, the day of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
Peter rushes to Ford's Theatre to warn everyone but is arrested for disturbing the peace. The police presume him to be a Union soldier under emotional distress. After being held in the police station a short time, he is released into the custody of a Mr. Jonathan Wellington — who, unbeknownst to him, is the presidential assassin in disguise. Peter continues to implore Mr. Wellington, and anyone else he can find, to do something to warn and protect the president. Mr. Wellington offers Peter a drink, and immediately afterwards, Peter realizes he has been drugged, presumably because Mr. Wellington doesn't believe him and wants him quiet.
After Mr. Wellington's exit, Peter crawls to the door but passes out before he can warn anyone else. When a policeman who overheard his story comes in and rouses him, he notices that the handkerchief left behind by Mr. "Wellington" bears the initials JWB. John Wilkes Booth himself, had drugged Peter to prevent any interference in fulfilling his mission. As he hears the crowd outside spreading the news that the president has just been shot, Peter realizes it is too late. He was unable to change the past.
Peter pounds his fist on a window sill and finds he is back in 1961, pounding on the door of the Potomac Club, and after being let in he asks for William. His request for an attendant named William is met with only confusion. Back at the table with his colleagues, he finds that the scholarly discussion has moved from time travel to a new topic, and William is at the table participating. When this "new" man of distinction is asked, he reveals that he inherited his wealth from his great-grandfather, a policeman, who was at the police station when Peter was brought in, and had insisted despite all opposition that there would be an assassination attempt on the president that evening. He had been the only person to believe Peter, had made a name for himself trying to stop the assassination, and had become a millionaire.
For Peter, the question of whether past events are unchangeable via time travel is no longer speculation. He states that some events can be changed, and others can't. Overwhelmed by all that has happened, Peter steps aside to wipe his brow with his handkerchief and notices the initials: JWB.
|“||Mr. Peter Corrigan, lately returned from a place 'back there,' a journey into time with highly questionable results, proving on one hand that the threads of history are woven tightly, and the skein of events cannot be undone, but on the other hand, there are small fragments of tapestry that can be altered. Tonight's thesis to be taken, as you will—in The Twilight Zone.||”|
- "No Time Like the Past" – another episode which depicts a time traveler attempting to improve history by averting the bombing of Hiroshima and the sinking of the Lusitania, and assassinating Adolf Hitler, only to be foiled each and every time. Unlike in that episode, which wholly embraces the philosophy of predestination by showing that the protagonist has no effect on past events, this one shows that the protagonist DID have a material effect on the present by changing the past -- namely by elevating the rank and wealth of one of his new friends (formerly a servant) by aiding his ancestor in his failed attempts to foil the Lincoln assassination.
- List of The Twilight Zone episodes
- Season 2
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0