Five Characters in Search of an Exit

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"Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
The Twilight Zone episode
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 14
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Written by Rod Serling from the story "The Depository" by Marvin Petal
Featured music Stock from "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim"
Production code 4805
Original air date December 22, 1961
Guest actors

William Windom: Major
Murray Matheson: Clown
Susan Harrison: Ballerina
Kelton Garwood: Tramp
Clark Allen: Bagpiper
Carol Hill: Woman with bell
Mona Houghton: Girl
Paul Wexler: Hobo

Episode chronology
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"Once Upon a Time"
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"A Quality of Mercy"
List of Twilight Zone episodes

"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is episode 79 of the television series The Twilight Zone.

Opening narration[edit]


A uniformed Army major wakes up to find himself trapped inside in a large metal cylinder, where he meets a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and a clown. None of them have any memory of who they are or how they became trapped. The major, being the newest arrival, is the most determined to escape. He is told there is no way out except the ceiling, which is too high to reach but nonetheless he investigates and perseveres. The major's questioning reveals that the characters have no need for food or water and indeed feel nothing in general, except for pain.

The characters question where, what and who they are. The ballerina informs the major, "We are in the darkness; nameless things with no memory—no knowledge of what went before, no understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be." Guesses are made about the nature of where they have been placed: the ballerina speculates that they are on another planet or a spaceship or that they are insane and are perceiving a mirage; the hobo that they are all dead and in limbo; the bagpiper that they do not exist but are dream figures of somebody else's imagination; while the clown, who ironically, seems to be the most reasoning of them all, claims they are all players in each other's dreams, but then suggests the answers to these questions are infinite, thus unsolvable and immaterial. The major then concludes that they are in Hell.

Eventually, the major suggests a plan to escape: forming a tower of people, each person on the other's shoulders. The plan almost works, but a loud sound shakes the cylinder and sends the five tumbling to the ground. Now even more determined, the major fashions a grappling hook out of loose bits of clothing and his sword. By reforming the tower, he manages to grapple onto the edge of the container. As he turns to survey the area surrounding the cylinder, he tumbles to the ground outside. The other characters talk about him, and the clown says that he may be right, and they may be in Hell.

The scene cuts to a little girl picking up a doll from the snow, a doll in the dress of an army major. A kindly woman tells her, "Put it back in the barrel with the rest of them." It is revealed that the cylinder is a Christmas toy collection bin for a girls' orphanage and that all five characters are nothing more than dolls. The loud noise was the shaking of a handheld bell which the woman used to attract donations.

The final shot is of the five characters, now seen as dolls with painted faces and glass eyes. The ballet dancer moves to hold the hand of the major and her eyes fill with tears.

Closing narration[edit]

Episode notes[edit]

  • The last shot of the episode, in which the five characters are seen in doll form, does not feature the actors; rather, specially made dolls were crafted that closely resembled the five actors who played the parts, and these are shown.[1]
  • The little girl who appears at the end of this episode was portrayed by the daughter of longtime Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton.[1]
  • End titles screen features the street corner Christmas toy collection drive.


  • The episode was reportedly an inspiration for the 1997 film Cube.[2]
  • The TV series Felicity paid homage to "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" in the season 2 episode 11 episode "Help for the Lovelorn"; it was directed by Lamont Johnson.[3]

The episode inspired the song "Fall Down" written by Andy Nagy and recorded by the band We Saw The Wolf in 1993 at John Carden Studios, Beverly MA. Released on the album "On The Shore" by We Saw the Wolf on the UFO record label in 1998.[4]


  1. ^ a b Zicree, Marc Scott (1982). The Twilight Zone Companion (Second ed.). Sillman-James Press. p. 234. 
  2. ^ "Biography of Vincenzo Natali". IMDb. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  3. ^ Chan, Lisa (2001). "Sophomore Year (Season 2) Episode 11: Help For The Lovelorn". Archived from the original on 2001-03-07. Retrieved 2012-11-25. 
  4. ^ liner notes in the album "On The Shore" by We Saw the Wolf, released 1998 on UFO records.

External links[edit]