Time Enough at Last
|"Time Enough at Last"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1|
|Directed by||John Brahm|
|Teleplay by||Rod Serling|
|Based on||"Time Enough at Last"|
by Lynn Venable
|Featured music||Leith Stevens|
|Original air date||November 20, 1959|
"Time Enough at Last" is the eighth episode of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. The episode was adapted from a short story written by Lynn Venable (pen name of Marilyn Venable). The short story appeared in the January 1953 edition of the science fiction magazine If: Worlds of Science Fiction about seven years before the television episode first aired. "Time Enough at Last" became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone and has been frequently parodied since. It is "the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world" and tells of Henry Bemis (//), played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The episode follows Bemis through the post-apocalyptic world, touching on such social issues as anti-intellectualism, the dangers of reliance upon technology, and the difference between aloneness (solitude) and loneliness.
Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself... without anyone.
Henpecked, far sighted bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis (Meredith) reads David Copperfield while serving a customer from his window in a bank. He is so engrossed in the novel he regales the increasingly annoyed woman with information about the characters, and shortchanges her. Bemis's angry boss (Taylor), and later his nagging wife (deWit), both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading "doggerel". As a cruel joke, his wife asks him to read poetry to her from one of his books; he eagerly obliges, only to find that she has inked over the text on every page, obscuring the words. Seconds later, she destroys the book by ripping the pages from it, much to Henry's dismay.
The next day, as usual, Henry takes his lunch break in the bank's vault, where his reading cannot be disturbed. Moments after he sees a newspaper headline, which reads "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction", an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and recovering the thick glasses required for him to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has been destroyed, and realizes that, while a nuclear war has devastated Earth, his being in the vault has saved him.
Seconds, minutes, hours. They crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness. A neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox of what was once his house and is now a rubble. They lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was, but is no more. Mr. Henry Bemis on an eight-hour tour of a graveyard.
Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with canned food to last him a lifetime (but no one to share it with) and no means of leaving to look for other survivors, Bemis succumbs to despair. As he prepares to commit suicide using a revolver he has found, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library in the distance. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and legible; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) realizes that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.
His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorts the books he looks forward to reading for years to come, with no obligations to get in the way. Just as he bends down to pick up the first book, he stumbles, and his glasses fall off and shatter. In shock, he picks up the broken remains of the glasses without which he is virtually blind, and says, "That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was—was all the time I needed…! It's not fair! It's not fair!" and bursts into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.
The best laid plans of mice and men... and Henry Bemis... the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis... in the Twilight Zone.
"Time Enough at Last" was one of the first episodes written for The Twilight Zone. It introduced Burgess Meredith to the series; he went on to star in three more episodes, being introduced as "no stranger to The Twilight Zone" in promotional spots for season two's "The Obsolete Man". He also narrated for the 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie, which made reference to "Time Enough at Last" during its opening sequence, with the characters discussing the episode in detail.
Footage of the exterior steps of the library was filmed several months after production had been completed. These steps can also be seen on the exterior of an Eloi public building in MGM's 1960 version of The Time Machine. John Brahm was nominated for a Directors Guild award for his work on the episode. The book that Bemis was reading in the vault and that flips open when the bomb explodes is A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus by Washington Irving.
Although the overriding message may seem to "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it", there are other themes throughout the episode as well. Among these is the question of solitude versus loneliness, as embodied by Bemis' moment of near-suicide. Additionally, the portrayal of societal attitudes towards books speaks to the contemporary decline of traditional literature and how, given enough time, reading may become a relic of the past. At the same time, the ending "punishes Bemis for his antisocial behavior, and his greatest desire is thwarted".
Rod Serling's concluding statement in the episode alludes to Robert Burns' Scots language poem "To a Mouse". The poem concludes: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an men / Gang aft agley" (translation: "Often go awry").
Although "Time Enough at Last" implies that nuclear warfare has destroyed humanity, film critic Andrew Sarris notes that the episode's necessarily unrealistic format may have been what allowed its production to commence:
Much of the implacable seriousness of The Twilight Zone is seemingly keyed by the clipped, dour delivery of Serling himself and the interlocutor. He never encourages us to laugh, or even smile, even when the plot twist is at least darkly funny. For example, in 'Time Enough at Last' ... The H-bomb is still lurking in the background of the bookworm's 'accident.' The point is that the bomb could never have gone off on network television were the plot couched in a more realistic format.
In the era of the Internet and eBooks, the irony depicted in "Time Enough at Last" has an information age counterpart, according to Weston Ochse of Storytellers Unplugged. As Ochse points out, when Bemis becomes the last person on Earth, he finally has time to read, with all his books at his fingertips and the only impediment is technology when his medium for accessing them—his glasses—breaks. In a hypothetical world where all books are published electronically, Ochse observes, readers would be "only a lightning strike, a faulty switch, a sleepy workman or a natural disaster away from becoming Henry Bemis at the end of the world"—that is, a power outage has the potential to give them time to read, yet like Bemis, they too would lose their medium for accessing their books—namely the computer.
The Twilight Zone often explored similar themes throughout its run. "Time Enough at Last" has strong thematic ties to a number of other episodes in the series, starting with that of isolation, first explored in the series pilot, "Where Is Everybody?" It is also a prominent theme in the previous episode "The Lonely". Additionally, in a plot very similar to that of "Time Enough at Last", "The Mind and the Matter" tells of a man who uses his mind to erase humanity, only to find that existence without other people is unbearable. The notion of being an outsider, lost in a sea of conformity, was one of the most common themes of the series.
Other thematic elements in this episode can be found throughout the series, as well. "The Obsolete Man" takes the episode's literary subtext—the notion that reading may eventually be considered "obsolete"—to an extreme: The state has declared books obsolete and a librarian (also played by Meredith) finds himself on trial for his own obsolescence. This notion, akin to Ray Bradbury's short story "The Pedestrian" (1951), is also alluded to in the episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", in which a perfect and equal world contradictorily considers works like those of Shakespeare "smut".
Critical and fan favorite
"Time Enough at Last" was a ratings success in its initial airing and "became an instant classic". It "remains one of the best-remembered and best-loved episodes of The Twilight Zone" according to Marc Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion. When a poll asked readers of Twilight Zone Magazine which episode of the series they remembered the most, "Time Enough at Last" was the most frequent response, with "To Serve Man" coming in a distant second. In TV Land's presentation of TV Guide's "100 Most Memorable Moments in Television", "Time Enough at Last" was ranked at #25. In an interview, Serling cited "Time Enough at Last" as one of his two favorites from the entire series. (The other episode was "The Invaders", with Agnes Moorehead.)
Amusement park attractions
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a theme park ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios and formerly Disney California Adventure Park, displays a replica of Henry Bemis' broken glasses in the lobby. It is noted that, while they are indeed reading glasses, Burgess Meredith wears them the entire episode to make Bemis look more bookish.
The comic book version of The Simpsons, Simpsons Comics, published a story called "The Last Fat Man", based partially on "Time Enough at Last", and includes a short scene where Homer Simpson shoos a bespectacled man who is reading a book out of a nuclear bunker so he can eat in it, unintentionally taking shelter in it.
- In Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Albert Brooks recounts the episode to Dan Aykroyd as they drive along an empty stretch of highway. "This thing freaked me out when I was seven years old," says Brooks' character, adding: "I bought another pair of glasses just in case that would happen."
- The episode's title was borrowed by a 2004 independent film about a man who tries to escape an office building. The film's official website listed the webmaster's e-mail alias as "rodserling".
- The PC game Fallout Tactics (2001) includes a librarian in a desolate world who wants the player to find his missing glasses so he can read his books.
- The Modern Family episode "Airport 2010" references "Time Enough at Last" when the screen on Jay's electronic reader gets broken. Jay pours the broken glass to the floor while saying "Not fair. It's not fair".
- Episode 12 of Revolution, titled "Ghosts", has Jim Hudson's character who goes by the name of Henry Bemis. Henry (Jim) has become the town librarian, until Miles convinces him to help the rebels and go back to his real name.
- The line, "Seconds, minutes, hours, they crawl by on hands and knees" was referenced to in The Powerpuff Girls Season 2 episode, "Speed Demon", where the villain, HIM, torments the Powerpuff Girls before revealing that they have unknowingly arrived 50 years into the future, landing in a Townsville that HIM now controls.
- In the season 14 episode of The Simpsons, "Strong Arms of the Ma", a postman is accidentally trapped under a car in front of the Simpson house. He intends to read The Twilight Zone Magazine but discovers that his glasses were broken in the accident while the Twilight Zone main-theme music is heard in the background.
- The Scary Door, a show-within-a-show on Futurama parodying The Twilight Zone, pokes fun at the final twist in "Time Enough at Last". When the man in the episode loses his glasses, he realizes he can still read large print since his eyesight is not as bad as he perceived; his eyes fall out, but he declares he can read Braille; his hands fall off, and as he screams, his tongue falls out and then his head falls off. Bender comments, "Cursed by his own hubris."
- The Family Guy episode "Wasted Talent" features an end scene similar to the ending of "Time Enough At Last". In the Family Guy version, a lone brain cell discovers it is the last of its kind (as Peter drank so much alcohol throughout the episode that Brian worries that Peter may have killed his brain cells), and with a book in hand and stacks of other books surrounding him, prepares to begin reading, but looks down and his glasses shatter, after which, dismayed, he picks them up and says, "No! It's not fair! There was finally going to be TIME!...", much like what happens to Mr. Bemis.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Return of the Nanobots" features Hugh being the last man on Earth due to the nanobots having deleted everyone in Retroville and sampling endless supplies of pie. When Jimmy finally destroys the Nanobots' ship, Hugh is caught in the explosion, knocking over his mountains of pie, to which he says "No! It's not fair!", much like what happened to Henry, but everyone deleted returns.
- The closing credits of The Drew Carey Show, season 5, episode 1, "Y2K, You're OK", include a parody of the final scene, where Drew is left alone in his bomb shelter with his "literature", in this case pornographic magazines, after the nuclear explosion, only to have his glasses break in the same manner, whereupon he repeated the final lines from Burgess Meredith.
- In the Fear the Walking Dead episode "Buried" (Season 4, Episode 4), Nick and Luciana are scavenging in an abandoned library when they see, amid a trail of bloodied books on the floor, a pair of broken spectacles that resemble those belonging to Henry Bemis in "Time Enough At Last." Nearby, they see a zombie who, as a human, had slashed his own wrists, presumably because he could no longer read once his glasses broke.
- In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel episode "Someday" (Season 2, Episode 8), Abe Weissman is revealed to be a fan of The Twilight Zone, regaling some party guests by reciting the events of "Time Enough at Last".
"Time Enough at Last" has been released in numerous formats over the years.
- In 1988 it was available on VHS as part of a Twilight Zone collector's edition.
- Two releases were made in 1998 and 1999, as part of a more widely available two-episodes-per-tape release scheme.
- Although similar individual multi-episode DVDs were released, it is now exclusively available as part of The Twilight Zone – The Definitive Edition, the first volume of which was released December 24, 2004. Included is an audio-only interview with Burgess Meredith as well as the clip of The Drew Carey Show's parody of the episode.
- The story which inspired it has been released in eBook and MP3 form, capitalizing on the success of the episode.
- In 2003, the Falcon Picture Group produced a series of radio dramas based on the series—stating, "In the 1950s many radio series were turned into television series – so why not the reverse?"—which were broadcast on about 200 stations through the USA; "Time Enough at Last" was included in volume six.
- In 2005, "Time Enough at Last" became one of the first Twilight Zone episodes offered for download via Google Video and later on sites such as Amazon.com.
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- Sarris, Andrew. Rod Serling: Viewed from Beyond the Twilight Zone.
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- Cohen, Jon (2012-12-14). "In lost interview, Serling reveals his favorite Twilight Zone eps". Syfy Wire. Retrieved 2017-06-08.
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- "Time Enough at Last". Clock's Ticking Films. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- "Fallout Tactics". Game Banshee. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
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- Levingston, Steven (2006-01-06). "CBS, Google to Make Shows Available Online". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, Georgia: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, Maryland: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
- "Time Enough at Last" (text of original story by Lynn Venable) at Project Gutenberg
- Time Enough at Last public domain audiobook at LibriVox