Third from the Sun
William Sturka – Fritz Weaving
Eve Sturka – Lori March
Jody Sturka – Denise Alexander
Jerry Riden – Joe Maross
Ann Riden – Jeanne Evans
Carling – Edward Andrews
Narrator – Rod Serling
We pan down to an actual military-industrial complex. Men are filing through a gate marked ‘Security Gate 2’. The first guy through says his name and position. Parkinson: Chemical Warfare. So we know it’s a very serious place. Next is Hamberly: Hydrogen Armaments. Next, Mills: Germ Warfare Research, Next, Sturka: Hydrogen Armament.
The guard makes a little idle chitchat about the boys up in Hydrogen research being pretty busy. Sturka replies “Yes” in a very tired voice. Sturka passes the ‘No Smoking Beyond This Fence’ sign and lights a smoke. He goes to shake out his match and someone asks him to hold the match for him. I guess it’s too much trouble to strike another match. A weenie looking guy in white comes up and lights his cigarette off of Sturko’s match.
They have some sinister conversing about the hydrogen labs working overtime. Something’s coming, The Big One. Word around the campfire says It’s coming in 48 hours. White Suit Weenie is talking about launching nukes at “Them”. Sturko wants to know what White Suit Weenie thinks “They’ll” be doing in the meantime. White Suit Weenie thinks “They’ll” counter-attack but they’re not as well-equipped, nor properly aimed. In other words, ‘Murica!
Sturko says sarcastically that instead of losing 50 million people they’ll only lose 30. White Suit Weenie tells Sturko he better mind what he says. Sturko comes back with, “And what I think, too?” White Suit Weenie nods. Sturko says see you tomorrow and leaves. White Suit Weenie stares thoughtfully after him.
Quitting time at the plant, time for supper now. Time for families. Time for a cool drink on the front porch. Time for the quiet rustle of leaf-laden trees that screen out the moon, and underneath it all , behind the eyes of the men, hanging invisible over the summer night is a horror without words. For this is the stillness before the storm. This is the eve of the end.
Inside the Sturko household Sturko is fondling a weird black statue, looking worried and a little sad. Sturko’s teenage daughter comes in. Sturko wants to know where Mrs. Sturko is. Daughter Sturko says that mom’s outside, playing with radishes. Is she a Fraggle? Sturko goes to find her but the daughter says nope, not until they have their dance. If this is a daily ritual it’s a little weird. Sturko says maybe some other time and switches off the music. He flops down on the couch. Daughter Sturko wants to know what’s bothering him. He says he’s just feeling his years and she “with her beautiful face and maturing ways” is making him feel old. Maturing ways? Okey dokey.
She wants to know if he likes his job. He says the job is fine. She wonders if what he does bothers him, working on the things he does. Beaver Bombs, Hydrogen Bombs, and gas and whatnot. Wait. What the hell is a Beaver Bomb?
He says he’s just a cog, that all of the bombs require many people to work on them, so, in that light, he’s not quite as responsible. I get the feeling that he’s talking more to himself right now. Trying to convince himself that he’s not solely responsible.
Mama Sturko comes in. Jody (daughter Sturko) says that everyone she’s talked to has noticed that something’s wrong. Something’s in the air and everyone’s afraid. She wants to know why. Sturko launches into a lovely little soliloquy about how people make themselves afraid, because we subvert every great thought, invention and idea and make it crooked and devious. By the time we ask ourselves why, it’s too late.
When he’s done he tells his wife to invite Jerry Riden and his wife over for cards that night. Mrs. Sturko asks if Jerry’s still testing aircraft, letting us know that Jerry’s a pilot. Sturko says that Jerry’s back and then drops the mysterious line, “I told him we’d found them”. Hmm, wonder what that could mean? Seriously, even after it’s all put together I still have no idea what he means.
He wants Jody to join them for the night. Jody says she has a date. She offers to come home a little early but he asks her to break it and stay home with them. Now we know we’re in the Twilight Zone because she immediately says ok and doesn’t argue about it. He starts to tell Jody about Jerry’s fascinating job as a pilot but she’s a little pouty.
Sturko goes upstairs with Mrs. Sturko following behind. She says she’s scared and doesn’t know what’s going on. He tells her that it’s really coming, within 48 hours. She wants to know how bad it will be. He says that it will be hell, it will be the end of everything they know. She’s understandably freaked out and wants to know what they can do. He sits her down on the bed to talk to her. He tells her that they’re leaving. Their family, Jerry and Ann Riden. She wants to know where they’re going to go. He can’t tell her, he can only tell her that between midnight and one they’re getting out of there. She is not to tell anyone. Not relatives, friends, not even their daughter. This made no sense to me. She’s an almost grown girl, don’t they think she’s trustworthy enough? Jody calls up to them that Jerry’s there. Mrs. Sturko freaks out and wants to know what it means. Sturko doesn’t know but is going to find out.
Downstairs Jody is telling Jerry that he better have some good stories because she broke a date to stay home. She twirls off and her dad comes down. They meet up in the foyer and look like they’re afraid of being overheard. Then they do the worst job of acting casual I’ve ever seen. Jerry says his watch isn’t working. He hands it over to Sturko and they teleport to the basement.
In the basement Sturko turns on a machine to cover their voices and start talking about their plans. Apparently there’s a slight hitch. The guard that Jerry paid off gets off at eleven. Sturko says no problem. They’ll just leave earlier. Jerry’s nervous about that though because there are more guards and more searchlights. Their plan is to go as Jerry’s relatives with a pass to look at the new plane. This seems like a sketchy plan to me. The government doesn’t usually let relatives wander in to check out experimental aircraft.
Sturko turns off the machine and they go back to their “we’re not hiding anything” voices. White Suit Weenie is peeping through the basement window.
After the Peeping Weenie we see the group of them playing a very tense game of cards. Jody’s just hanging out in the back, looking bored. They each take a turn, then the womenfolk go out to get refreshments. After the blabbermouth women leave Jerry pulls out a piece of paper with math stuff on it. Whatever it is, it shows where they’re headed. They’re taking a big chance because they don’t know if the ship will leave the atmosphere, if the pilot can even fly it or land it in one piece. But since the whole planet is about to be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust then I suppose even the worst course of action is the best course of action.
The place they’re going to is populated, with people not dissimilar to them. I would say it’s amazing that there’s intelligent life on other planets but if they’re similar to us then I guess we can forget that. The doorbell rings and it’s Mr. Carling a.k.a. White Suit Weenie. Jerry and Sturko immediately get tense and weird, nope, no plotting going on here! They offer him some cake but he turns it down for lemonade. Loosening his tie he comments that it’s a pretty hot night. A night for sitting on the porch and sleeping, not playing cards. Ok, you’re wearing a suit in ninety degree weather and they’re suspicious for sitting inside? Also, I don’t know about you guys but I have a bitch of a time sleeping when it’s hot out.
Jerry agrees, saying he just got back from testing aircraft and hasn’t gotten much sleep yet. White Suit Weenie says he knows. He knows the aircraft Jerry’s been flying and that it’s capable of leaving the atmosphere. Possibly even capable of travelling to another planet. Jerry brushes it off saying it needs a lot more testing. Sturko says nothing during their whole exchange, just sits there looking guilty as hell.
White Suit Weenie asks for a smoke. He starts reaching for the pack but he’s really going for the paper they were just looking at. Jerry moves fast and starts jotting down some figures telling Sturko he owes him some money. Fast thinking there, Jer. Jerry says Sturko’s a great scientist but a bad card player. There’s quite a few double entendres that follow. White Suit Weenie says he’d figure Sturko would gamble on just about anything.
Mrs. Sturko and Ann come out with with refreshments. Lemonade and chocolate cake. Which are great separately but together? Ick. As Mrs. Sturko is pouring the lemonade the cup chatters a bit on the glass. White Suit Weenie remarks that Mrs. Sturko seems nervous. Very nervous. Dude, it’s a huge pitcher, it’s heavy.
Done with being sly White Suit Weenie just straight up grabs the paper from Jerry and pretends to check out the scores. They look at him nervously, praying he doesn’t turn it over. White Suit Weenie says that Sturko owes Jerry quite a bit of money. Jerry says they’ll settle next week. White Suit Weenie takes his leave. Walking when it’s a hundred degrees out makes him sleepy. Um, ok.
Sturko sees him to the door and they have a bit of double-talk about the stars and other planets. Sturko goes back inside and tells Jody they need to talk. He lays out the plan for Jody. He tells her that they’re leaving because the world as they know it is about to end. Everyone starts rushing around, getting their things together. The phone rings and Sturko says he has to answer it or it’ll look suspicious. They’re calling him in to work for the night. Mrs. Sturko starts to tidy up but then realizes how silly it is.
After a tense car ride they stop at a fence and look at the craft they’re going to use. Hm. Looks rather saucer shaped. A light flashes in the distance and Sturko wants to know if that’s their contact.
Uh-oh, busted. It’s White Suit Weenie, with a pistol. He tells Sturko and Jerry to “Stand there very, very calmly and breathe through your nose very, very quietly.” I seriously don’t get the breathe through the nose thing. They say it in several of the Twilight Zone episodes. Was that like a thing for hyperventilating? He tells Sturko and Jerry to get into the front seat and wants the young ladies to get out because they have an engagement with the authorities. Ok, so he wants Sturko and Jerry to get into the car but the ladies to get out? Okey dokey.
Jody pulls a bit of awesomeness here. She slams the car door into White Suit Weenie. Jerry grabs him and Sturko launches himself over the top of the car to grab White Suit Weenie by the neck. Jerry grabs White Suit Weenie’s gun and pistol whips him with it. They open the gates and run back to the car. They drive cross the tarmac as big speakers yell at them. It’s a top secret project for the government and there are no armed guards? They pull up to the saucer, Jerry unplugs it and they fight off two guards as they board the ship.
They’re in the saucer and whirring their way through space. They’re doing science-y stuff that involves Sturko looking at a flashing and blinking wall, and Jerry looking through a microscope. I’m not sure what good that does. I also want to point out that the thing Sturko is standing in front of looks like a row of sideways Pac-Mans (or would that be Pac-Men?).
They take a moment to look at the stars and Jerry points out where they’re going. It’s the third from the sun…a planet called Earth.
Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the edge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the third planet from the Sun and for William Sturka and the men and women with him it’s the eve of the beginning in the Twilight Zone.
This may be a well-worn plot by now but the first time I read it and saw it I was totally blown away.
Join me next time for another episode of Twilight Zone: I Shot an Arrow Into the Air.