Twilight Zone Tuesday – Time Enough at Last
Henry Bemis – Burgess Meredith
Mr. Carsville – Vaughn Taylor
Helen Bemis – Jacqueline deWit
Mrs. Chester – Lela Bliss
Narrator – Rod Serling
Highlight for Trigger Warning: Nuclear bomb, a dead hand in rubble, thoughts of suicide and holding a gun to his head. Wanton book dismemberment. End Spoiler
We begin in a bank with a bank teller counting out money to the lady at the window. His placard says his name is Henry Bemis. He’s pulling the old trick of reading on his lap (I used to do that in school) while he’s counting out the money. Which we all know is a recipe for disaster.
He starts telling the lady all about David Copperfield. Ugh, Dickens. Call me uncouth but I just can’t get into Dickens. He’s particularly enjoying the name ‘Murdstone’.
The lady interrupts him to tell him that he’s short-changed her by a dollar. I’m a tad torn on this. As a reader who sometimes has read in inappropriate places (although really, what’s an inappropriate place to read?) at the same time though, if you can’t do your job and read at the same time, do your damn job! That’s what you’re getting paid for.
Anywho, Henry (of the incredibly thick glasses) apologizes for short-changing her. He starts to go on about David Copperfield but she gets annoyed and leaves. Although, really, what was she hanging around for? She got her money and apology. What did she want? Abject groveling?
He puts up a ‘next window please’ sign and continues to read. But uh-oh, the boss man pops up behind him, catching him in the act. Mr. Carsville wants to see Mr. Bemis in his office. Now.
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, a wife and a world full of tongue-clackers 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.
In the president’s office Mr. Bemis gets a chewing out by the boss. His general point being that Mr. Bemis does not function within the organization of the bank. Plainly put, he’s not doing his job. Mr. Carswell tells Mr. Bemis that he’s “neither an efficient bank teller nor a proficient employee. He is *gasp!* a Reader.”
It’s shameful to him that Mr. Bemis is “a reader of books, magazines, periodicals and newspapers”. I don’t suppose it’s crossed Mr. Bank Manager’s mind that without people reading all those things then there would be a lot of people out of jobs and less people visiting the banks? One of the things he gripes about Bemis doing is reading in the vault during his lunch hour. Ok, fine, Carswell doesn’t want him reading in the vault but other than that what Bemis does or doesn’t do on his lunch hour is no business of his.
He tells Mr. Bemis to straighten up, conform to the banking profession and get back to his cage. Or else he’ll be fired. Just a side question: why do they call them cages? Mr. Bemis replies that the only reason he reads at work is because his wife won’t let him read at home. She yanks newspapers out of his hand and hides the magazines. She won’t even let him use the ketchup because she caught him reading the label. What a bitch!
Mr. Carswell is on the wife’s side. Unasked, he gives his opinion of this. He reminds Mr. Bemis about election time when some woman took exception to his reading her button. I’m assuming it was attached somewhere near the bosom area. She took exception to it and tried to hit him with an umbrella. On the way out Mr. Bemis’ eye catches some magazines near the door and he starts to thumb through them until Mr. Carswell “Ahem’s” him out.
At Mr. Bemis’ house we hear a shrill ” Henry!’ Guess that’s the wife. He’s reading a newspaper.Which she promptly snatches out of her hand. Grr. She scolds him for it, saying “no husband of mine will not sit there and read, sacrificing the art of conversation” which makes him chuckle. She wants to know what’s so funny and he points out that she said “a husband of mine” making it sound like she’s got several.
She tells him that they’re playing cards over at the Phillips house. Henry does not look enthused about this. At all. She leaves to go get ready and tells him to change. He looks under the chair cushions for a book he had stashed there. He puts it in his coat but his anti-reading wife soon catches him out. He tries to play dumb on how it got in his coat. It’s a book of modern poetry. She asks him to read her some of it and he gets all excited and would be thrilled to. If she’s so adamant that reading destroys conversation reading together would be an activity they could share. Reading together usually leads to discussion. Which I believe is ‘conversation’. She looks far too smug, I don’t think I like where this is going. She scribbled it all out! Why, why, why would you do that you evil non-reader!? But, even with the scribbles it could still be readable.
Bemis wants to know why she did it. She calls it “silly, nonsensical doggerel”. Bemis is understandably upset. Then, oh my Cthulhu! She starts tearing it up. Ok, now it’s personal. He asks why she does things like that and she responds that she married a fool. I think you have that backwards madam. Henry married someone who is pure evil.
The next day at work it’s lunchtime and Henry heads off to the vault to read. He’s reading a newspaper about the new H-Bomb. Hm. Wonder what that could be about?
His book flips open and his watch-glass breaks just before a powerful blast shakes the vault, throws Henry around and knocks him out, glasses dangerously askew on his face.
Sometime later he awakens and feels his way to the door, his vision still blurry from his glasses being askew. Fortunately the vault door didn’t get blocked by rubble. Looks like the vault saved him from a bomb of some sort, presumably the H-Bomb. Oddly there doesn’t seem to be any radioactive fallout. Also, the stairs are miraculously intact. He steps out into a rubble-filled office and hears a voice. Mr. Carswell’s final words, spoken into a Dictaphone. Henry peeks over and sees Mr. Carswell’s hand clutching the Dictaphone. The rest of the body is under rubble and debris.
Henry makes his way out of the bank to look upon the wasteland that is his town.
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.
During Serling’s narration Henry is wandering around. He winds up at his house calling for Helen. Besides the one hand shown there is a remarkable lack of bodies.
Mr. Henry Bemis, on an 8-hour tour of a graveyard.
Bemis realizes that everyone’s dead except him and also realizes that the vault saved him. He’s not too sure that he wants to be alive, however, if everyone else is dead. He’s got food (which is remarkably intact and radiation-free).
He lays down on a couch to have a nap and a smoke. He wonders if that’s how it will be from now on. Laying around, eating, smoking cigarettes and reading the same half of a newspaper over and over. I think he just described my daily routine. He also puts his glasses on the back of the couch before he falls asleep which seems a trifle unwise to me.
The next morning is pretty much the same. He sees a car that he somehow missed the previous day? I don’t know but he seems surprised to see it and it’s literally 5 feet from where he was laying. It doesn’t run of course, I’m not really sure why he thought it would. He starts panicking and yelling for someone, anyone.
He gives up on that pretty quick, knowing it will be of no use. He tries to convince himself that he’s extremely fortunate before breaking down completely and calling for help.
He stumbles into the ruins of a sporting goods store with a display case of pistols. He doesn’t think the destruction would bother him so much if it weren’t for the loneliness, the sameness the nothing to do-ness. He contemplates suicide, holding a pistol to his head. He’s sure that he’ll be forgiven for it given the situation.
He puts the gun to his head but then he sees the words that have probably saved us all at one time or another: Public Library.
There are books scattered on the steps. Apparently this library only carries classics like Dickens, Keats, Shelley and George Bernard Shaw. All thoughts of suicide are gone now that Mr. Bemis has books. He’s busy sorting his books by month and reveling in the written word. His book piles look suspiciously like mine.
He now has all the time in world. Time Enough at Last. Reaching for one more book his glasses fall off and break. He says it’s not fair and I whole-heartedly agree. I would be scouring for a magnifying glass. Anything.
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 is a very good Twilight Zone episode. Although, I do think a lot of the credit goes to Burgess Meredith in making Time Enough at Last one of the top-rated Twilight Zone episodes. In Time Enough at Last he’s funny, befuddled, despairing, joyful and abject. It takes real talent to display all of those emotions and really make you believe them. It is certainly a reader’s nightmare.
I’ve also noticed that conformity is a big thing with Rod Serling, always in a negative light. Individuality seemed to be very important to him.
As usual the title card is linked to IMDB for more information on the episode.
Join me next week for a recurring nightmare of an episode: Perchance to Dream.