King Nine Will Not Return
Capt. James Embry – Robert Cummings
Blake – Richard Lupino
Narrator – Rod Serling
Psychiatrist – Gene Lyons
Doctor – Paul Lambert
Nurse – Jenna McMahon
Welcome to season two of the Twilight Zone! I’m geekily excited about it because seasons two and three have a lot of great episodes and I can’t wait to share them and talk about them with you guys.
This is Africa, 1943. War spits out its violence overhead and the sandy graveyard swallows it up. Her name is King Nine. B-25 medium bomber, 12th Air Force. On a hot, still morning she took off from Tunisia to bomb the southern tip of Italy. An errant piece of flak tore a hole in a wing tank and, like a wounded bird, this is where she landed. Not to return on this day, or any other day.
Scattered out from the plane is debris and ammo, leading up to a man lying in the desert sand. He shakes himself awake and looks at the wreckage.
As Capt. Embry sweats and rubs his face we get an internal monologue. He remembers the plane getting hit, falling behind and bellying in. He remembers his crew and goes to look in the plane. They don’t seem to be there and he wonders where they have gone. Did they bail out? Did he order them to bail out? No. He didn’t. They all went down in the plane together. He begins to name them. He, himself is Captain James Embry. Blake the co-pilot, Kransky the radio operator and waist gunner, Jimenez, navigator. Connors was the tail gunner and Kline the upper turret gunner. He tries to think if there’s anyone he missed. I feel bad for those guys. With the size of that plane (if it’s accurate) it had to have been cramped as hell in there.
He climbs up on to the top of the plane and hops into the cockpit. On the side the name Pilot Capt. James Embry is stenciled. There’s also a large picture of a ‘King’ playing card, the King of Hearts. There are also three swastikas (representing three enemy planes shot down) and around 28 bombs, representing either 28 bombs dropped or (more likely) 28 successful runs. Embry fiddles with his pilot glasses and his pilot hat for a minute. Amazingly they’re still in the cockpit.
He calls for Blake and Jimenez. Which is a little weird. He;s still in the lane so unless they’re hiding in the instrument panel or under the tiny little seat I don’t think they’re in there, He crawls up into the tiny upper area, calling for the rest of them. Again, it should be pretty clear that they’re not in there. He’d be better off looking outside. He calls a few more times then begins discussing the situation with himself, trying to piece it together.
He repeats that they bellied in and assumes he must have been thrown from the plane and may have been out cold for hours. It strikes him again that the rest of the crew is nowhere to be found. I will say the actor does a fair job with his facial expressions during the voice-overs. He doesn’t overdo them.
He realizes that they didn’t jump out because their chutes are all there. He says that they aren’t dead but if they walked away why didn’t they take him? At the very least I would think that they would have pulled him into the shade. He calls for them all, still inside the plane. Dude! They’re not in there!
As he calls their names a radio statics into life. He listens for a moment but hears nothing but static. He calls a Mayday from the King Nine to Firefly. Presumably base or another bomber in the area. There is no response, though. Just more static. He starts to get up quickly but calms himself. At least he’s being smart and staying in the plane, out of the sun. He tells himself not to go off half-cocked (that sounds painful). There must be reasons. They’re gone, he’s alone but there must be a logical reason behind it, behind everything. He just has to keep cool and think about it rationally. His main thought is for his crew. He’s the leader, it’s his responsibility to keep them safe and alive as far as it is in his power. He’s got to get them out of it. Well, seems like that’s accomplished at least. They are not there, thus, they are out of it. I may be poking fun a bit but I do believe that is the sign of a good leader. The desire to treat those under you well. And if you’re successful, they will do the same for you. Unless they’re out and out asses. Then nothing can help that, unfortunately.
As Embry is thinking his leader thoughts he hears a ‘thump’ that sounds like it came from outside. Embry calls for Blake again and rushes outside only to find the source of the noise is a piece of the plane banging against the outer shell. He wanders about a bit until he finds his pilot cap. Thus equipped he starts to wander again but spots a canteen lying in the sand. Embry picks it up and reads the name on it – Kline.
Embry starts yelling/laughing at/for Kline. I honestly don’t know if he’s pleased or crazy. He tells Kline that he’s a stupid jerk for dropping his canteen. Then he calls Kline a “Bronx Cowboy” and tells him that he’s in the desert, he’s going to need water. I think I’ve decided on that he’s going a wee bit crazy. He goes on to say he still has to babysit them and it’s “strictly not funny” what they’re doing. He collapses on the sand and gives a manly little sniffle.
He goes to take a drink from the canteen but sees something that distracts him enough to where he lets the water pour all down his face. Grrrrr. We get to see what he’s looking at. It’s a guy sitting in the cockpit giving a weird-ass laugh and fully decked out in coat and hat and everything. Embry yells, “Blaaake!” so I’m guessing the guy is Blake. Embry staggers toward the plane. Blake still looks like a laughing bobble-head then disappears. Embry yells at him to come back, he feels responsible.
A little while later Embry is calling MayDay again, trying to contact Firefly. He starts to wonder to himself if this isn’t just some hallucination. He might be lying in the desert with a cracked skull and dying. He goes into a happier train of thought by thinking that this also might be a dream and he’ll wake up back at base. Then he starts wondering if he got insanely drunk and is maybe in actuality sitting in a bar with a pretty girl. Unless he drank absinthe I think I’ll dismiss this last theory.
He gets a bit giddy but sobers up quickly. He tells himself that he saw Blake sitting there and that was no hallucination. Hmm. In theory, if he is hallucinating, why wouldn’t the disappearing guy also be a hallucination. He says he saw Blake siting there and no one can tell him different. Well, that is true. Since no one is there then nobody can absolutely say that he didn’t see Blake. He grabs his pilot glasses because now he’s in charge, dammit!
Which he proves by ambling over to a grassy knoll and yelling at his crew that isn’t there. He keeps saying that he’s responsible and they’re being jerks by being missing. As he plays King of the Mountain by himself he hears a soft clanking noise coming from another grassy knoll. There’s nothing there but a cross with Kline’s name on it. It looks cobbled together and says he died of injuries sustained in the crash. Above, Embry hears a noise and looks up to see modern jets fly overhead. He tells himself that they’re jets but then he’s confused. It’s 1943, how does he know what jets are?
He thinks that there’s no way of knowing but he does. He knows all about jet aircraft. Embry yells at the planes. Asking where are they going? What are they even doing there? He runs back to the plane asking Blake and Connors if they know aboutjet airplanes. I actually think he’s lost it now. He’s talking to them like they’re there. Embry tells the that they’ve got to get out of there but they can’t walk out. Nossir, no way they’re doing that. They’ll have to fly. Okey dokey, Embry. Good luck with that. He tries doing something with the front of the plane. I’m not sure if he’s trying to spin the prop or lift it. Either way, it’s not working. Then Embry starts to laugh hysterically at it and calls the plane an illusion.
He goes back and forth between hysterics and seriousness for a while. He thinks he’s either dead or knocked out somewhere. Or he’s back ina ward somewhere on base. Or he doesn’t exist either. Well, I will say this for him. he certainly covers every possible theory. He tells his crew to break silence, that they can even yell at him. Or (and this would be freaking creepy) they can “all spring out of the sand like jumping jacks and stand there laughing at him.” Oh. Kay. I think Capt. Embry has left the building.
He calls Kline’s name and sees his crew, standing there and laughing at him. Then they disappear. Jerks. Embry falls on his knees, begging to know what’s going on. Now I almost feel bad for making fun of him. Almost.
Anyways, we get a close up of his hand digging at the sand, which fades to a hand, clutching sheets. A medical doctor is telling a psychiatrist that the guy in the bed is James Embry, aged 41. He was walking by a newsstand and went into shock. They have a look-see at the headline that sent him almost catatonic. The headline reads “World War II Bomber Found Intact in Desert: B-25 Mitchell Lies 17 Years in Desert, No Clue as to the Fate of the Crew”. They give a rundown of Embry’s military record. Which is what it said earlier but also adds that there was some indication of psychological problems but that he was discharged before they could figure it out. Well, nice of them to follow up on the vet with psychological issues.
the psychiatrist says that the plane found was Embry’s plane. wait, didn’t the headline say that there was no clue as to the fate of the crew? The medical doc agrees that it was Embry’s plae and Embry’s crew. It took off for what was suposed to be a routine flight. Oh, ok. Embry had called in sick that day and someone else flew the mission for him. so, following this I’m guessing that not knowing the fate of his crew was slowly driving Embry nuts. Which, to tell the truth, it would drive me crazy, too.
Embry wakes up and the doctor tells him where he is and that he’ll be ok. Embry is perfectly calm now and says he had a crazy dream. Embry says he went back to the desert. The doctor tries to stop him but the psychiatrist wants to hear about the dream. Embry tells them all about it. He says that it’s his fault, he should have been on the plane. He says he chickened out. The psychiatrist tells him that there’s no way that Embry could have known what would happen. The psychiatrist reassures Embry that now that it’s out in the open and not bottled up inside anymore. Embry says a crazy part of his dream was that he saw jets. This seems to bother the psychiatrist but if it was a dream I’m not sure why. Embry says it was crazy. 1943 in the African desert and there wee jets. Just as if he had gone back there today. Embry wants to know if that could be. Did he really go back? The psychiatrist assures him that if Embry went back it was only in his mind. The psychiatrist tells the doctor that Embry will be all right now. As they talk the nurse brings over Embry’s clothing. Tthe doctor tells her to just set them on the desk. As she does, Embry’s shoes tip over, spilling sand out of them. She calls their attention to it wondering what it could be. I know it’s supposed to call our attention to the sand but…really?! You don’t know what freaking sand looks like woman?! The psychiatrist comes over to grab a handful and let it run through his hand, which fades into an image of the sand falling on the nose of a plane. I will grant you that it’s a pretty cool shot and quite pretty but…but…but it came out of a guy’s shoe! And, if it did really happen, a sweaty shoe!
Enigma buried in the sand. A question mark with broken wings that lies in silent grace as a marker in a desert shrine. Odd how the real consorts with the shadows, how the present fuses with the past. How does it happen? The question is on file in the silent desert. And the answer? The answer is waiting for us in the Twilight Zone.
Even though I poked a bit of fun at the episode I do really like it. I like the sand kicked in the face of the overly smug psychiatrist. And it’s a good exploration of the survivor’s guilt people can suffer. Sometimes without even consciously realizing it. There’s also the throwaway line about Embry being discharged from the service with no follow-up, even though they suspected psychiatric issues.
Thanks for joining us this week and come back next week for another episode of Twilight Zone: The Man in the Bottle