Nick of Time
Don Carter – William Shatner
Pat Carter – Patricia Breslin
Counterman – Guy Wilkerson
Desperate Man – Walter Reed
Desperate Woman – Dee Carroll
Narrator – Rod Serling
A couple is being towed in a nice looking car, maybe a Firebird? to as small town garage. The mechanic tells them it will be 3-4 hours for their fuel pump because they don’t stock them there. They decide to have some lunch while they wait for the unfathomably long time of four hours. Hey, be thankful that it’s not going to take four days. He wants to call and check on a promotion that he may be getting. He thinks he’s not going to get it though. As they talk back and forth about it they almost walk with a pole between them. He says, “Bread and butter” and pulls her over to his side. Not to be pedantic but you say “Bread and butter” when the people are actually divided by the object. And both people are supposed to say it.
Pat rolls her eyes at it so I guess we’re supposed to infer that Don is the superstitious one and Pat thinks it’s silly. They go into a diner. Don goes to sit at the counter but Pat sees a jukebox. After giving Pat a smooch on the neck they start to dance to the music. Those darn, romantic newlyweds. I guess Pat isn’t into the whole dancing thing because she shortly says that she thought they came in the diner to eat. what’s the rush? You’ve got four hours to kill. They choose a booth nearby.
As they sit down they see a creepy little machine on the table called “The Mystic Seer”. Pat wants to try it. They decide to ask if anything exciting ever happens around there. Wow. I think I could have thought of a better one. Especially since he’s so worried about his promotion and their car being fixed. Don pulls out a card that says “It is quite possible”. Very specific.
The hand belongs to Mr. Don S. Carter, male member of a honeymoon team en route across the Ohio countryside to New York City. In one moment they will be subjected to a gift most humans never receive in a lifetime. For one penny they’ll be able to look into the future. The time is now. The place is a little diner in Ridgeview, Ohio. And what the young couple doesn’t realize is that this town lies on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.
The waiter comes over to take their order and the lady orders a tomato and lettuce on whole wheat and iced coffee. Huh. I didn’t think that was even a thing back then. At least not a common drink. Shows how much I know, I guess. Don orders the same thing even though the waiter tries to tempt him with some good chicken fried steak. Don takes a drink of his water and pronounces it disgusting and tasting like swamp water. Don starts digging in his pocket for more change. Pat wants to know what Don’s going to ask it now. He gives the head a bobble before putting in his penny and asking if he’s going to be promoted. The card he pulls out says, “It has been decided in your favor”. Don decides to call. Pat protests but he says he was going to anyway. She gives him a “oh, you. Go ahead.” look and he gets up to make the call.
As he makes his call Pat stays at the table and plays with Don’s key chain which has a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover on it. He needs another quarter and she brings him one, asking if the call is necessary. Don asks for Mr. Weldon’s secretary and tells Pat to cross her fingers. She tells him that she’s doing it in her mind. After a few pleasantries he asks what the word is. He got the promotion. Yay! And, amazing in TV World, he actually says goodbye before he hangs up. Pat is very pleased and says she told him that the promotion would be his. Don says The Mystic Seer told him, also. But she said it first,, Pat points out. She gives him a dime for the jukebox to put on some celebration music.
The waiter brings them their food and coffee (which looks suspiciously like Coke) and the waiter says again that they ought to have tried the chicken fried steak. Don says they’re good, thanks, and the waiter leaves. Don says that The Mystic Seer really came through on that so he wants to ask it another question. Pat jokes that it should have warned them the whole wheat bread was stale. Well, you didn’t ask it, did you now? Don reads one of the suggested questions “Does he/she love me?” Don says that he knows the answer to that one. The second question he reads is “Will I be rich?” Don says that he knows that answer, also. He’ll be the world’s first millionaire accountant. Uh-huh. If he’s not planning on becoming a money launderer or falling in with millionaires I don’t see that happening. Don decides to ask if they will get out of there in four hours or not. The card says, “You may never know”. Don worriedly asks Pat what that means. Pat shrugs and says “Who knows?”. Don says The Mystic Seer does and Pat points out that it may be but it’ll cost another penny.
Don says now that he’s an office manager he’ll splurge and spend another penny. At first he asks what it means but Pat reminds him that that’s not a yes or no question. Don changes his question to ask if something will keep them from knowing? The card says, “If you move soon”. Don wants to know what that means as well. He goes to plug in another penny and Pat jokes that she’ll have to be the frugal one in the family. Don says just one more and asks The Mystic Seer if that means they’re supposed to stay there. The Mystic Seer says “That makes a good deal of sense”. He puts in another penny and asks if they should stay until 2:30 (it’s 2:15 at the moment). He gets nothing for his penny and trouble but a card that says, “Try again”. So he does so. Don asks if they should stay until 3:00. The card now reads “There’s no question about it”. He’s astounded that every answer seems to fit his questions. He goes to insert another penny into the machine. He ignores her and then asks very specifically that if they don’t stay in there until 3:00 something bad will happen to us? The Mystic Seer responds with a card that says “Do you dare find out?”
Pat wants to go but Don says he hasn’t finished his sandwich yet and takes a big bite out of it. Which is fair, he hasn’t touched it yet. He asks Pat if she wants some ice cream. He checks his watch and it still says 2:15. So they have 45 minutes to wait until they’re ‘allowed’ to go outside. The scene fades out and onto the clock on the wall, which now reads 2:55. Pat buys a pack of cigarettes from the machine and also gets a really weird look from the waiter. Maybe he’s irritated because they haven’t left yet? She walks back over to the table where Don is eating ice cream with tiny little bites. She asks if they can go yet. He asks her if she wants a cold drink and after looking at the clock and The Mystic Seer machine he says all right. Don asks for the check and the waiter/counterman tells him he doesn’t need a check. They had two sandwiches, two ice creams and an iced coffee. Ha! They both had iced coffees. But I guess it works out well for them since they only get charged for one. Don pays and leaves a pretty decent tip (I’m guessing from the counterman’s reaction).
Outside, Don remarks that it’s hot. They chat about the car for a second and Pat says he didn’t really want to stay in there did he? Don says no and she says honest? Don wonders why the machine was so specific. And, really, they only had five more minutes to go so what would it have hurt? Pat blows it off saying that it’s just a napkin holder in a tiny diner. It’s not magic. He says what about the promotion? The Mystic Seer said it had been decided in his favor and it had been. Then he stops and says that he’s just being stupid. She says he’s not stupid, just…He cuts in and tells her not to say it. Then he does, superstitious. He says it’s like she married an alcoholic but instead of bottles of booze in the chandelier it’s rabbit’s feet and four-leaf clovers in the car. Um, I don’t think there’s that much of a comparison there. Being superstitious is unlikely to get you or anyone else killed (except for maybe the unlucky rabbits whose feet you have). And hiding bottles of booze in the chandelier is a little weird. I think I’d rather hide mine somewhere within reach and where I’m not going to possibly break my neck in retrieving them. He starts to say and…but she breaks in with “And you’re all mine”. And gives him a smooch on the cheek.
As they walk across the green he keeps looking around and she asks him what he’s doing. Then she says “You really are worried, aren’t you?” and then says she wonders when he acts like that. He says he’s not trying to upset her. He says that doesn’t change the facts, though. Pat is getting upset and says what facts? He says six straight answers in a row. She gives him an “Oh Don!” and he tells her to stop treating him like a child. Actually, he says something a bit ruder but I’m not going to write it.
They go to cross the road and there’s a truck coming. Pat says they should wait but Don thinks they can make it. As they’re scooting across the road a car passes the truck and almost hits them. He looks at the town clock and it reads…dun…dun…dun…3:00.
Pat is sitting on a bench, a bit shaky from the near-miss. Once they’ve settled down a bit he grabs her hand and starts to cross the street, back the way they came. She asks where he’s going, they’re heading back to the diner. Pat protests and he says why not? She admits it was a strange coincidence. He says if it was coincidence then what’s she worrying about? He says if it was a coincidence then it was a pretty crazy one. They go back into the diner but there are two older women sitting at The Mystic Seer’s table, sippin’ on some milkshakes. Pat (a bit snarkily) says uh-oh, someone’s sitting at their machine. So they sit at the counter in front of a different one. Don does not look happy about it. He wants his machine. He’s giving the elderly ladies the side-eye.
She asks if he really thinks that the machine can foretell the future. He responds that it foretold theirs. She wants to know how. Don says they almost got hit by the car at 3:00, just like The Mystic Seer said. She points out that Don said 3:00, not the machine. She says that he, Don, made up the questions and the machine just gave back general answers. He asks her what she’s getting so upset about. She says she’s upset that he could even think of it as being real. He starts to tell her to listen but he sees the elderly women get up from the table. He asks the counterman for some pennies. Don goes to the booth and Pat follows with their coffees. Don asks The Mystic Seer if it knew about the car almost hitting them. He pulls the lever and gets his card “What do you think?” He gives Pat a significant look and she kind of rolls her eyes. Then he asks if they’ll get to New York all right now. It says “The chances are good.” This pleases Don but Pat says snarkily that it’s very precise.
Don asks her what she wants, a card specifically saying “Hi Donsy and Patsy, so how’s by you?” She tells him that he could get the same kind of answers out of any of the machines in there. She tells him to try and see. He says that they’ll get the same kind but not the same answers. Huh? I think I’d at least try it to see if the others were accurate as well or if they gave the exact same answers. He asks if it will still take four hours before the car is ready. The Mystic Seer says that “It has already been taken care of”. Don’s excited, Pat looks less than thrilled. She says great, let’s get out of here, then. Right then the mechanic comes in to tell them that their car is ready. They got lucky and found a fuel pump in town, instead of having to send for one from the next town. The mechanic says that he figured they wouldn’t come back for a couple of hours so he thought he’d go looking for them. Don says thanks, they appreciate it. All the while he’s pawing the card. Even Pat looks a little taken aback.
Don asks if it’s still a coincidence. She says yes. He dares her to ask it some questions. Or is she chicken? She asks if they will reach Columbus by tomorrow. Don starts to say that they’re not going through Columbus. She shushes him and pulls the lever. The card says “If that’s what you really want”. Then she asks if she’ll ever be married. The card says “The answer to that is obvious”. She asks if it’s even possible to tell the future. The machine answers “That’s up to you to find out”. Then, getting a trifle angry, she asks if it’s just a piece of junk machine. “It all depends on your point of view”. She gets up and says that she doesn’t want to stay there anymore. He asks, even if it’s true? And she responds “Especially if it’s true”.
He wants to know what she’s talking about, then accuses her of being scared. She says she is but not of the machine. He asks what she’s afraid of then? She says don’t you know? And yanks her arm away from his hand. She starts to walk away but he stays to ask it more questions. She comes back and yells his name. He says the machine is predicting the future, how can they just walk away from it. He holds her face and then grasps the machine like Gollum with his precious. Ah, there’s the Shatner we all know and mock. She says she won’t let the machine run their life. She says it’s running their lives. It made him call the office, it made him stay instead of leaving. Uh, by saying that you, yourself are giving the machine power.
She says it doesn’t matter if it can tell the future or not and that he believes in fortune and fate more than he does himself. Blah, blah, blah pep talk. You can do it! type of stuff. She bursts into tears and wants to make their life themselves and she doesn’t want to know the future. The counterman wants to know if anything is wrong. He tells her that they’ll get in the car and go anywhere they please. He gives the machine a “So there!” look and they leave.
As they leave, a very harassed looking couple come in. They keep asking questions of the machine but apparently they’re not allowed to leave yet. They ask if there’s any way out at all. Apparently not as they’re still asking questions as it pulls away.
Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence, having escaped one of the darker places of The Twilight Zone.
Not one of the best Twilight Zone episodes but not one of the worst either. William Shatner is more restrained here (except for his brief Gollum episode with the machine) than he usually is in Star Trek and even a later episode of Twilight Zone. I’m not really sure why it’s called Nick of Time, though. I would think something a bit more fortune-telling would be better.
Join us again next week for Twilight Zone Tuesday – The Lateness of the Hour