Episode 14 – “Third From the Sun”

This is one of several Twilight Zone episodes about the terror of nuclear war, and the second in the first fourteen episodes. In contrast to “Time Enough at Last,” where Henry Bemis is oblivious to the coming peril, is episode is about middle-class suburban folk, who must confront the fact that the nuclear option will be exercised tomorrow. These same folks happen to be defense workers; hence their access to the terrible news crucially in advance of the general population.  They also have special plans for an escape, a space ship to take them away from the impending doom.

The kicker here is that their destination is Earth. So their location is not earth, but some far off planet just like ours, with suburban neighborhoods, families bridge games, living rooms and stairways. And they also have the possibility of nuclear war.  So their hope for survival is to go to a place that contains the conditions for exactly the same kind of disaster to strike. The analogy suggests that their hope is an empty one, that millions of space miles will take them to the same initial conditions that brought them to this point.

Sympathy is central to fiction, and in this case our sympathy is with people we take to be earthlings like us. Our horror is the horror of having to tell one’s child that the world as they know it is about to end, that the likelihood of surviving the next couple of days is almost nil, that there’s no need to clear the dishes and straighten up the house. Victims of nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukashima have had such experiences, and the fact that they didn’t have to climb into a flying saucer doesn’t diminish their anguish and pain.

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