Like “Where is Everybody” this episode stars the clock. When Lew Bookman receives a death sentence, or more properly a prosaic announcement that he’ll die at midnight, he becomes intensely aware of time. A person in solitary confinement is also at the mercy of time, in part by losing the ability to track it. Our hero is an old man who sells trinkets on the street – a pitchman, a neighborhood fixture adored by the children. But when death comes knocking, he’s not ready, because he has never achieved the ultimate pitch – a pitch for the angels. But he’s also not ready because no one is. No matter how much we have lived, we love to live and we don’t want to die. The mistake of the young is that they think that life is psychologically different for older people. In fact, we lock in to a psychological age, and feel ourselves typically to be young people throughout our lives. And no young person is ready for death. So no (or few) older folks are either.
Bookman’s race is to achieve something special during his life, and he has to literally race against time, distracting Mr. Death until after midnight in order to do it. And that act of distraction – the ultimate pitch – is also the crowning achievement. What is the special achievement? Why is it so important for Bookman to make the ultimate pitch? It’s not self-serving. It’s to save the life of another. He’s an unlikely hero on the battlefield.
That death isn’t to be feared, that it is ordinary, that it is our shared destiny, is a theme in many Twilight Zone episodes, and the vehicle that conveys this idea is the personification of death. In this episode, Death i s a youthful, friendly, but apparently efficient professional man. In “Nothing in the Dark,” it’s a compassionate young man played by a young Robert Redford.
Feldman, Fred, Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death, 1992, Oxford University Press.