Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 18 (The Last Flight)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending to the episode.  If you want to watch it before reading about it, I‘ll totally understand.

Lt. William Terrance Decker is not a particularly outstanding pilot.  Sure, he can operate a plane well enough, but he’s not the kind of guy that distinguishes himself with bravery.  When he lands on an air field, the only thing unusual about him is that he thinks that it’s 1917 when everyone else says that it’s 1959.

Decker is taken into custody by Maj. Gen. George Harper and Maj. Wilson.  Decker tells them of how he flew through a cloud while on a patrol mission.  It was a mission like any other.  Pilots were sent out in teams.  Decker and his partner split up.  Decker’s only hope was not to see any enemies.  His partner, on the other hand, would have loved the opportunity to fight.

Decker eventually reveals that he left his friend surrounded by seven enemy planes.  He admits that it was a cowardly act.  What confuses Decker is that the other pilot, Alexander Mackaye, is now an Air Vice Marshal and is planning on visiting the very base that Decker is on for an inspection.  Decker is certain that there’s no way Mackaye could have survived.  It would have required another pilot, but there were none that could have gotten to him.

This is when Decker realizes that he must have gone back.  He pleads his case to Wilson to no avail, so he forcibly escapes.  Decker eventually makes it back into the cloud and disappears.  Harper tells Wilson that it doesn’t look good for him.  That’s when Mackaye arrives.

Wilson asks Mackaye about Decker; Mackaye is able to confirm that Decker saved Mackaye’s life and that Decker was shot down.  Decker’s personal effects weren’t returned, which was unusual.  That was because Harper had confiscated them.  Mackaye is able to confirm that the Decker they had in custody was the Decker that had saved his life.

The episode is fairly simple.  It doesn’t really get into the physical mechanics of time travel.  We just know that Decker mysteriously skipped over 42 years.  Why?  Decker asks himself that very question.  His only answer is that it’s to give him the courage he never had.  He knows that history is depending on him.  It’s not just Mackaye’s life, but the life of several thousand people he saved during WWII.

The story isn’t too heavy handed with the time travel.  There is mention of what might happen if Decker doesn’t go back.  Still, there’s no talk of sending him back on a better plane or giving him winning sports scores.  No one tries to unfairly take advantage of the situation.  It’s strictly about one man having to do the right thing.

Interestingly, this appears to be the first episode not written by Rod Serling.  While Serling wrote many of the scripts, he got ideas from other sources.  Here, the script was written by Richard Matheson, of I Am Legend fame.  Matheson’s name is associate with a few Twilight Zone episodes in some form.  (IMDB has this episode as the first of 14 that Matheson wrote.  His short story also served as the basis for And When the Sky was Opened and Third from the Sun.)

I don’t recall seeing this episode in a lot of marathons.  (Come to think of it, I don‘t recall seeing a lot of Twilight Zone marathons lately.)  If you have it available streaming, I would recommend watching this episode.  It’s definitely up there in terms of quality and entertainment.

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