If you're old enough, you'll remember a time when space exploration was less about trying to find a way for our species' continued survival because we were too stubborn and stupid and super stupid to stop making our planet an unlivable hellscape and more about how lonely we were as a species to find somebody else to talk to. I guess we could have tried talking to the dolphins since our main problem with finding another intelligent species is going to be the language barrier anyway. Although it seems we've always just expected the other species from space to be so superior in intelligence that they'll have figured the language problem out for us. And dolphins are kind of weird and off-putting. We needed to find some race out there that looked like us! Our species was so lonely that the only foreseeable problem with searching the universe for other sentient species that looked like us was surviving the loneliness of space travel while doing so. That's the problem Rod Serling tackles in the first episode of The Twilight Zone (as well as about seventy percent of the other episodes he wrote), "Where is Everybody?"
A man wakes up to find himself in a familiar small town landscape but with no memory of who or where he is. And by "wakes up," I mean he "suddenly becomes conscience of his existence in the middle of a road while walking toward a deserted diner and wearing nothing but his Air Force coveralls." He's frustrated not simply because nobody is around but because he seems to just be missing them as they disappear: a jukebox playing mid-song, a coffee pot boiling on the stove (and pies baking on the other burners. Is that how pies are made? There are some in the oven too which is the more conventional way, right? Or maybe it's just the protagonist's desire for a good pie that causes pies to be everywhere), a cigar still burning on a desk, a phone ringing in a phone booth. What the hell is going on here?!
Well, let me tell you before I discuss the episode any further because in this early episode, the audience actually finds out what's going on. That isn't always the case in later episodes which are probably more effective than this one. He's an astronaut in training that's been trapped alone in a box for nearly three weeks while a bunch of army officers sit in a warehouse watching him go mad. They don't go mad because they have each other for company. I'm also assuming they're not covered in piss and shit because the warehouse probably has a bathroom. The small box the astronaut-in-training has been shoved in definitely does not have a bathroom. It's possible the reason he went mad wasn't because he was lonely but because his blood had filled up with toxic levels of urea.
At the end of the episode, the astronaut realizes he'd been hallucinating and is assured by his higher ups that his torture is only beginning. For even though this test was almost certainly not successful, he'll still be trapped alone in a small cube as he visits the moon sometime later. Maybe the point is that they've yet to figure out how to keep a man from going crazy from loneliness and so they can't quite send somebody on a moon shot yet. But it seems to me, the guy in charge is all, "Get used to it, man! It'll be the same on your next trip around the moon!" And the astronaut probably said, "Can I at least have a toilet?!"
This episode is probably the reason Ripley gets to have a cat when she travels to Saturn. Sure, the official explanation is that he's there for rodent control. But I'm sure he's meant to keep the crew from going crazy. I know, I know: "Why would the crew go crazy from loneliness if they have each other?" Well, people suck and people will eventually stop speaking with other people. The cat, at least, won't judge. Probably.
During the protagonist's hallucination, he occasionally figures he's dreaming and will wake up. So he's, at least, got that right. Maybe that was a conscious set-up so that in future episodes, Rod Serling could make the audience think, "Surely this is just a dream like that first episode!" But then Rod could pull the rug out from under them and be all, "Ha ha! No! It's not a dream at all! They're dolls in a Santa's charity bin!" And the audience would be all, "Oh! Of course! Why didn't I think of that?!" Although sometimes it's still a dream! But generally the dream is only being dreamed because it's more pleasant (or worse in a better way?) than the reality the dreamer experiences while awake! I just found it odd that the protagonist nails the whole dream thing. I guess because it's actually a delusion brought on by high levels of urea in his blood and also loneliness, he wasn't completely correct.
At one point, the deluded astronaut quotes Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. When he's trying to convince himself it's a dream, he recalls the speech Scrooge gives to Jacob Marley's ghost about how he's probably not real and just the results of something he ate. He ends his speech with something like "You've got more gravy about you than the grave." Which makes me have to ask: is Ebenezer Scrooge a gay icon and if not, why not? That's a great fucking read right there. That line alone is better than all the reasons the Babadook became a gay icon which are, um, well I don't know why the Babadook became a gay icon. Because of his snazzy dress style and because he liked to hang around with lonely boys? Obviously the only think I know about gay culture, I learned from the song "Y.M.C.A."
This episode says a lot more about Rod Serling than it says about humanity. I get it: the guy was fucking afraid to be alone. Maybe I wouldn't make that statement after watching this one episode but I've seen them all before and if the end credits said, "Written by Rod Serling," you can bet it was about how terrible loneliness is. I watched this episode and wasn't move a bit by the astronaut's breakdown nor by the General's impassioned speech at the end about how mankind has broken every barrier but the loneliness barrier! I thought, "These fuckers are military?! What is wrong with these cry babies?! Maybe just find somebody less pathetic to send to the moon! Fuck, I'd love to spend three weeks by myself! But maybe throw in a cat too?"