S01E11 – And When The Sky Was Open
“During man's first flight into space, the X-20 disappears from radar then crashes in the desert. Major Gart is laid up with a broken leg, but Colonels Harrington and Forbes go out for a night of revelry. Suddenly getting a strange feeling, Harrington calls his parents—and finds they have no son! Abruptly, he disappears, and no one but Forbes remembers him. Forbes is desperate to find out what's going on—for whatever yanked Harrington away may not be satisfied with just one.”
We’ve finally come to that inevitable point in our Twilight Zone binge which I have been dreading. Much to my shame, I must confess there are episodes of the show (this one at the very least) which I either have no memory of or just plain old haven’t seen at all. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
What assures me that I haven’t seen And When The Sky Was Open before is that I would definitely remember an episode this strange. Very, very loosely based on a short story by Richard Matheson, the narrative follows a pair of astronauts as they try to figure out what force is slowly erasing them from existence. Not killing them, mind you, but rather altering reality so it’s as if they never existed in the first place. Is it the result of some freak accident of nature they encountered while in orbit? Is it aliens who mean to keep humans from venturing into space? Is it God punishing mankind for the hubris of reaching for the stars in their rocket propelled Tower of Babel? No explanation is ever given, and the episode comes to an end with just as many questions as when it began.
“The worst fear of all is the fear of the unknown working on you, which you cannot share with others.” claimed Rod Serling, “To me, that’s the most nightmarish of stimuli.” In a way, you can kind of see where Serling is coming from. After all, at every mass we profess a belief not only in the visible, but in the invisible as well. And in the Catechism, we’re told that some of the less than benign inhabitants of the invisible have been allowed by God “to exercise a limited influence in the world, pursuing evil intentions and seeking to induce human beings to make a choice against God similar to their own.” So the “unknown” really is out to get us. But does that mean we should necessarily walk around in fear of it?
St Anthony of Egypt didn’t seem to think so. One tale has it that after being accosted by a vison of numerous demons seeking to do him no good, the Saint scoffed and said something along the lines of, "If you were capable of harming me, it would require only one of you". What St Anthony likely understood was that, in the end, the only real fear we need to cultivate is that of God himself. In his book on the Catechism, Fr. John Hardon wrote that the fear of God is a gift because it “confirms the virtue of hope and impels a man to a profound respect for the majesty of God. It’s correlative effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of his help… Consequently, the gift of fear gives us the power to sublimate all lesser fears, including the salutary and much-needed dread of God’s justice.” Based on that, it would seem the best way to overcome Serling’s worst kind of fear is to develop the best kind of fear instead. That’s a twist worthy of the Twilight Zone itself.
Twilight Tidbits: This was the first of nine episodes helmed by prolific television director Douglas Heyes, whom many consider to be the Alfred Hitchcock of the series. Sadly, Heyes was not quite as successful on the big screen, though many MSTies out there will forever treasure his work on the Ann Margaret opus, Kitten With A Whip.