S01E15 – I Shot An Arrow Into The Sky
“The world's first manned space mission goes awry, stranding the crew on an apparent asteroid that is desolate and waterless. One man ruthlessly grasps for survival before a peculiar symbol reveals the group's true location.”
One thing The Twilight Zone rarely had a shortage of was ideas. In fact, with the likes of Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont contributing on a regular basis, one would imagine the show’s creative font was constantly running over. At the beginning, though, that wasn’t the case. As detailed in Don Presnell & Marty McGee’s book, A Critical History of Television's The Twilight Zone, Serling and his wife Carol were dining one evening with another couple, John and Madelon Champion, when Serling brought up how CBS was pressuring him to deliver a large amount of finished teleplays before they would begin production on the show. Off the cuff, Mrs. Champion suggested Serling should do a story about astronauts who think they’ve landed on an asteroid, but who in reality were just walking around outside Las Vegas. Serling wrote her a check for $500 on the spot and I Shot An Arrow Into The Sky was born. Why don’t these kinds of things ever happen to me?
Anyway, the title of the episode is an obvious reference to the opening lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Arrow and the Song. However, since that particular work is generally considered to be a rumination on the long-lasting and often unintended consequences of harsh words, the poem doesn’t actually have much relevance to this episode’s story. I guess Serling could have referenced some other sonnet, but there’s really not that large of a selection dealing with cowardly murderers to choose from.
When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing how quickly the character of crewman Corey goes from believing he’s stranded on an asteroid to deciding he has to bump off his fellow castaways in order to get their water and prolong his own life. I suppose if he cared enough to do so, Corey could attempt to justify himself under the principle outlined in the old Catholic Encyclopedia “that in extreme necessity every man has a right to appropriate whatever is necessary to preserve his life. The starving man who snatches a meal is not an unjust aggressor.” Based on his ramblings, this does appear to be Corey’s basic rationale for doing what he does.
The problem with Corey using this line of reasoning is threefold. One, he isn’t starving yet, so the theft isn’t necessary. Two, even if Corey was starving, this principle falls under the larger category of self defense which also allows for “a thief [to] be slain in the act of carrying away stolen property provided that it cannot be recovered from him by any other means.” Self defense, it turns out, also applies to defense of property because certain material goods are necessary for life and should be protected. And three, Corey isn’t just stealing to survive, he’s flat out killing his friends to get their stuff. This is a big no-no because in no way are Corey’s fellow crewmen showing the slightest indication that they mean Corey any mortal harm. Sure, they want to punch the guy in the mouth, who wouldn’t, but that kind of thing won’t kill him. Without a mortal threat, Corey really has no justification for his actions. In the end, Corey is just a selfish S.O.B. who puts his own self-preservation before all moral concerns. Fortunately, whether he’s on an asteroid or on Earth, he’s still in the Twilight Zone, so we can be sure he’ll get what’s coming to him.
Twilight Tidbits: A good portion of this episode was filmed in Death Valley National Monument, a location which has been utilized in many a movie, including a little one by the name of Star Wars where it served as the planet Tatooine.
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