Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode 43: "Nick of Time"
Honeymooning Captain Kirk gets lucky in a small town. Or does he?
The Twilight Zone, Episode #43: "Nick of Time" (airdate 11/18/60)
The Plot: Needing a new fuel pump, honeymooning couple Don S. Carter (William Shatner) and his wife stop in Ridgeview, a small town in Ohio, on their way to New York City, where Don will be starting a new job. With a few hours to kill, they head to a diner. Don starts pumping pennies into the Mystic Seer, a small napkin holder / fortune-telling machine at their table. When a fortune in his favor appears to come true a few moments later, Don starts taking it very seriously, to eerie results.
The Goods: The bobbing, horned head on the machine, with only one eye (a rhinestone) dispensing vague answers on a card, is a fabulous device, an ordinary object that becomes ominous when viewed in a different light. The idea, silly and frivolous, is sold by Shatner's strong, increasingly unhinged yet controlled performance -- he displays all the conviction of a true believer -- and a clever script.
The "answers" on the cards, of course, are purposefully open to interpretation, entirely dependent on the reader. Writer Richard Matheson structures the "answers" so they accumulate power in the eyes of the believing beholder, rushing along to an inevitable conclusion. The ending is only a slight let-down, not so much a twist as it is a morality kicker. This episode may be simple but is extremely well-executed, with my Shatner man-crush elevating the material. I grade this episode an A-.
The Trivia: Shatner would return to the series for the classic episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Between his two episodes, he would appear in Judgment at Nuremberg and star in Roger Corman's The Intruder, written by TZ veteran Charles Beaumont and set in a small Southern town. Patricia Breslin would also appear in another TZ episode in 1963 ("No Time Like the Past"), but if Matheson had his way, she would have played Shatner's wife again in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Director Richard L. Bare went on to direct a phenomenal 166 episodes of corn-pone sitcom Green Acres.
On the Next Episode: The daughter of of a brilliant inventor starts to worry about the servants -- who are all robots!
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes! Our friends at Film School Rejects have entered the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @ScreenAnarhcy and @rejectnation.