I don’t recall ever seeing A Hundred Yards over the Rim before but I did predict what was happening within the first few minutes of the episode. Normally, I’d roll my eyes, but not this time; I was sold completely. I couldn’t help but ask myself why, though. What made this episode a success even when I’d predicted the outcome? I went to bed, woke the next day and pondered it while I showered. It hit me suddenly: this was a Rod Serling episode with very likable characters. Chris is confused and a bit stubborn but hardly one of Serling’s typical jerks. Joe and his wife are sympathetic. Even the doctor “gets it”; he knows something is a bit off here! Chris is a man who is traveling with his family from Ohio to California in the mid-1800s and is worrying about his sick child. When he goes “over the rim” to see what he might find, he finds the future…
Chris is a likable man who is just trying to make sense of what he finds. It asks the question: what would it be like for a man of that time period to be sent 100+ years into the future? I’ve often speculated with friends about what it would be like if a caveman saw a plane, or even an elevator. Imagine him stepping into an elevator – the doors close only to open in another place. It would be like The TARDIS! Chris doesn’t get to an actual alien world, but that many years later is not a far cry from one from his point of view. Fresh water comes from a tap, food is available on counters in abundance, music plays from magic boxes… it must have all been overwhelming. Even the fans cooling the diner! The truck!!! (Although why is it that all truck drivers in situations like this fail totally to slow down?) The journey we take with Chris is thoroughly enjoyable and I was able to suspend any disbelief in favor of a really good story.
Cliff Robertson sells Chris and John Crawford as Joe is another refreshing character who seems concerned about his strange visitor. There were two small elements that took me out of the story for a moment, but neither were enough to ruin it; they just jarred slightly. The lesser of the two was Joe seeming to have a problem letting Chris leave. Why? He was ok by then, having had a nap; what was the need to detain him if Chris wanted to leave? The second was Chris’s ability to read. It made me question the literacy rate of the time. Weird thing to pop into ones head, I know, but that’s life. Still, neither were big distractions and I was still completely happy with the episode! Anyway, that whole bit also brings about the final part of this amazing episode: Chris reads that his son actually becomes something and it’s all due to his absconding with some penicillin. It means the boy survives, which in turn implies he does too. He returns to the past with a sense of purpose.
This episode is imagination intensive, and I love that. It’s that much-craved mind candy. To think, when it started, with that sad harmonica music, my first thought was that this would be a drag. Instead, I get to remind myself of Shakespeare’s quote that there are more things in heaven and earth than we can dream of. I wonder how much more can we imagine when we have all of heaven, earth and The Twilight Zone! ML
The view from across the pond:
Together we will go our way
Together we will leave someday
Together your hand in my hands
Together we will make our plans
Together we will fly so high
Together tell all our friends goodbye
Together we will start life new
Together this is what we’ll do
This is an episode that was clearly written with a great deal of pride in the history of the USA, with its “hearty breed of men who headed west during a time when there were no concrete highways”. Shh, don’t mention the “indians” who got in their way and what happened to them. I’m not American, so I’m not capable of feeling any of that national pride (or national guilt, although I don’t see any of that in this episode), so instead I can only watch this in the context of an interesting time travel episode.
It’s a simple idea on the face of things, with a man heading over the top of a sand dune and travelling forward from 1847 to 1961, being bewildered by the “monster like things” and other amazing sights, and then heading back to the past with some medicine for his dangerously ill son. What really makes the episode is the performance of Cliff Robertson as Chris Horn, who behaves exactly as we would expect from a confused man from history suddenly thrown into the present day.
In many ways he’s like a wild animal, and that makes perfect sense. He doesn’t mean any harm to anyone, but he’s not afraid to use the weapon he carries and he’s dangerous when cornered. But what sets him apart from an animal is the way he achieves an understanding of what he is experiencing, especially the realisation that he has the means to go back and save his son, and the significance of discovering his son’s destiny.
The writing isn’t perfect here. Finding out about his son’s future is a little convenient, and the reactions of the other characters are a bit odd at times, particularly the doctor, who says his patient is suffering from a “delusion of the purest form”, having literally just said that he has fillings from the 19th Century in his mouth and an antique gun that is brand new. Maybe in a situation like that a person would deny the evidence of their own eyes.
But Rod Serling’s writing is brilliant here, for one significant reason. He takes a very simple story about a man from the past visiting the present, and makes it very special by adding one key element, and that’s the plight and potential of Horn’s son. That’s what gives this episode its heart, and also gives us our food for thought. We are left to join some of the dots ourselves, but it’s not too much of a leap of imagination to picture Horn telling his son stories about the magic medicine from the future that saved his life, and where it came from, and those stories inspiring a child to grow up into an adult who will be a vaccine pioneer. That’s a wonderful tale, much more wonderful than the nationalistic claptrap that celebrates “people like us” who “made it happen”… but don’t mention the fate of the “indians” who stood in their way.
Go west in the open air
Go west where the skies are blue
Go west this is what we’re gonna do
Go west, this is what we’re gonna do, go west.
Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: The Rip Van Winkle Caper
Once again, after The Last Flight’s journey for Lt. Decker, The Twilight Zone endows a man with an odyssey into the future that enables him to change his present for the better. Cliff Robertson was a good casting choice for this one. Also interesting to see a refreshingly nicer role for John Crawford as Joe, as opposed to the bureaucratically insensitive Commissioner Ferris in Star Trek: The Galileo Seven. It takes a story like this to make us ask ourselves what it would be like to somehow visit the future and take back to the present something to positively change the course of our lives. Thanks to some YouTube meditations, this notion has become even more popular. So this will always be a most rewarding Twilight Zone classic for its most down-to-basics optimism, as rare as it can be for most anthologies. Thank you both for your reviews.
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