Season 1, Episode 5
Directed by: Robert Stevens
Written by: Rod Serling
An overworked Vice President "in charge of media", Martin Sloan is sick of the rat race and the Madison Avenue lifestyle. "I want to rest," he says, "I want to stop running." Out for a drive, just to get out of the damn city, he pulls into a gas station with rancor and bluster. Asking for a lube job and an oil change, he notices he's only a mile and a half (i.e. walking distance) outside of Homewood, the hometown he hasn't been back to for twenty-five years. Deciding to kill the time there, he walks on down the road, framed in the gas station mirror as though he's walking right through the looking glass. Coming out on the other side, and still shot in a mirror, he enters Homewood's soda shop, asking for a chocolate soda, three scoops. (A lot of Martin's childhood memories seem focused around food.) He's amazed it only costs a dime—I mean, nobody charges ten cents for three scoops no more, to which the soda jerk asks him, "where you from?"
"New York," he answers. Well, go figure! Walking around the rather busy small-town, an impressive set from the MGM lot that was also used for a television remake of Meet Me in St. Louis, he enjoys a leisurely afternoon until it slowly dawns on him that he's traveled back in time to 1934. After an enlightening discussion about marbles with a very young Ron Howard ("the clear ones we called 'clearies'"), he has awkward run-in with his eleven year old self, whom he scares the livin' daylights out of; afterwards, he confronts his parents who, to his implausible confoundment, don't believe that this full-grown, hysterical man is actually their young son, just simply traveled backwards through time. He stalks his old house, trying to get someone to talk to him, until he's informed that eleven year old Martin is at a carnival. A frenetic merry-go-round sequence ensues, every angle canted, as Sloan the Creppy Madman chases Sloan the Little Boy around the carousel until the boy falls off and injures his leg. "I just wanted to tell you this is a wonderful time," he mournfully mutters to no one. Not with you around, it isn't.
Walking Distance, written by Serling, was inspired by a walk through the MGM backlots that triggered some latent longing for his childhood. (Only to Rod Serling could a journey through an ersatz town inspire feelings of nostalgia.) A CBS executive called the script "shit", but that's a bit of an exaggeration; it is a bit slight and a bit sloppy, but it's still pretty effective as a cautionary tale about being too caught up in sweet memories of yesteryear while not living for the future, a source of many a person's misery and the source of this episode's popularity. (Not to mention it's a valuable illustration of why there's to be no horseplay on the carousel!) "We only get one chance," his rather credulous father tells him, after coming to believe his story; it's only when Sloan comes to understand this, and stops lamenting that there are "no more merry-go-rounds [and] no more cotton candy," that he's loosed from the past—in which he was presumably stuck in, literally and figuratively, like a prison—and released back into the present, where some swingin' blues blares on the juke, a chocolate soda costs thirty five cents—some future—and he walks with the limp he got as a kid when he fell off the merry-go-round, a physical expression of the mental handicap that was his yearning for the past, a battlescar from his defeat over crippling nostalgia.
It's become a bit of a banality to say so, but you really can't go home again—not even in The Twilight Zone!
For Netflix purposes:
On Vol. 3 of Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone DVDs.