Twilight Zone: Nick of Time (1960) – Classic TV Episode Review


Reviewed by Melissa Antoinette Garza

“Every answer seems to fit.” – Don (William Shatner)

As Don S Carter (William Shatner) and his young wife Pat (Patricia Breslin) drives through Ridgefield Ohio their car breaks down. The local mechanic informs them it will be a four hour wait for the necessary fuel pump to fix the vehicle. The newlyweds decide to grab lunch at a local diner while waiting.

They enter the small restaurant and place a dime in the jukebox. When the duo walk to the nearest table they quickly notice a fortune telling machine called “The Mystic Seer” sitting upon it. The odd looking device is nothing more than a small metal box with stars covering the front and a face of the devil that sways back and forth continuously staring back at whomever sits in front of it. The eyes themselves are a bit frightening. It appears as though the devil is winking, as one of his eyes are closed. The other however appears to be a diamond-like stone. There is something so abnormal about the face that it easily adds apprehension in the viewer.

Don, who is traditionally superstitious, is instantly drawn to “The Mystic Seer” and reads the instructions quickly. Simply put, one places a coin in the device, a question is asked, the knob is pressed down and then a card with a response is delivered.

Curiosity gets the better of Don and he decides to try it out. He poses “does anything exciting ever happen around here?” The card answers with a vague “it is quite possible.” As the duo sip water and await their meal, Don puts another penny in the machine. This time the question is one that has been on his mind for quite awhile. He asks if he is going to obtain the promotion that he interviewed for. To his delight, “The Mystic Seer” answered that the decision would be “decided in his favor.” Immediately after obtaining the answer, he can’t help but phone the office to find out if a decision is made. Like the card had predicted, it had been decided in Don’s favor, and the promotion was now his.

The couple celebrates the new job as Don becomes more and more drawn to the fortune machine on the table. He asks if they would really remain in town for four hours as the mechanic had stated earlier. The card reveals the cryptic message of “you may never know.” Don is left a bit set off by the unusual remark but Pat seems unmoved. Don attempts to obtain a more straightforward answer from the device which is difficult as he must stay within the confines of always asking questions that could be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

Don soon becomes obsessed with the Seer. As he starts to ask specific questions surrounding the time at which they should leave, he places more and more credence into the cards he receives back. Don asks if something bad will happen if they leave before 3 o‘clock. The Seer once again responds cryptically with “to dare is to find out.” Pat is a bit unnerved yet wants to leave. Don however procrastinates. He remains for a long time trying to stretch out leaving as long as he can.

Finally, a few moments before three, Pat convinces him to leave. He pays the bill and they walk out . As they cross the street, and move away from the diner, Don is still plagued by the answers The Seer offered. He asks Pat why the cards were so specific. She remains calm and collective. She explains that the contraption is no more than a napkin holder and nothing to pay mind to. For a moment, she seems to be getting through, but only for a moment. As they argue about the merit of the answers given, they are nearly be hit by an oncoming truck.

After recovering from the anxiety of almost being struck, Pat remains convinced it was a mere coincidence, nonetheless Don coaxes her back into the diner. Don asks The Seer if it knew about the near accident to which it responds, “what do you think?” Penny after penny, Don feeds into the metal box. As he asks questions, it appears that The Seer is spot on every time. Despite the vagueness of the answers, Don remains convinced it is in fact a psychic entity.

Pat attempts to prove Don wrong and begins asking random questions, but to each one the Seer offers a card that answers properly. Though she isn’t superstitious she finds herself afraid. Pat tries to walk away but Don remains. He feeds more money into the machine trying to find out every aspect of his life and future. Pat sits beside him once again and tries to rationalize but he is unmoved. In the end it is a showdown between superstition and Don’s love for his wife.

Though I believe myself to be a reasonable woman who is both logical and sensible, I often find myself placing faith into superstition. Whether it be the surprised feeling that emerges when a horoscope seems to fit too perfectly into a circumstance or the belief that a dream is significant and speaks from the metaphysical, I often step away from the rational and into an entirely different world. Whereas this isn’t an unhealthy behavior the amount of focus placed into these superstitions may become so.

This episode is a personal favorite of mine because it does hit close to home. Every once in awhile it is necessary to have a mirror held up to oneself and “Nick of Time” does that for me. Though there is nothing wrong with wishing upon a star or avoiding a ladder while walking, when one becomes fixated on the wish that came true or walks an extra couple miles to steer clear of the ladder it is time to reexamine reality.

As always Rod Serling excels in developing characters that immediately captivate. The episode radiates as well with today’s audience as it did upon the first time it aired. Serling’s constant understanding of human nature and every facet that it entails ensures that his message is a timeless one.

Overall, this episode is a must-see. Shatner as always shines in the lead and Patricia Breslin does excellent as the doting wife desperate to save her husband. Many times, throughout the years film makers have attempted to emulate the same storyline however have failed in the delivery. Though this is a mere half hour presentation it is done brilliantly and the conclusion fulfills the audiences’ need to have the “what if” question answered.

Scared Stiff Rating: 10/10

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