Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 14, “Third From the Sun"
Research scientist William Sturka (played by Fritz Weaver) lives in a world that is itself living on borrowed time. Tensions are higher than anyone can remember and a nuclear war seems imminent. Indeed, coming out of his job one day, Sturka has a conversation with his manager in the government, Carling (Edward Andrews) in which the latter intimates that hostilities will occur in the next 48 hours.
Seemingly alarmed by this news, Sturka returns home and discusses with his family vaguely about aspects of his job that he doesn’t like. He confides in his wife that they must be prepared to take a long trip that very night. Friend and fellow coworker Jerry Riden (Joe Maross) visits the house, and he and Sturka talk in the basement over their plans to leave via experimental rocket craft, but unfortunately they have been overheard. When Carling shows up during the two families’ card game later that evening, it’s anything but a pleasant, coincidental affair, and Sturka’s struggle to save his family and friends from doom becomes all the more desperate.
This is one of several fine examples of social commentary within the Twilight Zone. The theme this time is a parallel of the Red Scare, mixed with a healthy dose of nuclear anxiety. The very first conversation between Sturka and Carling illustrates this all too clearly; when Sturka indicates that the government’s efforts and defenses may not do more than simply reduce casualties against the mentioned atomic weapons, Carling accuses his misgivings as sympathy for the enemy, and Carling’s efforts throughout the rest of the episode show his desire to tow the government line overriding any desire for the safety of humans or humanity.
There may not be a more tense, conspiratorial twenty-two minutes in television history. Virtually every conversation, even those between Sturka and his own family, carry innuendo and undertones, which is to say nothing of interactions with Carling, which cross the line right into intrigue and scheming. The use of expressions and other non-verbal communication in the episode is excellent. To further compound the disjointed nature of this reality, the entirety of the episode apart from the opening scene is shot off-angle, psychologically keeping the viewer off-kilter. After all, none of the characters are comfortable with their situation, why should you be? While the ending of the episode lacks a bit of punch, it still stands as a commentary on what life could have been like (and perhaps was, in some circles) during the heights of the Cold War.
As a sidenote, Fritz Weaver would later return to play in another dystopian society episode, except on the other side of the equation, as the government chancellor in “The Obsolete Man.”