If you see an airplane on The Twilight Zone, something bad --- or at least, something strange --- is probably about to happen. We’ve already seen two planes get lost in time (“The Last Flight” and “The Odyssey of Flight 33”), one crash land in the desert (“King Nine Will Not Return”) and another one explode on takeoff (“Twenty Two”). And goodness, don’t even get me started on spaceships (if you’re on The Twilight Zone, and you take off in one, just know that you’re basically screwed). 50 years ago tonight, the so-called “friendly skies” remained decidedly unfriendly as a commercial airliner landed precisely on schedule… with its crew and passengers conspicuously absent.
“The Arrival,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Boris Sagal, promises to be a great supernatural mystery. Where are the passengers? More importantly, where’s the goddamned crew? And by the way, who the hell landed this thing? Things get even stranger when nobody --- families, friends, what have you --- inquires about the missing passengers. Things get stranger still when the investigators come to realize that something is iffy with the plane itself: each of them is seeing a different serial number on it. They’re all in the same hanger, but they seem to be examining different planes. What the hell is happening here? Mass hypnosis? A warp in the very fabric of space? Overlapping alternate realities? A gradual disintegration of the space-time continuum?
It’s a mystery that seems too inexplicable, too bizarre to properly resolve. And so it is, sadly enough. The resolution… well, doesn’t really resolve anything, unless you find the retrograde hallucination angle satisfactory. For the record, I don’t. This is exactly how “King Nine Will Not Return” explained its unexplainable mystery last season, and I was willing to accept it. Not this time, Rod. This is just lazy, and frankly a bit insulting. “The Arrival” is the exact point --- not even two calendar years after its brilliant debut --- at which The Twilight Zone begins to blatantly cannibalize itself.
Next week: It sounds like a repeat of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”… but it’s not. Another set of neighbors turns unneighborly, but this time the motivating threat is nuclear annihilation instead of invading aliens. If there’s a TV in your bomb shelter, tune in.