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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S1E8 "Time Enough at Last"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 1 E 8 Time Enough At Last

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And then it gets worse.

Rod Serling: Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself...without anyone.

Air date: November 20, 1959

Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is an avid Bookworm who loves reading, spending any time he has to spare engrossed in a book. Unfortunately, he has a habit of reading on the job, and while he's reading David Copperfield during his shift as a bank teller, he shortchanges a customer and gets chewed out by the bank president. His home life is no better, as his wife Helen constantly takes away, hides, or outright defaces his reading material.

The next day at work, Henry locks himself in the bank vault during his lunch break just to have some time to read. As he reads a newspaper headline that declares "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction," the vault is suddenly rocked by a massive explosion, which results in Henry being knocked unconscious. When he awakens and recovers his glasses, Henry leaves the vault to find the bank, the city, and everyone in it are gone. The whole world has been destroyed by a massive nuclear attack, and Bemis only lived because the vault protected him.

Rod Serling: Seconds, minutes, hours. They crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness. A neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox of what was once his house and is now a rubble; they lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more.
Henry: Helen! Helen! Where are you!
Rod Serling: Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight hour tour of a graveyard.

After some time, Bemis realizes that he's now all alone on a ruined world with enough food to last him a lifetime, but no one to share it with. He's driven to the depths of despair and is about to shoot himself in the head with a gun he finds. However, he spots something that raises his hopes: the city library. It turns out that all the books in the library survived the blast, and now he has all the time in the world to read.

He happily sorts the books into the order he wants to read them in, giddy with anticipation of all the reading he's going to get done. As he bends down to pick up his first book, however, he stumbles, and his glasses fall off his face and shatter. Being Blind Without 'Em, Henry goes into shock, crying "That's not fair. That's not fair at all! There was time now! There was all the time I needed! That's not fair!" The episode ends with Henry, now no longer able to see in this destroyed world, sobs uncontrollably, surrounded by books he now can never read.

Tropes Enough at Last:

  • Accidental Pervert: The bank president says that Henry once spent a bit too long staring at a young female customer's campaign pin, whereupon she tried to hit him with her umbrella; Henry claims that he was just trying to see who she voted for.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the short story by Lynn Venable, shortly after the bomb goes off, Henry climbs out of the rubble and spends a short while reflecting before he finds the library. In the episode, he desperately searches for any survivors, mourns, and contemplates whether or not he wants to live before he gets to the library.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the short story, Henry's wife is named Agnes. In the television adaptation, her name is Helen.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: Henry spent much of his life shutting himself away from other people so he could indulge in his obsession with reading, best demonstrated by him going into the bank vault during lunch so he can be alone and have peace. After he becomes the Sole Survivor of a nuclear attack, potentially the last man on Earth, he wonders if it's really a life worth living.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 3a, with Henry as seemingly the only human left alive. Possibly a Class 4 given that Henry doesn't encounter a single animal either.
  • Artistic License Biology: Under most circumstances, people either have near-sightedness or far-sightedness. The fact that Henry cannot read after breaking his glasses would suggest the latter, but we also see that he cannot see things at a distance. It's unlikely that, given how thick his lenses are, he'd be unable to see at any distance without them. It's likely astigmatism, an uncommon (but not rare) eye defect that causes trouble with both distance and near vision.
  • Artistic License Nuclear Physics: Henry would have been hit with a lethal dose of radiation after stepping out of the vault.
  • Artistic License Physics: Somehow, even though he's protected in a sealed bank vault, the shockwave of a nuclear blast still flips open Bemis' book and breaks his watch.
  • Asshole Victim: Henry's ballbuster boss and vindictive wife are vanquished in a nuclear attack. Not that Henry has things any better afterwards.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Played With. Henry never wishes for what eventually happens to happen, but he's always griping about never having enough time for reading. Then a nuclear apocalypse happens.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Henry can't read without his glasses.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Millions died in a nuclear blast, but there are no corpses to show for it. Bar the shot of the lifeless arm of Bemis' boss.
  • Butt-Monkey: Henry. This man cannot catch a break.
  • Canon Foreigner: The Radio Drama adaptation adds a character named Cheryl, who is one of Bemis' coworkers and the only person to really be a friend to him.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': To really punctuate the Cruel Twist Ending, after Henry accidentally drops his until-now rather enduring glasses, both lens don't just shatter completely, but every last fragment falls out from the rims just to make sure there is absolutely nothing to view out of them.
  • Cosmic Plaything: One could argue Henry's ultimate fate is a result of this.
  • Cruel Twist Ending/Downer Ending: Henry apparently becomes the last man on Earth, and finds he finally has time to read all the books he wants until he breaks his glasses. He isn't mean-spirited — just a timid man who is ridiculed by his wife and boss for reading too much, and who only survives a nuclear holocaust because he locked himself in a bank vault so he could get some peace. The world just screws him over to be mean. On the other hand, Henry was not a particularly nice or empathetic man, either. See Jerkass Has a Point below.
  • Domestic Abuse: After years of insulting or ignoring her husband's love of reading, Helen finally consents to have him read his favorite book of poetry to her, only to reveal she's blacked out every word.
  • Double-Meaning Title: After The End of the World as We Know It, Bemis now has time enough to indulge in his favorite activity...and time enough to mourn the world he'd been shutting out until it was too late.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bemis puts a gun to his head out of sheer loneliness...until he finds the library.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Rod Serling gives a narration about halfway through the episode while Bemis is searching the ruins.
  • Expy: Many people have compared Bemis with Jack Klugman's character Jesse Cardiff from the episode "A Game Of Pool" where they share similarities:
  • Fate Worse than Death: In his newfound isolation, Henry finds that all he has to look forward to now is eating, smoking, and reading the same half of a newspaper over and over. Forever. The loneliness and boredom nearly drive him to shoot himself.
    • And by the end, he has it even worse.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Bemis reads the headline about the H-Bomb during lunch. Five seconds later, an atomic bomb destroys the city.
  • Foreshadowing: When Helen tears the pages from Henry's poetry book and he bends down to pick them up, his glasses slip off, onto the floor.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Bemis eventually loses it after (literally) having nobody on Earth to talk to.
  • Henpecked Husband: Henry's wife Helen is a vicious shrew who bosses him around constantly. She even destroys his favorite poetry book!
    • On the other hand, Henry's constantly ignoring her and slinking off somewhere else to read. Cruel as it was, she might simply be like this out of frustration with him neglecting her in favor of his hobby.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Henry is asked by his wife to read her the only book left in the house, a poetry collection that he had kept hidden. Bemis is very happy about this, saying that once he reads her some of it, she may change her mind about removing everything readable from the house. Once he opens it, it turns out that she had already found it and blacked out every single word, and she then bullies him further and insists she will not tolerate him bring any books to their home ever again.
    • At one point, Henry finds a working car, but just as he tries to drive it out, the engine dies completely.
    • Ugly as it is to be the sole survivor of a nuclear war, the universe conspired against Henry so thoroughly that this seemed like the only way he would ever be able to read something at his leisure. As long as he had that, at least, he would keep the suicidal depression at bay. And then his glasses break.
  • Indestructible Edible: Musing on his situation, Henry finds that there's still plenty of canned and packaged food that's survived in the ruins of the local grocery store. At least he won't starve to death anytime soon.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Bemis' obsession with reading means that he neglects the people around him, including a customer. It's a small wonder his boss and wife are exasperated with him.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While the bank president is rather harsh about Henry's fondness for reading, he does have a legitimate complaint about an employee's on-the-clock activities interfering with his job performance, such as a bank teller who miscounts money and annoys customers because he has a book in his lap that commands more of his attention than the work he's being paid for. In Henry's defense, he explains that he only reads at work so much because his wife refuses to let him read literally anything, not even food labels. His boss commends her.
  • Kick the Dog: Helen has tossed away or destroyed anything that could be readable within her home (even food labels), but deliberately left one of the books Henry hid right where he put it... only with the text inside blacked out. And she asks Bemis to read her some of it so he'll find out the hard way, before making clear that she will be even more militant about forbidding him from reading from now on.
  • Last of His Kind: Bemis is, as far as he can tell, the last human being alive. Given his method of survival, it's probable that there are other survivors, though not necessarily near him.
  • Living Is More than Surviving: Henry speculates this as he gradually comes to terms with his situation. There's plenty of food left in the ruined supermarkets, and he has plenty of places to sleep, but he questions what exactly he's supposed to do with his time if there's nobody else left. He gradually inches closer to the Despair Event Horizon and comes close to shooting himself, but then he finds the library.
  • Nerd Glasses: Bemis has them.
  • Non-Residential Residence: After the world is destroyed and Henry finds himself in a ruined landscape, he takes a nap on a couch that is just sitting among the ruins. This is as close to a "residence" as this trope gets, considering every building on Earth has been leveled.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Played with. Everyone looks down on and picks on Henry for being an avid reader...because he does it to the exclusion of everything (and everyone) else. His boss once remarks on a time he was an Accidental Pervert because he was busy reading a campaign button...belonging to a female customer...
  • Playing Games at Work: The equivalent of the time. Henry reads his novels at work much to the dismay of his boss.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Henry Bemis chooses to go down to the bank vault during work hours in order to read his newspaper. This ends up saving him when the nuclear bombs ravage the world, as the vault protects him from the explosions.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: Henry goes into the bank vault to have his lunch and read, which protects him from the nuclear blast that kills everyone else. He is knocked out by the force and eventually awakens to find the world destroyed.
  • Spooky Silent Library: The episode ends with a lone man, an empty library, and a broken pair of glasses.
  • Tempting Fate: At the end of the episode, Henry says that he now has "time enough at last" to read all of the books he wants. A few seconds later, he accidentally breaks his glasses, which will prevent him from reading ever again.
  • Title Drop: When Henry is preparing to start reading the first book in his new collection.
    Henry: And the best, the very best thing of all, is there's time now. There's all the time I need and all the time I'll want. Time, time, time. There's time enough at last.
  • Uncertain Doom: Henry breaks his glasses, leaving him blind. He is last seen stumbling around mournful and alone, not only unable to read his beloved books, but unable to find pretty much any means to fend for himself. Unless he finds that gun or a new pair of glasses.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Just when it looks like Henry is going to get a happy ending, with more books than he could ever read and absolutely nothing to stop him from doing so, his glasses break, which means he won't be able to read any of them.

Rod Serling: The best laid plans of mice and men...and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis... in the Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 1 E 8 Time Enough At Last