A man (Bruce Willis) accidentally dials his home phone number and is shocked when it is answered by a doppelganger of himself.
A Little Peace and Quiet
The new series would revisit a tried-and-true theme of the original series: International relations as affected by the Cold War and the fear of a world-ending nuclear war, fears and issues that were still very much prevalent in the mid-1980s; and opportunities to bring about peace. And it did so quite well in just the second segment of the revival.
Indeed, the narrator intones the themes of "A Little Peace and Quiet" in the opening narration: "Wouldn't it be nice if once in a while everyone would just shut up and stop pestering you? Wouldn't it be great to have the time to finish a thought or spin a daydream? To think out loud without being required to explain exactly what you meant? If you had the power, would you dare to use it, even knowing that silence may have voices of its own to The Twilight Zone?"
And it is that silence a "A Little Peace and Quiet," if you will that has a harried housewife named Penny wondering if this is the type of peace and quiet she really wanted.
Penny, you see, has lost control of her hectic home life and is literally on her last nerve, what with a helpless husband always demanding simple errands and four bratty children. One afternoon, while trying to garden but her neighbor is being disruptive doing some yard work of his own, and he basically ignores her she digs up a wooden box.
And what is inside the box, you doth ask? A beautiful gold pendant in the shape of a sundial. It's so beautiful and, with Russell not having had bought anything for her in several years, she puts it around her neck. She's unaware that this pendant has special powers ...
... but we don't get to that until, after an outing at the supermarket where the kids are on their absolute worst behavior, we get to the dinner table that night, where once again things get chaotic. Having lost her patience, she yells the words "SHUT UP!!!!!!"
And everyone does ...
... except everyone (but Penny) are also frozen in place ... literally!
Once she realizes what's going on, she says the words "start talking," to which time restarts ... and everything gets hectic and chaotic once again. After a few more "shut ups" and "start talkings," Penny realizes she has the magic cure to an inevitable nervous breakdown, and can when things become too much use the pendant to stop time so she can relax, regain her composure, stave off migraine headaches ... all of that.
If only she knew she had a gift that could have much bigger implications than just regaining control of her nerves and her family. This is foreshadowed in a later scene, where she is watching a news report about the recent arms talks with the United States and the Soviet Union, and that tensions are at an all time high and patience between the two sides has become less than razor thin. Rather than listen to the report and take interest, Penny sees this as what the 1985 version of "fake news" is. After a "shut up"/"start talking," she happily congratulates herself and has a peaceful night's sleep.
Over the next several days, she uses her power to enjoy breakfast with her family and to shop at the grocery store without being bothered by other customers. Then, late one afternoon while trying to cook dinner and nurse another migraine, she gets a knock on the door. It's two young college-aged students who alarmed at the news of a complete collapse of relations between the U.S. and the Soviets and both sides have made ominous threats that they will attack with minimal provocation are trying to rally support for an emergency meeting to make one last attempt to stave off nuclear war.
Penny looks at her pendant and decides this would be a good time to tell the activists to "shut up." But instead of re-starting time immediately after dragging their bodies into the yard (and thus talking about the pendant and that it could be used to force negotiations and the world's two superpowers to come to a peaceful resolution), she leaves them there and then says "start talking." The protesters, upon realizing their predicament, conclude this woman is simply not interested and decide to try to continue their rallying efforts elsewhere.
That night, Penny is enjoying a peaceful bath, all while Russell Sr. appears to be monitoring constant news bulletins throughout the evening over the U.S.-Soviet situation and that attacks are now all but assured. Just then, an air raid siren begins sounding, and Russell screams for Penny.
Penny hastily dries off and puts on a bathrobe, and then they listen to the radio, where the news announcer losing his efforts to keep his composure reveals that the Soviets have attacked with nuclear weapons. A terrified Penny tries to make sense of the situation and the elder Russell decides they'll gather the kids and go to an emergency shelter; little Russell, meanwhile, has been awakened by the air raid sirens and chaos outside a neighbor is heard screaming for his family to get into their car and frightened, wonders whats going on. But then there's no time, as the ICBM missles enter U.S. airspace; Russell (both senior and junior) begin to embrace and cry, and just moments after an explosion is heard in the distance Penny finally stops time, screaming "SHUT UP!!!!!!!!"
After hugging her frozen husband and son one last time, Penny clad only in her house robe walks through town and sees a frozen scene of panicked residents trying to flee. After taking note of the marquee on a local movie theater, she sees a Soviet nuclear missile frozen a few hundred feet in the air, nose down, and moments from impact.
The episode ends with Penny facing an impossible dilemma: live eternally alone in a safe but silent world, or unfreeze time and have the world be annihilated by nuclear war? That, and more than likely, an eternity to think about misusing a gift that could have been used to bring world peace, but instead was used for selfishness ... and now, at least southern California has to pay a very dear price.
This episode contains the following tropes:
- 555: Peter Jay Novins' phone number is Klondike 5-6189.
- Adaptation Name Change: Peter Jay Novins' alter ego does not have any other name to distinguish him from the original Novins. In the short story by Harlan Ellison, the original Novins decides to call him "Jay."
- Astral Projection: Discussed. Peter Jay Novins' alter ego claims that he is the real Novins and that the other one is a piece of him that wandered off while he was sleeping because of astral projection.
- Doppelgänger: Peter Jay Novins accidentally dials his own number and ends up talking to his alter ego, who gradually takes over his life.
- Graceful Loser: Seeing he's going to die while the doppelganger subsumes his identity, Peter takes it gracefully, especially because he's the nicer of the two and will make amends in his life he never got to make.
- Heel Realization: Gradually, Peter comes to realize that of the two of them, his doppelganger is a better person than he ever was.
- Hypocrite: In a single conversation alone, Peter's doppelganger calls him out on this thrice. For one thing, he claims that everybody deserves a chance to live, but the doppelganger happens to know that Peter is a misanthrope. Second, there's the fact that Peter claims he hates hypocrisy, despite that his involvement with a corrupt company indicates he's also a hypocrite. Lastly, Peter advertised said-company to the public, despite knowing very well they will milk the county for all their money and get away with it.
- It's All About Me: One of Peter Jay Novin's flaws is that he's selfish. For one instance, instead of recognizing his ill mother deserves to be cared for, he sees her as a burden.
- Jerkass: Peter Jay Novins is a very unpleasant person. While visiting his extremely ill mother in Miami, he told her that he had to return to New York City earlier than he actually had to because he could not stand being around her any longer. He convinced a woman named Patty to leave her husband, set her and her son up in an apartment and abandoned her as soon as he became bored with her. Novins also mistreated his current girlfriend Jamie but it is not specified how. He works for a PR firm and took the Cumberland account, knowing full well that the company would destroy a small town with its unsafe environmental practises. His alter ego, who describes him as having the ethics of a weasel, is a far better person and sets about making amends for everything that the original Novins has done.
- Never the Selves Shall Meet: Discussed. When Peter Jay Novins threatens to go to his apartment and fight his alter ego, the alter ego speculates that this would be a very bad idea as each of them could be destroyed in the process. He cites the theory that only one of each thing can exist in the same place at the same time. This proves not to be the case when the two of them come face to face in the final scene. It is implied that the alter ego knew this already.
- Pun-Based Title: Each of the days are puns on normal days of the week: Someday, Duesday, Woundsday, Freeday, Shatterday.
- Something Only They Would Say: Peter Jay Novins tests his alter ego's claim to be him by asking him what his childhood friend Skip Fisher's father did for a living. He correctly answers that he was a fireman until he quit his job to work at a Studebaker dealership.
- Talking to Themself: Peter Jay Novins talks with a mysterious Doppelgänger.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Penny wants a way to make the world stop bothering her. The pendant allows her to freeze time and escape her responsibilities-until her impulsive use of it during a disaster leaves her stuck in a situation where the only way out would result in certain death,
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: Penny's family fits this to a T: Her husband, Russell Sr., who is henpecking her husband with minor demands and isn't the smartest guy in the bunch; their two older pre-teen daughters, Janet and Susan, who are always fighting; youngest daughter Bertie (Judith Barsi), who is very clumsy; and Russell Jr., who is always playing pranks. Their antics are all but too much for Penny to bear, and believes the magic pendant she discovers is there simply to control her family and regain control of her sanity.
- Emergency Broadcast: The climatic scene, alerting to breakout of nuclear war.
- Frozen in Time and Time Stands Still: The two main elements that make up the backbone of the plot, all of which can be caused by a magic pendant and its wearer's commands to "shut up." The reverse time re-starting happens when the wearer states the words, "Start talking."
- Just Before the End: The episode takes place during the final days before a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. When the bombs start to fall, Penny manages to blurt out the words "shut up" just a split second before a nuclear missile incinerates her town and kills everyone. (She freezes time just a moment after an explosion is heard in the distance.)
- Magical Accessory: The pendant, which can stop time, that Penny discovers.
- Shout-Out: In the final scene, Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe are advertised on the cinema marquee. Both films concern nuclear war.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Russell Jr. (the youngest of Russell Sr. and Penny's four children) is the only one seen in the final bedroom scene, where their region is under nuclear attack and they are seconds away from certain death.
- World War III: A nuclear war breaks out between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1985.