Profile in Silver
Professor Joseph Fitzgerald (Lane Smith) is a historian from the year 2172 who has traveled back in time and assumed the identity of an instructor at Harvard from 1960 to 1963 to study the times of the John F. Kennedy administration. In the privacy of his office, he is visited by his colleague Dr. Kate Wang (Barbara Baxley), where they discuss his mission. Fitzgerald is somewhat disturbed at the thought of witnessing Kennedy's (Andrew Robinson) assassination which will take place the following day, especially since not only has he researched him in detail (even getting to meet him once) but Kennedy is also his ancestor. Kate then notices Fitzgerald's "good luck charm", a half dollar coin with Kennedy's profile marked 1964, and rightfully points out its anachronistic nature, which Fitzgerald dismisses. Kate then returns to the future while saying something in Chinese which Fitzgerald doesn't understand.
At Dealey Plaza the following day, Fitzgerald films the President's arrival with his future holographic camera (disguised as a regular camera of the time period). When he films the upper floor of the Dallas Book Repository and spots Lee Harvey Oswald getting ready to take the shot, Fitzgerald cannot contain himself and screams at Kennedy to get down. Kennedy and the First Lady do so, causing Oswald to miss. Secret Service Agent Ray Livingstone (Louis Giambalvo) takes Fitzgerald into custody while the latter recoils in horror over what he just did.
One clean background check later, Livingstone takes Fitzgerald to meet Kennedy himself. Kennedy expresses his gratitude to Fitzgerald and invites him over to dinner at the White House. Lyndon Johnson (Jerry Hardin) arrives to say he'll stay behind to deal with a crisis caused by two tornadoes that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Kennedy and Fitzgerald have a nice chat in Air Force One where Kennedy reminisces about his life and what he learned, which causes Fitzgerald to comment on how the former is ahead of his time. They are then interrupted by a call from Secretary MacNamara and the information that Oswald has been captured by Dallas Police. Fitzgerald starts fiddling with his coin which he then absentmindedly drops and it rolls towards Livingstone, who picks it up and looks at it with suspicion. Kennedy returns and informs Fitzgerald that Soviet forces have captured West Berlin and are demanding that the U.S. pull out from the rest of Germany. Fitzgerald remarks that Khrushchev would never do such a thing, and Kennedy replies that Khrushchev was assassinated earlier in the day, shocking Fitzgerald.
Even though the dinner is obviously cancelled, Kennedy insists that Fitzgerald stay at the White House overnight as a security precaution. Fitzgerald asks about his camera and Livingstone claims Fitzgerald must have left it on Air Force One but it will be returned to him. Fitzgerald consults his time machine computer who relates that the tornadoes and Khrushchev's assassination were caused by the timeline's futile attempts to undo the "massive rips in spacetime" caused by Fitzgerald's intervention. Fitzgerald asks for a "best and worse case scenario" for the timeline and the results are grim:
- Computer: Worst case scenario: nuclear exchange between the superpowers results in total annihilation of biosphere. Probability: 77%. Best case scenario: surrender of Western Europe within six years. Military costs collapse Soviet economy. Soviets blackmail West for food culminating in agro-bacterial war. Result: total annihilation of biosphere within century. Probability: 12%.Fitzgerald: You mean there's only 11% probability of avoiding total war in this timeline?Computer: 0%. 11% include all other scenarios leading to...Fitzgerald: ...total annihilation of biosphere. Since this timeline is not viable, give me all options for repairing the original timeline.Computer: There exists only one viable option: the Kennedy presidency must end the way history originally recorded it.Fitzgerald: Oh dear God...What have I done?
Meanwhile, Livingstone has taken Fitzgerald's coin to an expert who remarks it's the most perfect counterfeit he has ever seen. And it HAS to be a counterfeit since it's illegal under U.S. law to depict a living person in currency. Livingstone also remarks that despite Fitzgerald having "all the right papers in all the right places", the latter couldn't find anyone who knew the former before he started teaching at Harvard. Livingstone strongly suspects Fitzgerald to be a Soviet sleeper agent.
Livingstone takes these suspicions to Kennedy who is skeptical, pointing out that it doesn't make sense for a Soviet agent to carry around a coin with Kennedy's face on it. Livingstone adds that Fitzgerald's camera was inspected by metallurgists who discovered that it's made of some unknown alloy stronger than steel and impervious to X-Rays.
They summon Fitzgerald and Kennedy angrily demands to know where he got the coin. Fitzgerald explains it's been in his family for 200 years and demonstrates his camera's use to prove he's a historian from the future. Kennedy then guesses Fitzgerald is a descendant of his, which he admits. Kennedy asks why choose this period in particular-was it to observe his reaction to the crisis? Fitzgerald replies he didn't know about it, which stumps Kennedy until he looks at the coin again and notices the year: 1964. He then figures out the truth: Kennedy was supposed to die, none of the subsequent events were supposed to happen, and the current crisis will lead to the end of the world. He also guesses that the only way to fix this is to go back and get shot. Kennedy begs Fitzgerald to send him back and the latter tearfully prepares to give Kennedy the time travel watch...but then changes his mind and gives him his emergency recall ring, which sends Kennedy to Fitzgerald's time period. He explains to Ray that they are going back...but they're going to make a few changes. We then cut back to Dealey Plaza... only now Fitzgerald beams to Kennedy's place in the motorcade at the last minute, and is fatally shot by Oswald.
Fitzgerald's body is then examined by Dr. Kate, who reveals to Ray that she's also from the future... even farther than Fitzgerald's, and that she knew that he would sacrifice himself. She also repeats the sentence in Chinese she told Fitzgerald at the beginning and translates it: "Goodbye, old friend... Goodbye."
Meanwhile, in the Future of 2172, a Harvard instructor is shown giving a speech implicitly lauding Fitzgerald's sacrifice and the sacrifices of other honorable men like him. The camera pans to the instructor, revealing him to be none other than John F. Kennedy.
Arthur (Brad Davis) and Norma (Mare Winningham) Lewis are a couple living in a rundown tenement and facing severe financial difficulties. One day, a package with no return address arrives addressed to both of them. The package contains a mysterious device comprised of a wooden box with a Big Red Button on top shielded by a locked plastic dome. On the bottom of the box is a note saying that a Mr. Steward will arrive at 8 PM.
Later that night, while Arthur is away working, the well dressed and incredibly creepy Mr. Steward (Basil Hoffman) arrives. He hands Norma an envelope with his card and the key to open the dome of the "button unit" which allows her to push the button. And what does the button do?
- Steward: When you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone whom you do not know will die.Norma: You're kidding.Steward: It's an unexpected act. Takes some getting used to. But let me finish... so the person who dies will be someone you don't even know... then afterward... you will receive...$200,000...tax free. And that's all there is to it.
Arthur arrives late at night and Norma, who has stayed awake all this time, fills him in. Naturally they find the situation absurd, and wonder if it's some sort of survey to see who will and who won't push it. However, Norma then suggests they push the button since they need the money while Arthur is against it. Norma argues that thousands die every day all over the world and that the person who dies can be some random Chinese peasant or a cancer patient. Arthur points out it could be someone's newborn baby. He then takes apart the bottom of the box and they find that the inside is completely empty. Arthur throws the box in a dumpster.
While Arthur is asleep, Norma gets the box back from the dumpster. The next morning, Arthur finds her repairing the bottom of the box, claiming that Mr. Steward said that he would eventually return to recover the box since they are "reprogrammed" and reused. Arthur mockingly dares her to push the button but she sends him away.
Norma then spends most of the following days transfixed by the box. Finally, she eventually pushes the button...and apparently nothing happens, while Arthur walks away in disgust.
Mr. Steward later arrives to retrieve the box, and gives the Lewises a briefcase with the money. He also confirms that yes, someone did die. Norma then asks what's going to happen now...
- Steward: Why, you spend the money! And I hope you enjoy it. The button unit will be reprogrammed and offered to someone else, with the same terms and conditions.Norma: Wait, someone else?Steward: Yes. I can assure you it will be offered to someone... whom you don't know. Good day.
The episode ends with a close up on Norma's terrified face as Steward walks away.
This episode contains the following tropes:
- Close-Enough Timeline
- Famous Ancestor: Professor Joseph Fitzgerald, a time traveling historian from 2172, is a descendant of John F. Kennedy.
- Historical Domain Character: John F. Kennedy is a major character while Lyndon Johnson and John Connally appear briefly. Nikita Krushchev plays an important off-screen role.
- Mythology Gag: Several hours after Fitzgerald prevents JFK's assassination, the announcement "We will now return to our regular programming" is heard on CBS, followed by the theme of The Twilight Zone (1959). This refers to the fact that "Night Call" was originally intended to air on November 22, 1963 but the coverage of the assassination resulted in it being rescheduled. It eventually aired on February 7, 1964.
- World War III: John F. Kennedy's assassination is averted by Professor Joseph Fitzgerald. This creates an Alternate Timeline in which Soviet troops invade West Berlin, resulting in World War III. In order to restore the proper timeline, Fitzgerald takes Kennedy's place and allows himself to be killed. Kennedy is transported forward in time to 2172.
- Henpecked Husband: Arthur.
- Here We Go Again!: Once the button is reprogrammed, another person will be offered the same choice.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Norma pushes the button, causing the death of someone she doesn't know...and then Mr. Steward tells her that the button will be offered next to someone she doesn't know.
- No Sense of Personal Space: Mr. Steward spends his entire meeting with Norma getting creepily close to her, even as she tries to back away.
- Sadistic Choice: Be responsible for someone's death, or lose out on a Briefcase Full of Money that you could definitely use.
- Schmuck Bait: A couple is given a box with a button on it. They're warned that if they push the button they'll receive $200,000, and a person they don't know will die. They finally push the button and receive the money. Then they're told that the box will be re-programmed and given to someone they don't know.