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Recap / The Twilight Zone S1E8 "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."
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Air date: November 20, 1959

Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is an avid Bookworm who loves to spend any time he has reading. Unfortunately, he has a habit of reading on the job, and while reading David Copperfield during his work 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 constantly takes away, hides, or outright ruins his reading material.

The next day at work, Bemis locks himself in the bank vault during his lunch hour 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 Bemis being knocked unconscious. When he awakens and recovers his glasses, he leaves the vault to find the bank, the city, the world, 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.

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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 earth with 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. However, he spots something that raises his hopes: The city library. It turns out all the books in the library survived the blast, and now he has all the time in the world to read.

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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 do. As he bends down to pick up the first book, however, he stumbles, and his glasses fall off his face and shatter. Being Blind Without 'Em, Bemis goes into shock, crying "That's not fair. That's not fair at all! There was time now! There was all the time I wanted! That's not fair!" The episode ends with Bemis sobbing uncontrollably, surrounded by books he now can never read.

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."

Tropes Enough at Last:

  • Accidental Pervert: The bank president says that one time Bemis spent a bit too long staring at a young female customer's campaign pin on her lapel, whereupon she tried to hit Bemis with her umbrella; Bemis says he was just trying to see who she voted for.
  • Adaptational Name Change: In the short story by Lynn Venable, Henry Bemis' wife is named Agnes. In the television adaptation, her name is Helen.
  • Anti-Hero: Bemis is a person who isn't mean...but he's not a nice man, either, neglecting his wife and job in favor of his downright overwhelming addiction to reading.
  • 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 – Physics: Somehow, even though he's protected in a sealed bank vault, the shock wave from the nuclear blast still flips open Henry's book and breaks his watch.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Played With. Henry Bemis never wishes for what eventually happens to happen, but he's always griping about never having enough time for his true love, reading. Then a nuclear apocalypse happens.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Henry Bemis cannot read without his glasses.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Millions died in a nuclear blast but there are no corpses to show for it. Bar the shot on a lifeless arm of Bemis' boss.
  • Butt-Monkey: The main character. 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.
  • Cosmic Plaything: One could argue Bemis' ultimate fate is a result of this.
  • Cruel Twist Ending/Downer Ending: Bemis manages to apparently become 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 — he is a timid man who is ridiculed by his wife and boss for reading books, and who only survives a nuclear holocaust because he locked himself in a bank vault as the only way he could get some peace. The world just screws him over to be mean. On the other hand, Bemis was not a particularly nice or empathetic man. See Jerkass Has a Point below.
  • Domestic Abuse: After years of belittling or ignoring Bemis's love of reading, his wife finally consents to have him read his favorite book of poetry to her, only to reveal she's defaced every page.
  • 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.
  • Expy: Many people have compared Bemis with Jack Klugman's character Jesse Cardiff from the episode "A Game Of Pool" where they share similarities :
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Bemis reads the headline about the H bomb and 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 has an awful vicious shrew of a wife who bosses him around constantly. She destroys his poetry book!
  • Hope Spot:
    • Bemis is asked by his wife to read her the only book left in the house, which is 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 her behavior of 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 within the book with a pen, and she then bullies him further and insists she will not tolerate him bring any books to their home ever again.
    • At one point, Bemis 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 Bemis 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.
  • Informed Flaw: Rod Serling Himself said that the Cruel Twist Ending was punishing Bemis' supposed anti-social behavior. Aside from his wife and boss, Bemis a milquetoast man who is just too caught up in his bibliophilia/bibliomania.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Bemis' obsession with reading means he neglects the people around him, including a customer. So 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 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. Though he does mention that he only reads at work so much because his wife refuses to let him read literally anything. Not even for labels!
  • Kick the Dog: Bemis's wife tossed away or destroyed anything that could be readable within their home (even food labels), but deliberately left one of the books Bemis hid right where he put it... only with all of 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.
  • Nerd Glasses: Bemis has them.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Played with. Everyone looks down on and picks on Henry Bemis for being a 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. Bemis reads his novels at work much to the dismay of his boss.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: Bemis 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 Bemis is preparing to start reading the first book in his new collection.
    Bemis: 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.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Just when it looks like Henry Bemis is going to get a happy ending with more books than he could ever read and absolutely nothing to stop him from reading, his glasses get broken, which means he won't be able to read any of them. Forget about going back and somehow finding that gun.

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