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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 2 E 49 Back There

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The Professor makes an unfortunate acquaintance.

Rod Serling: Witness a theoretical argument, Washington, D.C., the present. Four intelligent men talking about an improbable thing like going back in time. A friendly debate revolving around a simple issue: could a human being change what has happened before? Interesting and theoretical, because who ever heard of a man going back in time? Before tonight, that is, because this is the Twilight Zone.
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Air date: January 13, 1961

Peter Corrigan (Russell Johnson) is spending a quiet evening at a Washington, DC gentlemen's club, playing bridge and chatting with his friends. The topic of the conversation is time travel. When one of his buddies speculates on the possibility of traveling back into the past, Peter insists on the principle of Ontological Inertia, namely that you can't go back and change the past because if you changed it, it wouldn't have happened that way for you to change.

In any event, Peter bids his friends goodbye, bumping into a club attendant named William on the way out. Peter steps outside, everything goes fuzzy...and Peter suddenly finds himself in 1865. And not just any day, but April 14, 1865. Suddenly, Peter knows what he must do: get over to Ford's Theater and prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

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Tropes Back There:

  • Accidental Time Travel
  • Artistic License – History: The woman going to the play refers to her officer escort as "my husband". In fact Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone were only engaged on the night of Lincoln's murder, although they did later get married.note 
  • Bittersweet Ending: Peter Corrigan is never able to save Lincoln from getting shot, but his attempts helped paved the path for a policeman to become a millionaire and his descendant, a humble attendant at the gentleman's club to inherit his fortune.
  • Cassandra Truth: Peter tries to warn the people that Lincoln is going to be shot, but they think he's insane.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sign out front denoting the establishment as the "Potomac Club" tells the viewer that the setting is Washington, DC. Then after someone specifically points out that it's April 14, it's not hard to guess what's going to happen to Peter.
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  • Exact Words: After drugging Peter (supposedly for his own protection) Mr. Wellington does admit to Peter that he is beginning to believe his claims that Lincoln will be murdered. However, since Wellington is in fact Booth, what he actually means is that this claim is stiffening his resolve to actually kill Lincoln.
  • Historical Domain Character: Clara Harris, Henry Rathbone and John Wilkes Booth all appear.
  • Irony: The policeman's superior tells him he'll never be promoted if he believes Peter's story, believing his story not only got him promoted to a councilman, but paved the road for him to become a millionaire.
  • Match Cut: From Peter rapping on the window in despair to Peter rapping on the door of the club, having returned to 1961.
  • No Name Given: The police man who believes Peter's story and turns out to be William's great-grandfather is not named.
  • Only Sane Man: The unnamed policeman who suggests at least placing an extra guard on Lincoln in response to their warnings.
  • Ontological Inertia: During a discussion about traveling back to time to the day before the Wall Street Crash, Peter argues that history cannot be changed as the events of October 24, 1929 are a part of established history. When he is sent back in time himself, he learns that some things can in fact be changed. Peter was unable to prevent Lincoln's assassination but inadvertently changes history in a more minor way. The police officer who believed his story made a name for himself for seemingly predicting the assassination. As a result, he became Chief of Police, a councilman and a millionaire after investing in real estate. In the original history, his great-grandson William was an attendant at the Potomac Club but a member of the club in the altered history.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: Lest Peter think it was all a dream, he finds when he returns to 1961 that William the club attendant has turned into William the club member and is a lot richer than he used to be.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Although Peter's actions in the past changed William from a humble attendant to a rich man and a member of the club, Peter still remembers him as an attendant.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Upon finding himself on April 14, 1865, Peter tries to save Abraham Lincoln from being assassinated.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Booth drugs Peter's drink. Peter eventually falls to the floor of Booth's room unconscious and thus is unable to stop the assassination.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The film opens with Peter and his well-to-do friends in a smoky gentlemen's club, playing bridge and shooting the breeze about time travel.
  • Time-Travel Episode: One of several Twilight Zone episodes involving time travel, this one to April 14, 1865.
  • Title Drop: When musing about the possibilities of going back in time and stopping the stock market crash of 1929, Peter says "I really don't belong back there."

Rod Serling: Mr. Peter Corrigan, lately returned from a place 'back there', a journey into time with highly questionable results, proving on one hand that the threads of history are woven tightly, and the skein of events cannot be undone, but on the other hand, there are small fragments of tapestry that can be altered. Tonight's thesis to be taken, as you will - in the Twilight Zone.
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