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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 3 E 68 The Shelter

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Rod Serling: What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it's the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.

It's evening in a typical suburban community, where Dr. Bill Stockton is enjoying his birthday party with his wife Grace, their son Paul, and their group of friends from all over the neighborhood. Bill is a beloved member of the community, a good friend and doctor to them for over twenty years, healing them and even delivering their children. Everything is fun and jovial, even when mention is made of the fallout shelter Bill has in his basement, until Paul comes in and informs his father that a Civil Defense announcement is on.

Bill turns to it and everyone is horrified to learn that unidentified flying objects have been detected on route for the United States. In this day and age, it can't be anything but nuclear missiles. They have between 15 minutes to half an hour before they hit.

Bill, Grace, and Paul begin stocking their shelter when their neighbors come in one by one, all asking if there's room in the shelter for them. Bill gives them the same answer: there's only enough room, air, and supplies for three people. He offers them his basement, but they're convinced that the shelter is the only way to survive. Eventually, they all start crowding into his house trying desperately to think of a solution. They also realize that not everyone can fit in the shelter, and start turning quite hostile to one-another. Both angry words and punches are tossed around as everyone now plots to get into the shelter using a makeshift battering ram. They tear apart Bill's house as they clamor into the basement and begin ramming the shelter door.


Just as they break through and begin forcing their way inside, another broadcast comes on to inform everyone that there are no nukes on the way. The unidentified objects were just harmless satellites. Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief.

As Bill and his family emerge from the shelter, everyone apologizes for how they acted and what they said, and offer to pay for the damages, but Bill responds by asking if anyone knows what those damages really are. One of them might be finding out what kind of people we really are. He concludes by wondering, even though they were spared a bomb tonight, if they weren't destroyed without it.

Rod Serling: No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone."

The Tropeter:

  • All for Nothing: Even if the whole ordeal wasn't a false alarm, the shelter wouldn't even be any good to the neighbors after they've rammed down the door.
  • An Aesop: "For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized."
  • And Then What?: As they're gathering supplies for the shelter, Grace wonders what the point is if they're destined to live in a ruined world surrounded by the bodies of their friends and neighbors. Bill tells her Paul is their reason, because even if that's the world he inherits, he's still only twelve.
  • Battering Ram: The neighbors fashion one together to break into Bill's shelter.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Bill's birthday party turns into a mad scramble for survival in the span of a few minutes.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The apparent missiles were just a false alarm and everyone is quick to apologize for what happened, but it's clear Bill's sense of trust in his neighbors has been severely damaged.
  • Bottle Episode: The entire episode takes place in and around the Stockton house.
  • Children Are Innocent: Even as their parents are screaming and arguing around them, some of the kids eat the leftover food from the party. This ends up being Deconstructed as well. Part of the reason everyone is so desperate to survive is that they all have children with them, one of whom is only three months old. So whose are more deserving of survival?
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted with both Bill and Marty, who seemingly give no outward indication that they forgive the people who respectively wronged them.
  • Emergency Broadcast: A CONELRAD broadcast informs them of the unidentified objects on the way, and later reveals that there's nothing to worry about as they were satellites as opposed to missiles.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Everyone fears that this will be the result when the bombs hit.
  • Fairytale Motifs: This is a dark version of "The Grasshopper and the Ants". Bill and his family are the ants, the neighbors are the grasshoppers, and the bomb is winter. No prizes for guessing what the shelter is.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail: The crux of the conflict, given that there's only enough space and resources to sustain three people, and fighting breaks out over what little is available - to the point that the neighbors try to batter down the shelter doors. And then the whole thing turns out to have been a false alarm.
  • Humans Are Bastards/Humans Are Flawed: Both are on full display here. All the neighbors are desperate to ensure their families survive, but their fear mixes with their pent-up emotions and all kinds of ugliness comes out. Frank is particularly antagonistic. Not only is he the first to advise breaking into the shelter, but he makes some racist remarks at Marty and even physically assaults him. He does apologize after the crisis though. Even Bill delves into this, scorning Jerry for not taking the time to build his own shelter in the middle of the crisis.
  • Idiot Ball: It's lampshaded several times that the neighbors are wasting their time trying to convince Bill to let them in instead of securing some other kind of shelter for themselves.
  • Mundanger: There is nothing supernatural or science fiction in this episode. All the danger comes from the natural human reaction to panic.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After it's revealed there are no nukes on the way, all the neighbors are quick to apologize for their behavior and want to make amends. It does little to repair Bill's broken trust in his friends.
  • Non-Specifically Foreign: After the crisis begins, Frank is continually racist towards the foreign-born Marty, describing him as a "pushy, grabby, semi-American" and later refers to "you and your kind." However, it is never stated what country Marty is from.
  • Oddball in the Series: This is one of only five episodes not to feature any sci-fi or fantasy elements. The others are "Where is Everybody?","The Silence" "One More Pallbearer", and "The Jeopardy Room".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bill gives one or two smaller ones in the first half of the episode, pointing out that they should've prepared when they had the chance. Later, after it turns out there's no bomb, he gives his neighbors an especially scathing one about how they allowed themselves to be "a lot of wild, naked animals who put such a hefty price on survival that they clawed their neighbors' eyes out just for the privilege".
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Serling wrote this episode in direct response to the social discourse and anxieties during the ongoing Berlin Crisis.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Bill has one once he emerges from the shelter, having seen and heard everything going on with the people he considered friends for twenty years.
  • What You Are in the Dark: A rather dark look into what humans are when faced between certain death and shelter from that death. Towards the end, Bill lampshades how his neighbors ultimately failed to remain human when there really was no danger.