A uniformed Army major wakes up to find himself trapped inside in a large metal cylinder, where he meets a clown, who introduces him to the others, a hobo, ballet dancer, and a bagpiper. None of them has any memory of who they are or how they became trapped. The major, being the newest arrival, is the most determined to escape. He is told there is no way out except the ceiling, which is too high to reach but nonetheless he investigates and perseveres. The major's questioning reveals that the characters have no need for food or water and indeed feel nothing in general.
The characters question where, what and who they are, with the ballerina informing the major, "We are in the darkness; nameless things with no memory no knowledge of what went before, no understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be." Guesses are made about the nature of where they have been placed: the Ballet Dancer speculates that theyre on another planet or a spaceship; the bagpiper that they're "dream figures in someone else's dream";, the hobo that they are all dead and in limbo; and the major that they are in Hell.
Eventually the ballet dancer suggests a plan to escape: forming a tower of people, each person on the other's shoulders. The plan almost works, but a loud sound shakes the cylinder and sends the five tumbling to the ground. Now even more determined, the Major fashions a grappling hook out of loose bits of clothing and his sword. By reforming the tower, he manages to grapple onto the edge of the container. As he turns to survey the area surrounding the cylinder, he tumbles to the ground outside. The other characters talk about him, and the Clown says the Major will return but not to rescue them: "He may have been right...this may be Hell."
The scene cuts to a little girl picking up a doll from the snow - a doll in the dress of an Army major. A kindly woman tells her to "Put it back in the barrel with the rest of them." It is revealed that the cylinder is a Christmas toy collection bin for a girls' orphanage, and that all five characters are nothing more than dolls. The loud noise was the shaking of a hand held bell which the woman used to attract donations.
The final shot is of the five characters, now seen as dolls with painted faces and glass eyes. The ballet dancer moves to hold the hand of the major and her eyes fill with tears.
Five Tropes in Search of an Exit:
- Accidentally Accurate: The Hobo's guess about the group's predicament is "We're dead. We're dead, and this is limbo." While they aren't dead, the ending narration does confirm that they are in a kind of limbo: they're awaiting to be donated to an orphanage, where presumably they'll receive love and attention from the children playing with them.
- Alien Abduction. Discussed. The ballet dancer believes that they have been abducted by aliens and are either on another planet or on a ship on the way to one.
- Ambiguous Situation: The ending of the episode shows the Major returned to the barrel with the other dolls. It's not clear if his temporary escape made him realize the truth about himself and the others, or if he went into a "toy mode" once he fell out and thus couldn't sense what was happening. The Ballerina's taking his hand and crying only muddies things further—is she breaking down over the truth, or simply comforting the distraught Major after his plan failed?
- Black Comedy: Invoked by the Clown, who delights in singing nursery rhymes and making sarcastic quips about the hellish situation he and the others are trapped in. It's heavily implied that this is a front to keep himself from breaking down.
- Bottle Episode: A majority of the episode is inside a small room, and one street corner.
- Children Are Innocent: As noted by the final narration.
- Christmas Episode: One of the surprises of the episode.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Each of the characters has gone through this—they begin, much like the Major, in a state of panic and desperate to escape the strange room, but gradually become resigned to their fate and give up hope ("it gets easier after a while"). The Major, as the newest arrival, hasn't reached this point yet, and the Ballerina still maintains some slight optimism, but the Clown, Hobo, and Bagpiper are no longer trying to get out.
- Dream People: Discussed. The bagpiper speculates that they are nothing more than characters in someone else's dream.
- Dutch Angle: Dutch angles are used when the characters form a Human Ladder to climb out of the strange room. to make it look like actors lying on a floor are vertical. The effect is particularly obvious with the bagpiper, whose kilt is clearly hanging down to lie on the "wall."
- The Ending Changes Everything: Rewatching the episode with the knowledge that the characters are all dolls makes it an entirely different experience.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Since they don't remember their names, their costumes are all they have to go on.
- Foreshadowing: There are a few clues to the characters' true identities as toys sprinkled throughout the episode:
- The Ballerina points out that none of the prisoners feel hunger, thirst, cold, heat, or any physical sensations; the Clown later adds that they are capable of feeling pain, which is proven when the Ballerina sprains her leg. Dolls don't need to eat or sleep, but they can be broken.
- The Major's sword breaks against the side of the metal chamber. It's a prop made of plastic and thus extremely fragile.
- The characters' lack of names or identities beyond their jobs isn't a case of amnesia—they don't have personalities because dolls aren't given them.
- Four-Philosophy Ensemble: The titular five characters form one:
- The Major is the Optimist: He still believes that the group can escape and tirelessly works to both find a way out and solve the mystery of what's going on.
- The Clown is the Cynic: He's given up hope of escaping and mocks the others' attempts to both get out and figure out what's happening.
- The Ballerina is the Realist: She is the most self-aware regarding the situation, mediates between the Major and the Clown, and agrees to plans when they make logical sense.
- The Bagpiper is the Apathetic: He participates the least in the group's conversations and writes off the whole experience as being nothing more than a dream with little hesitation.
- The Hobo is the Conflicted: He's clearly the most depressed and frightened about the situation, and while he does participate in the group's escape attempt, he's also willing to accept it as a failure and move on.
- Human Ladder: The group tries this twice to attempt an escape.
- The first time it fails, injuring the ballerina.
- The second time the Major escapes.
- Living Toys: The major (pardon the pun) surprise of the episode.
- Manly Tears: The major begins to cry after his numerous attempts to escape the strange room fail. He is also no closer to figuring out what is going on. The ballet dancer comforts him.
- Mood-Swinger: The Clown switches between funny and serious.
- Nameless Narrative: None of the characters, human or doll, have any proper name given.
- Non-Ironic Clown: The Clown, natch—he's not scary in the slightest, beyond his tendency to switch moods at the drop of a hat and endlessly tease the Major. He's also something of a Sad Clown, as his occasional dips into philosophic musing prove.
- Ontological Mystery: Five people are trapped in a room with no exit or memory of where they came from or who they are. Only a hole above them.
- Out of Focus: The Major, Ballerina, and Clown get the lion's share of the dialogue, meaning that the other two characters only get a few lines each—the Hobo has about six, and the Bagpiper four. It's even reflected in the credits, which have the first three as main characters and place the latter two on an "Also Starring" list.
- Pet the Dog: The Clown may be a cynical jerk, but he does genuinely enjoy the Ballerina's dancing and encourages her to perform to cheer the Major up when he falls into despair.
- Purgatory and Limbo: Discussed. The hobo speculates that they are trapped in Limbo.
- "Ray of Hope" Ending: Our five mismatched heroes are trapped and isolated for now, but they'll be toys for an orphanage and Serling suggests they'll be loved unconditionally by the children there.
- Snowclone Title: To Six Characters in Search of an Author.
- Tears from a Stone: In the final scene, having been revealed to be dolls, the ballet dancer cries as she moves her hand towards the major.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Deconstructed—while the Major does successfully escape, it's possible that the sudden realization that he (and by extension the others) are little more than toys might make his predicament worse, especially because he's thrown back into the barrel without getting to experience freedom.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Possibly—the Major might have realized he is a toy when the little girl picked him up and put him back in the barrel, and he may have shared that information with the others, but the episode ends before it's confirmed.
- Troll: The Clown is a first-class example: he mocks the Major's escape attempts (at one point singing "We're Here Because We're Here" as the Major bangs on the wall), cracks jokes about the other characters, and generally delights in irritating the group.
- Uncanny Valley: Invoked. The clown hits it hard in places- such as doing silly moves while discussing the serious predicament they seem to be in.
- Wild Mass Guessing: In-universe among the characters: they try to figure out where they are, and everyone has a different theory. The Clown is an exception, as he doesn't see any point in figuring it out.
- You Wake Up in a Room: Dressed as a major, surrounded by a clown, a hobo, a bag piper, and a ballerina.