Time Enough at Last is one of those episodes that everyone knows. Even if you haven’t ever seen a single episode of The Twilight Zone, you know the premise. A bookworm who is disliked by almost everyone because of his obsession with books and escapism into them, he finds himself in heaven- almost. After a nuclear blast, where he’s the only apparent survivor because he was down in the bank vault eating his lunch and reading a book, he is at first suicidal. Then, he realizes that he has it all. There’s food to last him until kingdom come, and all of the books he could ever want to read, with no one to bother him about reading them. But then his glasses break. It’s an episode that’s been parodied on multiple television series and referenced in all sorts of media, and is on most people’s top ten lists for not only “Best Twilight Zone episode” but “Best Episode of All Time.”
The funny thing is, there’s been an interesting criticism I’ve heard lately. “But Henry Bemis was such a victim in all of this. His wife was emotionally abusive, he was treated like crap at his job, and then he’s ultimately punished at the end when his glasses break after he finally achieves a modicum of peace. Where’s the lesson? This was just cruel!” Almost all Twilight Zone episodes have a lesson, and this one is no different. But the lesson here is one that I think applies to the modern age really, really well.
Let us not forget that in centuries past, books were seen as the same kind of mind-numbing garbage that television, film and video games are seen as today. But this isn’t about criticizing the medium of books, or even Bemis for being a bookworm. This was about criticizing Bemis for letting his entire life be consumed by books. Did his wife come off as a bitch? Sure. But she’s a woman whose husband has been getting lost in books for all of this time and not paying attention to her. And Bemis sucked at his job because he was obsessed with reading. His entire life was passing him by, and he wasn’t making real connections with people, because he was so caught up in his fantasy lands built by Dickens and Twain. Bemis wasn’t simply an introvert, he was a man who eschewed real human relationships for companions in fiction.
Imagine it this way: It’s the year 2054, and Portugal decides to nuke the planet. You’re someone who has ignored most human contact because you prefer to just use the Google Brain Uploader 9000 to download things like the ninth revival of Breaking Bad straight into your mind. You’re the only one left standing, but you still have a plethora of shows you can still download to your brain because, um, solar power and science and something. Only the micro mini itsy bitsy teeny tiny USB port in your cerebellum breaks, and you’re left without entertainment, without companionship, without anything. But you had so much time now!
That’s the lesson of this episode. You can have your hobbies. You can have your escapism. But you have to stop and smell the roses and try and forge some kind of human connection where possible, and not just ignore everyone and everything because you want to beat Super Mario 3D World again, but as Rosalina this time.