The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 5: “Walking Distance”
Martin Sloane (Gig Young), a successful advertising executive who appears nevertheless disenfranchised with the world, stops at a gas station near his hometown. Finding that the car needs servicing, he decides to pass the time by paying the town a visit. Upon arrival, he finds that things haven’t changed much at all since he was a child, with life a calm affair punctuated by old-time service at the ice cream shop and pleasant folks everywhere the eye can see.
However, all is not as it seems—or rather, it’s a little too much as it seems. At the town park, Martin comments to a passerby about how he once carved his name in a piece of wood, and he then looks over and finds a younger version of himself performing that very act. Astonished, he follows Martin the younger home, only to find his own parents who, based on Martin’s reaction, may very well be dead in the present day. Their reception to his declaration of being their son is not as he hopes and only a slap from his mother is enough to bring him to his senses, which sends him searching for his younger self in an effort to set his world right.
Few episodes in the series touch such a melancholy note as Walking Distance. Often we see ill fates befall characters, but many times they’re deserving of them, or the manner of punishment is comical or balanced by some benefit. Here we see only a man approaching middle age, upset by the state of the world and seeing the carrot of the joyous, youthful past dangled in front of him only to be snatched away with the realization that you really can’t go back. This is where the episode entrenches itself in the mind of the viewer, for few are the people who haven’t wanted to revisit the happier times of their past at some point. Gig Young does a fine job as Martin Sloan but the star performance belongs to Frank Overton, who plays the father confused about how this situation could occur and yet at the ready with love and wisdom, as we wish all our parents could be.
As a sidenote, the short scene in this episode between Martin and a town boy was Ron Howard’s first television acting role.
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