“Mr. Don S. Carter, male member of a honeymoon team on route across the Ohio countryside to New York City. In one moment, they will be subjected to a gift most humans never receive in a lifetime. For one penny, they will be able to look into the future. The time is now, the place is a little diner in Ridgeview, Ohio, and what this young couple doesn’t realize is that this town happens to lie on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.”
That is the opening narration of “Nick of Time”, one of my favourite episodes of The Twilight Zone. Starring a young William Shatner, it is a clever tale of two people, who after their car breaks down in Ridgeview, decide to have lunch at the local diner, the Busy Bee Cafe, while awaiting repairs. In the diner is a fortune-telling machine, the Mystic Seer. For a penny, it dispenses cards which provide answers to yes or no questions.
During the episode, the Mystic Seer provides a number of fortunes to the young couple. Here are the words of wisdom the Mystic Seer gives to Shatner’s character, Don Carter in “Nick of Time”:
- It is quite possible
- It has been decided in your favour
- You may never know
- If you move soon
- That makes a good deal of sense
- Try again
- There’s no question about it
- Do you dare risk finding out
- What do you think?
- Your chances are good
- It has already been taken care of
- If that’s what you really want
- The answer to that is obvious
- That’s up to you to find out
- It all depends upon your point of view
Aside from being fun and maybe slightly disturbing, there is an important lesson to be learned from this episode. As Don’s superstitious mind becomes increasingly dependent on the Mystic Seer, we see how easy it is to surrender our free will. Fortunately, his wife helps him realize that they don’t need a machine to foretell their future. The future is what they make it. She tells him, “I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I want us to make it happen together.” Just as they leave town, another couple returns to the diner and begins feverishly feeding pennies to the Mystic Seer and begging to know if there’s “any way out — any way at all?”
Serling masterfully sums it all up with the following concluding narrative:
“Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence – having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.”
If you haven’t seen Nick of Time, I strongly urge you watch it. And if you’re like me and have watched it dozens of times, well, what’s one more viewing?
*deposits penny in Mystic Seer*
Should I watch “Nick of Time” again?