The Twilight Zone - I Shot an Arrow in the Air

Admittedly I think I Shot an Arrow in the Air endures primarily because of two important reasons: Dewey Martin’s selfish, scummy astronaut, Corey, and that fantastic finish. Interestingly, I think A Hundred Yards Over the Rim takes the ending of I Shot an Arrow… and gives it a creative spin with some time travel included. That said, I think I Shot an Arrow… influences plenty of episodes of Twilight Zone going forward with its desolate, seemingly endlessly hilly desert terrain, isolated men on another world/asteroid (they believe!) trying to hold together as supplies (water in this episode’s case) dwindle, and the great unknown of what lies ahead when it appears no help will come. Corey obsesses over water to the point that his mental anguish regarding having a supply of it is more important than human lives…the human lives of the very astronauts he went up in the “arrow” with (arrow describing the space shuttle that took off in the hopes of exploration). Colonel Donlin (Edward Binns) is in charge of the mission, writing an account of what happened—an explosion causing mechanical failure resulting in their shuttle crashing on “some asteroid”—with his thoughts narrated to us before Corey interrupts him. Pierson (Ted Otis) is the third member of an eight person crew but while only four of them survived, three are well enough to move. When Pierson and Donlin provide some of their water to their fallen and worsening comrade, Corey avidly argues against it, leaving his humanity “back on earth”.

Corey clearly is defined as the ultimate heel. He’s inconsiderate, desperate, and irrational. Inconsiderate of everyone but himself when it comes to water, Corey wants to keep himself hydrated at the detriment of others. When he drinks, some of it spills down his face; Corey chugs, but when others are more level-headed in how much they consume he watches them intensely. Desperation causes Corey to take crummy, homicidal measures to assure his own survival above those who are forward-thinking and level-headed. Irrationality causes Corey to act impulsively and without much thought of his actions and consequences. Pierson and Donlin’s humanity remains as does their reasoning and acceptance that conserving what supply is left after their sickly astronaut perishes (and they take the time to bury them although it is obvious Corey considers this a waste of time and energy) and plotting a course for potential resources that might exist on the asteroid are of absolute importance. Meanwhile Corey continues to gulp his water and plots as well…plots to rid himself of “dead weight”. His betrayal of the remaining two astronauts comes back to haunt him when a pattern finger-drawn in the sand by a dying Pierson (cracked over the head and bleeding to death) proves to be quite significant…and not too far from where they are. Had Corey just kept his wits about him and wasn’t such a self-absorbed jerk, perhaps all three of the astronauts might have “made it home” in one piece.

The episode’s effectiveness—for the most part—hinges on the irony of the twist at the end. Because Corey was unable to rein in his water gluttony, he commits despicable acts. What bothered me about the episode was how Corey could possibly pass the rigorous psychological testing that astronauts undergo for situations just like the one here. Corey is immediately coming apart. Not much control at all do we witness from Corey. Perhaps before we met them there had been some time when he wasn’t such an unfeeling, uncaring asshole. Just the same, he couldn’t care less about the dying astronaut. And he proves to not care about Pierson or Donlin, either. When Corey eyes that Nevada sign, the power lines, and hears that diesel truck, he realizes his error. Corey laughs maniacally and it all caves in on him…he had made egregious, unethical, immoral, calculated, insidious errors in judgment. He’ll have to live with them, too. Binns is the ethics, heart, and brains annihilated because he thinks beyond just water. Water was needed, of course, but eyeing intellectually survival beyond that was Donlin not Corey. Corey was just concerned with gobbling up water, his and everyone else’s. The irony beyond the hills( regarding where the astronauts were) is that Corey wasted Donlin for a canteen that had a hole in it…caused by a bullet he fires. He takes his actions with him. He has himself to blame.

I don't want to fail to mention that I like the cold opening before we meet the astronauts where we are at "NASA" and listen to those frustrated and concerned about where the "arrow" landed. Astronauts lost and they are without answers. A mission seemingly diffused by tragedy. As Serling says, an accumulation of factors with a dark, ironic result.