In the most underwhelming opening in Twilight Zone history, Helen Gaines gets a call informing her that her husband Major Bob will be launching in a few hours. That’s about it — no menace, no mystery, no switcheroo, no paranormal. Oh, and she makes cocoa for their daughter.
This seems to be a Mercury mission. In a TZ rarity, contemporaneous figures are mentioned. It is stated that this mission will last a week, and that this is progress “after the orbital groundwork set by Grissom, Glenn and Schirra” . This episode did indeed air after Schirra’s flight, but before Gordo Cooper flew higher, farther and faster than any other American. I suspect any 3rd grader at the time could have told them that Grissom did not fly an orbital flight, but I suppose the statement is correct as his flight contributed to the understanding of orbital mechanics. During this expository scene, Gaines is strapped into a chair, on his back with his legs up. I have no idea what they were going for here. It is a reasonable launch position for a TV astronaut to be in, but he is clearly in an locker room, not the capsule.
Helen is watching the count-down with their daughter. As soon as the count-down gets to zero, she walks to the TV and turns it off. There is unintended comedy as we cut to the rocket taking off. For a split second, the shot remains on the TV as we hear the engines exploding to life. Happily, however, the rocket launches safely.
Gaines reports being in zero-G as the rocket is still accelerating through the atmosphere. Really, does no one on the set ever speak up when TZ makes these kind of simple mistakes? You would think this was when people might catch a simple mistake like this, being the era when people still gave a shit about space.
Gaines loses communication with earth, and is then hit with a blinding light. His capsule is later found intact on land and he remembers nothing.
He begins noticing subtle changes — his house now has a white picket fence, his daughter thinks he’s different, he is wearing a Colonel’s uniform. When he kisses his wife, it is clear that she detects a difference, and not in a good way. He voluntarily goes to see a psychiatrist and baffles them by referring to a President Kennedy.
While a Kennedyless planet is certainly good news for Marilyn and Mary Jo, it is curious. By having Gaines know Kennedy and the others not know him, that means that he didn’t change, and that he didn’t slip into another dimension . . . everyone else did. i.e., we followed the “real” Gaines to this titular parallel world while the other Gaines is in the “real world” stunning Helen with his new-found girth and stamina.
In the mean time, NASA engineers have determined that the capsule Gaines came down in was not the same capsule he went up in. Gaines is brought in to examine the capsule. He begins hearing voices and finds himself suddenly back in the capsule and in orbit. He stuns Cape Canaveral by asking who the president is.
Due to radio interference, his question is not answered until he is recovered and in the hospital. The colonel answers, “You were only gone 2 days, major; not 2 years.” Sadly, that presumed no 2nd term. More sadlyer, Kennedy only live eight months after this aired.
Gaines conveys his theory of what happened during his flight. Turns out he was only out of contact for 6 hours despite having lived a week on the other earth. No Gaines doppelganger visited our earth. He then goes back to his white picket fence-less home to disappoint his wife.
-  Where’s the love for Scott Carpenter?
- The first Mercury capsule was retrieved by the USS Lake Champlain. Seems strange to name a ship after a body of water. The function of a ship is to defeat water — water is the enemy.
- Strange performance by Gaines’ daughter. She was either very good or very bad I just can’t decide which.