Over the course of the Twilight Zone series a recurring theme was people not knowing that they are dead. And a further subset is these unaware dead reliving over and over again some morally relevant or ironically selected event in their lives. This is the first occurrence of this type of story so I’ll think I’ll cut Serling a little slack just this once.
The set up is a British freighter, called the Queen of Glasgow, crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1942. For those unaware that is during World War II when German U-Boats sank Allied merchant marine vessels. A man named Carl Lanser finds himself on the deck of the ship but is confused about how he got there and even the details of his life. All he remembers is his name and the fact that he was born in Frankfurt Germany. Being introduced to the passengers and crew he becomes excited during a conversation about German submarines. He tries to convince them that if a submarine finds them, they will be sitting ducks. The captain confirms Lanser’s opinion and remarks that he knows a lot about U-Boat tactics. As the steward is depositing Lanser’s clothes in his cabin closet he finds a German captain lieutenant’s uniform hat among them. When Lanser angrily takes the hat back he notes that his own name is printed inside it.
Alright, it’s clear what he is but the story runs its course. Lanser has a premonition that a U-Boat will sink them at 1:15 a.m. and he starts running around warning all the occupants to abandon ship ahead of the attack. This is the usual painful Twilight Zone scene of an hysterical individual running around yelling semi-coherently to either no one or to a group of people who don’t know why he’s yelling.
Mercifully the U-Boat shows up. It surfaces and we see Lanser in uniform directing fire at the Queen of Glasgow and we watch Lanser on the Queen observing as all of the occupants are killed in brutal fashion. Finally, he goes over the side and drowns as the Queen of Glasgow sinks like a stone.
Next scene is on the U-Boat where Captain Lieutenant Lanser is happily recalling the details of the night’s victory in sinking the Queen of Glasgow. His junior officer is upset and Lanser tells him he’s a fool. The lieutenant imagines that the penalty in the afterlife for killing innocent civilians so callously might be to have to be on the Queen of Glasgow every night for the rest of eternity.
In the next scene, we see the first scene again and Lanser is on the Queen of Glasgow once again.
Okay, so I said I’d cut Serling some slack. If I were watching this episode back in 1959 (but was older than my actual two years of age at the time) I would think this was an interesting twist on cosmic fate. So, let’s give them this mulligan. B-.
Just as a note, the episode has two actors in minor roles that went on to reasonably well-known television careers. Patrick Macnee (who starred in a 1960s British spy show called the Avengers) was the British first Officer. James Franciscus (who was among other things, Mr. Novak on American television) was the German Lt. Mueller.