The Twilight Zone: The Odyssey of Flight 33

"You're riding on a jet airliner en route from London to New York. You're at 35,000 feet atop an overcast and roughly fifty-five minutes from Idlewild Airport."

"The plane is going too fast, and there is nothing within the realm of knowledge or at least logic to explain it." 

"Unbeknownst to passenger and crew, this airplane is heading into an uncharted region well off the beaten track of commercial travelers..."

Today let's have a look at one of the three stories that later inspired Stephen King to write "The Langoliers." (The others, in my estimation, are The Outer Limits episodes "The Probe" and "The Premonition." I keep thinking I should blog up more original Outer Limits episodes. Maybe it'll happen. If only there was an alliterative day of the week for them.

"Odyssey" is a fairly straightforward sci-fi imagining, largely void of any deeper concerns about human psychology. As mentioned here:

"When Serling produced an episode like "Mirror Image," "The After Hours," or "The Odyssey of Flight 33," he was simply trying to scare the audience. That isn't to say these episodes or ones like them aren't complex or that Serling wrote none of his concerns into these scripts. Serling was often successful at finding a middle ground between his plot driven thrillers and his Bradburyesque offerings of introspection and/or whimsical fantasy which became the foundation of the show. With "The Odyssey of Flight 33," Serling became enamored with portraying the world of air travel in a strictly accurate and technically sound manner. In the time after the episode aired, Robert Serling (his brother, a professional aviation writer) was to boast that the episode was, and remains, one of the most technically accurate offerings ever filmed on the subject of air travel."

The Plot: Global 33, the aforementioned jet airliner bound from London to New York, catches a sudden and strong tail wind ("one lulu of a jetstream") that propels the aircraft faster and faster until it exceeds speeds of 3000 knots. (Incredibly, neither the fuselage nor the engines are damaged.) They lose all radio and radar contact ("No soap. I can't raise anyone"), and the flight crew struggles to figure out what's happened. 

Captain Farver (John Anderson, who starred in just about everything) decides to take the plane below the cloud cover - a dangerous maneuver as he'll be cutting through multiple other flight paths. But it's their only choice - "sooner or later we're going to have to find a landmark and go VFR."

Once below, they see Manhattan exactly where it should be, but not the Manhattan they know.

"There's the east river. There's the Hudson River. That's Staten Island. We've got all the topographical clues we need. The problem seems to be the real estate and eight million people are missing." 

That's not the only problem. The crew on the other side of the cockpit, unable to trust the evidence of their own senses, ask Captain Farver to verify what they see below. He does:

"What in the name of everything that's holy is going on?!"

The Captain suggests that maybe it wasn't just a lulu of a jetstream; maybe they've come, somehow, back in time. Running low on fuel, he makes the decision to ascend to the same spot and go back along the same trajectory, hoping to rocket forward in time.

Before we go on: it's cool to see a brontosaurus out the window and everything -

In fact, here it is again. (At $2500 for a handful of seconds, it's the most expensive shot in TZ history.)

but I don't believe any sauropods have been found near Manhattan. Doesn't mean they couldn't have been there, of course, in the Twilight Zone or otherwise, nor does it really matter, I'm just saying: maybe an American Mastodon (a likelier thing to see out the window) would have visually communicated the idea of "hey, we're way back in dinosaur times" just as effectively. 

They go back through the barrier -

and the crew is delighted to see the recognizable buildings of New York below. And while the Navigation Officer cannot raise Idlewild Airport on the radio, he's able to raise someone who claims to represent the CAA (an organization Captain Farver helpfully tells us was the predecessor to the FAA) at LaGuardia* that clears them to land. But upon their further descent, the crew members recognize the unmistakable buildings of the New York World's Fair, an event which happened in 1939. They realize they've come forward in time - but not forward enough. 

* LaGuardia wasn't so-named at the time of the NY World's Fair in our reality, but as with the sauropods in Manhattan, it's all good. Twilight Zone, bro.

Again from Twilight Zone Vortex: "At this point, Captain Farver decides to let the passengers in on the dire situation and makes an announcement on the final course of the aircraft. Dangerously low on fuel, Global 33 ascends a final time to pass back through the sound barrier in the hopes of emerging in its own time."  

"A Global jet airliner, en route from London to New York on an uneventful afternoon in the year 1961, but now reported overdue and missing, and searched for on land, sea, and air by anguished human beings, fearful of what they'll find."

"But you and I know where she is. You and I know what's happened. So if some moment, any moment, you hear the sound of jet engines flying atop the overcast - engines that sound searching and lost - engines that sound desperate - shoot up a flare or do something. That would be Global 33 trying to get home - from The Twilight Zone."

I love the whole "So keep watching the skies..." implication of Serling's wrap-up, there, and how the episode ends with the fate of Global 33 unknown. Shades of both the Mary Celeste (though I guess that was more of a ghost ship with the crew missing, so its TZ counterpart is more something like "The Arrival" and not this ep) and the Bermuda Triangle.

Visually - outside the dinosaur shot and the stock footage of the World's Fair and New York - there's not much to this episode. There's only so many angles you can film the cockpit, after all:

The only other set is the rest of the plane, of which we see the flight attendants' station and back with the passengers.: 

Flight attendants Played by Nancy Rennick and Beverly Brown.

There's an exchange between a RAF Group Captain (the chap nearest the window, left of frame, above right) and the chatty lady beside him. I'm not exactly sure why it's left in the script, since neither of the characters do anything else in the episode. I suppose it's just to make the passengers seem more real, which is accomplished, but I thought perhaps the characer would do something more. Possibly burst into the cockpit and commandeer the controls or something. Perhaps if it was an hour-long episode and not just a half-hour.

Speaking of, as mentioned, the story kind of runs into the end of the episode. I can see that sort of unresolved ending being a sticking point for some, but I liked it. 

Anderson does his usual good job, as does Lt. Stiles from "Balance of Terror" (aka Paul Comi), who manages not to blame the time vortex on a Vulcan fifth column.
While we're here, two TV vets Sandy Kenyon and Wayne Heffley play the navigator and the 2nd officer, respectively. Harp McGuire, unpictured, plays the flight engineer.

Good stuff. Of the handful of Twilight Zone episodes involving an aviation mystery (not counting anything with astronauts, or Shatner), probably my favorite. 



  1. I first saw this way back when I was ten. At the time, I remember wondering if the end meant they would crash while stuck in some sort of warp in between any possible time stream.

    Today, I wonder if they were at least allowed to refuel before take off.

    This is one of those stories that I remember getting me hooked on sci-fi/fantasy in general. Loooking back, it seems to be based more on those so-called real life unsolved mysteries that you hear now and again.

    The reason for that is because I have a vintage copy of "Rod Serling's Twilight Zone" with stories adapted by Walter B. Gibson. While never saying it outright, I get the impression that the majority of the stories are Gibson originals that may be based on so-called real life unexplained events like supposed time travel, ESP, and the like. Although "16 Millimeter Shrine", "The Purple Testament", and "Mirror Image" are represented.

    Gibson himself has a kind of fame as the creator of "The Shadow":


    It's interesting to see someone try and take the Zone into a more Unsolved Mysteries territory.

    Okay, just checked and it turns out Serling made a contribution to this type of program. I leave judgment to others:


    Personally, irregardless of ones beliefs on the matter, I think it kind of has a retro-coolness dating back to the heydays of Heavy Metal magazine and the like.


    1. I haven't seen that Rod Serling "It Has Begun" documentary since the early 90s. Bookmarked!

  2. But, like, what if a Vulcan conspiracy WAS at fault here...?

    I recently began watching "The Twilight Zone" from the beginning, and haven't made much progress yet, but I'll go ahead and mark this down as one of the ones to get excited about -- it sounds terrific! The "Langoliers" connection only enhances it for me, of course.

    If I may step away from this episode briefly, I'd like to mention that I watched "Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" last night. I don't know if it's actually a great episode or if its themes hit me in the right way and made me merely think it's great, but I sure did enjoy it.

    It got me to thinking a bit about what I perceive to be the specific strength of the series overall: its ability to say, "Hey, check it out, here's this thing that is completely and utterly unbelievable," and then somehow make you believe in it, if only in a metaphorical sense. I'm pretty sure that makes Rod Serling a magician of some sort.

    1. A magician to be sure.

      I haven't watched "Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" in quite some time. I always liked it, but it's been awhile. I love Ida Lupino.

      "I'm saying there might be Vulcan spies aboard this plane!!"