"Where is Everybody?" is the first episode of the first season of The Twilight Zone. It was written by Rod Serling, and starred Earl Holliman. It was broadcast on October 2nd, 1959.
That date bears some expanding on. As of the time I am writing this, that was 54 years ago. The first episode of the Twilight Zone occurred not just
very fairly early in the history of television, but about halfway through the history of visual entertainment: there is about as much time separating the present from this episode as separated this episode from The Great Train Robbery. That was one of many things I kept in mind while watching it.
The story begins with a man in a jumpsuit wandering into an empty country diner. He tries to start a conversation, but finds to his surprise that there is no one there, although the diner doesn't look abandoned, and there is food still cooking on the stove. He doesn't know where he is, and doesn't remember his own name. As the episode goes on, he finds his way to a town, and still finds no sign of habitation. He is the only character we see, and the episode moves eerily slow as he searches through businesses for any hint of where people went, or who he is. The suspense is highlighted by two scenes that display primal fears: he is trapped in a phone booth, and finds himself in a jail cell with the door slowly closing in on him.
This episode does come to a conclusion, and whether the conclusion comes naturally from the story or was tacked on to have a more viewer-friendly ending is probably a question for debate.
One of the most important things I can say about this episode is that I wasn't sure what was happening. The Twilight Zone has become such an important part of our popular culture that we take the idea of a twist ending for granted. The entire thing is often seen as just a little bit hokey. But when presented with an episode that I didn't know about through osmosis, I was actually surprised and in suspense about what was going on. I actually had a theory about the identity of the man, a theory that turned out to be incorrect.
It says something about the quality of The Twilight Zone that even after a half-century, and after so much parody in popular culture, that when confronted with an episode, especially an early episode, I still found myself absorbed.