I have returned to my watching and reviewing of episodes of The Twilight Zone, after a somewhat lengthy hiatus. I started this project back in 2013, seven long years ago. The Twilight Zone was released when the United States was in a time of peace, with unresolved tension beneath the surface. I started watching it in a similar time: the second term of Barack Obama, a time of steady economic recovery and general geopolitical stability, at least on the surface. And I watched this episode, today, the day the governor of California placed the entire state under an order prohibiting non-essential activities because of Covid-19. And this difference between the appeared and the non-appeared would be what I would comprehend from "The Thirty-Fathom Grave".
This episode is the second from the Twilight Zone's fourth season, the one season where the episodes were made for an hour time slot. It was broadcast in January of 1963, and starred character actors Mike Kellin and Simon Oakland as Chief Bell and Captain Beecham. It also had a small role for a young Bill Bixby.
The episode uses the longer run time to set the scene. This is basically a two person drama, between Beecham and Bell, but the presence of a large supporting cast makes it feel more real. And that realness makes the eerieness of the events stand out more. Beacham is the captain of a destroyer, patrolling around Guadalcanal, when they detect an odd sound: a sunken ship, with someone banging on the wall, as if the were trapped inside. At the same time as they try to find out the mystery of this sunken ship where none should be, Chief Bell, usually a reliable officer, starts acting unpredictable. He is brought to sickbay where his hallucinations and psychosis grow stronger. These two mysteries are, of course, related, and the drama is between the strict but caring Captain and the rapidly disintegrating Chief. The Chief has what we would today call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor's guilt. The submarine that they were investigating is his ship that was sunk in World War II, and his delusion (or haunting) is that he is being punished for his failure at saving his ship.
As I alluded to in the opening, the main theme for me was surface versus depth. Pictured literally in a destroyer on the surface, versus a sunken submarine. Metaphorically in how the Captain tries to use reason, discipline and science to solve the problems, versus the emotional and supernatural depths of the Chief. The Captain's explanation is why the Chief's survival was not something to be guilty of makes sense, but it is ineffective. What is going on beneath the surface is too strong to be explained away. And this is what I got out of the episode now, something that probably would not have occurred to me even several weeks ago.