"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.
Clown. Hobo. Ballet Dancer. Bagpiper. And an Army Major. A collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation. Just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we'll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we'll only explain it, because this is the Twilight Zone.
An Army Major in dress uniform
, a clown
, a hobo
, a ballet
dancer and a bagpiper
find themselves in a giant cylinder with no memory of who they are or how they got there. The Major is the newest arrival, and is the most determined to escape. The others point out that they have a very odd existence: They do not ever need or desire food and drink; in fact, they seem to be totally devoid of feeling. Many guesses are made about where they could be. The ballet dancer speculates that they might be on a spaceship, while the Major thinks that they are in Hell
. Eventually, the other characters believe that this could be true.
Finally, the ballet dancer suggests forming a tall tower on each other's shoulders to escape. The plan almost works, but a loud sound and vibration shakes the cylinder and sends the five tumbling to the ground. Now even more determined, the Major fashions a sort of grappling hook by tying together loose bits of clothing and attaching the links to his sword. By reforming the tower, he manages to escape, but tumbles to the ground....
The scene then cuts to a little girl picking up a doll in the snow- a doll in the dress of an Army Major. A kindly woman tells her to "put it back in the barrel with the rest of them." It is revealed that the cylinder is a toy collection bin for a girls' orphans home, and that all five characters are nothing more than dolls. The loud noise was the kindly woman shaking her bell to attract people to give more toys.
The final shot is one of the five characters, now seen as dolls with painted faces and glass eyes. The ballet dancer, though, moves her hand and cries.
Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in the distorted image of human life. But this added, hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer and a major. Tonight's cast of players on the odd stage known as the Twilight Zone.
Preview for Next Week's Story
Next week, Mr. Dean Stockwell makes his journey into The Twilight Zone playing the role of a platoon lieutenant on Corregidor during the last few hours of World War II. What happens to him provides the basis of a weird, and yet, we think, haunting excursion into the shadowland of imagination. On The Twilight Zone next week, Mr. Dean Stockwell stars in "The Quality of Mercy."
- The title is an allusion to Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello and to No Exit by Sartre.
- This episode was remade as Child's Play, a 1986 episode of Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense directed by Val Guest. The story was updated with a science fiction theme, featuring robot dolls trapped inside a futuristic doll house.
- Vincenzo Natali named this episode as an inspiration for his film Cube. Additionally, it has been stated that Toy Story was inspired by it.
- An episode of the TV show Sabrina, the Teenage Witch parodies this episode.
- The last shot of the episode, in which the five characters are seen in doll form, does not feature the actors; rather, specially made dolls were crafted that closely resembled the five actors who played the parts are shown.
- One of the short films made for On the Lot titled "Army Guy" is about an Army man who wakes up wearing a dress and is surrounded by many copies of the same people, complete with fake drinks and furniture. We later find that he is an action figure lent by a boy to his young sister.
- The little girl who appears at the end of this episode was portrayed by the daughter of longtime Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton.
- The latter half of an episode of the 1990's series Felicity entitled Help for the Lovelorn used Five Characters in Search of an Exit as a basis. Lamont Johnson, who directed the Twilight Zone episode, also directed the Felicity episode.
- Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
- Felicity in a tribute to The Twilight Zone season 2 chapter 12 "Help for the Lovelorn".
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593931360
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0970331090