I was all set to rave about my favorite episode so far, but you two took the wind out of my sails! First of all, regardless of how it's used, I LOVE time travel as a plot device. It doesn't matter how lame it is, it gets my imagination going. Frankly, walking is a lovely mode of time travel because it keeps things simple. No complicated pseudo-science here; you're walking into the friggin' Twlight Zone, baby!
For me, it wasn't the moral-of-the-story aspect of it that I loved so much. I mean, it's not clear what the lesson was that he was supposed to have learned. Maybe, "Accept the life that you've lived with dignity"? "You only get once shot at childhood, and won't realize it or appreciate it until long after the fact"? "Remember that creeper you ran into at the playground when you were six? He might have been your future self"? So, whatever about that. But the nostalgia part of it--I could go for that.
What I liked the most about the episode was the notion of seeing your past from a new perspective. Our memory is faulty, biased, and has lots of holes. Who hasn't daydreamed about going back to important events from your life and seeing how things really went down? Who hasn't thought about having the ability to intepret one's own childhood culture from an adult perspective--not just schoolyard antics, but fashion, toys, media, and all that? You're going to laugh, but wouldn't it be great to go into a department store and see rows and rows of brand new Empire Strikes Back figures on the racks? Or, for that matter, see it in the theater when it was first run? To watch MTV and Nickelodeon before they were tired mainstream channels, to eavesdrop on playground chatter with its ejaculations of "boss" and "gnarly" and "rad." And then to go a step further, and to watch yourself playing as a child--the things you could learn and understand about yourself! I'll tell you that I've daydreamed of talking to myself as a child--telling my younger self things I wished an adult had. Of course, TZ gets that part right--chances are your grown up self would scare the bejesus out of your kid self. It would be tough to make that connection. But I'd still want to try, hopefully in a less dramatic way than our hero from the episode...
I have a story that illustrates this, actually. When I was about 26 or so, I rented a car and drove to the house in Connecticut where my parents split up. I had not been there (that I remembered) since we moved out when I was four or five. Dreamlike images of the house and the street were burned into my brain, and I had referred to them often over the years. Because of the time in my life they represented, they were powerful images and held a certain sway over me.
I parked my car across the street from the house. The neighborhood was formerly Navy housing, so all the houses were small and uniform in their appearance. I was not expecting the house I lived in to be so small; it loomed so large in my mind. And of course, to a four-year-old it *had* been much larger. The backyard where I played was tiny. I wanted to knock on the door to see inside, but whoever lived there was having company, so I had to settle for seeing it from the outside. I peered around the side to the window of the guest room. My dad had been using that as his room when he moved out of the shared bedroom, and my mother tells me I would go in there often looking for him (he usually wasn't there). In my mind's eye and in my psyche it was a huge space, and I felt small when I went in there as a child.
Now, as an adult, all I could think was, "This is it?" It was not even a little intimidating or overwhelming. I could handle this house, and the memories that came with it. On top of that, all the lights were on at the house, and there were cars in the driveway and on the street. I could see shadows moving across the drawn curtains. New memories were being made here. The house had moved on, and so could I.
Sometimes going back can help you to move forward. "Walking Distance" illustrates that nicely.