The Ten Greatest Twilight Zone Episodes
If anyone ever tells you that M. Night Shyamalan is the master of the twist ending, you have my permission to smack that person right in the mush. The one true originator and genius behind the thinking man’s ending (that being the twisting kind), was Rod Serling and his brilliant serial, The Twilight Zone. Airing in primarily half-hour installments (and one season of hour-longs), The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964 and quickly became the standard for the bizarre, macabre, noir, and fantastic, all thanks to Serling.
Each episode took the viewer on a trip outside of reality and placed them directly into a little bit of abnormality just to the left of sane. The shows were never lavishly done, never overly pretty or remotely condescending to the viewer. They always played straight and always presented the audience with enough interesting turns and meandering plot lines to hold one’s attention till the very end when often the best parts unfurled. In fact, it was a show so ahead of its time that, despite the age difference of nearly 60 years, every episode still holds up today. The ten collected here are, to many, the best examples of what Rod Serling brought to television history. And I tend to agree.
What if one day, after years of telling tall tales and little white lies, someone from far away came up to you believing everything you have ever said was the Gospel truth and had, in fact, based an entire society on their belief in you? What would you do? Well, in this episode, Frisby (played by Andy Devine, whom you might recognize as the voice of many early Disney toons), a master of the embellished story — and a pretty terrible harmonica player as well — discovers that his version of his own history, however skewed, may award him more than he’s ever bargained for.
How will it come to an end for you? Will you know when your time has come? This particular episode features Nan, just recovering from what appears to be a minor flat tire along the side of the road. But as she is directed to town to receive a proper repair, she spots a hitchhiker thumbing for a ride. Unnerved, but otherwise fine, Nan proceeds throughout the next several days, every time stopping for necessities and every time spotting the hitcher, who never utters a word. Why is he following her, and more over, how? This is an episode from which Shyamalan took more than a liberty.
This episode blurs the lines between what is reality, what is perceived reality, and what is realistic fantasy almost to the point of blending them seamlessly into a unrecognizable portrait. The story follows a young woman who wants nothing more than a golden thimble as a gift to give to her mother. In the department store, she is taken to a floor that couldn’t possibly exist and assisted by a woman who couldn’t possibly be working there. Soon she discovers that all isn’t what it seems, and neither is she.
It won’t be long till humanity turns a blind eye to vanity and everyone begins looking exactly the same. And when that day comes, will there still be those who are… different? Will there still be those who are unable to be changed in such a way that they could eventually look like everyone else? Possibly. Too bad for lovely Tyler that her eleventh time under such circumstantial surgery has an unknown outcome. Maybe this time she’ll look like the others. Maybe.
In this episode, Art Carney (Ed Norton from The Honeymooners) portrays a bottle-lost mall Santa who we’re introduced to as he nurses a shot glass in a local pub. Despite his addiction, he’s not bad or mean, in fact he’s anything but. All he wants, as he describes his desires drunkenly to the store manager, is for the little lost children to stop being forgotten especially at Christmas. All he wants is to make the holiday happy for those who have nothing. Maybe a little Christmas magic is all he needs.
Agnes Moorehead (Endora from Bewitched) stars in one of the best episodes of the series. Here we see a ramshackle old house situated in the middle of nowhere with no modern utilities and a woman dressed in tattered clothes fixing what might be dinner in a huge cast iron pot over the fire. Throughout the show it becomes evident that there is no dialog as the woman, frightened and alone, attempts to discover what is plaguing her home. The only words spoken come at the very end. At the twist, if you will. This one will stick with you.
Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) cares little for his job at the bank, isn’t overly enamored with his wife and really just prefers the company of the written word. Books, magazines, newspapers… anything he can get past his harpy of a spouse and his uncaring, gruff boss. It just seems that no one wants poor Henry to read. But the time will come soon enough where Henry will have all the time in the world. At least, for a minute.
Sometimes the Twilight Zone literally became dramatic version of itself. In this case, a little girl named Tina is discovered missing. We can all — including her panicking parents — hear her. And so can her dog. Mom and dad have no idea; they’ve checked under the bed, they’ve searched the house and around the room, but to no avail. Suddenly, after a physicist friend is frantically called over, Tina’s dog rushes in and similarly disappears. But to where? Perhaps that odd area on the wall…
More people know about the John Lithgow version from Twilight Zone: The Movie than this, the original version, starring William Shatner. The film version is nearly identical, however in this original, Shatner flies with his wife and has just been released from a sanitarium for having a nervous breakdown. In the flick, Lithgow is scared of flying as a whole. Anyway, imagine yourself thirty-thousand feet in the air seeing something on the wing of the plane tearing it apart. What would you do? Would your reaction be as rash as the character here? Probably not, but the end result might not be the same, either.
Those of you who remember Billy Mumy from Lassie and Lost in Space will really get a bit of a shock from this episode of the series. This was also recycled in the movie, but not nearly as well. In the original, Anthony Fremont (Mumy) has control over his entire town of Peaksville, Ohio. As Serling illustrates in the opening dialog, we’re not sure if Peaksville is alone on the map or if the town has been lifted and moved elsewhere. Anthony has powers that allow him to do as he pleases, but he despises anger. Be happy, or be banished. And whatever you do, don’t make him mad.