My Top 10 'The Twilight Zone' Episodes
The Twilight Zone is a symbolic and monumental television series that first aired in 1959 and has remained so since then.
Episodes usually involve all things fantastic, from sci-fi, to fantasy, to horror, to drama, and even to comedy. The series takes most of their episode formulas from stories by well-known authors. The most notable thing I can say about The Twilight Zone is its ability to shock the viewer with a surprising conclusion to many of its episodes.
The Twilight Zone has been cited by multiple film scholars to be the start of TV's first golden age and I can't help but agree.
If I were to go by statistics, I feel as though the following entries on this list wouldn't get the attention they rightfully deserve, so, as a result, this is my top 10 The Twilight Zone episodes.
Twenty-Two is the terrifying tale of a woman in a hospital suffering from exhaustion. She has a recurring dream about taking a lift to the hospital morgue, where a cold and calm nurse waits for her with the same statement,
"Room for one more, honey."
What I like so much about this entry is the incredibly different tone it sets away from the rest of the series, mainly due to budgeting issues. For instance, the entire episode was filmed on videotape, making the acting and the musical score surreal and unsettling in a way that, despite having a much bigger budget, the other episodes of the series just couldn't mirror.
The most notable thing a viewer might take from this episode is the staggering powerlessness we feel alongside Liz, Twenty-Two's protagonist.
#9: The Living Doll
A frustrated father goes to battle with his step-daughter's talking doll, whose quotes are "I hate you" and, more famously, "I'm going to kill you".
Something straight out of the terrors of a child looking at one of his grandma's antique dolls late at night, The Living Doll is a terrifying look at domestic abuse. I appreciate how well it conveyed its message as well, considering that was a very sensitive topic of the time.
Talking Tina, the doll in this episode, is a guardian angel of sorts, promising to protect the family from the abusive father.
What makes The Living Doll one of my favorite episodes is the message it sends to the viewer.
#8: The Invaders
A woman in a rural farmhouse discovers a small spaceship filled with tiny alien creatures on the roof of her home. What ensues is a suspenseful battle between her and the creatures.
The Invaders is basically an episode-length climax in a sci-fi horror film, constant tension and conflict make for a very exciting episode that doesn't disappoint with the series' trademark ending twist.
The acting is fantastic and perhaps the best thing about this episode. Agnes Moorehead, best known as Endora from Bewitched, really lets her talent shine in The Invaders, as it relies heavily on her ability to convey emotion through her body language, given the lack of dialogue.
A personal note I'd like to make is the overall design of the episode, if you're a fan of those B-movie sci-fi films from the 50's as I am, then you'll immediately fall in love with the design of the ship and the creatures. The spacemen look like a modified wind-up toy and the spaceship seems as though it's built out of a bowl and a serving platter, complete with the thin wires attached to the disc to make a spinning motion.
#7: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is one of the most well-known episodes in the series, on the count of the numerous parodies made of it, ranging from The Simpsons to Saturday Night Live. Also, it is a well-known episode for its leading actor, William Shatner.
This episode follows a man who recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, riding an airplane and eventually becoming convinced that a creature, one that only he can see, is destroying the plane from the outside.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is a brilliant tale of psychological horror and looks at how we let our imagination get the better of us on most occasions. Shatner's extremely emotive style brings the magic to this episode, as does the iconic, ridiculous looking gremlin.
#6: A Nice Place to Visit
A criminal named Henry Francis Valentine dies in a shootout with police, he awakes in the afterlife where every one of his wishes come true.
A very basic premise that goes much deeper as the story of A Nice Place to Visit unfolds.
In order to explain why I love this episode so much, I will also have to spoil it. You've been warned!
I love the characters in this episode, the atmosphere, and the message of "be careful what you wish for". We see a criminal gunned down and seems to enter Heaven afterward. Everything he wishes for comes true, he gets a beautiful penthouse, women, objects, and the ability to win at every gambling machine he plays. At first, he loves it and it seems to be a perfect eternity, but as time goes on he begins to get bored of getting whatever he wants and realizes that he misses the thrill of the chase, essentially. When he asks his 'guide' to stop allowing him to get whatever he wants, it is revealed that having his every wish granted is actually his punishment for being a bad man in life. He realizes that this Heaven isn't actually Heaven at all but it is, in fact, 'the other place' as stated by Henry's guide.
I just felt that was such a genius idea. We think we will be so happy having everything we want in life given to us, but we won't, eventually we'll be overcome with boredom and lose the joy and excitement of life itself. Humans enjoy the thrill of the hunt, it's in our basic survival instincts.
#5: The Masks
The Twilight Zone has always specialized in picking out human flaws and examining them under a microscope; in The Masks, it's no different.
A wealthy and dying Jason Foster, played by the talented Robert Keith, invites his greedy heirs to a party where he instructs them to wear a series of masks he had made especially for them. They must continue to wear them through the night, and if they refuse, they would be cut from their inheritance. Well, this is The Twilight Zone so of course, these masks are imbued with a special power; the power to transform their wearer's face into the face of the mask, acting as a kind of metaphysical mold.
The Masks is perhaps one of the most cynical and darkly humorous episodes of the series. I also would like to mention how beautifully shallow it is, simplistic in its idea and fantastic in its execution.
The lighting is timed well, fitting the situation and the characters properly. The overall set design is warm, yet foreboding and secretive. The costume and makeup design is the centerpiece of this episode, managing to be uncomfortably realistic.
All in all, I appreciate this episode for its simplicity and focus on its design.
#4: Eye of the Beholder
Another iconic episode, Eye of the Beholder presents us with exactly what its title implies; beauty in the eye of the beholder.
We are introduced to a woman whose face is wrapped with numerous layers of bandages. According to the mysterious medical personnel of the episode, this woman is afflicted with a horrendous deformity. In this world, people with her same 'deformity' are left to live in isolation, as it appears to be illegal in this society.
This episode contains a lot of backstory for such a short amount of time and executes it flawlessly.
The cinematography is also fantastic and meticulously crafted. The lighting is careful to obstruct the staff's faces as is the camera, during the first segment of the episode and, later, offer more revealing angles after the climax of the episode.
Now the climax itself is one of the best in television history. The doctor removes the woman's bandages, carefully doing so to build some breath stealing suspense. When he finishes it is revealed that the woman is actually normal looking, in our eyes, yet the doctor gets upset and states that the procedure was a 'failure'. The woman screams and the doctors go to sedate her, revealing their pig-like mouths, which is also the apparent norm in this world. The woman escapes and runs from the personnel, running into other nurses and doctors who have the same snouts. We see a dictator-like character on a screen preaching about conformity, revealing that this setting is a dystopian one. She reaches a room with one of her own kind in the room and it seems that even she is terrified of him.
#3: In Praise of Pip
In Praise of Pip holds a special place for me because of its passionate storytelling.
The episode follows a bookie named Max Phillips who hears that his son, a soldier stationed in South Vietnam, has been wounded and is dying. On the other side of the world, Max finds himself in a reflective mood and pays off a young kids debt to his boss and, as you can guess, this doesn't end well as Max is promptly shot. Max is soon given the opportunity to spend one last hour with his son at an amusement park, except his son is ten again. Eventually, Max offers his life in exchange for saving his son and, like him, mother nature claims her debt and Max dies, but Pip is saved.
The talented Jack Klugman gives an impassioned performance as Max and really shines in his scenes with the young Billy Mumy. Every moment of the episode after the father and son have their reunion is heart-wrenching in the most beautiful way and that is precisely why it is one of my favorites.
#2: Walking Distance
This one is so great because it plays on a flaw that doesn't really feel like a flaw at all: nostalgia.
A man revisits his childhood-- literally. Martin Sloan, a VP of an ad agency travels back in time, arriving just a mile and a half outside of his childhood home. When he arrives he runs into his child self and his parents, he realizes that he has traveled back in time.
What is so fantastic about this episode is the effect it has on its viewers, especially the elders who find themselves thinking about going back to their childhood where each day was good and all we had to worry about was what fun things we could do that day. In summary, it's an emotional episode, to say the least; a fantasy, I'm sure, many of us think about.
The ending of this episode tells us that there are moments in our adulthood that are worth enjoying and if we don't go out and seize those moments, we're likely to miss them; and while we shouldn't forget the good times we've had, we should also not forget to have them now.
#1: Time Enough at Last
This is, perhaps, the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone. It's also the first one I ever saw, so, perhaps I might have a little bit of nostalgia blindness, but other people seem to agree with me when I say this is the best episode of the series.
Time Enough at Last is the story of Henry Bemis, a timid bank teller who is so incredibly unhappy but finds solace in reading. Society sees his immense love of books to be a complete waste of time. His wife, his boss, and even his customers see him as a loser, despite Henry being full of creative ideas. A dreamer brought down from the clouds by the daily meanderings of life. Somewhere in the middle of the episode, Henry locks himself in his work's vault to read his books in peace and secrecy. Suddenly, there is a massive explosion overhead and Henry emerges to find himself as the only surviving person after a nuclear holocaust. When all seems lost, he prepares to commit suicide until his eyes come across a library filled with books; he is overjoyed when he realizes the endless amount of reading time he has ahead of him. SPOILER WARNING: as he goes to sit down and pick up his first book and he stumbles forward, forcing his glasses to fall from his face and shatter on the concrete. He is unable to see, unable to read.
Time Enough at Last is the greatest story of irony and hopelessness. Where other movies and television shows rewarded the people who seemed to deserve it, Time Enough at Last states that karma is nothing more than a word and that life is, remarkably, "unfair".
The set design is incredible, the characters are unforgettable, and the writing is one-of-a-kind even to this day. Other shows and even movies have tried to mirror the impact of Time Enough at Last but could never quite hit the mark.
This episode is incredibly haunting and has stuck with me since the first time I saw it. This is because it tells us what we don't want to hear, we don't want to stop dreaming; we want our fantasies to be real but Time Enough at Last is telling us to not let them take over our lives, while also condemning those who live too much in the real world. It is staggeringly cruel and really hurts the little dreamer in all of us, pleading with Henry. I feel shivers everytime I watch Henry's timid, childlike character crumple and break down at the end of the episode. All in all, it is justifiably the best episode in the series for me.