I could probably talk forever and ever about the awesomeness of the TV series The Twilight Zone. Of course I knew about it, as much as pop culture could teach without further digging, but I never really got around to watching it until that TV marathon (which I think is still going on to this day, but I can’t remember what channel). The first episode I remember watching that night was “Mirror Image,” and I was absolutely hooked. This spurred me on to hunt the series down at my local library, which I rented on VHS to watch at home (I like collecting aging/0ld technology). I covered quite a lot of ground that way, but it wasn’t until I got married that I discovered the wonders of Netflix and Hulu. Thanks to both of them, I’ve been able to watch the series in its entirety, or at least start. As of writing this, I’ve watched all the way up to the end of Season 3.
I figured Halloween would be a good time to post this, because I mean, come on, The Twilight Zone is notoriously creepy. It invented a lot of modern storytelling tropes still in use today, and is revered as a classic to be studied and admired by young writers. But as I’ve come to watch and love this series, I’ve realized that it’s so much more than just a show made to give you the creeps. It’s deeply interesting. It talks about humanity, it lets us see ourselves in the stories, and they are so well crafted that we can be touched or terrified, sometimes varying wildly from episode to episode. And I’m always impressed with the acting, and delighted by the occasional cameos, mostly of people who became famous after working on the show! It’s a masterful series that I will encourage everyone to watch.
“But Christina,” you say, “That sounds swell, but where do I even start?” Well, dear reader, you don’t have to watch everything in order (unless you love it and are a completion like me). For posterity, I’ve made a list of my favorite episodes from Seasons 1-3 (there will be a follow-up one, maybe more). Because there are just so many good episodes, I have 3 categories: Top Faves, of course; Honorable Mention, and; Creepiest, which creep me out so much that sometimes they’re uncomfortable to get through, but they’re just so good! And definitely more to come, this is a lot of work @.@
And don’t worry, while I may talk about the plot, I’m not giving away twists or endings. So now, submitted for your approval in no particular order:
I Sing the Body Electric (Season 3, Ep. 35)
A father takes his children to a unique factory to create a robot to help out and care for them after their mother’s death. The other two children are excited about this, but one daughter, Anne, has some reservations.
“Are you unhappy?”
“Oh, of course not!”
“Well, love you don’t need. Love I can give you. But guidance, how do you buy guidance for your children?”
This episode really surprised me when I first watched it. I was expecting one thing, but what I got was completely different and overwhelmingly wonderful. I don’t want to say too much, for me this episode’s tone hinges on the balance of the viewer’s uncertainty. The lovely Josephine Hutchinson is the motherly robot, who played Basil Rathbone’s wife in “Son of Frankenstein.” The little girl who plays Anne, Veronica Cartwright, starred as Cathy in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” She is also the sister of Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta in “The Sound of Music.”
Night of the Meek (Season 2, Ep. 11)
A sad store Santa longs to help the poor people in his neighborhood, and gets the best Christmas gift ever.
“I just wish…that one Christmas, only one, that I could see some of the hopeless ones and the dreamless ones–just on one Christmas I’d like to see the meek inherit the earth.”
This one always makes me tear up. The main character’s Henry Corwin’s raw compassion for people, especially the children around him, sometimes makes it painful to watch. But I’m always right there with him, and it fills me with a sense of injustice that inspires me to action. This visceral reaction makes the eventual payoff of the excitement and joy even more sweet. It will fill you with the right kind of Christmas spirit. Corwin is played by Art Carney, and Mr. Dundee the irate store manager is played by John Fiedler, the original voice of Piglet from “Winnie the Pooh” (which makes him freakishly bizarre to listen to).
The Obsolete Man (Season 2, Ep. 29)
In a totalitarian society where obsolescence is cause for termination, a God-fearing librarian is sentenced to death, but he refuses to be crushed by the system without a fight.
“You are obsolete, Mr. Wordsworth…you have no function…you’re an anachronism, like a ghost from another time.”
“I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages!”
I’m always so moved by the librarian character’s boldness in the face of certain death, and it makes me long to be so brave and not cower when I should be asserting my free speech. This episode is such a powerful example of the triumph of knowledge and truth, and how it can never be truly stifled. I know that’s a comforting thought for me. The other thing I love about The Twilight Zone is getting to learn about awesome actors from before my time. Burgess Meredith shines as the librarian Romney Wordsworth, and as well as being in three separate and very different TZ episodes, he boasted a vast range of films and TV roles, won a few Emmys and was nominated for two Oscars.
The Eye of the Beholder (Season 2, Ep. 6)
A woman is undergoing surgery to fix her deformed face. It doesn’t turn out the way she expects.
“I never really wanted to be beautiful, you know. I mean, I never wanted to look like a painting, I never even wanted to be loved, really. I just wanted people not to scream when they looked at me. When, nurse, when, when, when will they take the bandages off?”
Even though I know the ending, the building suspense in this episode is palpable every time I watch it. The way it’s shot, the way that the characters are shown and not shown, the superb dialogue and acting that convey so much emotion; you don’t even see everyone’s faces til the end. I still stare at that woman’s bandaged head and hear her sad, hopeful voice, and even after multiple rewatches it still fills me with mad anticipation. And it even speaks against totalitarian societies that hold high uniformity. No wonder it’s considered a masterpiece. This episode has an amazing twist ending that has made it one of the most renowned examples of The Twilight Zone’s brilliance.
The Trouble with Templeton (Season 2, Ep. 9)
An old theatre actor longs for his youthful days of success, his good friends and his loving first wife who died too soon. But when he unexpectedly finds himself in the past, it isn’t quite the way he remembered it.
“I haven’t had many contented moments in my life. Though I do recall some, long ago. Laura. The freshest, most radient creature God ever created…You know there are some moments in life that have an indescribable lovliness to them. Those moments with Laura are all I have left now.”
I’m finding this episode so hard to explain without spoiling it, so I’ll just do the best I can. But once you realize what’s happened, along with the main character, you’re overwhelmed with how much he is cared for and loved. It’s stirring and rather emotional, really. I also love the 1920s music and dancing. It really sets it apart as a different time, and the energy is infectious! When Pippa Scott, who played Laura, first appeared on screen, I was struck by how lovely and vivacious she was. I’m happy to discover that at the time of this article’s posting, she’s still alive and acting!
The Passerby (Season 3, Ep. 4)
The Civil War is finally over, and a lonely Southern belle waits longingly for her husband, as a stream of wounded soldiers wander by her porch on the road home.
“Still they come. Morning and night, night and morning they walk down that road. The young ones and the old ones. How worn they look, how tired. Are there hundreds of them or thousands of them? And wouldn’t you think, wouldn’t you think with so many that my Judd, my Judd might be amongst them?”
I freaking love the simplicity and fragile beauty of this episode. It takes place in one location with only a handful of characters, but the mood is set so well and the dialogue is so fantastic that you never get bored. Your curiosity keeps mounting until the final reveal, and I have to say, EVERY time I see the last man on the road, my eyes fill with tears and I get all goosepimply. I wish I could tell you who it was, and it probably has something to do with how deeply I feel about this person, but I can’t bear to spoil it for you. You’ll have to watch it yourself, it’s just a wonderful episode.
A Piano in the House (Season 3, Ep. 22)
A cruel and bitter theatre critic buys his young wife a player piano for her birthday. When he discovers that the music it plays effects people’s emotions and makes them express their true feelings, he decides to have a bit of fun.
“I don’t know what possessed me.”
“Well I do! I seem to have bought you a more interesting birthday present than I’d thought. I wonder what other people are hiding?”
I have a soft spot for stories where the characters are honest about their feelings, even blunt. It’s interesting seeing the characters start spilling their guts unfiltered, but my favorite is probably when he plays Claire de Lune for a warm and bubbly woman named Marge. She really expresses how beautiful that song is, and how beautiful her soul is…before the cruel critic stops the piano and starts to laugh at her. But don’t worry, he gets his comeuppance.
A World of His Own (Season 1, Ep. 36)
When an author tries to explain to his wife that he isn’t really seeing another woman…the plot thickens.
“Are you all right, Victoria?”
. . . “As a matter of fact, I think I may be suffering from hallucinations…I was just standing outside this window only a moment ago, right here.”
“Yes, I was. And you’ll never guess what I saw through that window, Gregory, or at least…what I thought I saw.”
“I couldn’t possibly guess.”
“I thought I saw a woman in your arms.”
Of course one of my favorites would be about an author. I love stories about authors and their writing process. And since this is the last episode of Season 1, it has a cheeky little ending that breaks the fourth wall.
The Howling Man (Season 2, Ep. 5)
A man tells a terrifying story about a time he had to seek shelter at a strange monastery in Europe. There he met a desperate man; a meeting which changed the course of his life.
“I know it’s an incredible story, I of all people know this. And you won’t believe me, no, not at first, but I’m going to tell you the whole thing. Then you will believe because you must!”
The beginning grabs your attention right away, with a crash of thunder and a man speaking directly to the camera in desperate, determined tones. It’s also very old horror and almost folklore or fairytale-like, which I will eat up three ways to Sunday if it’s done well, like this.
The Changing of the Guard (Season 3, Ep. 37)
At the lowest point in his life, an old professor receives encouragement from some of his past students.
“We have to go back now, professor. But we wanted to let you know we were grateful, that we were forever grateful. That each of us has in turn has carried something that you gave him. We wanted to thank you, professor.”
It’s a very simple story, but so emotional, it even makes my husband tear up. After such a blow to this professor’s psyche, just hearing that he made a difference means so much to him, and that is definitely something that resonates with all of us. And after I watch it, I always want to go thank and hug my amazing teachers.