It’s just a few days away from Halloween, so you know what that means. It’s time for my yearly Twilight Zone episode review extravaganza! Check out my first one here.
I also want to take this moment to say, happy 55th anniversary, Twilight Zone! The first episode, “Where is Everybody?” originally aired on October 2, 1959.
Man, I can’t believe I watched the whole thing. In my last post, I’d only seen up to Season 3, but I sat down and finished the whole dang thing! There are very few shows that I can say I’ve watched all of, and even fewer that I’ve watched a few times, at least for certain episodes. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and see my favorite episodes with fresh eyes again, but the best episodes have great re-watch value.
As I finished up the series in the past few weeks, I started to daydream about what it would be like to watch TTZ as it aired on TV for the very first time. To see all those mind blowing twists unfold, to experience them as new and disquieting before they became a part of the classic armory of thriller and horror tropes? I’d steal the TARDIS to be a fly on a 1960s TV room wall to see that.
I’m excited to get started, so without further ado in no particular order, and with minimal spoileriness:
Five Characters in Search of an Exit (Season 3, Ep. 14)
An amnesiac soldier finds himself in strange, stark metal surroundings with a clown, a bagpiper, a hobo and a ballerina. With no other alternatives, they desperately band together to find out where they are.
Each of us woke up one moment, and here we were in the darkness…we’re nameless things with no memory, no knowledge of what went before, no understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be.
It’s hard to explain, but as I first watched this episode, it had a strange sort of gravity to it. I just knew that the characters’ situation wasn’t what it seemed, though I had no idea what it could be, but I had a feeling it was going to be really deep. You might watch it and not think it is, but this is one of the episodes that convinced me that I wanted to watch the whole series. We learn very little about the characters, mostly because they remember very little about themselves, but their situation makes you really care and worry about them. The final twist is clever and creative, I think, with a hopeful wishfulness at the end. My favorite actor of the bunch in this episode is Murray Matheson, who does an incredible job playing the clown with a snarky, dry, British humor and an almost cheerful defeatism.
Little Girl Lost (Season 3, Ep. 26)
Two parents hear their little girl crying in the middle of the night. When they go to her room to comfort her, she’s nowhere to be found, but they can still hear her calling to them.
“What’s the matter?”
“She’s not here.”
“What do you mean she’s not–?”
“Look for yourself.”
The tension and worry from the parents is so palpable, and I was right there with them, trying to figure out where their daughter was. If I explain much more, I’m afraid I’ll mention too much, but the tension really ramps up, and I was on pins and needles til the very end! I’ll just say that there is a heroic dog involved, but that’s all you get!
In Praise of Pip (Season 5, Ep. 1)
Hard-bitten, alcoholic bookie Max Phillips has one bright spot in his life, his only son Pip. When he learns Pip is dying in a Vietnam field hospital, he prays for one last chance to see him and talk to him. He gets his wish in a way he didn’t expect.
I dreamed instead of did, and wished and hoped instead of tried. But as God is my witness, Pip, I loved you.
Man, this one is a heart breaker. I can’t watch this episode without getting emotional. The leads are two repeat Twilight Zone actors. Jack Klugman, one of my favorites, plays the father, and Bill Mumy, who plays little Pip is so cute (and a lot less creepy than his best known role in the TTZ episode “It’s a Good Life”). We see a lot of Max’s rough personality as he works with his employers, but he becomes a completely different person when it comes to his son. Jack Klugman is amazing, wishing he had been there more for his son, but realizing that now it might be too late. Well, maybe there’s one more thing he can do…but I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Night Call (Season 5, Ep. 19)
The disabled Miss Keene starts getting phone calls in the middle of a stormy night, but no one answers. She’s determined to discover who it is, especially as a voice on the other end begins to speak.
Hello? Who’s on the line, please?
Dame Gladys Cooper plays Mrs. Keene, and she is wonderful! You might know her better as Henry Higgins’ mother in “My Fair Lady,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. The character likes things just so, and is somewhat unpleasant. But the strange situation doesn’t discourage you from identifying with her, especially by the end, which is unexpectedly heartbreaking. Another dorkier reason that I enjoy this episode is because Miss Keene is a knitter, and has some beautiful shawls and blankets that inspire me to crochet even more than I already do! But is this episode creepy, you ask? OH GEEBS, the voice on the other end of the mysterious phone calls is so chilling, it still gives me the willies whenever I watch it. They also do a great job making the innocuous sound of a telephone ringing a thing to fear. So yessss, yes yes yes.
The Masks (Season 5, Ep. 25)
On the night of Mardi Gras, a dying old man’s family comes to visit him, ready to snatch up their inheritance. But he has one last, odd request, if they want to get it. They must all sit with him and wear special masks, which they can’t remove until midnight.
They’re worn only during the Mardi Gras, and there is a ritual to the wearing. One tries to select a mask that is the antithesis of what the wearer is.
This is the only episode in the whole series to be directed by a woman, and under the request of Rod Serling himself, who wrote the episode. Her name is Ida Lupino, who acted marvelously in the TTZ episode “The Thirteen Millimeter Shrine,” which will be in a favorites list yet to come. Admittedly, because I had a face to go with the director’s name, I paid more attention to the directing style, which is masterful and subtle. I love how the episode sets the scene with two of the servants talking, and their snide comments about the old man Jason’s family allow us to more readily identify with our prickly anti-hero. The first thing we hear Jason say to his doctor is rather blunt and insulting, but his servants think he is more admirable than his family, who at this point we have not met. It’s a simple tactic, but packs a punch. Once we meet the family, and everyone puts on the masks, I’m reminded of a Greek or Japanese play, where actors wear stock character masks. Similar to our characters, their true natures are magnified by the masks they’re wearing. In fact, Jason says to his family, “Without your masks, you’re caricatures.” The ending is very cathartic with typical Twilight-Zone-poetic-justice style. And speaking of poetic justice…
Deaths-Head Revisited (Season 3, Ep. 9)
A nostalgic, retired Nazi returns to Dachau concentration camp where he worked during WWII, and discovers that some of the prisoners never left.
You never were a soldier. The uniform you wore cannot be scraped off, it was part of you…a tattoo, captain…10 million human beings were tortured to death in camps like this…And now you come back to your scenes of horror, and you wonder that the misery you planted has lived after you?
Nazis getting their comeuppance! This is a great episode where a sadistic Nazi captain has to literally come face to face with the murderous deeds of his past, which he isn’t even sorry for. There’s just something about stories where the bad guys get the ultimate reward for their unrepentant cruelty. I don’t want to spoil the eeriest twist, which isn’t much of a twist to modern audiences, but all the more reason not to mention it.
And in the same vein…
Judgement Night (Season 1, Ep. 10)
Karl Lancer finds himself aboard a ship, without any memory of boarding. He keeps having overpowering feelings of déjà vu, and that something terrible is going to happen, but no one believes him.
I feel as if there’s disaster out there. Doom. We’re being stalked. I know we’re being stalked.
It’s another story about a man being judged for his cruelty, and Nazis might possibly be involved. (Can we say that I’ve over-invoked Godwin’s Law? I’ve just doubled the average Nazi references per post on the blog.) Again, not to spoil it completely, it’s very powerful to see someone living the results of their decisions, to see it from the opposite view. Not just feeling the pain induced, but experiencing the anguish of knowing the outcome, but this time with empathy, and not being able to do anything to stop it. It’s a powerful thing to stop and think about.
The Big Tall Wish (Season 1, Ep. 27)
Washed up boxer Bolie Jackson has one last chance to win a big fight, but his chances are slim, and get slimmer when he hurts his hand. His young friend Henry tells him he’s going to make a “big tall wish” that he’ll win.
I’ve been wishing all my life…I got a gut ache from wishing, and all I gotta show for it is a face full of scars and a head full of memories…Henry, I can’t believe. I’m too old, and I’m too hurt to believe.
Before he created The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling realized that when the world would guard itself against blatant social commentary, they’d be more receptive if you told your message through a sci-fi or a fantasy story. He used the Twilight Zone to communicate a lot of different messages, but he used an almost completely African American cast in this episode (almost unheard of at the time). By including a diverse cast of actors in this and other episodes, from African- to Asian-American, he was showing the world that there was fantastic talent out there that could shine in great roles, and that they shouldn’t be discounted because of their backgrounds or the color of their skin. The actors in this episode, needless to say, are fantastic, communicating deep warmth and feeling. The story is bittersweet, about the innocent belief of a child, and how the world hardens adults so much that it’s hard for them to believe in miracles, even though they want to. The older I get, the more I see how my childlike optimism has gotten sanded down with time and rough winds, so this episode really strikes a chord with me, for multiple reasons.
The After Hours (Season 1, Ep. 34)
When Marsha White goes shopping for a gold thimble at a department store, she takes the elevator to the ninth floor. But the department store doesn’t have a ninth floor.
Think now, concentrate. Remember now?
I just love the concept of this episode. Who hasn’t gone to a department store and stopped to look at a…well, I don’t want to spoil it. But seriously, we’ve all been clothes shopping and that creepy little voice in the back of our minds wondered, “what if…” man it’s hard to keep this spoiler free. Let’s just say, the uncanny valley has been source of my deepest fears from as far back as three or four years old. This episode’s twist is odd but surprisingly sweet, when we see what Marsha remembers about herself. Anne Francis, who plays Marsha, has such a wonderful, easy way about her, and let’s face it, she looks like a lovelier, human version of the classic 1959 Barbie doll (which coincidentally is the same year the Twilight Zone came out!).
As a side note, out of pure curiosity, I went to Youtube and watched the updated version of this episode from the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone. It had more chase scenes, let’s put it that way. But it was redeemed because of the beautiful Terry Farrell! I just wish I’d known about this role so I could ask her about it when I met her at Dragon*Con a few years ago.
Jess-Belle (Season 4, Ep. 7)
“Fair was Elly Glover, dark was Jess-Belle. Both they loved the same man, and both they loved him well.” When Jess-Belle seeks help from an old woman with mysterious powers, she gets the guy, and more than she bargained for.
“Billy-Ben, tell your love a thing for me, will you?…Tell her not to start making her wedding dress right yet.”
“Why should I tell her a thing like that?
“She ain’t married you yet, Billy-Ben. Maybe she never will.”
It’s another episode starring the beautiful Anne Francis! This is also one of the handful of episodes that kept fueling my fire to inhale this series. Any of you who know me or read this blog know that I’m obsessed with folklore of all kinds. I just needed to watch the beginning and hear Rod’s intro, and I was absolutely hooked:
The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has its roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside in the southern hills of the Twilight Zone.
Not only was Rod speaking my language, but the old woman who Jess-Belle goes to for help is a deliciously dark but disarming character. Played by Jeanette Nolan, she’s winsome but mysterious, and a bit disquieting as we learn more about her as the episode goes on. All the characters are complex and interestingly written, and the hour-long running time of the Season 4 episodes allowed it to go at a slower pace and show more of the conflict between the characters, though sometimes it can slow down too much. It’s a great episode, still one of my favorites, and made me want to hunt down all the folklore-type Twilight Zone episodes.
Speaking of which, we’ll end with this one…
Come Wander with Us (Season 5, Ep. 34)
When rockabilly Floyd Burney walks over a broken bridge into a barn filled with musical instruments, he picks up a guitar and strums it. He suddenly hears a woman’s voice humming along with guitar picking, and he follows the sound to Mary Rachel…and ultimately to trouble.
“That song’s secret. It belongs to somebody.”
“It can’t belong to anybody…it’s public domain! …Now I need that song…I’ll buy it!”
“It can’t be bought. Not that way.”
This episode has such an amazing concept and so much promise, but to me, it fell short. It got the basic thoughts and feelings across, but it seemed like it needed more explanation. I felt like we were only given the barest of details, and the ending only brought me more questions. Why did this happen, why did that happen? WHY WON’T YOU TELL ME THE REST OF THE STORY, ROD SERLING, WHY?! I’m intending to watch this a few more times to see if it makes more sense, or if I get more out of it. Maybe I’ll read up on it more online to see if anyone analyzes more than I’ve read so far. Or maybe I’ll just write in the details myself during NaNoWriMo 😀
But what really ramped up my interest, what drew me in at the beginning? The reason it’s on this list? When that guitar gets strummed, and we hear that gorgeous voice of Bonnie Beecher starting to hum, the story clung to my mind like burrs.
Have a listen to this haunting song and bask in its beauty:
My only regret is that the story behind it really needed to be fleshed out more. It might have benefitted from an hour run-time in Season 4. Maybe it should switch episode slots with “The Thirty Fathom Grave,” which could use some trimming ^_~
There are just way too many episodes I love in this series. It’s so hard to pare my choices down, and there are still so many I want to include! The ones I don’t choose haunt me til I put them in a post. So there will definitely be at least one or two more of these coming down the pike. I might even watch more of the 1980s episodes, who knows?
Hope you have a Halloween that’s as creepy or as sugary as you like!