Twilight Zone – a Top Episodes list

As I sit here watching the annual Twilight Zone marathon, I am compelled to create yet another list: my favorite TZ episodes.

What makes a good TZ episode?  First and foremost, the writing.  The best episodes feature Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont at their peak.  Good writing encompasses great dialog as well as a compelling theme.  Good writing also encompasses sensical science and not insulting the audiences’ intelligence.  (In one episode, it is implied that folks on another planet travel 11 million miles in a spaceship to reach…Earth.  Yup.)

A good episode also requires compelling acting and, in some cases, creative direction and photography.  Some of the best episodes merely scare the living crap out of you – and continue to do so long after the TV is shut off.  Others make you think.  And still others are stories that you’ll find repeated many years later elsewhere (e.g., Toy Story).

So without further ado, my favorite TZ episodes:

1. The Eye of the Beholder

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Maxine Stuart, Donna Douglas, various other actors in latex masks
  • Director: Douglas Heyes
  • Plot: A horribly disfigured woman has had her last possible operation. She awaits the result of the operation while under bandages.
  • The Twist: Once the bandages are removed…it’s Ellie May!! And she’s being cared for by pig-people.
  • Themes: Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Yes, but more importantly, the horror of enforced conformity in fascist states. This theme – so raw for a Jewish WWII vet like Serling, makes its way into some other great TZ episodes.
  • The Greatness: Where to begin? The acting is top-notch. Maxine Stuart has to convey deep pain, fear, and hope without the benefit of a face. Her hands do miracle work. Donna Douglas as the unbandaged patient manages to convey the horror of being “disfigured” without being campy. The slow reveal of the operation’s result is done magnificently, as the removal of the bandages is done from the patient’s perspective. The lighting in particular and the direction in general is genius. Even the small details – the offhand conversations with the doctors and nurses before the reveal, the leader of The State shouting about “glorious conformity,” the beautiful speech by the “disfigured” man at the end – all work in concert to present one of the most compelling 25 minutes of television ever.

2. Death Ship

  • Writer: Richard Matheson
  • Starring: Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, Fred Beir
  • Director: Don Medford
  • Plot: In the far future (the year 1997), a trio of planetary explorers come to a distant planet in a ship looking for signs of life.  They find such a sign on that planet.  Unfortunately, it is in the form of a wrecked duplicate of their ship.  Worse, they find their own dead bodies in the duplicate.  Led by senior officer Klugman, the explorers desperately try to find some explanation while experiencing disturbing dreams that point to the only possible explanation.
  • The Twist: Klugman’s character will not accept this explanation – that they are indeed dead – and forces the junior officers to relive the horror of the discovery ad infinitum.
  • Themes: Truth can be bent to the will of a dominating personality.  The Flying Dutchman theme – where some condemned soul is forced to relive the same horror over and over again – comes up several times in the TZ.
  • The Greatness: Jack Klugman’s acting in all four TZ episodes is so intense and insanely great.  Here he has to play someone that has such a hold over his men that he keeps them alive in limbo forever.  Ross Martin has an equally good performance as someone who knows he is dead because he is joined by his departed wife and child in a dream sequence that cannot possibly leave you unaffected.  The attention to detail is also noteworthy – the ship’s landing on the planet surface, while not worth mentioning by today’s standards, is done extremely well for 1960’s TV.  (Note the dust and dirt kicked up by the ship’s engines.)  And, come on, how whacked is it that these guys find their own dead bodies?  The mere idea gives me the chills.

3. Number 12 Looks Just Like You

  • Writer: Charles Beaumont/John Tomerlin
  • Starring: Collin Wilcox, Suzy Parker, Pam Austin
  • Director: Abner Biberman
  • Plot: In a future society (“The Year 2000”), 18-year-olds choose one of several stunningly beautiful models to transform into.  Marilyn, whose father committed suicide after his transformation, is reluctant to go through a transformation despite intense pressure from her mother Lana, friend Val, and society at large.
  • The Twist: Marilyn, who treasures her individuality, is forced to undergo the transformation, upon which she marvels at herself in the mirror and how much she looks like her friend Val.
  • Themes: The destruction conformity wields on society.  This time, the conformity is a byproduct of all of the products men and especially women are encouraged to use to achieve someone’s vision of beauty and serenity.  Marilyn is not only erased physically, but her very soul is also crushed by society’s demands of complete conformity in appearance and thought.
  • The Greatness: The visual effect of a society demanding extreme beauty is achieved with the famous supermodel Suzy Parker as well as the younger Pam Austin taking on multiple roles.  Collin Wilcox as Marilyn is perfectly cast: plain enough, sure, but also pretty enough to make you wonder why on earth this girl needs a transformation at all.  The very conformity is expressed through the nametags, as everyone looks identical so nametags are the only vestige of identity.  The acting is superb all around, but the final lines spoken by Pam Austin as Marilyn’s transformed self is bone-chilling; “And the best part, Val, is that I look just like you!”  This is a person who was destroyed on the inside by insidious conformity, and it is best expressed through her artificial joy.

4. And When The Sky Was Opened

  • Writer: Rod Serling/Richard Matheson
  • Starring: Rod Taylor, Charles Aidman, Jim Hutton
  • Director: Douglas Heyes
  • Plot: Three astronauts go into space in some experimental craft.  They lose contact with ground control but reappear and survive their landing.  Then, one by one, their existence is completely erased, and then that of the craft and their mission.
  • The Twist: The astronauts all disappear and are all forgotten.  The end.
  • Themes: In 1959 when this episode aired, no man had gone into space yet.  There was a lot of speculation as to what would happen to men who did go.  Here was one possible scenario, and why not?
  • The Greatness: The acting, especially Rod Taylor’s, provides the absolute, sheer horror as each character, one by one, realizes that he is disappearing from existence.  The men are genuinely scared.  This is a frightening episode, even more so if you consider that, who knows, this could happen – or may have already happened – to an astronaut.

5. The Invaders

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Agnes Moorhead, a few wind-up Michelin tire men
  • Director: Douglas Heyes
  • Plot: A solitary woman is harassed by little space invaders while trying to cook her dinner.
  • The Twist: Moorhead is an extra-terrestrial giantess and the invaders are Americans.
  • Themes: Don’t fuck with a hungry giantess.
  • The Greatness: Moorhead is not given any dialog, and she is pretty primal.  This could have been a ridiculous episode, but Douglas Heyes (note he is director of three of my top five) keeps things simple and terrifying.  The little invaders are menacing, and you certainly dread them.  The twist ending at the end is almost comical but still carries shock value.

6. The After Hours

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Anne Francis
  • Director: Douglas Heyes
  • Plot: A woman goes to a department store to buy a thimble.  She is taken to the 9th floor, which isn’t marked on the floor indicator, on an express elevator.  She is greeted by a creepy saleswoman who sells her the thimble, which is the only item on the floor.  The woman finds a crack in the thimble and goes to the store manager to complain.  As she is being told that there is no 9th floor, she spots the saleswoman, who is now a mannequin.  The woman passes out and winds up locked in the store after closing.  It then gets scary for the woman.
  • The Twist: The woman is a mannequin who was allowed to live among humans for a month, but it is now time for her to return.
  • Themes: You know that mannequin that looks a bit familiar…?
  • The Greatness: Anne Francis is stunningly beautiful, and in a way makes for a good mannequin.  She is also a fantastic actress and communicates the initial horror of her situation before she remembers what is really going on.  I also love the camerawork directed by, guess who, Douglas Heyes.  One scene has the mannequins after hours calling out to the woman, one at a time; each mannequin gets a creepy close-up as it speaks.  It works – you get as horrified as Anne Francis looks as she anticipates some horrible fate at the hands of the suddenly alive mannequins.

7. Jess-Belle

  • Writer: Earl Hamner, Jr.
  • Starring: Anne Francis, James Best, Jeannette Nolan, Laura Devon
  • Director: Buzz Kulik
  • Plot: Billy-Ben (Best) is set to marry Ellwyn (Devon), but poor Jess-Belle (Francis) loves Billy-Ben and is determined to stop the wedding.  Jess-Belle goes to Granny Hart (Nolan) for help, and she gets it in the form of a spell that makes Billy-Ben forget Ellwyn and intensely love Jess-Belle.  Unfortunately, the spell comes at a rather high price: Jess-Belle in return becomes a witch that turns into a leopard after midnight each night.  Although the leopard is eventually killed by a hunting party that includes Billy-Ben and Billy-Ben weds Ellwyn, Jess-Belle continues to haunt the couple.
  • The Twist: Billy-Ben rids himself and Ellwyn of Jess-Belle by dressing a mannequin with Jess-Belle’s wedding dress and stabbing it with a silver hairpin.
  • Themes: Sometimes we pay too high a price for the things we want.
  • The Greatness: Earl Hamner Jr writes so lovingly about the people of the rural South and it comes out in the wonderful dialog and characters.  Here, two magnificent TZ actors – Anne Francis (see above) and James Best – help bring this tale from the ordinary in anyone else’s hand to a most wonderful folk tale.  Jeannette Nolan is also quite good as Granny Hart, who is more or less the equivalent of the devil,  all at once grandmotherly and completely evil.

8. Twenty-Two

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Barbara Nichols, Arlene Martel
  • Director: Jack Smight
  • Plot: An actress is hospitalized for exhaustion.  Unfortunately, she is also having this weird nightmare in which she is led to a Room 22, which is a morgue.  At the morgue, a creepy nurse beckons the actress in, saying there’s “room for one more, Honey.”
  • The Twist: The actress recovers and is about to board a flight.  Unfortunately, it is flight number 22, and as she embarks, the same creepy woman who is now a stewardess beckons her onto the plane, saying “room for one more, honey.”  The actress then screams a scream of indescribable horror, turns right around, and runs back to the terminal.  Minutes later, the plane takes off and explodes in midair.
  • Themes: The TZ explores dreams and their relationship with the real world.  Although Twenty-Two is not the most interesting of these episodes, it is the one that stays with you the most.
  • The Greatness: Despite the fact that this episode was recorded in videotape, the story remains one of the most frightening of the series.  The nightmare is absolutely creepy.  But the sheer, absolute terror expressed by Nichols outdoes anything in modern horror flicks.  For a long time, I could not bring myself to watch this episode, that is how scary it is.

9. The Obsolete Man

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Burgess Meredith, Fritz Weaver
  • Director: Elliot Silverstein
  • Plot: In a future state, a librarian (“Wordsworth”) is declared Obsolete by the chancellor, who sentences him to death.  The librarian is allowed to choose the means of his execution, and he keeps it a secret.
  • The Twist: The librarian chooses to die by a bomb planted in his room at midnight while televised.  He invites the chancellor over and locks him in the room with him.  At the last minute, the Chancellor begs to be let out “in the name of God.”  His life is spared, but when he returns to the chancellery, he is declared Obsolete and is torn to shreds by his fellow statesmen.
  • Themes: Character is determined when the chips are down.
  • The Greatness: This could have been a patently ridiculous, over-the-top episode.  But the two leads are incredible and the quiet intensity that Meredith achieves makes for compelling viewing.  Note also that, while Meredith is on the side of God and Weaver is on the side of atheism, it is Meredith who is expressing the views of a liberal and it is Weaver who is expressing the ideas of a fascist.

10. The Howling Man

  • Writer: Charles Beaumont
  • Starring: H.M. Wynant, John Carradine, Robin Hughes
  • Director: Douglas Heyes
  • Plot: After WWI, a man (Wynant) wandering through Europe winds up tired and hungry at a castle Hermitage administered by Brother Jerome (Carradine).   Jerome at first refuses to let the man stay, but out of pity he relents.  The man then hears an inhuman howling coming from somewhere in the castle and asks Jerome about it.  Jerome at first does not acknowledge the horrible sound, but then relents and states that the howling is coming from the Devil, whom they have locked up with the Staff of Truth.  The man investigates and finds a sad, beaten man (Hughes) who begs him to let him go.  The man does and realizes that Jerome spoke the truth.  Soon after, WWII breaks out and the man dedicates his life to finding the Devil.
  • The Twist: The man indeed captures the Devil and imprisons him with the Staff of Truth, but a cleaner falls prey to the same trick and releases the Devil…
  • Themes: World wars are caused by fallen angels?
  • The Greatness: Again, Heyes proves that he is the man to direct technically challenging stories.  The scene where Hughes literallly turns into the Devil right before our eyes is iconic and is a testament to good makeup and lighting.  The camerawork is also magnificent – many scenes are shot cockeyed to drive home the disorienting feelings the man feels in the Hermitage.  And John Carradine is a marvel to watch as the maybe-completely-batshit caretaker of the Hermitage and prison warden of the Devil.  He needs to look that insane for the story to be compelling, and it is.

11. The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank

  • Writer: Montgomery Pittman
  • Starring: James Best
  • Director: Montgomery Pittman
  • Plot: In the rural Midwest, a young man named Jeff Myrtlebank suddenly sits up awake at his own funeral.  Weirdness ensues.
  • The Twist: Myrtlebank is accused of being possessed by the Devil by fearful townsfolk.  His challenge to them: if I am not the Devil, then you all have nothing to fear, but if I am, then you’d better be nice to me.  His cigarette then lights itself.
  • Themes: Fear of the unknown, a major theme throughout the TZ.
  • The Greatness: James Best, who is mainly known as Roscoe P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard, is not appreciated as the fantastic character actor he was throughout his career.  Here he shows the intensity he is capable of in a character who, for some odd reason, has awoken from the dead and is really really hungry all of a sudden.  His behavior consistently shocks his family and neighbors, and you can tell that this was once a quiet, humble, and not-very-competent man who has become the polar opposite somehow.  The show is great fun and until the very end never makes clear what exactly happened.

12. It’s A Good Life

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Billy Mumy, John Larch, Cloris Leachman
  • Director: James Sheldon
  • Plot: The people of Peakesville OH live in fear of a six-year-old boy named Anthony Fremont.  Anthony has the emotions and mental acuity of a six-year-old, but has the powers of the Biblical God.  Anthony made the world outside Peakesville disappear, eliminated electricity, and reduced the townspeople to a meager subsistence.  The townspeople, possibly including his parents, want to get rid of Anthony somehow, but he can also read their minds.
  • The Twist: None.  Anthony continues to make the lives of everyone even more miserable, and they have to smile about it if they do not wish to die a ghastly death out of the imagination of  six-year-old boy.
  • Themes: Maybe don’t have kids, especially if they’re going to have biblical powers.
  • The Greatness: Billy Mumy was a great child actor.  But the real greatness of this famous episode comes from the adult actors around him.  They have to pull off the trick of being completely, absolutely terrified while appearing to be happy just as Anthony wants.  They pull it off magnificently, and the effect provides an order of magnitude more terror.  Especially great is Mr. Fremont played by John Larch, who gets the final, gruesome line in reaction to Anthony making it snow and ruining his crops: “But it’s good you’re making it snow.  A real good thing.  And tomorrow, tomorrow’s gonna be a real good day!”

13. The Masks

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Robert Keith, Milton Selzer, Virginia Gregg
  • Director: Ida Lupino
  • Plot: A wealthy old man lays dying in New Orleans.  He summons his daughter, her husband, and their two adult children to his home for a reading of the will.  The old man clearly does not think much of his family and it becomes apparent that they only came to watch him die and collect their inheritance.  The old man then states that a condition of the will is that they all wear hideous masks until after midnight.
  • The Twist: They all put on the masks, which each represent an aspect of each of their personalities.  After midnight, the old man dies, but when the family members remove their masks, they find to their horror that their faces have taken on the form of the masks.
  • Themes: Greed and credulousness is not a good combination.
  • The Greatness: This story needs technical brilliance to pull off, in that the final, ugly makeup has to fully mimic the masks.  Under the direction of the talented Lupino, it all works and the episode is a classic.  Moreover, the episode takes the time to establish the singular unlikability of each of the daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.  The old man has a biting, sarcastic tone which is perfect.  Overall, a pure joy to watch.

14. Night Call

  • Writer: Richard Matheson
  • Starring: Gladys Cooper
  • Director: Jacques Toumeur
  • Plot: An lonely old woman in a wheelchair, injured a long time ago in an auto accident, is getting bizarre phone calls in the middle of the night.  There is a man on the other end who wants to talk to her.  Terrified, she demands that he leave her alone.
  • The Twist: The phone company traces the call to downed wires fallen in a cemetery.  The wires are resting on the grave of her fiance, who always did as she told him.  A week before they were to be married, she insisted on driving even though she didn’t know how, and she wrapped the car around a tree, killing him and paralyzing her.  When she realizes who was calling her, she manages to ring her fiance, who then replies that he will leave her alone, as he always does as she tells him.
  • Themes: I guess, don’t be a miserable, controlling bitch.
  • The Greatness: Gladys Cooper plays a creepy old lady so well that it’s scary enough to listen to her recite her lines with her upper-class English accent.  Cooper makes this episode work by herself, at the age of 76.  The twist is pure Matheson, a sort of justice that borders on insane.  Overall, a deliciously creepy episode.

15. Mr. Denton on Doomsday

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Dan Duryea, Martin Landau
  • Director: Allen Reisner
  • Plot: Al Denton, formerly the fastest gun around, has been reduced to a pathetic drunk, being harassed by the local bully for more drinks.  One day, he is approached by a traveling salesman named Henry J. Fate, who makes Denton the fastest gun again, which in turn spurns a challenge.  Denton subsequently begins to lose his touch, but is then approached by Fate once more and is offered a potion that will make him the fastest gun for 10 seconds.  He takes up the offer and readies himself for the duel.
  • The Twist: Fate gives Denton’s opponent the same potion.  The result of the duel is a draw in which both men each injure their shooting hand and can never shoot again.
  • Themes: The burden of being the best at anything is explored several times in the TZ.  here, redemption lies in not having your self-worth tied up in your skill.
  • The Greatness: This is simply a well-written, well-acted episode, with a theme worthy of Rod Serling.  This is what they meant when the Twilight Zone is a program meant for intelligent adults.

16. A Hundred Yards Over the Rim

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Cliff Robertson
  • Director: Buzz Kulik
  • Plot: In 1847, Chris Horn leads a wagon train from Ohio to California.  In Arizona, Horn finds his son dying and the train about out of food and water.  Horn goes to look for provisions over a rim, but winds up in 1961 outside a truck stop in the desert.
  • The Twist: Horn accidentally shoots himself during an encounter with a truck and is given penicillin to prevent an infection.  Horn subsequently learns that his son grows up to become an important physician and that the penicillin is for him.
  • Themes: Faith and hardiness, the qualities we attribute to the American settler, are to be treasured.
  • The Greatness: Cliff Robertson is simply awesome in this.  He goes all out, including the stovepipe hat.  He is clearly an alpha-male who needs to recognize the purpose of a supernatural event while being completely baffled, frightened, and overwhelmed.  He projects strength and adaptability.  The writing is spare and uplifting.  I could watch this episode over and over.

17. Time Enough at Last

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Burgess Meredith
  • Director: John Brahm
  • Plot: Everyone knows.  A bookish, bespectacled little man, Henry Bemis, goes into the vault of the bank in which he works for a lunchtime read when suddenly nuclear war breaks out and he finds himself to be the only surviving person on Earth.
  • The Twist: Bemis considers suicide until he finds the library.  He spends a joyous time organizing his reading into the far future until, upon settling down to read his first book, he trips and breaks his glasses, rendering him unable to read.
  • Themes: Fear of nuclear war is a theme of many TZ episodes.  Here, one wonders whether Bemis will be truly happy alone – after all, before the depopulation of the world, Bemis just wanted to be alone with a book.  So his considering suicide is surprising until you realize that he almost forgot about books.
  • The Greatness: Henry Bemis is such a well-developed character in such a short amount of time.  We see how bullied he is, how addixted to reading he is.  (He gets so deparate to read anything when his cruel wife removes all of the books in the house that he reads the ingredients on boxes of food.)  Serling’s narration is a classic.

18. On Thursday We Leave for Home

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: James Whitmore
  • Director: Buzz Kulik
  • Plot: William Benteen is the leader of a ragtag bunch who many years ago left Earth to live on a remote planet.  They came to this planet expecting to escape war and pestilence but ended up in a horrid environment with blazing heat from a double sun.  After many years on the planet, where the kids long to hear stories about the Earth they never knew.  One day, they receive word that a spaceship is on the way to take them back to Earth.  As the day that they will leave approaches, Benteen begins to remember why they left Earth in the first place.
  • The Twist: Once the astronauts land, Benteen begins to lose control over the group.  He thinks that they will form a small colony on the Earth and stay together and he will continue to lead them.  As he is slowly disabused of this notion, he starts to actively discourage the group from leaving the planet.  At the end, he refuses to be in a situation in which he is not the leader, and ends up being abandoned to his fate on the sad little planet.
  • Themes: The addictive and corrupting power of leadership.  Benteen simply cannot fathom a situation in which he is not in charge, and so dooms himself and almost everyone else to a hellish existence.
  • The Greatness: James Whitmore is a powerful actor, as anyone who saw The Shawshank Redemption can testify.  Serling has written a beaut of a role for Whitmore, very meaty even for an hourlong episode.  The result is one of the few hourlong episodes that is repeatedly watchable.

19. Living Doll

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Telly Savalas, June Foray’s voice
  • Director: Charles Beaumont/ Jerry Sohl
  • Plot: ̃Erich is married to a woman with a daughter.  He is not nice to the little girl and is angered when the mother buys the girl a doll named Talky Tina.  Talky Tina says things like “My name is Talky Tina, and I don’t like you.”  When Erich acts out on the doll, Talky Tina begins to threaten Erich’s life.
  • The Twist: When Talky Tina kills Erich by causing him to trip on it and fall down the stairs, it is retrieved by the little girl.  Talky Tina then tells the girl, “My name is Talky Tina, and you’d better be nice to me.”
  • Themes: Uhhh…things dangerous to jerks are dangerous to everyone else (?)
  • The Greatness: This episode is genuinely scary.  Savalas is excellent as a man who transfers his hatred of his stepdaughter to a doll and in the process becomes incredibly sadistic.  He blow-torches, saws, and completely trashes this doll.  And yet, the doll winds up surviving all of this to make good on its threat to Erich, and eventually the rest of the family.

20. The Jeopardy Room

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Martin Landau, John van Dreelen, Robert Kelljan
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Plot: KGB agents locate a defector in a hotel room in a neutral country.  They call the defector to inform him that somewhere in the room is a bomb and he must find it within three hours or be killed in the blast.
  • The Twist: The bomb is in the phone and will be triggered the next time the agents call the defector and he answers.  The defector realizes this and escapes when the agents make their phone call.  The agents then go to the hotel room to search and inspect.  The phone rings, one agent answers it …and the agents are killed.  On the other end is a smiling defector.
  • Themes: If you’re going to kill someone, just friggin’ kill them.
  • The Greatness: There’s nothing supernatural or otherwise odd about this episode.  It’s just a great, tense episode, well-written without an excess of dialog, at least from the defector.  Anyone who has seen the movie Payback will appreciate that the scriptwriters must have liked this TZ episode.

21. In Praise of Pip

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Jack Klugman, Billy Mumy
  • Director: Joseph M. Newman
  • Plot: A bookie receives word that his estranged son Pip is dying in Vietnam.  After failing to collect from a debtor, his bosses shoot and wound him.  The bookie wanders out to an amusement park, where he finds Pip as a boy and plays with him.  Pip then tells the bookie that he is dying and runs away.
  • The Twist: The bookie prays that his life may be exchanged for Pip’s and then dies.  Later, an adult Pip is seen walking with a cane through the amusement park, noting how much time his father spent with him.
  • Themes: This is actually about second chances when one realizes what really matters.
  • The Greatness: A strong performance yet again from Klugman, who realizes his chance to get to know Pip before either of them dies.  Also the first time that a Vietnam veteran is featured in a television program.

22. People Are Alike All Over

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Roddy McDowall, Susan Oliver, Paul Comi
  • Director: Mitchell Leisen
  • Plot: Marcusson (Comi) is an astronaut and Conrad (McDowall) is a science officer on a rocket mission to Mars.  They crash land and are stuck inside the rocket when they hear general commotion outside.  Marcusson dies from his injuries, soon before the door to the rocket opens and Conrad comes face-to-face with the Martians all by himself.
  • The Twist: Marcusson, before he dies, assured Conrad that people are alike all over.  When Conrad meets the Martians, he finds them quite human-seeming and very hospitable.  They set him up in a suburban house with every comfort…except windows and doors.  As he discovers this last fact to his horror, the front of the house opens to reveal bars and that Conrad is the subject of a zoo exhibit.
  • Themes: Best summed up in Conrad’s last line: “Marcusson!  You were right…people are alike everywhere.”
  • The Greatness: Terrific writing.  The beginning provides eerie foreshadowing, as Marcusson and Conrad are clutching a wire-link fence and looking up at the sky, speaking about how pwoplw are alike all over.  And they are indeed!

23. Long Live Walter Jameson

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Estelle Winwood
  • Director: Tony Leader
  • Plot: A college professor has an amazing familiarity with the story of a Confederate soldier.  He is also engaged to be married to the daughter of a colleague.  The colleague seems to have uncovered evidence that the professor is that Confederate soldier and has been alive for 2,000 years.
  • The Twist: Just before tying the knot with his fiance, Jameson is paid a visit by his previous wife, whom he left years ago.  She intends to stop him, and shoots him dead.  Jameson’s corpse then goes through 2,000 years’ worth of decomposition before turning to dust.
  • Themes: One’s past always comes back to haunt.
  • The Greatness: Two things: 1) This was a technically brilliant episode, especially when Jameson’s corpse very quickly decomposes, and 2) Estelle Winwood as the old wife is so freaking scary.  Her age serves to remind us just how freaky Jameson is.

24. Judgment Night

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Nehemiah Persoff
  • Director: John Brahm
  • Plot: A confused man wakes up in 1942 on the S.S. Queen Mary with no memory of how he got there and the odd feeling that something bad is going to happen at 1:15 AM.  He’s right.
  • The Twist: The man is actually a Captain of a German U-Boat who orders his crew to fire on the unarmed, civilian S.S. Queen Mary.  The Captain is doomed to relive the experience from the perspective of the passengers on the S.S. Queen Mary forever.
  • Themes: Maybe there is no justice in this world, but maybe there is justice in the after-world.
  • The Greatness: Persoff is brilliant.  The camerawork again is arranged to provide the feeling of disorientation the man feels on the ship.  And the tension prior to the reveal of the twist is brutal.

25. Stopover In a Quiet Town

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Bob Frazier, Millie Frazier
  • Director: Ron Winston
  • Plot: A young married couple wake up in a strange house after a night of drinking.  The house seems poorly-constructed, and things get even more strange when they go outside in the town.  All the while, they hear the laughter of a little girl.
  • The Twist: Attempts to leave the town are unsuccessful.  The couple gets increasingly hysterical until a large hand grabs them.  Apparently, the couple was taken by giant humanoid aliens and taken as playthings for their little daughter and her play town.
  • Themes: Man, don’t drive drunk.
  • The Greatness: The episode manages to combine humor and absolute terror for great effectiveness.

26. The Dummy

  • Writer: Rod Serling
  • Starring: Cliff Robertson
  • Director: Abner Biberman
  • Plot: An alcoholic ventriloquist attempts a comeback.  He is having a rough time at it.
  • The Twist: The ventriloquist’s dummy seems to have come alive and is actively stymieing his plans to restart his career.  An attempt to use a new dummy ends in tragedy as the dummy tricks the ventriloquist into destroying the new dummy.  A final, eerie scene shows the dummy and ventriloquist changing places.
  • Themes: isolation – being the only one able to see a threat to you.
  • The Greatness: A uniquely frightening episode.  The technical achievement of having a Cliff Robertson dummy while having a ventriloquist resemble the former dummy is amazing and makes the ending have an incredible impact.
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Ron Gordon

Math nerd in his early 40's who seems to have an opinion about everything and an inability to keep it to himself.