Here Are The Rest Of Our 'Twilight Zone' Top 25 Episodes
December 31st, 2011 9:12am EST
A few months ago, we brought you a list of our Top 10 ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. With another New Year’s marathon approaching on SyFy, we decided there were just too many good installments missing from the previous list. Here, in no particular order, are the rest of the Top 25 episodes, in our book.
‘The Long Morrow’ – Season Five – Jan. 10, 1964
By the fifth season, the show had gotten a little stiff, the writing sometimes forced. But even imperfect episodes like this one strike an emotional chord. The plot is actually quite brilliant: An astronaut decides to take on a 40-year-mission into space. Shortly before he’s due to leave, he meets the woman of his dreams (a young, beautiful Mariette Hartley).
He decides to go through with it, remaining in hibernation so that he won’t age. “I’ll be the little old lady in the lace shawl,” his love sadly jokes as he departs.
Thinking that they can be reunited in age when he returns, he takes himself out of hibernation six months into the mission. But unbeknownst to him, she puts herself in hibernation back on Earth, so when he returns he is old – and she is young. It’s heartbreaking. The music during the scenes of courtship have a haunting, romantic and melancholy tinge.
‘Third From the Sun’ – Season One – Jan. 8, 1960
This is a bizarre episode from the first season’s peak. Two men working for some sort of government space agency have knowledge that the world’s end is imminent. They decide to let their families in on the secret at the last minute, and take a brand new spacecraft out into space before the world crumbles. The final reveal shows that they are heading toward a planet much like their own. It’s called Earth.
What makes this episode special is its unsettling qualities. Plot-wise, it could be considered predictable. But director Richard L. Bare adds some awesome touches that in retrospect show that this world is different than ours. The camera angles are all titled; the phones look different; the music seems foreign. When you watch it again knowing the ending, you’ll appreciate all the subtle touches.
‘The Trade-Ins’ – Season Three – April 20, 1962
This segment is about the pain of growing old. Sometime in the future, technology has made it possible to remove one’s soul and implant it in a new body. This sounds incredibly appealing to an old, ailing couple. The husband (a brilliant Joseph Schildkraut) has agonizing pain (Cancer? Arthritis?) and they would both like the procedure.
Here’s the catch: they can only afford one. So they decide to do the husband first, but when he comes out of surgery with a six-pack and tons of energy, it’s clear it will create a rift between them. They ultimately decide it’s best to continue growing old, pain and all. As he tells her, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.”
The scene in which they realize their marriage won’t work with one of them young and one of them old is brilliantly filmed. A catharsis in the music is accompanied by increasing close-ups of their faces, finally settling on their sad eyes.
‘The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine’ – Season One – Oct. 23, 1959
In a tribute of sorts to ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ this early episode plays like a short film. The multi-talented Ida Lupino (who directed the episode ‘The Masks’) plays Barbara Trenton, an aging film actress who gets no work and passes the time by watching old movies of herself from her 1930s heyday.
Martin Balsam plays her agent, Danny, who tries to get Barbara to come around to more realistic parts and open her curtains for a change. But she refuses, and Barbara somehow winds up in a film of a reunion party of dead movie stars in her own living room. Her maid’s scream upon spotting her on the screen is one of the most chilling in the series.
‘Ring a Ding Girl’ – Season Five – Dec. 27, 1963
While we’re on the subject of movie stars, this episode centers on a starlet named Bunny Blake who randomly drops by her hometown to see her friends and relatives. Clearly, Hollywood has gone to her head, but she’s still perfectly nice and seems to enjoy her family.
For some reason, she insists that everyone she knows attend a one-woman performance in the high school auditorium, even though the town’s summer picnic is at the same time. As it turns out, a plane crashes on the picnic grounds, but luckily for the town, most people choose Bunny’s performance. As it turns out, though, Bunny was on the plane and perishes.
Confusing? A little, but it’s ‘The Twilight Zone,’ after all. And the scene in which Bunny disappears into the falling rain is one of the series’ most haunting.
‘Long Live Walter Jameson’ – Season One – March 18, 1960
Seekers of immortality are sure to love this one. Kevin McCarthy plays Walter Jameson, a professor who revisits periods of history so convincingly, you could swear he was there. As it turns out, he was.
His age is never revealed, but after taking a potion from an apothecary, he says he was around in the days of Plato. He seems afraid of death, even though he doesn’t age. His soon-to-be father-in-law, who is 70, catches on. The man’s past finally catches up with him, when a wife he abandoned decades ago recognizes him and shoots him to prevent further strife among abandoned wives.
What makes this episode memorable, aside from the sensitive performances, is the final scene in which Walter seems to age on camera. This was achieved through changes in lighting, clever camera cuts, and perfect age makeup.
‘To Serve Man’ – Season Three – March 2, 1962
One of the series’ most famous installments features tall, friendly aliens who invade Earth. They’re mysterious and threatening, yet no one truly questions their intentions. They’re intelligent, can read minds, and can beat anyone to a pulp.
Employees at the United Nations are charged with translating a book the aliens brought, titled “To Serve Man.” The invaders promise to improve agricultural conditions and make the planet a better place to live. But the final, shocking reveal shows that “To Serve Man” is actually a cookbook, and those traveling to the other planet will be ingredients in aliens’ food.
‘Living Doll’ – Season Five – Nov. 1, 1963
If you’ve ever dreamed of Telly Savalas being driven crazy by a talking doll, you’re in luck! There’s an element of camp with this episode’s plot, but what makes it so good is that it’s played so deadly serious. Bernard Herrmann’s score full of hollow woodwinds only adds to the weight.
Savalas plays a heartless stepfather to a little girl and a nasty husband to a loving wife. He’s mean for no particular reason (and it’s hard to imagine why the couple married in the first place). But Talky Tina, a children’s doll acquired by the daughter, has the last laugh. Her wind-up vocals go from “My name is Talky Tina and I love you very much” to “My name is Talky Tina…. and I’m going to kill you!” in a mere 25 minutes.
‘Miniature’ – Season Four – Feb. 21, 1963
The fourth season of ‘The Twilight Zone’ was not particularly successful. As an experiment, the network tried producing hour-long episodes, which was how creator Rod Serling originally envisioned the series. But the longer running time took away the show’s momentum, and as a result a lot of the episodes are just plain boring.
‘Miniature’ is an exception for two reasons. The first is Robert Duvall, who looks astonishingly young here. It’s hard to imagine anyone who could have made his character meeker and more lovingly pathetic. The second is the mere idea of a dollhouse come to life. As Duvall’s character falls in love with a tortured doll living in the house, we see a fantasy world come to life.
‘The Masks’ – Season Five – March 20, 1964
There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing selfish people get what’s coming to them. That’s essentially the point of ‘The Masks,’ which is set in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. An old, rich man is visited by his money-hungry daughter and her horrible family.
They’re essentially waiting for him to die in his last hours, but he decides to have some fun with it. Much to their horror, he makes them wear ugly masks he thinks fit their personalities. Not terribly surprisingly, but oh-so-satisfactorily, when he dies they take off their masks, only to reveal the ugly features are imprinted on their faces forever. They’ll have his money, but they’ll remain ugly.
‘The Last Flight’ – Season One – Feb. 5, 1960
This episode contains one of the series’ most clever uses of time travel. A World War I pilot somehow flies into the future and lands on an Air Force base. He had been under attack and veered away to save his own hide, even though a close friend was in trouble.
It seems the pilot can’t understand where he is, while those in the future think he’s a nutcase. But they’re proven wrong when he takes off in his tiny plane, heads back to the fighting and saves a life. It just so happens that life belongs to an officer who shows up in the future time and explains how he was saved. It’s a trippy ending that only ‘The Twilight Zone’ could cook up.
‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’ – Season Two – Feb. 24, 1961
The scenario for this story is fascinating to anyone who’s ever been on a plane. What if you’re on your way to New York, there’s a huge bump of turbulence, and you look out the window only to see a dinosaur?
The series revisited time travel in many instances, and this is one of the most memorable. As the flight crew panics, the viewer wonders how it can possibly end. In a clever twist, the plane makes it back to the future – but not back far enough. The old footage of the 1939 World’s Fair is chilling.
‘Spur of the Moment’ – Season Five – Feb. 21, 1964
The idea for this story was so good, it almost doesn’t matter that the episode isn’t executed as well as it could have been. An 18-year-old girl goes for a ride on her horse and is chased by a familiar-looking older woman in black.
In flashes to the past and back to the present, we learn that the woman thought she chose true love over a convenient marriage – but she was wrong. As it turns out, the woman in black is the 18-year-old’s future self, trying to convince the teenager to choose the right man.
Unfortunately, the way the show is directed, it’s almost obvious in the opening scene that the older woman and the younger girl are one in the same. Still, the acting by Diana Hyland is impeccable, and the plot twists are too clever to dismiss.
‘Five Characters in Search of an Exit’ – Season Three – Dec. 22, 1961
This is perhaps the most existential the series ever gets. Five distinct characters – a major, a clown, a ballerina, a tramp and a bagpiper – somehow end up in a big, empty room. No one remembers how they got there, and they can’t figure out how to get out. There is an opening at the top of the room, and they try tirelessly throughout the episode to make it to the top.
In the end, the major succeeds. In a rather chilling shot, he makes it to the top of the rim, and falls face first into a pile of snow. A little girl promptly picks him up, since he’s the size of a doll. In fact, he IS a doll, and he and the others have been donated to the Salvation Army for Christmas. Yowza!
‘A Stop at Willoughby’ – Season One – May 6, 1960
This episode is very sad in the way it depicts a man’s unhappiness. James Daly plays an ad man with a suffocating boss, mad clients and a hostile wife. Nothing in his life seems to be going right.
Except, that is, on the train ride to and from work. On more than one occasion, he falls asleep and wakes up in the late 1800s when the train stops at a town called Willoughby. To the train passenger, the town is idyllic – kids ride old-fashioned bicycles, there’s a beautiful gazebo and people seem genuinely interested in him.
But he always wakes up and it’s back to reality. Until he decides to get off the train in Willoughby in his dream, that is. He does so and seems to bask in happiness – but when we cut back to the present time, it seems the man was sleep-walking and walked straight off the train, killing himself in the process. He is promptly picked up at the end by a hearse with the logo “Willoughby & Sons” printed on the back.
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