The Twilight Zone, a television series (1959-1965) created by U.S. writer Rod Serling. These dramatised fictional tales were the first adult television programs to present paranormal events in a serious and believable way. Staple topics included time travel, accidental journeys, premonitions, and encounters with the dead and with aliens. The series inspired a movie, Twilight Zone - The Movie (1983), and was revived sporadically from 1985-1987, and run in syndication 1987-1988. The expression twilight zone has long had the meaning "the lowest layer of the sea that natural light can reach." The show, however, popularised another pre-existing meaning, "an ambiguous or unsettled state between two opposing conditions such as life and death or reality and fantasy.".
Last week I posted Numbers 12 and 11 of my Top Ten Twilight Zone episodes, there being 12 because I couldn’t work out which 2 to drop.
Here are the next 5:
10. A Game of Pool
Jesse Cardiff, pool shark, the best on Randolph Street, who will soon learn that trying to be the best at anything carries its own special risks in or out of the Twilight Zone.
Pool player Jesse Cardiff (superbly played by Jack Klugman) is irate at always being compared to the late, great Fats Brown and never being recognised for the top player that he is. Alone in Clancy’s pool hall he expresses his dearest wish that he might have played against Fats Brown, who appears and challenges Jesse to a game, the stake being Jesse’s life. In an intense challenge, Jesse has one ball left to sink. Fats cautions him against sinking it, that he might end up with more than he bargained for but Jesse ignores him and sinks the ball. After Jesse dies, he realises that Fats was correct. Now it is he who appears for every challenge from every ambitious player.
Mr Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out after his funeral that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion’s mantle, has gone fishing. These are the ground rules in the Twilight Zone.
9. The After Hours
Express elevator to the ninth floor of a department store, carrying Miss Marsha White on a most prosaic, ordinary, run-of-the-mill errand. . . Miss Marsha White on the ninth floor, specialty department, looking for a gold thimble. The odds are that she’ll find it – but there are even better odds that she’ll find something else, because this isn’t just a department store. This happens to be the Twilight Zone.
Marsha White finds herself on the ninth floor of a department store where there is only one counter selling only one thing, a gold thimble, which she buys from the insolent saleslady. When she gets back to the main floor she notices that the thimble is scratched. Seeking to return to the ninth floor, she is told that there is no ninth floor. Spotting the sales lady, she rushes over, only to discover that she is a mannequin. Shocked and shaken, she is escorted to an office to lie down where she falls asleep. On waking Marsha finds the store locked and closed. She hears voices in the dark as she wanders the store, the voices seemingly coming from the mannequins. She makes her way to the ninth floor, where the mannequins come to life. With their assistance, she remembers that she too is a mannequin and that each is allowed a month to spend amongst the humans. She, however, forgot her true identity when it was time to return. She accepts her fate and reverts to her true form, a mannequin.
(I have included this because whenever I see a mannequin in a shop, I am reminded of this episode and wonder when it will be this mannequin’s time to become human for a month).
Marsha White in her normal and natural state: a wooden lady with a painted face who, one month out of the year, takes on the characteristics of someone as normal and as flesh and blood as you and I. But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Just how normal are we? Just who are the people we nod our hellos to as we pass on the street? A rather good question to ask – particularly in the Twilight Zone.
8. A Stop at Willoughby
This is Gart Williams, age thirty-eight, a man protected by a suit or armour all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt, and Mr Williams’s protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target, and blown him apart. Mr Gart Williams, as agency exec, who in just a moment will move into the Twilight Zone – in a desperate search for survival.
A businessman, stressed by his work, hounded by his wife, and unable to deal with the pressure from his boss. His only respite occurs on his daily train ride home, where he wakes up one day with the carriage transformed into one from the 1800s, pulled up at Willoughby, “a peaceful, restful place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure.” As things progressively worsen at home and at work, his stops become longer, tempting him to step off the train and into a more peaceful era. Eventually after having a breakdown at the office and being abandoned by his wife, he takes the final step, and climbs out of the train at Willoughby, dropping his briefcase and being embraced by the inhabitants. The scene then cuts to a train conductor standing over his body on the side of the rails, saying that he yelled something about Willoughby before jumping from the cart. With that, his body is loaded into a stretcher, and taken to Willoughby & Son Funeral Home.
Willoughby? Maybe it's wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man's mind, or maybe it's the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it's a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of the Twilight Zone.
7. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43pm on Maple Street. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street, in the last calm and reflective moment before the monsters came.
After what is believed to be a meteor flies overhead, Maple Street experiences a total power failure. Pete Van Horn leaves to find what is going on. Tommy, a reader of sci-fi, says human-looking aliens have infiltrated Maple Street. No one takes this seriously until Mr. Goodman's car cranks for a few seconds. Suspicion falls on him, made stronger by a neighbour's memory of seeing him looking up at the stars at night. Everyone begins to panic as the evening approaches. When a mysterious figure walks towards them in the dark, Charlie Farnsworth takes a neighbour's rifle and fires. The mysterious figure turns out to be the returning Pete Van Horn. Charlie is then accused of being the alien, then Tommy, then total madness breaks out. As various house lights flash on and off, rioting breaks out. Two nearby aliens watch these events. One tells the other that by manipulating electricity, it is easy to turn neighbour against neighbour. Maple Street is only the beginning.
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own - for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.
6. Eye of the Beholder
Suspended in time and space for a moment, your introduction to Miss Janet Tyler, who lives in a very private world of darkness, a universe whose dimensions are the size, thickness, length of a swath of bandages that cover her face. In a moment we'll go back into this room and also in a moment we'll look under those bandages, keeping in mind, of course, that we're not to be surprised by what we see, because this isn't just a hospital, and patient 307 is not just a woman. This happens to be the Twilight Zone, and Miss Tyler, with you, is about to enter it.
Janet Tyler is in a darkened hospital room, her face heavily bandaged. She has undergone surgery to try to remove her hideous appearance and it is questionable whether the surgery will be successful. Dr. Bernardi checks on Janet later and notes that she's been there before, but she is at the maximum eleven attempts allowed. Dr. Bernardi says that if the last treatment fails, she will be allowed to go to a ghetto with other freaks, but she angrily lashes out, demanding to know what the State is and why they're allowed to make such rules. She begs for the bandages to be removed and Dr Bernardi agrees. He commiserates with Janet's nurse, noting that he believes Janet is truly a beautiful person no matter what her face looks like. He wonders what right the State has to declare someone beautiful or ugly, and the nurse warns him against questioning their leaders. He admits that he'll be better once the bandages are removed and he knows one way or another.
Dr. Bernardi and the staff remove the bandages and as they get to the last layer, he says that even if the treatment fails, she can still live with others of her kind. She wonders if she would be allowed to die, but Bernardi notes that the state only allows it in rare instances.
They remove the last layer of bandages and Janet is revealed as a beautiful human female. The staff turns on the lights to reveal they all have pig-like faces. Janet runs out into the hall in fear, past a State broadcast on complete conformity. She runs into a room and finds herself face-to-face with a horrifying site: a handsome human male, Walter Smith. Bernardi arrives and explains that Walter will be taking Janet to the village where others of her kind live. He tells her that she will be loved, and that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it? What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn't make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned... in The Twilight Zone.
(The concluding part of the Twilight Zone post - the final 5 favourite episodes - will appear next week).