Forgotten Twilight Zone Episodes
My dad never went to his high school prom. Instead he enlisted in the Navy and hopped aboard the first ship out of the one horse town known as Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. He traveled the world, got married, had a couple of kids, got divorced and by the mid 90's, ended up a single parent living on the Naval base in Orlando, Florida. It was while living here that he was able to attend the Navy Ball, a sort of prom night for enlisted men and women. This experience helped fill that gap that was left by missing his high school prom. But more importantly, this evening was the first evening I was left home alone.
The dinner and festivities were held on New Year’s Eve and started at 8 PM and ran until 3 AM. My brother was visiting family back in North Carolina, so that left just me alone in the house. I had reached that important age of ten, and my dad was ready to trust me in the house alone at night. I got the usual speech about strangers, calling 911, and not touching the stove. But we lived on a military base, that was all unnecessary and he knew it. I guess it made him feel a little better about going.
What should have been a very uneventful transition into more responsibility, turned into a life changing experience. That night alone, I discovered something that would stay with me the rest of my life and would, in a way, even shape it. That night I discovered The Twilight Zone.
That fateful evening, I was extremely excited that I was going to be able to enjoy cable on the big console TV in the living room. I was no longer restricted to my little nineteen inch Magnavox. No, this night, I got to watch TV like a grown up.
I grabbed a Coke, stretched out on the couch mimicking my dad the best that I could, and picked up the remote. I flipped from channel to channel, disappointed that other than a larger screen, the TV wasn't that different. There were no additional channels, it was the same old crap, just a little bit bigger. There was nothing on. My first night of freedom from adult supervision was supposed to be magical, and instead here I was struggling to find anything to watch.
In desperation I flipped over to my favorite, the SciFi Channel. Back then the SciFi channel was primarily made up of Mystery Science Theater 3000, crazy Dan Aykroyd alien shows, and other assorted low budget crap, but I loved it! It was my favorite channel and I hoped that it would save me from a night of boredom. Of course, when I flipped to the channel it was on a commercial break. Woe was me.
I decided to begin preparing my plan B for the evening. I headed to the hall closet and struggled getting down our small box of VHS tapes. This box contained my 1989 Batman tape, a movie that never gets old. I figured if worse comes to worse and I cannot find anything on cable, I'll pop in some Michael Keaton goodness.
I came back into the living room to see a black and white show on. My heart sank, because like all ten year old boys, I hated anything black and white. I just couldn't fathom why anyone would want to watch anything that was not in color, especially in the mid-90s! I pushed in my Batman tape, and it needed to be rewound. So I sat down while the tape warped back to the beginning and rested my eyes on the screen.
On the screen I watched as a nerdy banker was verbally abused by his wife and his boss. All the man wanted to do was read, but no one would ever give him the time. He struggled daily, trying to sneak in a few minutes reading whenever he could, and he decided to spend his lunch break reading in the bank's vault. (SPOILERS) During his lunch a nuclear bomb was detonated, but the lining of the safe had protected him. He emerged battered, but grateful to be alive. He was now a lone survivor in a very lonely world. He contemplated suicide until he realized that this was a dream come true. He could finally spend all of his time reading, without the interruptions of an ungrateful wife, or an overbearing boss. He made huge stacks of books that he wanted to read in front of the library. Just as his excitement peaked, he broke his glasses. He was now unable to see, so he was unable to read. The dream had turned to a nightmare. The man was crushed. (END SPOILERS)
I sat with my jaw dropped staring at the TV. I had never experienced any form of entertainment with an ironic twist ending. I was just amazed at how awesome, yet chilling the ending was. Time Enough at Last was my gateway episode into The Twilight Zone. I sat there for seven straight hours watching episode after episode. I never did watch Batman.
That night I learned that great storytelling extends beyond the normal boundaries of entertainment. It doesn't matter what method of exhibition, if a story is well told, it'll reach an audience, even one as closed minded as a ten year old boy in the 90's.
I wish I could remember all the episodes I watched that night, but I can't. What I do remember is the emotions that I felt. I went from shock, to anger, to fear, and back to shock. It was an emotional rollercoaster that had me all over the place. So began my love affair with The Twilight Zone.
Sadly, other than New Year’s Eve, The Twilight Zone wasn't easy to find on TV. I'd occasionally run across it at midnight or one AM on SciFi. Sometimes I'd even see it on at 5 AM. I did my best to set my VCR to tape any episodes that I couldn't watch, but I seemed to be stuck in a rotation of about twenty episodes. I kept seeing the same ones over and over again. These episodes are the ones that everyone seems to know now. The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, Nick of Time, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet amongst others.
As I grew older and took an interest in writing, I found myself writing screenplays and short stories that would belong in The Twilight Zone. I couldn't shake my love for the ironic, shocking, twist endings. Even now, as a thirty-one year old man, I still write much of my fiction along the same lines.
About ten years ago, I was able to finally buy The Twilight Zone complete series on DVD. It took about two months for me to get through all 150 episodes. I found that eighty-five percent of the episodes were great, ten percent were good, and five percent were bad. Most of the bad ones came from season four once the show extended to an hour. I think when you invest that much time to be tricked at the end, you feel cheated. You know, the feeling you get when you watch a M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Thanks to The Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors, and the yearly Twilight Zone marathon on SyFy, The Twilight Zone has remained present in the world of pop culture. Sadly, the love seems to be restricted to those ten or twelve episodes that are so commonly aired. In a series that has over 150 episodes, I find it frustrating that more attention is not given to some of the lesser known episodes.
In order to make up for this, I am listing a few of my favorite episodes that aren't very popular. I will spoil the endings, so just read the titles in bold, if you want to experience them for yourself. Amazon Prime is currently streaming all of the episodes, and Netflix has most of the episodes, with the exception of season four.
Probe 7, Over and Out
Time Enough at Last may have been my gateway episode, but Probe 7, Over and Out is the episode that cultivated my love. Probe 7, Over and Out tells the story of an astronaut, Adam, who crash lands on a planet seemingly alone. His home world is unable to send help and is on the brink of war.
Adam exits his craft in search of help when he runs into a young woman. They are unable to communicate verbally, but find a way to use crude sketches to get their ideas across.
Adam’s commander sends him a final transmission informing him that no help will ever come and it is likely that everyone will be dead because of the war. With this knowledge, Adam finds the woman in search of a garden to find apples. The woman’s name is Eve. So Adam and Eve went looking for a garden and were the start of a new species.
The Whole Truth
Taken from the short list of episodes that were filmed on video, The Whole Truth is about a greedy, corrupt used car salesmen, who has mastered the art of ripping off his customers. When a gentlemen arrives in an older vehicle to sell, he immediately leaps into action, downplaying the value of the car and assuring the gentlemen he is getting a sympathy deal. Once the transaction is complete, the gentlemen explains to the salesmen that the car is haunted. Whomever owns it cannot tell a lie. Of course, the car salesmen doesn't believe it, but within seconds he finds out its true.
His inability to lie, starts to destroy his life. He can’t sell cars, he can't lie to his wife, and his employee quits after learning of some of his lies. Finally, a politician arrives and wants to buy a classic car to show people that he is just like them, part of the working class. Throughout the sales pitch, he catches on that the car is indeed haunted. After some discussion, the salesmen and politician decided that they needed to find someone whom the haunting could really benefit. The Soviet leader arrives shortly thereafter, looking for a classic American automobile for cheap. Once the transaction is complete, the salesmen gets on the phone to contact John F. Kennedy.
This episode is probably one of the most fitting for us retro lovers. It just goes to show that our grandparent’s weren't too unlike us.
Ed is a senior citizen who lives in a house full of other elderly people. Television is the new popular thing, and all of the residents sit around and watch the TV like zombies. Ed sees this, and hates it. He hates that the world has changed, and desires the simpler time of radio. He tries to get others interested, but no one can escape the allure of the newfangled television.
Ed retrieves an old radio from the basement in hopes of capturing the magic of the past. He is thrilled to hear radio programs by some of his favorite hosts from over twenty years ago. Strangely, all of the people that he is listening to are dead. He gets some of the residents to come up and hear these twenty year old broadcasts, but only Ed can hear them. To everyone else it’s just static. Ed discovers that the radio station he is listening to no longer airs and went out of business fifteen years earlier.
The other residents are concerned about Ed and his unhealthy addiction to the radio. One of the female residents, Vinnie, goes up to talk to Ed about this. We learn that Ed and Vinnie were once to be married, but Ed could not stop letting things interfere in his life. Eventually their relationship dissolved and Vinnie feels that Ed’s obsession with the radio is his futile attempt at reliving the past, and that he needed to let it go. This only infuriated Ed and fueled his obsession.
The residents have the radio hauled off to protect Ed from himself. Ed loses it and rebuys the radio, hoping that his old programs can still be found. He’s relieved when he finds one of his shows, and slowly loses himself in an old love song. Suddenly, the door to his room opens and in walks Vinnie, twenty years younger. We see that Ed has also become younger, and they both begin to dance. The radio had given Ed a new chance to make up for the mistakes of his youth.
A Stop at Willoughby
Willoughby is arguably my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. Gart Williams is a workaholic, who is overworked and is not appreciated by his boss and his wife. Every day he takes a long train ride to and from work, and one day he notices a strange stop called Willoughby. In Willoughby it’s July 1888, a time when things were simpler, and a good sixty years prior to current year. The town is wholesome with kids riding old bicycles, and everyone seems incredibly friendly. He looks at the simplicity of life in Willoughby, the same way we look back at Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show.
Gart wakes up and ask the train attendant to see if Willoughby is an actual stop, but unfortunately for Gart it is not. When Gart arrives home anxious to tell his wife of his desire to live a more simple life, she mocks him and ridicules him. She makes fun of him by saying that he was, “born too late” and that his dream was “to be Huckleberry Finn.”
The following week, the train stops at Willoughby again. Everything looks exactly the same as it was the week before. Gart slowly gets up to gather his things, but before he can get off the train it begins moving and he is jerked back into the present.
After experiencing a breakdown at work, Gart gets on the train to come home again. This time when the Willoughby stop comes, Gart quickly gets off the train and is greeted by all the friendly inhabitants welcoming him into their utopian world.
The next shot in the show is of the conductor standing over Gart’s lifeless body outside the train. He mentions that he was shouting about Willoughby before jumping off the moving train. After his body is loaded into the hearse, we see that the name of the funeral home is Willoughby and Sons.
One of the greatest stories about nostalgia that I've ever seen is Walking Distance. In Walking Distance, Martin, a successful businessman whose life is consumed with work, is trapped at a gas station while his car is repaired. He sees a sign for the town he grew up in, just a few miles away. As he walks into town he’s amazed to see his old hometown hasn't changed any. He is even more surprised when the soda jerk charges him the same price for a float that he paid as a kid.
Martin sees himself as a ten year old boy in the park and realizes that he is in the past. He follows himself to his old childhood home and attempts to convince his parents that he is their son, just from twenty years in the future. They refuse to listen to the nonsense and turn him away. He drops his wallet in the process.
Martin find his child self on a carousel and tells him to enjoy this time while he has it. It’s the most important time and should be cherished. Martin has realized how troublesome and unhappy he has become in adulthood and wants him to enjoy his childhood as much as he can. He inadvertently causes his child self to hurt his leg while falling off the carousel.
His father found adult Martin’s wallet, and shows up shortly after the fall from the carousel. He believes that Martin is indeed who he says he is. He sits Martin down and explains that everyone has a time and place. Instead of looking to the past for happiness, he should look ahead. It might be hiding in a place he hadn’t looked at yet.
Content with that answer, Martin walks back to the gas station to retrieve his car. He passes the drug store where he got his float earlier and suddenly time becomes present. Martin now walks with a limp from the accident on the carousel, but is happy and content to live his own life in the present.
The Man in the Bottle
A couple owns a small antiques shop in what seems to be downtown New York. Times are hard, and the entire neighborhood is struggling. Arthur Castle, the shop owner, buys a worthless wine bottle, because he feels sorry for the poor lady who was selling it. He ends up with this seeming useless wine bottle, that just so happens to contain a genie who will grant him four wishes.
The first wish is used on fixing the glass display case in the shop. Obviously, The Castles were skeptical that the genie was real, and this was a way for the genie to prove his ability.
The next thing they ask for is a million dollars. Money falls from the sky and they get their wish. They distribute a large amount of the money to the community and everyone is thrilled until the IRS shows up. They end up taking all the remaining cash except for a single $5 bill.
Frustrated by the events of the previous wish, Mr. Castle then asks to be the leader of a modern, powerful country, in which he cannot be voted out of office. He lifts his head to see Nazi officers bringing him cyanide tablets. He realizes he is Hitler in the bunker, moments before the Russians break in. He screams that he wants things back to normal, and using his final wish he ends up back in the shop where the bottle comes crashing down to the floor and shatters.
The couple ends up with nothing more than a fixed glass case, but they are content with that. As Mr. Arthur is cleaning up the broken bottle, the glass in the case cracks again. Once Mr. Arthur dumps the broken bottle into the trash can, it reforms into a wine bottle, waiting for its next victim.
I could probably write summaries of seventy-five episodes that are rarely seen or talked about. The show had so many classic moments, and shocking twists, it would take days to recount them all. I realize that this short list may not cover very much, but I hope that it opens some eyes to the episodes of The Twilight Zone that aren’t commonly spoofed or discussed. If you turn off the lights late at night, sit in the dark, and pick random episodes, I can promise you will feel like you’ve entered The Twilight Zone. Especially when you have no idea what is to come.