You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
If you’re a fan of science fiction like me, then you’ve probably heard of the Twilight Zone at some point or another. If you haven’t, then I would definitely recommend watching the episode To Serve Man on Youtube, it’s a classic. The Twilight Zone offers a lot of creative visuals, as well as a good amount of social commentary that is still relevant today such as in the episodes Eye of the Beholder and The Obsolete Man, which I’m not going to dwell too much into for those who haven’t seen the series. What I will dive into is a history of the series and, as you can guess by the title, the brilliance of the series. So sit back, grab some popcorn and get ready to be horrified. Watch where you’re going, because you just passed that welcome sign into the Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone was created by Rod Sterling (also known as the angry young man of Hollywood) and first aired on October 2nd 1958 and ended on June 19th 1964, with five seasons and 156 episodes under its belt. Then there was a shitty 1980’s version, but I’m not going to talk about that. Well, I might talk about one episode of that version. The first episode of the Twilight Zone titled, Where is Everybody, set the bar for the rest of the series by introducing a tone of isolation. The characters and viewers were introduced to a character or characters and see how their imperfections, if any, worked with the environment and situation given. This is shown again in the first episode where we watch as most of the time there is only one character (Earl Holliman) on screen until the end of the episode.This allows for a lot of tension to build up and for the audience to get to know and like the main character. Film makers in this day and age should take a moment and reflect on episodes like this, due to how this shows just one character in a situation and how he acts based on the situation given. Then you have the twist at the end which actually makes sense. Yes, you can have a twist that makes sense. I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but it’s true that the twist actually works.
This concept of just one person on screen was actually used before in the novel by Isaac Asimov and film with Vincent Price, The Last Man on Earth (which is in the public domain if you want to watch it) or the modern version with Will Smith, I am Legend with a novel by Richard Matheson. Then, you have an episode with some impressive visuals with *again* a twist that actually works. Eye of the Beholder (also known as Private World of Darkness) first aired on November 11, 1960 and revolves around a woman wanting to be beautiful so she undergoes surgery to make her that way. We only ever see a character’s face at the end of the episode. Up until then, we only have lines of dialogue and camera angles to keep the viewer engaged in what is happening. If you have patience (unlike most people now and days), then this episode is well worth watching (not so much for the twist, because let’s be honest, a good portion of people could see it coming from a mile away.) The episode is good, because the camera angles are so great that one can’t help but admire how they’re used throughout the episode. The episode provides some good social commentary on how beauty is treated and the lengths that people will go to, to make themselves look good in the eyes of society. This is seen later in the episode Number 12 Looks Just Like You, where people have to choose certain preselected layouts of different people to look attractive.
The social commentary in this series is quite good as compared to other series out there that preach their social commentary. I’m looking at you Last Man Standing. Episodes like It’s a Good Life ask some important questions such as, Are children born innocent and corrupted by society or are they born misfits and made better by society? This episode takes the latter and focuses on a spoiled little boy with supernatural powers, who will send you to a place called the "corn field" if you act wrongly to him. Oddly enough, that’s not the bad part. The bad part is when he turns a man into a jack in the box (you might have seen a parody of this on the Simpsons).
Then, there’s one of my personal favorite episodes that provides a good amount of social commentary, that’s actually pretty relevant today. The Obsolete Man is about a government that wants to get rid of everything deemed useless and obsolete to the betterment of the society. This means that all artists, writers, actors, musicians and our main character, a librarian, are to be killed. At first you may be thinking, "how the hell is this relevant to us now?" Well, if you haven’t opened your eyes to our educational system, allow me to do it for you. Music and Art programs are the very first things to get cut when a school is pressured for money. Even if the marching band gets first in state and the football team doesn’t even make a single win in the season, they will cut the music program because it is “obsolete” and not on tests, which give schools more money if the students do well on those tests. I’m going to have to talk about another episode, because I’m a hair away from getting pissed off and ranting about our educational system. I’ll save that rant for next week.
There’s an episode that talks about religion while not outright talking about religion, in which people put their faith in a machine in the aftermath of nuclear war. The Old Man in the Cave asks two important questions in our society: Should we put our faith in higher beings and who creates these higher beings?
Here is one I’m sure almost everyone has heard of at some point or another. Terror at 20,000 Feet, starring William Shatner, or as most of you may know him, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. This centers around a man who just got out of a mental asylum, who now has to fly on an airplane. Onboard, he sees a gremlin tearing apart a wing of the plane. This episode is a fan favorite, because we don’t know how much is happening in real life and how much is in the head of the main character. Honestly, that’s pretty brilliant up until the very end, when we see the wing ripped open after an emergency landing.
Finally, the legacy of the Twilight Zone. Just focusing on the legacy could be an article all on its own. I guess the legacy of the show could be summed up in one sentence. It raised the bar. The show terrified audiences while educating them ,because it provided such great social commentary on key issues in society. It still makes viewers want to come back and analyze it episode after episode. It has been adapted so many times in comics and in magazines, that people will remember this series for everything that it has done to educate and horrify us at the same time.