The Twilight Zone Hall of Fame

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Consider yourself lucky that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn't been good to you so far, which given your present circumstances seems more likely, consider yourself lucky that it won't be troubling you much longer.





One for the Angels, Season 1, Episode 2, 1959

SPOILERS, YA'LL

Lew Bookman (Ed Wynn) is a man in his mid-sixties who works as a street salesman pitching everything from wind up toys to neckties. One day, he is visited by an agent of death (Murray Hamilton), who informs him that his time is up. Begging for an extension, Lew gets his wish, but someone needs to be dead by midnight, and Lew's delayed departure may have unintended consequences.

This is a classic episode of the original series, and it's amazing to think that it was only the second episode. In many ways, it personifies one type of episode that this show does very well.

Many versions of this story would treat Bookman's journey as a redemptive arc, and the main character would begin as someone selfish who would learn a lesson. Here, Bookman is already a nice person. He is kind to the neighborhood children and clearly beloved by them. Instead this is the story of a good person making a difficult choice.

Wynn is solid as the energetic, mischievous Lew Bookman. I also really enjoyed Murray Hamilton in his turn as death, a character who starts out with removed indifference, then transitions to reluctant intrigue, and then finally to rapturous attention. Dana Dillaway is also good as one of the neighborhood children who is very fond of Lew.

I would say that the only downside to this episode is how predictable the arc of it is. Lew says that there's just one thing he wants to do before he agrees to die, then things go awry, and it's pretty obvious what is then going to happen.

But the predictability here isn't really a problem. This is a sweet story led by two really great performances. This is one of those episodes that I think of as a "no fault" story. There aren't villains here---just good people with conflicting interests. I often find these to be the most powerful episodes because I think life is that way sometimes. There's not a "bad guy" in your way, it's more that getting what we want and finding out way can be complicated.




You all have one day left to join. If you're still interested, I recommend letting me know asap.

Also, just for fun, I'll annoy Captain Terror about this again.

Captain Terror, join this game!!!






Walking Distance, Season 1, Episode 5, 1959

SPOILERS, BABIES!

Martin Sloan (Gig Young) is a man in his mid-30s, working as the vice president of media for an ad agency. On the way to visit his hometown, his car has some trouble and when he realizes he is close to town, he decides to walk the rest of the way. But arriving in town, Martin discovers that things are pretty much the way he remembers them. In fact, they are exactly the way he remembers them . . .

In the last review I wrote, I referenced a type of episode that I think of as the "no fault" episode--where there are no bad guys or out-and-out villains--and this episode is another example of that sub-genre of episode. This is an examination of a man pining for the experiences and relationships of his childhood, to the point that it has slightly soured him on the present.

I know I've seen this episode before, but it's been long enough that the details had faded. I really enjoyed this one with its examination of the way that nostalgia can become a sort of emotional trap.

Gig Young is very good in his role as a man encountering his past face-to-face and not sure how to cope with it. The main emotional thrust of the episode, though, comes from Martin's attempts to reconnect with his parents, and especially his mother who it is implied has died in Martin's "present". The scenes with his mother (Irene Tedrow) and father (Frank Overton) are heavy, as both of them initially (and totally understandably) dismiss Martin as being mentally ill.

There's a heartbreaking aspect to these scenes, though, and that actually comes from the kindness shown Martin by his father. When Martin initially returns to the house, after being warned away once, his father tells him "I don't want to hurt you and I don't want to see you get in trouble." In the climax of the film, after Martin's actions have resulted in a near-tragedy, Martin's father kindly but firmly tells him that he needs to move on, both literally and emotionally. He warns Martin that his fixation on the past is keeping him from looking around and finding experiences and relationships in his current time and surroundings.

I also really liked the way that this episode was shot. As Martin grows more and more frantic, the world literally tilts around him until it looks like everything around him is at about a 60 degree angle. It conveys his disorientation and also the sense that he does not really belong in this place. The use of a carousel in the final act evoked the climax of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, and the frantic movement and sharp angles mirror the emotional agony of the main character.

I like this kind of Twilight Zone episode where there isn't something to be accomplished in a physical sense---it's about the emotional growth of the character. This is an episode where someone who is kind of a jerk learns a lesson, but it isn't about punishing him or putting him through the ringer. It's about getting some kindness and solid life advice at a moment when he most needs it.

Great episode! (And, yes, I did notice the Ron Howard cameo as a sassy little boy who lives on Martin's street).




Season 1 Episode 32: A Passage for Trumpet

(SPOILER WARNING)

This was a good, wholesome episode. As someone who's suffered from depression in the past, I found a few of the insights of this episode rather relatable, specifically how easy it is to forget the positive things in your life if you focus too much on the negative aspects of it. The world is full of beauty. You just need to look up and listen to discover this. Joey's character arc could've easily been predictable had another director or writer been in charge of this episode, but here, the episode avoided that and went in a few interesting directions I wasn't expecting. While I don't have any issues with it, I'm not sure what to make of the reveal that Joey was alive all along and that the people he saw in the middle act were dead. It's an interesting concept, but I'm not sure how to connect it to Joey's arc or whether the absence of the twist would've hindered the message in any way. Perhaps, it would've been more thematically appropriate in a different episode. I'm curious to hear other interpretations of it. Aside from my puzzlement over the twist, I quite enjoyed this episode and found it to be a nice mood-lifter.

Next Up: A Stop At Willoughby



Willoughby is one of my all time favorites! I don't know how many times I felt exactly like the main character in my working life.
(And I always get a kick out of the scene where he sees his boss in the mirror and the guy is saying "It's push, push, push!")



Talk about a "type A" personality!





Time Enough at Last, Season 1, Episode 8, 1959

SPOILERS, HONEYBEES!

Henry Bemis (Twilight Zone regular Burgess Meredith) is an affable, passive man who absolutely loves reading. His love of books brings him into conflict with his boss at the bank where he works and also with his abusive wife (Jacqueline DeWit). Henry wants nothing more than the time and space to read . . . something that he may get in a most horrific way.

This is a rare example of an episode that I've never actually seen in full before and, I must admit, it was not my favorite.

To begin with the positive, Meredith is very sympathetic as a person who is, yes, kind of a ditz, but is also just a very gentle person. I thought that there was something very painfully realistic about the way that he is pushed around by others. I also thought it was interesting to see the portrayal of an abusive relationship where the wife is an abuser. I find it a bit off-putting that summaries of this episode refer to him as being "henpecked", actually. His wife is verbally abusive, physically invasive, and actively destroys his property. I also liked the shot early on from Henry's point of view, showing us his dependence on his glasses.

But whereas the last two episodes fell into that "no fault" category that I described liking so much, this episode falls into a category that is very hit-or-miss for me: the cruel ironic twist.

The problem here is that, despite having an admittedly iconic ending, it's a long walk to that ending. The first five minutes or so are played very broadly, just watching this guy get kicked around. But then the big event happens and I wasn't that into the 12 or so minutes of watching Henry putter around the post-bomb world. It's like there was a lack of trust in the audience or something, because we're given information about his emotional state mainly through an on-the-nose monologue and Meredith making facial expressions directly into the camera. It all feels very much like the episode is killing time until the big twist, and not using that time wisely at all.

The ending also just feels . . . mean. If the message here is that we should take our joys where we find them and not submit to systems or relationships that deny us our humanity and our happiness, then I wish they'd layered more of that into the first half. Why doesn't Henry work in a bookstore? I believe that Henry is stuck in his relationship with his overbearing wife, but why don't we get hints of him pining for a different kind of relationship? There isn't any character development, and ultimately Henry feels more like a vehicle for a plot twist than like a real person.

I know that this episode is very well-regarded among fans (and was a favorite of Serling's himself). I also agree that the ending is incredibly memorable. That said, and I am sure I'm in the minority here, not generally my cup of tea.




I think there was an episode with a robot boxer too, but I don't remember much about that episode either. I think it had something to do with the boxer's manager eventually pretending to be a robot and boxing against a robot, but I don't remember why, or how it ended.
I coincidentally watched that one earlier this year, and liked it a lot. It's from season 5 and was written by Richard Matheson. Steel is the title.

Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman was based on the same story, but I haven't seen it.

I'm not a boxing fan because I consider it too violent, so the episode "Steel" isn't among my favorites. However I love the movie Real Steel.

They might be based on the same story, but they're very different. In the TZ episode, the human boxer gets in the ring with the robot boxer, but in the movie, the human stays out of the ring and controls the robot from the sidelines.

I highly recommend the movie.
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Walking Distance Season1 Episode 5
*Spoilers*

This just might be my Bewitchin' Pool episode. It's not bad, but it doesn't do much for me. I've seen it several times and probably liked it on the first watch. Gig Young is about as wooden as they come, I've never liked him as an actor. Had another actor played his role and had something more poignant happened when he went back in time, it might have held my attention...For example: if the adult had followed his childself to the merry-go-round which causes the child to fall under it and die...then the adult disappears out of existences....that then might have been memorable.

Wow, that would be a morbid ending. That ending reminds me of the story that Martin Sheen tells in the movie The Final Countdown. (Suppose I go back in time and I meet my grandfather. Then I have a fight with him, and I kill him. How would I ever be born? And if I'm never born, how could I go back in time and meet my own grandfather?)

I think as a Twilight Zone episode, this episode is only okay, but as a nostalgia story, I like it. It re-enforces the idea of "you can't go home again".



I think as a Twilight Zone episode, this episode is only okay, but as a nostalgia story, I like it. It re-enforces the idea of "you can't go home again".
I think that it even goes a step further than that. You can't go home again, but if you spend all your time looking backwards and wishing that you could go back, you miss the chance to appreciate the people and opportunities around you in the present.

I watched a YouTube video a while back about the difference between being past-focused and being future-focused, and it really opened my eyes to some unhealthy and not useful patterns of thinking that I was engaging in. This episode made me think a lot of that video.



Season 1 Episode 32: A Passage for Trumpet

(SPOILER WARNING)

This was a good, wholesome episode. As someone who's suffered from depression in the past, I found a few of the insights of this episode rather relatable, specifically how easy it is to forget the positive things in your life if you focus too much on the negative aspects of it. The world is full of beauty. You just need to look up and listen to discover this. Joey's character arc could've easily been predictable had another director or writer been in charge of this episode, but here, the episode avoided that and went in a few interesting directions I wasn't expecting. While I don't have any issues with it, I'm not sure what to make of the reveal that Joey was alive all along and that the people he saw in the middle act were dead. It's an interesting concept, but I'm not sure how to connect it to Joey's arc or whether the absence of the twist would've hindered the message in any way. Perhaps, it would've been more thematically appropriate in a different episode. I'm curious to hear other interpretations of it. Aside from my puzzlement over the twist, I quite enjoyed this episode and found it to be a nice mood-lifter.

Next Up: A Stop At Willoughby

One thing that bugged me a little bit was that he had to pay more money to the pawn shop to buy back his trumpet than he got for selling it to them. (As a seller on eBay, I believe in buy low and sell high, so that just didn't work for me. )





Time Enough at Last, Season 1, Episode 8, 1959

SPOILERS, HONEYBEES!

Henry Bemis (Twilight Zone regular Burgess Meredith) is an affable, passive man who absolutely loves reading. His love of books brings him into conflict with his boss at the bank where he works and also with his abusive wife (Jacqueline DeWit). Henry wants nothing more than the time and space to read . . . something that he may get in a most horrific way.

This is a rare example of an episode that I've never actually seen in full before and, I must admit, it was not my favorite.

To begin with the positive, Meredith is very sympathetic as a person who is, yes, kind of a ditz, but is also just a very gentle person. I thought that there was something very painfully realistic about the way that he is pushed around by others. I also thought it was interesting to see the portrayal of an abusive relationship where the wife is an abuser. I find it a bit off-putting that summaries of this episode refer to him as being "henpecked", actually. His wife is verbally abusive, physically invasive, and actively destroys his property. I also liked the shot early on from Henry's point of view, showing us his dependence on his glasses.

But whereas the last two episodes fell into that "no fault" category that I described liking so much, this episode falls into a category that is very hit-or-miss for me: the cruel ironic twist.

The problem here is that, despite having an admittedly iconic ending, it's a long walk to that ending. The first five minutes or so are played very broadly, just watching this guy get kicked around. But then the big event happens and I wasn't that into the 12 or so minutes of watching Henry putter around the post-bomb world. It's like there was a lack of trust in the audience or something, because we're given information about his emotional state mainly through an on-the-nose monologue and Meredith making facial expressions directly into the camera. It all feels very much like the episode is killing time until the big twist, and not using that time wisely at all.

The ending also just feels . . . mean. If the message here is that we should take our joys where we find them and not submit to systems or relationships that deny us our humanity and our happiness, then I wish they'd layered more of that into the first half. Why doesn't Henry work in a bookstore? I believe that Henry is stuck in his relationship with his overbearing wife, but why don't we get hints of him pining for a different kind of relationship? There isn't any character development, and ultimately Henry feels more like a vehicle for a plot twist than like a real person.

I know that this episode is very well-regarded among fans (and was a favorite of Serling's himself). I also agree that the ending is incredibly memorable. That said, and I am sure I'm in the minority here, not generally my cup of tea.


I agree that "Time Enough at Last" is all about the ending, but it's one of the best endings in the series. The part of the episode when he's walking around is before he realizes that he has all the time in the world. He's trying to find anyone else who might have survived, and he hasn't noticed the library yet.

(This episode was on my shortlist of possible nominations for this HoF.)



I think that it even goes a step further than that. You can't go home again, but if you spend all your time looking backwards and wishing that you could go back, you miss the chance to appreciate the people and opportunities around you in the present.

Yes, I agree. That's basically the message that his father was trying to tell him.



One thing that bugged me a little bit was that he had to pay more money to the pawn shop to buy back his trumpet than he got for selling it to them. (As a seller on eBay, I believe in buy low and sell high, so that just didn't work for me. )
As an ebay seller you'd be like the pawn shop owner who did buy low and pay high, think about it Though I must admit I too was wondering if he was going to be able to get this horn back for what he had sold it for or not. Probably not!



As an ebay seller you'd be like the pawn shop owner who did buy low and pay high, think about it Though I must admit I too was wondering if he was going to be able to get this horn back for what he had sold it for or not. Probably not!

But the episode wasn't about the pawn shop owner. It was about Joey. I doubt the pawn shop owner sold Joey's trumpet back to him for the same price Joey sold it for.



The part of the episode when he's walking around is before he realizes that he has all the time in the world.
The function of that middle act is to show him wandering around and slowly sliding into despair, priming the story for the moment he discovers the library. I just didn't think it did a great job of it. The dialogue was far too artificial sounding and the staging lacked subtlety (at one point he actually says something like "I'm here and I'm alive. But do I even want to be alive?" and then Meredith looks right in the camera and it holds for a few seconds).

I like something that I read about how the episode demonstrates the difference between loneliness (when he is unhappy alone) and solitude (when he is content having found the books). I just didn't enjoy the first two acts, and the ending felt cruel, iconic though it is. I can't imagine myself watching this episode again.





And When the Sky Was Opened, Season 1, Episode 11, 1959

SPOILERS, DARLING MANATEES

Colonel Forbes (Rod Taylor) goes to visit his crew mate William Gart (Jim Hutton), the two of them having survived a very strange trip into space on an experimental aircraft. During the flight, the men blacked out and awoke hours later crashed in the desert. Gart is happy to see his friend, but there's just one problem: Forbes insists that there were three of them on the flight, something that no one else seems to remember . . .

I was heavy into the Twilight Zone in the very early 2000s, so there are many episodes I watched then that I haven't seen in about 20 years or so. This episode was familiar to me, and yet there were still plenty of surprises to be found.

I really enjoyed this episode, and for a whole mix of reasons.

First of all, I really enjoyed the in media res beginning of it all. The minute Forbes walks into the hospital room to talk to Gart, he is already agitated. As he tries in vain to get Gart to remember Ed Harrington (Charles Aidman), their third crew member, Forbes is clearly already going through it. The episode then uses a flashback to show how Forbes arrived at that point, and the structure of the episode is very satisfying.

I also thought that the episode was just incredibly good at taking a character's emotional arc (something seems wrong---> everyone else thinks I'm crazy-->Oh god am I next?!) and giving us all three characters cascading over each other at different stages of it. The three men are never on the same page exactly, and that means that they aren't able to support each other in this horrible thing that they are going through.

Lastly, the episode walks just the right line of ambiguity when it comes to what is happening. Harrington ominously speculates that "someone or something" let them come back to Earth, but that it was a mistake. Who or what that someone or something is never gets totally defined. With it being a space mission (and, let's be real, with it being a Twilight Zone episode), your thoughts go immediately to aliens. But what is actually happening to these men---the alteration of reality--feels more like the actions of an angry god.

The broader plot dynamics---that of a person knowing that there is something wrong with their reality--are very familiar for this show. Having just watched Walking Distance, this is yet another episode where someone's parents don't know them. But the acting is so solid and the ambiguity generates so much tension that it works very well. The extra layer of the men experiencing it at different moments, creating further isolation is a new wrinkle that adds a lot of emotional heft to the story. Aidman in his role as Harrington really captures that feeling of sensing that something is wrong, but not knowing what.

A very intense and involving episode.




"The Midnight Sun" CONTAINS SPOILERS

Who knew Serling and company knew about the effects of global warming in the early '70s? Whether they did or not, this episode makes for a terrifying eco-thriller. Strengthening the argument that the best acting occurs in confined spaces, Garde and Nettleton give two of the best performances I've seen in this series so far as Mrs. Bronson and Norma. The breakdowns of their sanity are as believable as they are gradual. Speaking of breakdowns, the many that impending doom cause are on display here and they all leave a mark from the radio broadcaster humorously throwing professionalism out the window to the intruder, who not long ago had been a devoted family man. A more interesting theme in this episode, however, is that when it comes to the stages of grief, acceptance takes the longest to, umm...accept. Besides the neighbors' moving plans in both the main story and in the twist ending, you see this in Mrs. Bronson's sad attempt to cool off by gazing upon a painting of a waterfall. Speaking of the twist, I know that it's there to present another kind of eco-disaster, but it still comes across as a formality, i.e., since it’s The Twilight Zone, there needs to be one, and there were times when the episode really dragged. I still think it's bound to remain on my shortlist of the scariest episodes in this series...as well as the most depressing.
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"The Midnight Sun" CONTAINS SPOILERS

Who knew Serling and company knew about the effects of global warming in the early '70s? Whether they did or not, this episode makes for a terrifying eco-thriller. Strengthening the argument that the best acting occurs in confined spaces, Garde and Nettleton give two of the best performances I've seen in this series so far as Mrs. Bronson and Norma. The breakdowns of their sanity are as believable as they are gradual. Speaking of breakdowns, the many that impending doom cause are on display here and they all leave a mark from the radio broadcaster humorously throwing professionalism out the window to the intruder, who not long ago had been a devoted family man. A more interesting theme in this episode, however, is that when it comes to the stages of grief, acceptance takes the longest to, umm...accept. Besides the neighbors' moving plans in both the main story and in the twist ending, you see this in Mrs. Bronson's sad attempt to cool off by gazing upon a painting of a waterfall. Speaking of the twist, I know that it's there to present another kind of eco-disaster, but it still comes across as a formality, i.e., since it’s The Twilight Zone, there needs to be one, and there were times when the episode really dragged. I still think it's bound to remain on my shortlist of the scariest episodes in this series...as well as the most depressing.
If someone else hadn't beat me to it, I would have nominated this episode. It is one of my favorites because, despite being depressing, it does show for better or for worse the behavior of people who are in a no-win situation.

Also, speaking as someone whose brain disconcertingly often incorporates the sounds and sensations around me into my dreams, this episode actually captures a dynamic like that---the heat from the fever and what she knows about an orbital disaster creeping into her fever dream.



"The Midnight Sun" CONTAINS SPOILERS

Who knew Serling and company knew about the effects of global warming in the early '70s? Whether they did or not, this episode makes for a terrifying eco-thriller. Strengthening the argument that the best acting occurs in confined spaces, Garde and Nettleton give two of the best performances I've seen in this series so far as Mrs. Bronson and Norma. The breakdowns of their sanity are as believable as they are gradual. Speaking of breakdowns, the many that impending doom cause are on display here and they all leave a mark from the radio broadcaster humorously throwing professionalism out the window to the intruder, who not long ago had been a devoted family man. A more interesting theme in this episode, however, is that when it comes to the stages of grief, acceptance takes the longest to, umm...accept. Besides the neighbors' moving plans in both the main story and in the twist ending, you see this in Mrs. Bronson's sad attempt to cool off by gazing upon a painting of a waterfall. Speaking of the twist, I know that it's there to present another kind of eco-disaster, but it still comes across as a formality, i.e., since it’s The Twilight Zone, there needs to be one, and there were times when the episode really dragged. I still think it's bound to remain on my shortlist of the scariest episodes in this series...as well as the most depressing.
Glad you liked the episode and I like what you said about
WARNING: spoilers below
how some fragments of reality seep into Norma's dream, like some characters moving up north and Norma eventually painting a waterfall.
I didn't think about the connection between those details beforehand, but it definitely makes sense.