Picking favorite episodes of Rod Serling’s brilliant late ’50s to mid ’60s hit THE TWILIGHT ZONE is a daunting task. Every single season of the show has a few groundbreaking tales — but believe it or not, there’s a slight dearth of sublime episodes in its debut season.
That said, the greats of season one are no doubt great — and binging the full first season has been an absolute joy.
Now let’s see if you’re just as joyous about our selections!
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead!]
5. THE PURPLE TESTAMENT
THE PURPLE TESTAMENT has its fair share of fans, but it often goes overlooked when discussing TZ’s best episodes of all time. While I may not rank it in the series’ top 10, it’s an extremely overlooked gem from the first season. The story itself is a little standard and a predictable, which may be a part of the reason… but this episode is extremely relevant today (I won’t get into political chatter), and it’s a sad affair to experience.
It’s all about active soldier Lt. Fitzgerald, who one night realizes that he can see a change in the faces of the men who are going to die. He begins to identify with regularity the men who will not return from battle… and while his superiors are doubtful of the Lieutenant’s strange new abilities, when one has his premature fate (Dick York, whom you’ll probably recognize from BEWITCHED) declared by Fitzgerald, he’s wise enough to leave behind a few images of importance and even his wedding ring. Sure enough, he doesn’t return from action that evening.
The accustomed twist is delivered in the final moments, but you’ve likely seen it coming from the midway point… but predictable or not, this is a great installment, and it earns a huge recommendation — especially if it managed to fly under your radar before now.
4. JUDGMENT NIGHT
An episode that toys with confusion, paranoia and guilt, JUDGMENT NIGHT deposits mind-bending terror on the foggy decks of the S.S. Queen of Glasgow, just one day out of Liverpool, headed for New York. But will she make it to her destination? One mysterious passenger seems concerned that is not the ship’s fate… and this passenger is clearly one to keep an eye on. He’s a strange man, known as Carl Lancer, and he seems perennially confused, almost uncertain of who he even is… or how he found himself on the Queen of Glasgow. But what he does seem to be certain of is the workings of a German U-Boat and the practices of a German submarine commander. Could he be a Nazi? Could he pose a threat to the English passengers of this sprawling ship? He’s completely discombobulated, frightened and convinced that doom looms below the surface.
A terrible irony sweeps over this absurdly eerie episode as Lancer, still confused, comes to his senses and realizes he’s on a virtual ghost ship; outside, just yards away on the water, is a German submarine, surfaced… and there at the helm, ordering the sinking of the Glasgow, is Carl Lancer himself.
This, my friends, is one of the most terrifying episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE ever produced.
3. THE LAST FLIGHT
The cowardly Lieutenant Decker flies through thick clouds, and although it’s 1917 in the air, at the American base where he lands it’s 1959. There’s some form of cosmic disturbance in this man’s life… and as the mystery comes together, we’re gifted an emotional tale of redemption.
Soon, American officers learn that Decker was flying with a certain pilot whom he believes to have died after he abandoned him mid-air while being surrounded by enemy planes. But that pilot never actually died — and when Decker learns that the pilot is on his way, a realization strikes him which ultimately saves the man’s life: If Decker gets back in his plane, and goes back to save his fellow pilot, he can redeem himself and not die as a coward. But can an unlikely hero survive?
This crafty yet overlooked episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE remains one of the more emotionally taxing installments from the first season. If you skipped it, you missed a brilliant story.
2. THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET
Just about as close to flawless as it gets, this fan-favorite episode flips the script… at least as the script was perceived 60 years ago. Monsters are no longer massive tentacled beasts with razor sharp teeth and a taste for human flesh; they’re everyday men and women, they’re comic-book-reading kids, they’re possibly the people you call friends, neighbors and even family. In other words, the “monsters” are sired by overactive imaginations and Cold War-era paranoia. Everyone in this neighborhood has an odd quirk — and when time seems to stop and all power is cut, those quirks suddenly look like otherworldly idiosyncrasies.
This is a powerful episode that showcases some of the best performances of season one. It’s also a wheel-spinner, because the first time we watch this episode, we ourselves aren’t certain of what is real and what isn’t. Could one of these ordinary folks actually be something else… from somewhere else?
1. TIME ENOUGH AT LAST
TIME ENOUGH AT LAST features an amazing performance from Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis, a feeble little banker with a deep, deep passion for books — so deep, in fact, that it interferes with his productivity at work. He can hardly put a book down, and all those around him are, quite frankly, disgusted by his dedication to reading. From his boss to his wife, everyone is begging him to put his books down. This pains Bemis, terribly so… until the world offers him an unexpected “favor.”
While locked in the vault at work, an H-bomb wipes the earth’s population away… save for Bemis, who was reading in the bank vault at the time, and becomes (apparently) the world’s lone survivor. Initially the fear of seclusion unnerves Henry… but then it dawns on him: he’s now free to read any book, at any time, at any place — with no one to taunt or scold him, and no one to tell him he’s wrong for craving the written word.
It isn’t pretty, but it’s the world that Bemis unknowingly craves… especially when he comes upon the remains of the local library, with thousands of books still in perfect condition, waiting to be enjoyed by one man. It’s a fantasy turned reality… until a minor accident leaves this once-happy man incapable of indulging his one true passion.