Continuing on in our coverage of Rod Serling’s groundbreaking series THE TWILIGHT ZONE [be sure to check out our previous entry here], we arrive at Season Two with plenty of top notch footage to sort through. This is a season loaded with iconic episodes and imagery, stunning twists and gorgeous production… but what episodes remain high on the favorite lists of dedicated fans? We’ve got five ideas for you!
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER is really all about perception, inhibitions and distorted perceptions of self-image. What do we see in the mirror? Is a reflection truly accurate when it is us staring into the mirror? It seems very few see themselves as they truly are — and that’s a byproduct of the insecurities that every man and woman harbor.
For Janet Tyler, the nerves are tingling: We first see her all wrapped up in bandages, after having facial reconstruction so that she might claim the beauty everyone around her is fortunate enough to be blessed with. She’s terrified she won’t be beautiful — especially compared to the doctors who surround her bed.
As is the case with all episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, there’s a big twist — in fact, it’s one of the biggest twists offered by the second season of this legendary show. When the woman’s bandages are removed, for one slight second we’re perplexed… for we believe her procedure has been an enormous success, as she’s clearly gorgeous. But then we see her physicians, and what they look like — a look Janet had hoped to adopt under the knife. To our eyes, they’re hideously deformed, and difficult to look at… but they are the norm, while Janet’s beauty is hideous — both in her mind and her existence in this backwards world.
NICK OF TIME
One of the most beloved episodes in the history of original series features William Shatner (in one of two legendary TWILIGHT ZONE appearances). This story follows Shatner’s character Don and his wife Pat, who stop in a small town when their car begins having some issues. They head for a local diner and take a seat, where a fortune-telling machine sends out mysterious messages with each penny inserted.
This particular fortune-teller’s messages seem to carry some weight — the little apparatus may actually be capable of manipulating reality. The machine is also addictive, and it’s only a matter of time before the glad tidings dwindle away. Soon, the device is delivering news that Don isn’t too keen to hear.
Panic sets in, with paranoia sliding its way into Don’s psyche. Are the messages from this machine accurate… and even if they aren’t, can Don come back from the mounting terror he experiences with each new penny he feeds it? Each penny that seems to accurately predict the future?
The finale is absolutely brilliant, and seeing Shatner in a controlled performance is amazing. But what really strikes the viewer are the final seconds of the episode, as we see yet another couple trapped in an existential cycle that’s clearly wearing on the sane folks of this idealistic community.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
What would you do if you could read the minds of those around you? All their crude commentary, their prejudice and disdain? That wouldn’t be the most pleasant gift in the world — and poor Hector B. Poole (played by Dick York of BEWITCHED) is about to learn that telepathy is far closer to a curse than a gift.
As Hector marches through life, gradually becoming overwhelmed by the unspoken thoughts of others, his confidence begins to crack, his grasp on reality loosening in lightning speed. Hector can’t keep himself from repeating those unspoken thoughts of strangers… and it begins to land the man in hot water.
PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS is a somewhat unheralded winner of the series — and that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s a well-acted tale with a strong cast and a moral dilemma: Should Hector be honest and ignore the thoughts of others, or use those thoughts to his own benefit? We’ll give you a hint: he’s a pretty stand-up guy, even if he’s been taking silent punishment from virtually everyone around him.
LONG DISTANCE CALL
When it comes to genuinely eerie episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, very few rival this little chiller.
Billy and his grandmother have a great relationship… but grandma is going to die soon, and she knows it. However, not even death can break the familial bond between her and the child.
Billy receives a telephone from his grandma as a gift, and he’s ecstatic about it — even though he’s yet to learn that this is no typical telephone. This device will allow Billy to continue to communicate with his grandmother — even after she’s already passed on. Long dead and buried, grandma continues to utilize that telephone in magical ways no one could have predicted — she’s able to call to her grandson from the grave, chatting up a dead line that’s mysteriously come to life.
These conversations are truly haunting — we’re talking eerie stuff — but they’re touching as well. Billy’s joy at just hearing his grandmother’s voice hits the heart… but our awareness that granny is never truly coming back stings, and her request to see Billy join her in the next phase of existence is deeply disconcerting. Whether it had that impact on viewers decades ago is irrelevant; today it is spine tingling — especially when it sets in that Billy has legit intentions of joining his grandmother in the afterlife. Granny may have been loving in life, but she’s now attempting to lure Billy into the clutches of death — and that’s just a profoundly disturbing notion.
WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP?
Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, people were terrified at the thought of Martians and other alien lifeforms invading earth. As a result, countless filmmakers jumped on the bandwagon and began churning out terrifying science fiction films that often deposited extraterrestrials in the very midst of humanity — often without our knowledge.
Given THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s finger on the social pulse, it’s no surprise Rod Serling would craft a clever invasion tale with a slew of suspect characters, each possessing complex personalities. The only thing this episode’s characters have in common is being trapped in a small diner, and an inclination toward panic — which intensifies once we learn that one of them isn’t what he appears to be.
There’s a remarkable buildup over a half-hour span, and that buildup is one of the major reasons this episode stands as one of the finest installments THE TWILIGHT ZONE ever produced… but the speedy escalation in conflict ultimately pales in comparison to the episode’s major reveal. That reveal is absolutely stunning, as the one occupant of this diner we can all but guarantee is human, proves to be the alien impostor… and sports an amazingly atypical look.