Top 10 Best Episodes of The Twilight Zone

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The Twilight Zone is one of the most popular and best-loved programs in the history of television. Unique, original, and decades ahead of its time, the original Twilight Zone only lasted five seasons, but produced such ground-breaking television that its stories are still being recycled, parodied, and talked about today. Ask ten Twilight Zone fans for their ten favorite episodes and you’ll get dozens of different answers. However, there are certain TZ episodes so time-honored that they have seeped into the national consciousness and still influence the science fiction and horror genres today. Here are the Top 10 Best Twilight Zone episodes:

10. People Are Alike All Over


Warren Marcusson, an eternal optimist, and his cynical shipmate, Samuel Conrad, crash land on Mars. Though Marcusson is killed in the crash, Conrad survives. Terrified at first, Conrad is relieved to find that Martians are compassionate and even human-like. Though they communicate telepathically, the Martians care for Conrad and even give him his own home. However, Conrad quickly realizes that, in the Twilight Zone, things are never as they seem. In the end, Conrad is forced to confront man’s inhumanity toward other creatures, and learns that people are indeed alike all over.

9. Eye of the Beholder


Originally titled “The Private World of Darkness,” “Eye of the Beholder” provided an astute commentary on the definition of beauty and societal norms. When viewers are first introduced to Janet Tyler, her face is swathed in bandages. Viewers are told that this is Janet’s eleventh and final attempt to have her facial abnormalities corrected so that she can fit in with the rest of society. If her surgery fails, the State will send her to a segregated community for outcasts like herself. When doctors finally remove the bandages from Janet’s surgically “repaired” face, viewers learn, in a twist still shocking more than forty years later, that one society’s idea of beauty is not necessarily another’s. This episode remains as relevant today as it was during the burgeoning Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

8. Kick the Can


Can one hold on to his youth simply by remaining young at heart? This is the question posed to Ben Conroy, a residentof Sunnyvale Rest, a nursing home for the elderly. When a fellow resident, Charles Whitley, declares that the secret to remaining young is to act young, Conroy dismisses him as crazy. One night, when Whitley wakes all the residents of the home to play kick the can, Conroy decides he’s had enough of Whitley’s nonsense and alerts the home’s supervisor. But when Conroy and the supervisor head outside to round up the residents and discipline Whitley, Conroy discovers thetrue secret to remaining young. One of the saddest and sweetest episodes the TZ ever aired, “Kick the Can” remains a favorite among the TZ devotees, and was adapted for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.

7. Mirror Image


If the TZ is any indication, few things in life are scarier than realizing that you’re experiencing a different reality from those around you. This is the setting for “Mirror Image,” which starts out, innocently enough, with young Millicent Barnes waiting for a bus. Soon enough, odd events begin to unsettle Millicent: people answer questions she hasn’t asked, she learns her luggage has already been checked, the washroom attendant comments that she was just in the restroom. As the episode progresses, Millicent learns that reality and dimension are flexible and can be manipulated in the struggle for survival, not just by those on our dimensional plane, but by those on others as well.

6. To Serve Man


An episode of any series is truly preserved in immortality when it’s lampooned by The Simpsons, as “To Serve Man” was in the first “Treehouse of Horror” in 1990. Earthlings are at first startled by the landing of the Kanamits, who have arrived on Earth from elsewhere in the universe. Earth’s fears, however, are quickly put to rest when the Kanamits immediately prove themselves trustworthy, helpful, and kind. To show their goodwill towards man, the Kanamits leave a book, written in code, entitled “To Serve Man,” at the United Nations. Decoding expert Michael Chambers, along with millions of other earthlings book passage to the Kanamits’ home planet, but not before he and his assistant, Pat, attempt to decode “To Serve Man.” In a classic TZ ending, the lowly assistant Pat finishes decoding the book, allowing her to avert the fate that so many others did not. “To Serve Man” is a classic TZ swipe at man’s sense of self-importance within the cosmos.

5. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?


Forced off the road during by a damaged bridge during a snowstorm, a bus driver and his six passengers stop in a greasy spoon to wait out the storm. They are soon shocked to learn that a UFO reportedly landed nearby, and that footprints in the snow lead from the ship to the diner. Their panic increases when they realize that, though there were only six passengers on the bus, seven passengers now occupy the diner. In a scathing social commentary on paranoia among neighbors at the height of the Cold War, the passengers become increasingly suspicious and begin to turn on one another as they attempt to flush out the alien. The twist-within-a-twist at the end of the episode ensures that even the most astute observers are caught off guard.

4. The Midnight Sun


Decades before fear of global warning was known to the masses, the TZ took up the task of scaring the bejesus out of viewers by depicting life on a quickly warming planet. In “The Midnight Sun,” Earth has abruptly changed its solar orbit, and is heading ever-closer to the sun. While most of New York City has fled in a desperate attempt to survive, Norma and her landlord, Mrs. Bronson, remain in their apartment building. In this corner of the Twilight Zone, every hour of the day is high noon, every day the hottest. When Mrs. Bronson dies from the heat and a man breaks into Norma’s apartment and drinks the last of her water, Norma is left, alone and doomed, to face her death alone. Or is she? The turn of events at the end of the episode leave viewers pondering the many ways in which the earth might cease to exist.

3. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet


The real genius of the TZ was its unfailing ability to play upon the secret (and not-so-secret) fears of its viewers. When it comes to phobias for many Americans, flying is right up there with spiders and monsters in the closet. In this classic TZ episode, which many fans count as their favorite, Robert Wilson, played by William Shatner, has been recently discharged from a sanitarium after a nervous breakdown, and is on his way home to reunite with his family via airplane. Glancing out the window during the flight, Wilson sees a gremlin on the wing of plane who seems determined to bring the plane down. As continues to watch the creature attempt to destroy the plane, his pleas for help go unheeded by the rest of the passengers and crew, who find Wilson’s story unbelievable. The perceived line between sanity and insanity blurred, viewers never learn if Wilson is vindicated in his heroic efforts to save the plane, or indeed, if the plane ever really needed saving. Another TZ masterpiece, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was brilliantly parodied by The Simpsons in “Treehouse of Horror IV.”

2. Time Enough at Last


When the average viewer talks about their favorite TZ episodes, “Time Enough At Last” is one of the most frequently-mentioned. This chapter in the series has all the hallmarks of a great TZ episode: the destruction of Earth, one man left alone, and a twist of an ending to remind viewers that they are in the Twilight Zone. Henry Bemis’ one salvation in a life with a shrewish wife, an overbearing boss, and an unfulfilling bank job is his love of books. Having snuck into the vault of the bank to read during his lunch hour, Henry is rendered unconscious by a shockwave. Upon awakening, Henry discovers that the world has been obliterated by nuclear war. Left alone in a barren landscape, Henry determines to kill himself when he happens upon a library. Thrilled at the prospect of spending his remaining days tucked away in the pages of a book, Henry pulls all the books he intends to read from the shelves and settles in to begin. What ultimately happens to Henry probably accounts for the large number of Americans who currently sport contact lenses.

1. It’s a Good Life


If there was one set of common themes in the TZ series, it was that things are often not what they seem and that evil can exist where one least expects it. Such is the case with “It’s a Good Life,” set in the tiny town of Peaksville, Ohio. In the episode’s introduction, Rod Serling tells viewers that a monster has laid siege to the town of Peaksville, cutting it off from the outside world. Residents are so terrified that they do nothing but feign happiness in an attempt to please the monster, who can read their every thought and emotion. If the monster is displeased, he grotesquely disfigures the residents or sends them into the cornfield, a fate worse than death. But when viewers finally meet “the monster,” who is firmly in charge of everyone and everything in Peaksville, he is a blue-eyed, angel-faced six-year-old boy named Anthony Fremont. What could be more frightening than an entire town full of adults left to the mercy of the capricious whims of a six-year old child with a penchant for gruesome punishments? Turns out, nothing. “It’s A Good Life” is the scariest TZ episode ever aired, not so much because of what viewers see, but what they don’t see. Viewers never learn what is in the dreaded cornfield or what specifically Anthony has done to render the entire town so terror-stricken in his presence. Rather, it’s the look of horror on the faces of the townspeople at the prospect of someone upsetting Anthony that tells the entire story.