The 6 Best Under-Appreciated “Twilight Zone” Episodes

Just because they didn’t have claymation dinosaurs and William Shatner doesn’t mean they sucked

1. “Eye of the Beholder”

A fine example of the trademark surprise endings that “The Twilight Zone” offered its viewers, “Eye of the Beholder” tells the tale of a woman in the hospital, doctors trying to reconstruct her deformed face in an effort to fit the norm set up by the state. Throughout the whole episode, you don’t see the nurses and doctor, and all you see of the woman is her bandaged face. Finally, the doctor unravels the gauze, revealing a strikingly beautiful woman. The doctors and nurses draw back in horror- the treatment has failed! The doctors are revealed to be hideous, with deformed faces themselves. Although not as famous as some of its counterparts, “Eye of the Beholder” is a striking commentary on conformity to a single ideal of beauty, something especially relevant today.

2. “A Penny For Your Thoughts”

One morning, Hector Poole is heading to work at the bank when he tosses a coin that lands on edge into a cash box for his morning paper. Soon, Poole realizes that he’s been gifted with the power to read minds. His new ability doesn’t always benefit him at first- it gets him fired from his job, and he certainly makes some enemies- but it later leads to a promotion and a girlfriend. At the end of the day, Poole tosses in another coin, hitting his coin that stood on edge all day, and his telepathic abilities are gone. “A Penny For Your Thoughts” is a wonderful episode, full of subtle laughs- at one point, Hector stands next to a gorgeous blonde with a blissful grin on her face and a stack of cash in her hand, only to realize that she is thinking absolutely nothing.

3. “Walking Distance”

While driving to the country, advertising executive Martin Sloane pulls up at a gas station, where he discovers that he’s walking distance away from his hometown. Leaving his car, he sets out on foot to the place he left so long ago, and walks right into the past. Thrilled that he’s gone back to a time where he had no worries in the world, Martin tries to stay in the past, but is lectured by his long-dead father that he needs to go back. While trying to convince his young self that he should savor his youth, Martin accidentally knocks him off of a carousel. Reluctantly, Martin sets back on foot into the present, where he discovers that he has a limp from a childhood injury of falling off a merry-go-round. Nostalgic, lovely, and melancholy, “Walking Distance” portrays an old man’s desire to return to his youth, something we can all resonate with, but leaves us with the message to enjoy life while we can.

4. “Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room”

Basically a one-man show by Joe Mantell, the fabulous lead, “Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room” tells the story of Jackie Rhoades, a nervous, perpetually fidgety man who’s done a few nickel-and-dime jobs for a gangster, and is now cooped up in a hot, stuffy four-dollar hotel room. George, the gangster, comes to him and tells him that his next assignment will be to kill a man. Jackie is faced with a serious dilemma- if he kills the man, he’s sure to be caught; but if he refuses, George will kill him. Terrified and loopy from the heat, Jackie sees an animated reflection of himself in the mirror of his hotel room. His reflection is cool, calm and collected- nothing like Jackie- and tells him that what’s really killing him is his refusal to stand up for himself. At the end of the episode, we see Jackie- now calling himself James- check out of the hotel with complaints, beat the gangster up and quit working for him, and leave. The reflection in the mirror is now Jackie, the scared, miserable man. “Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room” is like the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” of “The Twilight Zone”; it’s empowering, and its message is “get your life back together”. Joe Mantell is incredible, and this episode genuinely shows off his acting abilities- on either side of the mirror, he’s two different people.

5. “People Are Alike All Over”

A spaceship containing two scientists- the optimistic Warren Marcaussen, and the terrified, pessimistic Sam Conrad- crashes onto the Martian surface, killing Marcaussen and leaving Conrad to confront the alien race that has come to the site of the wreckage. Before Marcaussen dies, he assures Conrad that “people are alike everywhere”, and that the Martians will treat Conrad with peace and respect as long as he does the same. Conrad discovers that the Martians, to his surprise, look exactly like humans, and can speak his language. The Martians bring him to a beautifully furnished house that they built for him, assuring him that this will be his new home. Conrad relaxes, until he realizes that this new “home” has no windows or doors- suddenly, a wall of his home comes off to reveal iron bars trapping him, and Martians staring at him. It’s a zoo! Conrad collapses, screaming “You’re right, Marcaussen! People ARE alike everywhere!”
A brilliant script written by Rod Serling is backed up by strong performances from the cast. The episode is a stirring conversation piece on human nature.

6. “Time Enough At Last”

“The Twilight Zone” is known for its intense situational irony and shocking twists. “Time Enough At Last” is a fabulous example from the show’s first season- Burgess Meredith plays Mr. Bemis, a myopic bank teller whose favorite thing in the world is reading. Unfortunately, the people around him are less-enthusiastic, and Bemis is never given a chance to read. One day, he sneaks into the bank vault on his lunch break with a good book. Upon returning from the break, he realizes that- of course- the Earth has been utterly destroyed by a Nuclear war. He is the last man alive! He plans on killing himself, and then realizes that he is surrounded by books, and has “time enough at last” to read. He runs to the library, grabs a book, and starts to read- but his glasses fall off of his face and shatter on the ground. Bemis is eternally trapped in a world he can’t see, with millions of books he’ll never read, and the rest of his life ahead of him. Although cringe-worthy in the ending, “Time Enough At Last” is a joy- the episode is full of subtle humor and great performances.

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