July 4th is almost upon us, and with it comes a tradition amongst fans of sci-fi, horror and fantasy; the Syfy Network will air it's annual 'Twilight Zone' July 4th Marathon this Friday. Click here for the full schedule.
There are many reasons the show remains popular 55 years and counting, and one of the most crucial remains the twist endings that many notable episodes contained. Just when you thought you had an episode figured out, series creator and writer Rod Serling (along with other contributors including the late Richard Matheson) would throw in a surprise turn of events, completely altering your perception of traditional narrative, and of the potential of television to engage the imagination.
In honor of the upcoming marathon (and the new 'Twilight Zone': Essential Episodes DVD box-set) , here's our list of the 12 best twist endings employed over the 5 seasons of the series.
SPOILER ALERT: I'm giving away major plot twists, so proceed with caution if you're not a diehard Twilight Zone fan.
12. "The Silence"
A chattering braggart named Jamie annoys a man at their respective country club. Exasperated, the man offers the loudmouth $500,000 if he'll shut up for a year.
The condition is that he must live in a glass enclosure in solitude, to make sure he doesn't welch on his bet.
The Twist: Jamie remains silent for a year, but his adversary makes an admission that he's broke, and never really thought he could remain silent for a year. Heartbroken, Jamie writes a note that he knew he couldn't stay silent, so he had his vocal chords severed so he could win the bet.
11. "The After Hours"
A young woman is shopping for a gold thimble for her mother. She is trapped in a department store where mannequins begin talking to her, and she thinks she's losing her mind.
The Twist: She's actually a mannequin herself, who is allowed to live as a human one month out of the year. She just got so lost in her own identity that she forget she was ever a mannequin in the first place, and the other's were annoyed their schedule had been thrown off.
10. "The Dummy"
Jerry (Cliff Robertson) is a down on his luck ventriloquist, who turns to drinking when he's convinced his dummy is alive and trying to control his life.
The Twist; His manager and all around him think him mad, but his fears turn out to be true when he becomes the doll, and his dummy the ventriloquist, totally usurping his identity.
9. "Five Characters In Search of An Exit"
A ballerina, hobo, circus clown, bagpipe player and Army Major wake up, trapped in a giant cylinder. They have no memory of anytime before being imprisoned in this strange place, but they make an attempt to escape.
The Twist: they're all toys, and the cylinder is a collection bin for a girl's orphanage. Serling sets the stage in his closing monologue; "Perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a major. Tonight's cast of players on the odd stage—known as—The Twilight Zone."
8. "A Stop At Willoughby"
James Daly plays Gart Williams, an ad executive who wants out of the rat race. Whenever he drifts off to sleep on his evening train commute, he dreams of a town called Willoughby, a tranquil small burgh, which in the words of the train conductor is "a place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure." But every time he tries to depart the train, he wakes up.
Unable to cope with stress from work and an uncaring wife, he decides he's going to get off at Willoughby in his next dream.
The Twist: William's body is discovered after he jumps off the train while sleepwalking. The train conductor noted he said "Willoughby"before he fell. His body is loaded into a hearse with the logo "Willoughby & Son Funeral Home"
7. "Third From The Sun"
A group of scientists have inside info that the world is on the brink of nuclear war. They gather their families and make a quick escape via a rocket ship heading towards a planet they know has a sustainable atmosphere.
The Twist: The planet they're heading for? Earth.
6. "The Invaders"
A woman in a country home is besieged by miniature alien beings. They appear robotic in nature and taunt her with various weapons, but due to her size and resourcefulness destroys them all.
The Twist: She's a giant humanoid on a distant world, and they were American astronauts in space suits.
5. "People Are Alike All Over"
Sam Conrad (Roddy McDowall) and Mark Marcusson (Paul Comi) are two astronauts headed to mars. Conrad is terrified of what they'll find, especially if it involves meeting an alien species.
Marcusson tries to alleviate his fears, telling him that people "are alike all over" and will share the same values as humans do.
They crash land on Mars; Marcusson dies in the crash, and Conrad ventures out fearfully and meets a Martian colony. They seem to reinforce Marcusson's statements and Conrad feels at ease as the group offers him amenities, even offering to build him a dwelling specific to his home on Earth to make him feel comfortable.
The Twist: Conrad discovers the door to his home are locked. Alarmed he notices a wall rising up and he stares through bars at the Martians. It turns out he is an exhibit in a zoo; "Earth Creature In Its Natural Habitat". Thus comes the zinger, where he angrily shouts out at his departed coworker: "Marcusson, you were right! You were right. People are alike.... people are alike everywhere!"
4. "The Midnight Sun"
Rod Serling set the tone for this episode in his opening monologue: "One month ago, the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit and in doing so began to follow a path which gradually, moment by moment, day by day, took it closer to the sun. And all of man's little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries - they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival."
A young woman named Norma and her landlady Mrs. Bronson are counting down the day's to the Earth's immolation; they're attacked by a heat stricken looter and sweat in dread as the end draws nigh...
The Twist: Norma awakes; it turns out a rampant fever had caused her nightmarish dream of heading towards the sun. In truth, it's winter, which brings her solace. She says to Mrs Bronson; "Isn't it wonderful to have darkness, and coolness?" Her landlady's face speaks volumes; the Earth is actually moving away from the sun, and they're all headed toward a wintery grave.
3. "To Serve Man"
A group of Aliens, known as Kanamits, descend upon Earth and speak at the U.N, offering technology to end wars, and cure famine and disease. They leave a book behind. The U.S. government, being wary, asks two cryptographer's to crack the code of their alien text. The eventually decipher the book's title is "To Serve Man" and feel at ease, believing the alien race truly has Earth's best interests at heart.
The Twist: "To Serve Man" has an entirely different meaning; it's a cookbook, and humans will be used as livestock for alien consumption.
2. "Time Enough At Last"
Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is a bespectacled bookworm, who can never find a time to indulge his passion; his cruel wife destroys his books, and he gets in trouble for reading on the job. One day the banker sneaks into a vault to read on his lunch break, just as a hydrogen bomb blows the world to bits.
Though he survived the impact, the lack of human contact drives him to despair; until he sees a library, where he has enough books to satiate his love of reading for the rest of his days.
The Twist: in the most heartbreaking moment of the series, Bemis's glasses fall off and are irreparably smashed. He will spend the rest of his life in a blurry haze, unable to read another word. It's one of the most tragic occurrences in television history.
1. "Eye Of The Beholder"
In a world where ugliness is such a crime that undesirables are segregated from society, Janet Tyler is undergoing a last effort at cosmetic surgery to correct her condition. After painstaking hours and days of healing under a mask of bandages, all is for naught; her face has not changed.
The twist: by our standard's Tyler is quite beautiful, but it turns out she lives on another planet where the normal standard of attractiveness is a piggish animalistic appearance. The show was shot with the doctor and nursing staff in shadow until Tyler's unmasking, making the big reveal extremely shocking.
Rod Serling's closing narration shows the example is to put our views of vanity in perspective: "Now the questions that come to mind: "Where is this place and when is it?" "What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty, the deviation from that norm?" You want an answer? The answer is it doesn't make any difference, because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this year or a hundred years hence. On this planet or wherever there is human life - perhaps out amongst the stars - beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone."
So that's our list of the best 'Twilight Zone' twist endings. Which would make your list? Tell us in the comments.