“The Twilight Zone” is one of my favorite classic shows of all time. 156 episodes in the anthology series aired during its five season run on CBS from 1959 to 1964. I’ve seen almost every one of them… many more than once. When one thinks of TZ, generally the first thing to come to mind is science fiction… fantastic stories of the strange and the supernatural. And certainly, those elements were very heavily found throughout the series’ run.
However, at its heart, The Twilight Zone was really a collection of fables. Most of the stories in the series had a lesson to teach, and the looser boundaries allowed by the fantasy aspect of the show’s genre gave TZ a chance to impart life lessons that very few people had ever considered before.
Here are five of my favorite lessons taught by Twilight Zone episodes. Some of these were intentional morals woven into the script of that particular show by the writers, and a few are more or less my insight on the action that had taken place. So put down your “To Serve Man” cookbook, grab your Talky Tina doll, and sit back and let’s learn a bit about life from the genius of Rod Serling and his talented team of TZ script writers!
Lesson #1 – Immortality Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
Episode: “Long Live Walter Jameson”
If a genie appeared out of that magic lamp you have sitting in your closet with the Chia Pet and granted you three wishes, what would they be? Chances are, one of your wishes would involve living forever. Humans are lucky to have a very long life span compared to most other animals on this planet, but even 70, 80, heck, 100 years can fly by in no time at all. Who wouldn’t want the chance to live for several hundred, even several thousand years? Think of all the wonderful things you could do in that time!
Yes, there’d be no stopping you now if you knew you could stick around for several millennia. You could tell all those YOLO douchebags where they could stick their excuse for youthful stupidity. You could even watch them grow old and die before they’ve done everything, and dance on their graves. In fact… you would pretty much be able to do that with everyone you know. Your significant other…. your kids…. grandkids…. great-great-great-great grandkids. Your friends aren’t going to want to hit the clubs when they are in their 70’s and you are still frozen in time as a twenty-something. And thus comes the problem with living forever… it’s a loooong, lonely existence you are doomed for.
In “Long Live Walter Jameson”, the title character is a history professor who has literally witnessed history for the past 2,000 plus years. When an older friend who is staring down death himself discovers Walter’s secret, he is instantly jealous and wishes he too could live forever. Walter counters that he actually wishes he could die… and bemoans how much it sucks that he has had to abandon countless wives and families throughout his life because they just continue to grow old in the face of his constant age, and how eventually, one just gets tired of being alive. Death, Jameson says, is what gives life it’s point! Remember that the next time that genie is asking you for wish requests…
Lesson #2 – Karma’s A Bitch
Episode: “Time Enough At Last”
“Time Enough At Last” is one of TZ’s most well known episodes. Burgess Meredith plays bookworm Henry Bemis, who has to put up with being bullied by his customers, the boss, and even his wife all because he has a preoccupation with reading. So when Bemis steals away to the bank vault on his lunch break to catch up on some reading in privacy, and that just happens to be when an apocalyptic hydrogen bomb is dropped on the city, he emerges to find out that he is the last person left on earth. Even an introvert like Bemis is dismayed to the point of suicide by this revelation until he wanders upon the public library and realizes he now has all the time in the world to do all the reading he could ever want to do!
At least until Draliman hijacked the script and caused Bemis to have a little accident that put a huge kink in his grand plan…
Bemis accidentally drops his glasses, shattering them on the library steps. Without them, he is practically blind. What a surprisingly low sucker punch to deliver to a character we were all led to root for!
Or maybe Bemis was just getting his just desserts after all. Sure everyone in life seemed to piss on this guy…. because he was not only a complete clod, but he made everyone around him utterly miserable. His reading habit caused him to be completely incompetent at his job. His wife was flat out bored with the lack of personality in the man she for some reason married. And everyone was sick and tired of his mousy ass rambling on and on about whatever long dead author he was reading at the moment. Bemis is seen to be a tragic figure in this tale, but I say he had that final kick to the nuts coming to him. There’s nothing wrong with being different, but there’s a fine line between special and just plain being a pain in the ass.
Lesson #3 – You Can’t Always Get What You Want… Thankfully!
Episode: “A Nice Place To Visit”
“A Nice Place To Visit” is one of my favorite episodes that has one of the best twist endings in the entire series. Petty thug Rocky Valentine meets his doom and awakes to find himself in a strange room with Mr. French from “Family Affair”. Pip, as the man calls himself, serves as Valentine’s guide in what he figures must be the afterlife. But even better, Pip promises Valentine that he can have anything he wants, whenever he wants it. No request is too big or too outrageous for his guardian angel.
While Valentine at first lives up this good life, er, afterlife he is allowed to have… pretty soon he starts getting suspicious of it all. He reasons that he wasn’t exactly a saint in his lifetime, and a visit to The Hall of Records reveals Valentine indeed had a rather nasty rap sheet. Besides, even the best things in life can get old after some time… maybe he just wasn’t cut out for Heaven after all. Couldn’t he go to the “other place” instead?
“LOL” Pip would have said had he lived in our times, “Whatever have you the idea you were in Heaven? This IS the ‘other place!’ ”
Think about it… while it might be quite novel to be able to have whatever you want on demand, it’s the random things in life that make it interesting. Sometimes those things are quite pleasant, and sometimes we get a handful of skunkshit… but if we were the sole determiner of everything that happened in our lives, we would quickly bore ourselves to death with the 100% predictability. So keep that in mind next time you go down to the demonstration to get your fair share of abuse…
Lesson #4 – Kids Are Assholes
Episode: “It’s A Good Life”
Yet another of TZ’s instantly recognizable episodes, and one which I absolutely cannot stand to watch. Billy Mumy plays the role of the evil, controlling kid to absolute perfection. Blessed with the power to alter reality with just his mind, Mumy’s six year old Anthony is the stereotypical beast of a child you want to take a real long switch to since his parents obviously won’t do it themselves. Anthony has complete control over all of the adults in his life, with the ever present threat that he can banish them to “the cornfield” if they don’t abide by his demands.
We’ve all encountered little terrors on wheels like little Anthony in our daily lives. And just like the adults in this episode, we don’t dare speak up about their behavior… lest we get that “to the cornfield” glare from the accompanying parent. RRRRRR, if there is ever any validation for me being childless, it is this TZ episode that I will instantly turn off if I happen to come across it…
Lesson #5 – The Good Old Days Weren’t Always Good
Episode: “The Incredible World Of Horace Ford”
“The Incredible World of Horace Ford” features what is probably my favorite moral of any TZ episode I have managed to catch… and one you would have a hard time convincing most people of accepting. In this play, the title character is an adult who is thoroughly bored with his life and would love nothing more than to revisit his childhood, which he looks back on quite fondly. So preoccupied is Ford with his younger days that he actually finds himself revisiting his old stomping grounds in what seems like a dream sequence… though TZ always had a way of blending the dream world with reality.
Ford winds up revisiting this early version of his life several times during the hour long episode… and each time, we see more and more of just how life was for little Horace. And so does Horace himself. At first, the memories of youthful days are quite wonderful. But by the final flashback, we realize full well that Horace’s childhood was full of bullies and other misfortunes that he seems to have blocked out of his nostalgia fueled mind…
And that pretty much sums up how we all tend to look back on the old days with rose colored glasses. The wonderful things get trumped up in our mind, while the not so pleasant aspects of our past life tend to get swept under the rug of our brain. As someone who is obsessed with nostalgia myself, I try to keep this lesson in mind. I can think of all of the bad things of years gone by if I think hard enough… but the joys of yesteryear are always the first things that come to mind, and drown out any killjoy memories trying to warn myself that there was a fair amount of suckage as well.
So the next time you tune in to an episode of The Twilight Zone, while you are enjoying the fantastic and surrealistic story, don’t forget to look for the lessons the show’s creators were looking to symbolically impart on us. The truth is out there somewhere….
I shall never forget the episode with aliens reading the book “How to Serve People.” Oh, they come in peace, thought the silly humans … until they discovered it was a cookbook. Thanks for the TZ Rod Serling fable homage, ESN.
Obviously written in the days before the health food craze. I’m sure we’re bad for alien arteries….
“It’s a Good Life” always freaked me the eff out. Anthony was a terror. *shudder*
Yes, I doubt Billy Mumy ever played a role more spot on than that one. He plays the evil genius better than any adult actor ever did…
rod s and his show are some of my favorite things in the world )
For me too!
Such a brilliant show, these episodes are great ones. It’s easier for me to name episodes I didn’t like as much than favorites…not that there are many even on the least favorite list!
I could easily put “The Obsolete Man” at one end of my list, and “It’s a Good Life” at the other end of the list…. but I doubt I could exactly place any of the other shows in my TZ rankings. Most are very watchable and rewatchable, though…
I love Twilight Zone..I was hoping you would do the one with the monster on the wing of the plane. That one freaked me out as a kid…And Kids Are Assholes. Brilliant. 🙂
Well, the only moral that episode taught us was never look out the window of an airplane!
Hey, I’d never do such a nasty thing to poor Mr Bemis 😉
I did write a post last year about living forever – the poor chap ended up drifting in nothingness after everything was dead and all the stars had gone out.
I’ll have to watch out for repeats of TZ – I can now watch it with an adult eye and see what morals I can find.
That was great! Exactly the kind of thing people don’t consider when they want to cheat death forever. It would be even worse to live an eternity with broken glasses….
Nice. Evidently having most of your memories wiped out by living such an extravagant life with Keith Richards has it’s advantages. 😉
True…. he probably still thinks he’s 20!
Great post as always. I have seen the movie and a few episodes but thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can see some more. A good storyteller always has a story or two wrapped up in the main story I think. Rod Serling had a wonderful mind.
Juggling subplots is one reason I could never be a good writer… I tend to have a one track mind when it comes to my stories. Had I written War & Peace, it would have been about 25 pages long…
Nightmare at 20,000 feet is why I won’t get on a plane! They redid it for the movie too didn’t they, or did they remake the episode? I remember more than one version of it …
Yes, it was one of the stories that was redone for the movie (Which I’ve never seen). That movie is best known for killing actor Vic Morrow!
There’s some… thing out there. There’s…. something on the wing.
Hard to do Shatner in the written word.
I too am a huge fan of twilight zone, and loved the sometimes hidden, sometimes in your face, morals the twisted stories were showing us.
I wonder if Shatner pregnant pauses while he’s writing too? He would wear out the period button on his keyboard….
Haha…ha. You could… be… on to some…thing there.
Sadly, TZ, along with Dr. Who and the Saturday afternoon monster movie, was forbidden fruit. My older brother watched them with my Mom but I wasn’t allowed – they gave me nightmares! I missed out on so much…. 🙂
TZ’s known for its “scarier” episodes, but there were actually quite a few that weren’t really scary at all. In fact, there’s only one episode out of the whole bunch that can truly be classified as a ghost story (“Night Call”)… there were plenty of alien, monster and doomsday episodes though!
I had an overactive imagination so I was banished to the other room. It didn’t take much to keep me up all night! 🙂