If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, Loki, or WandaVision, then you owe it yourself to see where the genre gained clearer vision, but only when a pair of glasses shattered. Arguably the most daring and influential science fiction TV series of all time is also the one show that probably doesn’t get rewatched enough.
Yes, you know there’s a famous episode where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses, and you’re probably aware that William Shatner was haunted by a gremlin while on an airplane. But there’s so much more to the original Twilight Zone than just that. Here’s why you need to hit up the original Zone before it leaves Netflix at the end of June.
The perfection of the sci-fi twist-ending
Talking about The Twilight Zone without the context for having seen a bunch of specific episodes is tricky because each episode relies on a chilling twist-ending. This may sound tedious if you’re all mystery-boxed-out from contemporary TV, but the reason the twist-endings on the OG Zone work so well is because of their compact nature.
Unlike the newer iterations of the show, each original Twilight Zone is about 25 minutes, and everything you need to know about that story ends in that time. The reason the twist-endings in The Twilight Zone are so great is that most are intellectual downers wrapped around a core truth. We aren’t the first to compare the Zone to the work of M. Night Shyamalan, but it’s also important to note that the TV series feels more consistent than the contemporary filmmaker’s work — perhaps through no fault of his own. The two exist in different worlds.
“Time Enough at Last”
In “Time Enough at Last” (Season 1, Episode 8), a bookworm named Henry Bemis (played by Meredith) survives a nuclear apocalypse to find both enough food to survive and a library full of books. We forget that midway through this episode, he contemplates suicide after surveying the wasteland, but decides against it, making the discovery of the library a positive twist ending.
The episode makes you think the twist is just that: “Hey the end of the world might end up being awesome if you are left alone to indulge in fantasies forever without any responsibility.” For Bemis, having an infinite number of books to retreat into is just as good as being strapped into the Matrix.
But that’s the twist before The Twist. The Twist occurs when Bemis gets what he wants (at the cost of the death of everyone) and, only after that, breaks his glasses, losing his ability to read when he finally has peace. If you forget about the moment where Bemis puts the gun to his head and almost commits suicide, this glasses-breaking twist just hits different.
While his Coke-bottle glasses are certainly the Chekhov's Gun in this story, they fit so well with the character’s persona that they go almost unnoticed.
If you watch this episode soon, you’ll see the twist coming, but, that doesn’t dim its brilliance. The amazing thing about the original Twilight Zone is that it's rewatchable as hell, even if you think you remember the twist.
Better than its greatest moments
Although some of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes receive much of the attention, the non-famous episodes will offer fans a little more capacity for entertainment. The first season includes a few tragically underrated episodes, including “The Four of Us Are Dying,” (Season 1, Episode 13) written by science fiction legend George Johnson (He would later pen the first aired episode of Star Trek ever, “The Man Trap.”)
There’s also the underrated afterlife episode “A Nice Place to Visit” (Season 1, Episode 28) in which a criminal finds himself unable to lose at anything. Sure, you can probably see the twist on that one coming a mile away, too, but it’s done with more discipline than similar afterlife stories elsewhere in the genre.
From aliens hanging out in 24-hour diners to extraterrestrial zoos to episodes that suggest that it’s really hard to distinguish between a waking dream, and whatever you call “real life,” the classic Twilight Zone not only invented the WTF TV “mindfuck,” it also perfected the format right out of the gate.
If you’ve never really given the classic show a chance, and you’re only familiar with some of those famous episodes I mentioned, you need to just dive in. Even the most randomly meh episode of The Twilight Zone will be worth your time. This series is famous for a very good reason. As much as you might think it's overrated, watching the less-talked-about episodes for the first time might make you think it’s actually underrated.
The Twilight Zone Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5 (Season 4 excluded) are streaming on Netflix until June 30, 2021.