I love The Twilight Zone, and if you’ve had a conversation with me lately you’ll know that The Twilight Zone has taken up quite a bit of real estate in my mind. The whole fascination was set in motion a couple months back during a tricky time that seemed riddled with chaos. Wanting to insert a bit of normality back into my life, I looked to Netflix instant streaming for the answer. I thought that by creating a routine to follow at the end of each day, I would begin to understand the benefits of “winding down” and soon be able to visualize a more disciplined version of myself. So I decided to embark on the journey that is The Twilight Zone, attempting to watch every single episode available to me online (and relying on a bit of controlled chaos to set me straight again). And really, we all know of The Twilight Zone, but how deep down the worm hole can you personally say you’ve gone?
You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead–your next stop, the Twilight Zone.
There are a few different versions of the The Twilight Zone introduction, they changed as the seasons went on, but the one above is my favorite. I don’t have it memorized just yet, but I can recite it along with Rod Serling and that pleases me just fine.
I’d like to take some time to share three episodes from the original television series (1959-1964) that have really lingered with me. It was actually pretty difficult to pick just three, but I tried for it anyway. And forgive me, although I’ve been diligently watching for some time, I have only got through 2 of the 5 seasons of the show, so I’m sure there are many other amazing episodes that I just haven’t got to yet.
*Episode 29, Season One: “Nightmare as a Child”
Directed by: Alvin Ganzer / Written by: Rod Serling / Featured music: Jerry Goldsmith /
Original air date: April 29, 1960
This episode really scared me when I watched it for the first time alone. Without spoiling anything, the episode goes like this: Helen Foley, a kind-hearted schoolteacher, comes home one day to find a very sinister little girl named Markie sitting on the stairs outside her apartment. When Helen invites Markie in for a cup of cocoa, Helen has no idea that she will start down a path towards unlocking a series of very dark memories from her very own childhood. It’s fascinating to watch Helen search her mind, struggling so hard to make sense of the sudden flickers of memory that are slowly coming back to her. It’s like one of those dreams where you can’t seem to make out someone’s face, no matter how hard you look. You become disoriented and strain to place things; your mind tries so desperately to associate, but you just can’t seem to make the connection you need. “Memory” and “Perception” are subjects that I will never grow tired of; those concepts frighten me as much as they entrance me.
*Episode 44, Season 2: “The Lateness of the Hour”
Directed by: Jack Smight / Written by: Rod Serling / Featured music: none credited /
Original air date: December 2, 1960
Jana is the restless daughter of creative genius Dr. Loren. She anxiously paces the interior of their drawing room, day in and day out, craving a freedom and a life outside the confines of comfort and safety that her mother and father have built. Oh, and another thing, their household is eerily reliant on five seemingly perfect robot servants that Jana’s father “designed and built to perfection”. This of course means that each robot is complete with programmed memories and personalities. I won’t say another word, as I really don’t want to spoil the episode, but I highly suggest you watch this episode if you really must watch just one. Each character is written (just another drop in the bucket for Mr. Rod Serling) and performed so brilliantly. One of my favorite lines comes from Jana, who screams from the top of the staircase, “Stop it! You’re jokes! That’s what you are! Hysterical jokes! Your sad little homilies and your mouthed cliches; you’re nothing but walking record players, that’s all any of you are! Walking record players!”. So good.
Interesting side note, this episode was one of the six Twilight Zone episodes shot on videotape instead of film in an attempt to cut costs. When they examined the total savings on editing and cinematography for the six episodes they shot, they came to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough to justify the loss of depth of visual perspective. They scrapped the idea, deeming it a failure, and quickly returned to film. Thank goodness!
*Episode 45, Season 2: “The Trouble with Templeton”
Directed by: Buzz Kulik / Written by: E. Jack Neuman / Featured music: Jeff Alexander / Original air date: December 9, 1960
Last and certainly not least, “The Trouble with Templeton”, was truly successful in blowing my mind into another dimension. Booth Templeton is an aging Broadway actor who barely manages to be present in the present. He floats through life: watches his current wife frolic with her lovers, takes his medication, minds his theater responsibilities, and dreams of bed, where he seeks sleep and finds oblivion. He actually doesn’t have many “contended” moments, except for when he thinks of his first wife Laura, “the freshest, most radiant creature God ever created. Eighteen when I met her, dear Marty, twenty-five when she died”. As it happens in all Twilight Zone episodes, Templeton will have the unknowing fortune to travel back to “yesterday”, and really assess if the past is as worth living for as the present. I must admit that I have been guilty of simmering too long in the past, and there is a moment in the episode where you think, “Oh no, is this were he realizes that he has hyper-idealized the only thing that keeps him alive?”. It’s an awful feelin’, the it’s-so-bad-but-I-can’t-look-away kind. I watched this episode with a couple of friends and our collective “Oooooooohhh” was pretty powerful.
Sooo, what do you think?
Above image: A photo I snapped of the TV as Rod Serling is preparing us for what we are about to witness.
And now I leave you with this final photograph. It’s a hot summer night (8/15/12), and I lay on my living room floor with my two temporary roommates Mabern Buenaflor & Marty Van Guilder. (Please excuse the clutter, as we were all in transition). This was us for 25 nights, religiously watching The Twilight Zone before we fell asleep. What started out as a bedtime ritual for one, slowly manifested into a shared experience for three. I will miss this particularly cozy congregation, as the boys have long since moved on to their new home in Boyle Heights, and it will never quite be the same. Side note: To take this photograph I hammered a nail in my wall, hung my camera there by its strap, set my camera on a 10 second auto-timer, and then ran over to my place on the rug. A bit of effort I know, but I really didn’t want to forget this moment in time.