I reviewed the first seven episodes of classic anthology series The Twilight Zone a short while ago, so here's the next eight episodes of that iconic show's first season, appraised in bite-sized format...
This is one of Zone's most famous episodes—certainly in terms of its ending (which has become a classic moment spoofed in shows like The Simpsons and Futurama)—so I have no problems dropping a spoiler. Having realized the positive of surviving doomsday is having all the time in the world to devour the contents of a library (tomes neatly stacked to last him his lifetime), poor Bemis is dealt a crushing blow when he breaks his glasses and the simple act of reading becomes impossible. It's a brilliant, tragic, simple, clever twist—working especially well because the first act's comparatively lighthearted, as you'd never guess the second half would get so bleak. It's just a shame act one's a slight piffle. / written by Rod Serling (based on a story by Lyn Venable) / directed by John Brahm / 20 November 1959
This episode's a clear precursor of Nightmare On Elm Street (someone stalking you in a dream, eventually killing you) and even the more recent Inception (Serling's narration posits the idea that a half-hour dream can be conjured in a split-second of sleep), if nowhere as good as those later works. The idea is smart and the execution's good (love the eeriness of the carnival and its terrifying rollercoaster ride), but it's the twist-ending that really works. Beaumont's script is also more complex and modern than Serling's work can often feel, which was a nice surprise. / written by Charles Beaumont / directed by Robert Florey / 27 November 1959
1 As an addendum, it was rather tragic that Beaumont's life took a twist into Twilight Zone-esque territory, after he contracted a brain disease that accelerated his physical age. He sadly died at the age of 38, apparently resembling a man in his nineties.
This is one of those episodes where I appreciated the style more than almost everything else, even when the twist is revealed that Lanser's cursed to relive the fate of a ship he destroyed without fair warning. It looks pretty great (beyond a few incongruous archival shots of submariners), and there's a cold and foggy atmosphere that bleeds off the screen. I just didn't find it a particularly compelling story, although the action scenes towards the end were nicely handled for '50s TV, and the "time-loop" nature of the story ensures it ends in a manner that may inspire some later contemplation about the living hell of purgatory. / written by Rod Serling / directed by John Brahm / 4 December 1959
The great thing about this episode is how it's structured, with Forbes as the only person aware Harrington's been erased from existence and trying to convince a hospitalized GartFinal Destination movies, too. A good episode, performed with conviction by Taylor (did you know he played Churchill in Inglourious Basterds?), with exactly the right amount of discomforting atmosphere drizzled over it. / written by Rod Serling (based on a story by Richard Matheson) / directed by Douglas Heyes / 11 December 1959
What rescues this episode is Serling's decision to shake things up by having the ostensible lead be a villain. Usually, it's innocent and everyday folk who encounter Zone's "fifth dimension", mainly so the audience can empathize with them, but this episode benefits from having a scheming criminal at its heart (for an episode originally transmitted on Christmas Day, no less). The resolution to the story is also satisfying (ignoring a lame, jokey denouement with a comb) and overall "What You Need" ranks as a good episode spoiled by generally weak demonstrations of Pedott's power. / written by Rod Serling (based on a story by Lewis Padgett) / directed by Alvin Ganzer / 25 December 1959
It was refreshing to have an episode where an extraordinary event doesn't happen to an unassuming everyman. Hammer just has this supernatural ability from the start, and the story is about seeing the problems a shape-shifter may encounter if they used their ability unwisely. There are some fun in-camera tricks to sell the premise (actors in windows posing as mirrors, or literally replacing each other just out of shot), but I can't help thinking this was an episode that promised a more exciting and intelligent story than the one presented. And for the series as whole, it's notable how many stories have had unhappy endings recently. / written by Rod Serling (based on a story by George Clayton Johnson) / directed by John Brahm / 1 January 1960