"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to Man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middleground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of Man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call...the Twilight Zone."
One of television's most revered series, The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-64) stands as the role model for TV anthologies. Its trenchant sci-fi/fantasy parables explore humanity's hopes, despairs, prides, and prejudices in metaphoric ways conventional drama cannot.Creator Rod Serling wrote the majority of the scripts, and produced those of such now-legendary writers as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. The series featured such soon-to-be-famous actors as Robert Redford, William Shatner, Burt Reynolds, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Carol Burnett, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Peter Falk, Donald Pleasence and Bill Mumy, as well as such established stars as silent-film giant Buster Keaton, Art Carney, Mickey Rooney, Ida Lupino, and John Carradine.Twilight Zone The Movie, a big-screen adaptation that featured individual segments produced by Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis and George Miller was released in 1983. Tragically, the movie is better remembered for a horrible accident in which three actors (two of them children) were killed during shooting of an action scene in Landis' segment.An often worthy revival series ran on CBS from 1985-87, and in first-run syndication in 1988. Another revival ran on UPN in the 2002-2003 season, which reunited Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman in a sequel to the classic TZ chiller It's a Good Life. But it's the daring original series that shows every sign of lasting the ages as the literature that it is.Description from: SyFy.The Twilight Zone had a rather remarkable ability to take silly story concepts, combine them with preachy, moralistic writing, and produce some truly outstanding episodes. (Seriously, you think The West Wing was heavy-handed? Take a gander at one of the original TZ episodes.) The ghost of Adolf Hitler travels to the United States and teaches Dennis Hopper to become an effective demagogue ("He's Alive")? It works. A former concentration camp commander travels back to Dachau after World War II and is put on trial by the ghosts of his victims ("Death's Head Revisited")? It works. William Shatner hams it up and yells about the monster on the wing of the plane ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet")? It works.Almost all episodes ended with Aesops; "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," "Be tolerant," "Democracy is good," etc. Occasionally, however, you'd get a Family Unfriendly Aesop. Perhaps the most notorious example was the episode "Time Enough At Last," which starred Burgess Meredith and seemed to tell the viewer, "Even if you are a good and decent man, you can still have horrible things continually happen to you and end up with no hope at all", and became one of the most famous episodes of the original series. Other notorious examples are episodes that use recycled scripting employing a family unfriendly Aesop version of the original episode's end in order to force a (rather disturbing, especially in the context of the original episode) twist. Other times, aesops conflict with one another. "The Gift" tells you not to be bigots toward aliens, because they might just be bringing you the cure for cancer. But "To Serve Man" has all of humanity accepting and tolerant of aliens, which turns out to be a bad thing.Many television shows have borrowed liberally from the Twilight Zone, especially The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror and Futurama's "The ScaryDoor" and "Anthology of Interest".See also the episode Recap page.
Adaptation Expansion: Due to being anywhere from 5-10 minutes longer than they episodes they're based on, the radio adaptations of the episodes tended to add in additional material to make up for the length ("Time Enough to Last," for example, added in a character who's pretty much the only person actually nice to the protagonist of the story).
After the End: "Time Enough At Last", "The Old Man in the Cave". "Two".
The Ageless: Walter Jameson, from The Twilight Zone episode "Long Live Walter Jameson", was granted this form of immortality in Ancient Greece by an alchemist. He says that he came close to death many times over the centuries due to injuries and disease, "but never close enough". At the end of the episode when he is shot, he begins to age rapidly as he dies until he is nothing but a pile of dust.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: "From Agnes - With Love". The AI begins falling in love with whoever's been trying to deal with Agnes' "problem".
All Just a Dream: "Where Is Everybody?", "Perchance to Dream," "The Arrival," "The Midnight Sun," "Person or Persons Unknown" (with an added twist), "The Time Element" (also with an added twist,) "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". Also, see Dead All Along below.
The Aloner: "Where Is Everybody?", "King Nine Will Not Return", and "Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room."
Ambiguous Disorder: Horace Ford in the episode "The Incredible World of Horace Ford" acts like a small child and often has No Indoor Voice, but he's a brilliant designer. Also, he keeps bouncing around and never seems to focus on one subject.
And I Must Scream: "A Kind of Stopwatch" has a notable one; there are probably many more of them.
Art Shift: In "Once Upon a Time", the story partly takes place in 1890, where the format changes to that of a silent movie, complete with cutaways to subtitles and an overlaid piano track.
Asshole Victim: When a protagonist is driven to murder, it usually involves being pushed over the edge by one of these. Not that this protects them from Laser-Guided Karma, mind you...
Author Avatar: According to biographies, "A Stop At Willoughby" was Serling's favorite episode, and he identified with the main character. The stops on the Northeast line were the same stops on the commute he made into Manhattan daily.
"Walking Distance" was another of Serling's favorite episodes. The old-fashioned town in the story is based on the town he grew up in and the main character (as an adult and a little boy) was based on him.
Back from the Dead: "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"; "Father and Son Game" (1985 revival).
Barred From The Afterlife: Hyder Simpson in "The Hunt" does this to himself. He's allowed into heaven, but he isn't allowed to take his dog Rip with him. He decides that an afterlife without his dog is a fate worse than death (so to speak), so he refuses to enter and will just wander the path in between heaven & hell forever. Turns out that wasn't heaven, it was hell. Heaven allows dogs in.
The advice is followed in "I Dream Of Genie". The protagonist thinks out several wishes he could make and realizes that they would all end in him being miserable. After discarding love, wealth, and power, he finally wishes to be a genie himself so he can help the needy.
A Birthday, Not a Break: In "The Shelter", a suburban doctor's birthday party turns into a mad scramble for survival when a nuclear alert is announced—and the doctor's fallout shelter has only enough room for himself and his family.
Blatant Lies: "There is nothing ulterior in our motives. Nothing at all."
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Rod Serling not only provides narration, frequently on-camera, but he actually becomes part of the story in "A World of His Own." Temporarily, at least.
In "One For The Angels", Mr. Death suddenly looks up at the camera as Serling identifies him in his opening narration.
Break His Heart to Save Him: "The Trouble With Templeton", focusing on a washed-up old actor who still clings to the memory of his dead wife while the present and future seem horrendously bleak. He seems to have finally reunited with his wife, but she acts strange and old, before telling him to leave a party they're attending, filled with actors he used to know. It turned out it was part of a play staged by the dead to get him to move on and focus on the present. It works: he demands a bigger role and tells off a jerk co-actor.
Break the Haughty: Used in many, many episodes. "Four O'Clock" and "Piano in the House" come to mind.
Brown Note: How Frisby's harmonica affects the aliens in "Hocus Pocus and Frisby".
The Butler Did It: In "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?", a group of people get off a bus and gather at a cafe where they are served food and drinks by the local counter jerk and dine. It is later revealed by the police that one of the people on the bus seems to have been an alien. Ten Little Murder Victims ensues, the resolution of which is only a half-subversion of The Butler Did It: one of the people from the bus was The Mole, but the cafe worker who served them all and remained very much in the background throughout the story was also an enemy alien from a different planet, and was two steps ahead of The Mole the whole time.
Butter Face: What the process does, and everyone else, in "Eye of the Beholder" (aka "The Private World of Darkness").
Butt Monkey: Henry Bemis of "Time Enough At Last." This man cannot catch a break.
Burgess Meredith was kind of the master at this; see also "Mr. Dingle the Strong."
Cigarette Of Anxiety: The lead character of the episode "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Hotel Room" tries to light up to relieve the stress of being called on to kill someone for the first time. He can't because he's out of matches. His reflection, on the other hand, happily puffs away while berating him.
Comic Book Adaptation: Dell Comics published two issues in 1962, after which Gold Key picked up the ball and continued publishing a Twlight Zone-based comic book until 1982. Now Comics published a Twlight Zone comic in the 1990s, and in the last few years Walker & Co. has published several graphic novels adapting specific episodes of the original series, updated to today in some cases. The Gold Key title ramped up the creepiness factor by continuing to feature a cartoon version of Rod Serling introducing each story, even years after the real Serling died.
Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: In the episode "A Penny For Your Thoughts," the protagonist gains the ability to read minds, and hears a disgruntled bank employee planning to rob the bank. After he denounces him, though, it turns out that the man's been idly thinking about robbing the bank for years, but he'd never actually go through with it.
Conveniently Interrupted Document: In "The Gift", an alien brings a message to the people of Earth. The alien gets killed and the message burned. Then someone reads the message, which is something like, "As a symbol of our friendship we offer the following, a cure for all forms of cancer." The rest is burned away.
The Corrupters: The aliens in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", of the exacerbate-preexisting-character-flaws variety. They qualify as Magnificent Bastards because their corrupting of the people is all done by suggestion and playing on fears; they never show themselves.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: William J. Feathersmith in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville." and Wallace V. Whipple in "The Brain Center at Whipple's".
Crazy Memory: "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby" is about a man who tells outrageous lies to his friends about his past... and is promptly kidnapped by aliens, who think his lies are true.
Creepy Child: Anthony in "It's a Good Life", Markie in "Nightmare as a Child".
Crippling The Competition: In "Mr. Denton on Doomsday'', the title character, a washed up Retired Gunfighter faces off against a young wannabee in a duel, both using a potion granting quick draw abilities. Both men manage to inflict hand injuries preventing each other from ever using guns again. Denton sees this as a blessing, as it will prevent either from engaging in any more reckless duels.
Devil In Disguise: The Devil usually appears in the guise of a regular person. In "The Howling Man" he appears to be some poor guy who's been imprisoned by a madman, but when someone takes pity and releases him his horns and tail reappear.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Mr. Radin in "One More Pallbearer" sets up a fake bomb scare scenario and expects three people who once humiliated him in the past to make them apologize to him, and he seems mystified that they would rather spend their last moments with their loved ones than try to save themselves.
Evil-Detecting Dog: In the episode "The Hunt." "A man will walk into hell with both eyes open, but even the Devil can't fool a dog."
Exposition Of Immortality: In the episode "Long Live Walter Jameson," the titular character is a history professor who knows his stuff, has a retiring colleague who comments on his appearance and who is seen in a American Civil War period picture, revealing just how he knows that period so very well.
Fortune Teller: A little coin-operated fortune-telling machine in a diner, that answers yes-or-no questions, in "Nick of Time". A superstitious William Shatner starts to think it's giving out accurate answers and gets obsessed, and his wife tries to talk sense into him.
Future Me Scares Me: "Spur of the Moment" and "Walking Distance". Inverted in "Nightmare as a Child".
Genre Blind: Some of the protagonists are a bit slow to realize they're in a paranormal situation. For instance, Hector spends half an episode reading people's minds in "A Penny for Your Thoughts" before realizing that no, they're not talking out loud while somehow keeping their mouths closed.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Not "crap" per se, but let's just say that Mr. Serling was often a bit more progressive than TV censors felt comfortable with. Wrapping what he wanted to say up in sci-fi allowed him to get more powerful messages on public television.
A God Am I: "The Little People", "On Thursday We Leave For Home".
Here We Go Again: "Judgment Night," "Mr. Dingle the Strong," "Shadow Play," "Dead Man's Shoes," "Person or Persons Unknown," "Death Ship," "Uncle Simon," "Spur of the Moment," "Queen of the Nile," "The Time Element."
Implied in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," as the aliens state that this will happen again, and again on other streets, much like the first.
Rod Serling states the oh-so-familiar Big Bad of "He's Alive" will continue to "offer advice" again and again indefinitely in his closing speech.
Humans Are Bastards: "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air", "The Invaders", "The Gift", "The Shelter", "I Am the Night - Color Me Black", and most famously, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", where the aliens plan to utilize humanity's own self-hatred, loathing, and fear to destroy the Earth, block by block.
Instrumental Theme Tune: There were actually two of them. The first season featured a haunting, string-laden theme composed by Bernard Herrmann; this was replaced in Season 2 with a different and much more familiar theme (featuring the iconic high-pitched four-note guitar riff) composed by Marius Constant.
Interactive Narrator: At the end of "A World of His Own," Rod Serling appears to give his closing speech, only to be interrupted and then erased by Gregory's Reality Warper powers (complete with a This Is Gonna Suck remark from Rod before he vanishes). This was actually his very first onscreen appearance: it proved so popular that it set the tradition of him appearing onscreen to give the episode narration.
Ironic Death: "A Most Unusual Camera". After the main characters die, the waiter smugly counts the number of bodies: "One... two... three... FOUR?! Cue screaming.
The Chancellor in "The Obsolete Man".
Ironic Hell: "A Game of Pool" and "A Nice Place to Visit".
Irony: "To See The Invisible Man". The main character is sentenced to a year of invisibility(where others are to shun him or face being shunned themselves) for the crime of 'coldness', yet he and others are forced to be 'cold' towards the 'invisibles'.
Is This a Joke?: Standard Explanation for anything unusual and unexplainable.
It's All About Me: In "To See The Invisible Man", a character is sentenced to one year of invisibility. He manages to chat with a blind man for awhile, before the man is told that the stranger talking to him is 'invisible' and he shouldn't be talking to him or even acknowledging his presence. When alerted to this, the blind man mutters something in the vein of "How could you?".
Karma Houdini: This trope is averted through most of the series, but shows up in some fifth season episodes (such as "What's in the Box?" and "Ceasar and Me"). In his book The Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree identifies this as a symptom of Seasonal Rot.
"Probe 7 - Over and Out". Two space travelers from different ethnic groups, a man and a woman, are stranded on a planet. After they meet, they have to learn how to communicate with each other.
"Two". Two soldiers who survived an apocalyptic war, a man and a woman, are wandering in a deserted city. After they meet, they have to have to learn how to communicate.
The New Twilight Zone episode "Wordplay". A man starts hearing wrong words in other people's speech. The number of wrong words increases until all the man can hear is them. The episode ends with him starting to learn the "wrong word" version of English so he can understand everyone else.
Large Ham: More often than not, an episode will have at least one.
Rod Serling himself is a pretty big ham almost constantly in his narrations.
William Shatner stars up in two episodes. (Although to be fair to Mr Shatner, he is quite reserved in his acting in "Nick Of Time". Which is ironically likely the reason most people only remember his other Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".)
The titular character in "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" found that he could obtain abstract or otherwise normally non-transferable attributes from other people by simply making the deal with them. Among other attributes, he restored his youth by "buying" it from younger men who thought him to be a kook giving them money for nothing. He only took a year from each man, but was able to become young again. Incidentally, he was only an old man because he had previously sold his own youth to an elderly millionaire (he came out financially ahead after the exchanges were complete).
"Queen of the Nile". A woman uses a scarab beetle to drain the life force of men so she can maintain her eternal youth. It's implied that she's the actual Cleopatra of Egypt.
Magical Seventh Son: In the episode "Still Valley", a Confederate soldier met an old man who had magical powers because he was the seventh son of a seventh son. He also had a Deal with the Devil thing going on.
Mandatory Twist Ending: The Twist Ending was a major staple of the series that earned the show a reputation for this, though it wasn't quite as "mandatory" as it's remembered as being.
Meaningless Villain Victory: In "The Rip Van Winkle Caper", a group of gold thieves put themselves to sleep for 100 years to escape the cops, only to awaken to a future where gold is worthless.
Mechanistic Alien Culture: Many episodes of the classic sci-fi anthology featured aliens with ambiguously robotic characteristics. "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," for example, featured one with two heads.
Mental Time Travel: "Static" ends this way for a bitter, regretful old man, giving him a second chance.
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: "A Penny for Your Thoughts" has the hero discovering how petty and self-centered the people around him can be when he becomes inexplicably psychic. It's not as bad as some cases (and it helps him get the girl), but he's still relieved when his newfound power vanishes.
Mobile Kiosk: "One for the Angels". Lew Bookman has a mobile pitch: a suitcase with extendable legs. When he finishes a pitch, he collapses the legs back into the suitcase and moves on.
Motor Mouth: McNulty, the main character of the episode "A Kind of Stop Watch.
Mundane Wish: Appears in "The Man in the Bottle". The couples' first wish (out of four) is to have a pane of glass in their shop repaired, in order to test the genie's power first. The couple then proceed to waste their remaining wishes, but in the end console themselves with the thought that at least the glass got repaired. Guess what happens next.
No Dialogue Episode: "The Invaders." Throughout the episode, the main character makes plenty of noises as she fends off tiny aliens, but none of it is dialogue. Aside from Serling's narrations, the only spoken dialogue comes when the last and soon-to-be-killed invader sends a distress call back home. The tiny invaders are then revealed to be humans from Earth. This revelation subsequently justifies the trope, as the woman is a (giant) alien and wouldn't know English or any other language from Earth.
No Time to Explain: "Passage on the Lady Anne". As it turns out, it's a ship only meant for dying/wanting to die people.
Nostalgia Filter: Happens in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville". Feathersmith makes a Deal with the Devil to go back in time and relive his life, in order to enjoy once again the climb from a nobody to a tyrannical titan of industry. However, things in his youth weren't exactly as nice as he remembered. For example, he forgets that vaccines weren't invented at that time, the streets are still unpaved, and the girl he reminisced about was nowhere near as attractive or charming as he remembered. This is on top of all the other mistakes he makes...
Not So Different: Between the Central American dictator and Ramos Clemente in "The Mirror".
Ontological Mystery: "Where Is Everybody?", "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," "Stopover in a Quiet Town."
Orson Welles: The main reason Serling ultimately became the Narrator. CBS and the Sponsers wanted Welles to do it, but he was too expensive.
Out Of The Frying Pan: In the revived series episode "Crazy as a Soup Sandwhich". A loser sells his soul to a demon in exchange for winning at the horse races, only to get cheated. He goes to the mobster he borrowed his betting money from, begging for protection and the mobster does—because he's an arch-demon in human form, and now the loser owes his soul to a worse demon.
Pow Zap Wham Cam: Used in episodes such as "Third From The Sun" and "The Howling Man.”
Pragmatic Adaptation: Episodes adapted from short stories were often massaged a bit. In Damon Knight's short story "To Serve Man" the alien representatives are described as looking like pigs. The producers thought the audience would find this too silly, so the alien makeup is the more conventional tall-head variety.
Reality Subtext: In "The Encounter", where a racist WWII veteran and a young Japanese man (played by George Takei) are trapped in an attic: Takei spent three years of his childhood in U.S. Japanese-American relocation centers, during the war. His impassioned performance is definitely informed by that experience.
Reality Warper: Anthony Fremont in "It's a Good Life", and Gregory West in "A World of His Own", though the latter needs a dictation machine.
Replacement Scrappy: In-Universe example with "I Sing The Body Electric." A widowed husband gets a robot granny to help raise his children, but the oldest child rejects her for not being her deceased mother.
Satan: Popular character. Played by Julie Newmar (in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville") and Burgess Meredith (in "Printer's Devil") among others.
Screw Politeness, I'm A Senior!: Jason Foster in "The Masks", though this is both a subversion and a Justified Trope. Jason's cranky and crotchety because he knows he's going to die soon and he's surrounded by Jerkass family members waiting for him to die like vultures. However, while certainly cranky, he never comes off as needlessly cruel to his doctor or his servants and shares a sort-of rapport with them. They're also quite understanding of why he's cranky, and share his contempt for his so-called "family".
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "The Time Element." Especially heartbreaking because the main character not only is unable to prevent the death of a young couple (oh, and prevent the mass death and disaster at Pearl Harbor), he also gets himself killed and part of his life erased from existence as well. This episode not only shot the shaggy dog, it skinned and made it into a floor rug.
Sliding Scale of Beauty: The show plays with this in the famous episode "Eye of the Beholder", where a woman undergoes plastic surgery to become beautiful because she falls into the Most Horrible Ever category (there's a village made just for ugly people so nobody would be forced to look at them). Of course being The Twilight Zone there's a twist: it's reversed. Being ugly is beautiful and vice versa.
Also played with in "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You", in which a young Common Beauty is described by others as "hideous" because she hasn't traded her original appearance in for a carbon-copy World Class Beauty body.
Society-on-Edge Episode: "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" concerns neighbors on a street who become paranoid when the power goes out and odd things start happening, putting the blame on aliens and then turning on one another due to suspicion.
Sociopathic Soldier: Lieutenant Katell in "A Quality of Mercy" wants to be one, wanting to prove himself and completely destroy the enemy (in this case, the Japanese during World War II). The Karmic Twist Ending forces him to the other side, where a gung-ho Japanese soldier does the same thing he was about to do to some wounded Americans hiding in the very same cave. He doesn't like it.
Also, the comedy episodes, such as 'Mr. Bevis', 'A Penny For Your Thoughts' and 'Once Upon A Time'.
For the episode "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" Rod Serling ditches his usual method of introduction and says, apparently out of character, that tonight they're going to do something very special that they've never yet done in the five years they've been running the show and show you a French film made by somebody else. Justified, in that it's up to the show's usual quality.
For Season 2, six episodes were recorded on videotape using four video cameras on a studio soundstage at CBS Television City, as a cost-cutting measure mandated by CBS programming head James T. Aubrey. However, videotape was a relatively primitive medium in the early 1960s, thus the editing of tape was next to impossible. Even worse, the requisite multicamera setup of the videotape experiment made location shooting difficult, severely limiting the potential scope of the storylines, so the crew had to abandon the videotaping project. The six "videotape episodes" are: "The Lateness of the Hour", "The Night of the Meek", "The Whole Truth", "Twenty-Two", "Static", and "Long-Distance Call".
The entire fourth season which CBS expanded into an hour, creating scripts that were for the most part overly padded, and signaled to many the Zone Jump the Shark moment.
Space Whale Aesop: "Stopover In a Quiet Town": Don't drink and drive, or you'll wake up in a toy town owned by a gigantic extraterrestrial little girl after having been abducted.
Stock Footage: The countdown and launch footage from "I Shot an Arrow into the Air" was reused in "People Are Alike All Over".
Footage of the C-57-D from Forbidden Planet appears in some episodes. At the end of "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" the footage is disguised by being shown upside down and backwards - this was achieved by simply turning the clip upside down before splicing it in.
Subtext: "The Fugitive" might also seem creepy to modern eyes. Especially when it's revealed that the elderly man eventually marries the little girl. Of course, he's a shapeshifting alien who's actually handsome and can take on a younger form and he waited until she got older before marrying her, but it still sounds a bit squicky.
Survivor Guilt: Suffered by James Embry in "King Nine Will Not Return".
Happens again in "The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
Take That: The entirety of "Showdown with Rance McGrew" against the TV westerns of the time. It also serves as a deconstruction of sorts. Serling hated the Westerns of the time, deeming them too unrealistic and predictable, and later went on to make a Western series (The Loner) himself.
The hour long episode "The Bard" features a hack writer who, while reseaching a book of black magic, inadvertently brings William Shakespeare back from the dead, and uses him as a literal ghost writer. Serling uses this setup to parody everything about television at the time including sponsers making inane changes, and the concept of taking a half hour show and making an hour show of it, such as CBS did to Zone that season, much to Serling's dismay.
Tall Tale: "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby" features a man who continually tells tall tales. During the episode he's abducted by aliens (ironically, because they believe all his stories) and escapes, but when he tells his friends, they believe he is just Crying Wolf. (Of course, the whole episode could be a tall tale... from Rod Serling's point of view.)
Through the Eyes of Madness: A number of episodes leave open the question of how much of what the audience sees is real. Most overtly explored in the episode "The Arrival", which ends with Rod Serling outright asking the audience to decide whether we've been watching the main character's mental breakdown or his encounter with the supernatural, and "The Mirror" is much the same.
Time Travel: "Walking Distance," "The Last Flight," "Execution," "Back There," "The Odyssey of Flight 33," "A Hundred Yards over the Rim," "Once Upon a Time," "No Time Like the Past," "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," "The Incredible World of Horace Ford," "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms," "The Time Element."
Title Drop: With the exception of "Jess-Belle," which skipped the closing narration, every episode opens and closes with a narration from Rod Serling. In many of the opening narrations, and in almost every closing one, the narration ends with "The Twilight Zone." After setting the premise for the episode, the opening narration often states the character(s) is/are about to enter The Twilight Zone. The closing ones summarizes the events of the episode in an eerie and cryptic manner, and a moral or message about what happened is either hinted at or outright stated; but it always ends in the phrase "The Twilight Zone." The exceptions are "The Four of Us Are Dying," "He's Alive," "Long Live Walter Jameson," "Deaths-Head Revisited" and "On Thursday We Leave For Home."
In the original broadcast of "Night of the Meek" Serling expresses a holiday greeting after the "...in the Twilight Zone" statement, which was generally edited out in syndication.
Almost every episode will feature a character saying the episode title. If they don't you can expect the narrator to chime in.
To Shakespeare: Three of the episode titles are "Perchance to Dream," "The Purple Testament" and "A Quality of Mercy"; Rod Serling even quotes Portia's words to Shylock at the end of the latter episode ("The quality of mercy is not strained, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath: it is thrice blessed, / It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes"; The Merchant of Venice, IV.i).
A running joke in "The Bard" (in which a hack would be tv writer brings Shakespeare to life and puts him to work writing for television) has Shakespeare quoting his plays, title and verse. At one point the Bard says, "To be or not to be - that is...." looks confused, and then exits.
Twenty Minutes into the Future: Some episodes could get pretty bad about this. Pity that by the 1990's we hadn't even traveled to the nearest galaxy yet.
The episode "The Elegy" lays out a distinct timeline; a trio of spacemen from 2185 discover a cemetery on a distant asteroid consisting of a replica of daily life on Earth that was supposedly started in 1973, and mention a nuclear war having happened in the 1980's.
Unbuilt Trope: The episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" milked the concept of sentient toys for all its inherent horror and existential angst about three decades before Toy Story made the idea famous. The ending, where we find out that the titular five characters are actually dolls dumped in a Salvation Army bin by their owner, is absolutely terrifying.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: According to Billy Mumy (who played him), Anthony from "It's A Good Life" is honestly trying to make the world a better place, he simply doesn't grasp that what makes him happy isn't best for everyone. In short, his immaturity prevents him from taking other's views into consideration.
This is explored further in the short story on which the episode is based. A notable example excluded from the episode is his reanimating a man's corpse after hearing his widow mourn his death, much to her (and everybody else's) horror. The town folk mostly try to avoid any negative thoughts at all after that, because Anthony might make things so much worse by trying to make them better.
Whack A Mole: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
World War II: "Judgment Night," "The Purple Testament," "King Nine Will Not Return," "Death's-Head Revisited," "A Quality of Mercy," "The Thirty-Fathom Grave," "The Time Element." Also, Rod Serling served in the war in Real Life.
Would Hit a Girl: The Man in "Two" gets into a fistfight with an enemy soldier, who is a woman, and knocks her out.
Writer on Board: Serling was an outspoken liberal, even for his day, and many of the show's recurring themes of corporate oppression, racism, censorship, isolationism, and the horrors of war were not simply ideas he liked to discuss, but the very reason he created the series was to use as a sounding board for such taboos.
You Can't Fight Fate: Or at least, you can't change the past. Several episodes revolve around characters trying to avert disasters, but failing or only making small changes.
Adult Fear: The 2002 episode "How Much Do You Love Your Kid?" Your child may be kidnapped, and the police won't do a thing about it, because it's for a perfectly legal TV show. And there's the implied threat that if you can't find your child in an hour, you'll never see them again. And your own husband was the kidnapper, and thinks that doing it all was a favor.
Author Avatar: The lead character of "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty" was directly based on Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original story - to such an extent that (according to his audio commentary on the DVD) he actually wept while watching the filming of one scene.
Dark Is Not Evil: "Rendezvous in a Dark Place" (1985 revival), "One Night At Mercy" (2003 revival). Death in the latter is a kindly fellow who doesn't like his job at all and is happy to quit. When the doctor eventually dies of an aneurysm, Death comforts him, admits that he's tempted to just let the doctor come back to life, and shows admiration for the doctor's ability to give life to the patients.
"The Chosen" (2003 episode). An unpleasant asshole is followed around by two intimidating people in dark leather trenchcoats telling him he's been "chosen." Eventually the asshole's friends get in on the act and say the same thing. It turns out in the end that the two pursuers were angels rescuing mankind from an impending nuclear war, and the asshole is subsequently left to die in atomic fire.
Doppelgänger: "Shatterday," "The Once and Future King," "The World Next Door," "The Road Less Traveled," "Something in the Walls" [1980s Revival].
Dystopia: "Examination Day", "To See the Invisible Man" [1980s Revival].
Earn Your Happy Ending: "Gabe's Story" (2003 revival). The titular character has been having a severe run of bad luck lately. As his life is about to crumble apart for good, he learns that he and everyone else are having their "stories" written for them, as - supposedly - nothing would ever happen to them otherwise. Gabe convinces his Writer and her boss allowing him to take control of his own life - allowing him to reconcile with his wife and get a fresh start.
Fantastic Time Management: In the 1980s episode "A Little Peace and Quiet", a harried housewife finds a magic sundial that allows her to stop and restart time. She uses it to literally make time for herself, enjoying a peaceful breakfast or leisurely shopping for groceries while time is stopped for everyone else. Everything is perfect until nuclear war breaks out and she stops time while a missile is 10 feet above her head. She will have to choose between dying with everyone else and living her life forever trapped between two instants of time.
Elvis Presley is used as a character in "The Once and Future King" [1980s Revival].
John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev play important roles in "Profiles in Silver" [1980s revival].
Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: "Cradle of Darkness" (2002 series): Subverted in that the time traveler succeeds, only for the nanny to replace baby Adolf with a baby from a beggar woman on the street.
Invisible Jerkass: In "To See the Invisible Man", Mitchell Chaplin is punished by being given an implant that means others have to ignore him and act as if he was not there. He initally does things like walking into a women's change room.
Lighter and Softer: "The Star", an adaptation of the short story of the same title. The ending in the original had a priest in despair after finding out an advanced and peaceful civilization perished, but the adaptation reverses the originally nihilist ending when the astrophysicist with him shows him a poem that this civilization should not be grieved for, as they were peaceful and joyful, but to grieve for those still in the dark.
Lighthouse Point: "The Beacon" [1980s Revival]. Another episode concerned a lighthouse that was sort of a waypoint on the afterlife, where the newly dead arrived before being sent on their way.
Parting Words Regret: In "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty", a man visits his old hometown and finds himself in the past. During that time, he meets his father. Not telling who he is, he tells him how his father is always angry but never got the chance to tell him that he loved him.
Plucky Office Girl: Karen Billings, played by Pam Dawber in the New Twilight Zone episode "But Can She Type".
Powered by a Rebellious Child: The Ever-Green community, where they turn some teens into red plant fertilizer disguised as a 'reeducation camp' especially for them.
Race Lift: The 2003 revival was targeted towards a more African-American audience; the host was black as were a lot of the main characters in its episodes, and it featured episodes such as a racist white man waking up black. Tropes Are Not Bad, of course, and being on UPN might have had something to do with it.
The Remake: Many episodes from the original series were later remade, including "Kick the Can," "It's a Good Life," and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" [The Movie], and "A Kind of Stopwatch" (as "A Little Peace and Quiet" and with elements of "Time Enough at Last" thrown in), "Dead Man's Shoes" ("Dead Women's Shoes"), "Night of the Meek," "Shadow Play," "The After Hours," "Miniature" (as "The Call"), "Penny for Your Thoughts" (as "Vision"), and "A Game of Pool" [1980s Revival] - in this case using George Clayton Johnson's original script and its original ending, where the challenger loses without informing him, which Johnson didnotappreciate - and "Eye of the Beholder" [2003 Revival]. Also, "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty" [1980s Revival] has obvious similarities to "Walking Distance" from the original.
Revival: There have been four Twilight Zone revivals in total: The two latter-day TV versions noted above, the film also mentioned above, and a radio version that's still in production.
Stable Time Loop: "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty," "The Once and Future King," "The Convict's Piano" [1980s Revival].
Subtext: "Extra Innings" [1980s Revival] had a washed-up former baseball star who was good friends with a tween or teen girl. Nothing too creepy, yet. He and she trade cards a lot, and she gets him this 1910 card of a rookie who looked just like him and had exactly the same stats as him. Then, he discovers that the card allows him to take control of the rookie on the card, which also takes him back to 1910. Then, the next day, he tells the girl about it, and at first she doesn't believe him. When he shows her the stats, she believes him, as they have changed. Then, when he takes her back in time with him, before the card opens the portal, he puts his arm around her. Between her face there and the dialog, which sounds like it came from a Very Special Episode about child molestation, the creepy subtext is amazing.
Un-Paused: Among others, "A Little Peace and Quiet" in the 1985 premiere. There, a typical 80's henpecked housewife (Penny) found an golden amulet that allowed her to stop and re-start time at her own beck and call (through the commands "Shut up!" and "Start talking!"); she abuses this privilege- until the very next night, when nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union now breaks out. (It is never explicitly stated, but it was at this point, too late, where Penny now realizes the true purposes of her gold amulet... Freezing time to get two rivals- the government-officials together and force them to "start talking" about nuclear-weapon disarmament. Still, Penny is still able to freeze time split seconds before her whole hometown is destroyed by a nuclear bomb. Downer Ending indeed...)
The Vietnam War: The 80s revival episodes "Nightcrawlers" and "The Road Less Travelled."
Weirdness Search And Rescue: In the short "A Matter of Minutes", the foreman of a group of people (played by Adolph Caesar) takes time to explain to a couple who ended up 'outside time' how time really worked, even showing them an animated computer graphic prepared for such an event.
Wishplosion: "The Wish Bank", "I of Newton" [1980s Revival].