Series: The Twilight Zone
aka: Twilight Zone
Your next stop... the Twilight Zone.
"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
, 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.
A licensed Pinball
game, The Twilight Zone
, was released in 1992, filled with references and Shout Outs
to various episodes, and is today one of the most popular pinball games of all time. 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
's "The Scary Door
" and "Anthology of Interest".
There's also been a thrill-ride inspired by the series in Walt Disney World
which inspired its own non-canon film in 1994.
See also the episode Recap page
The show has a Best Episode Crowner
Submitted for your approval... your next stop, the Tropelight Zone":
- Acquired Poison Immunity: "The Jeopardy Room".
- Adam and Eve Plot: "Two", and more literally "Probe 7 - Over and Out".
- Adaptation Expansion: Due to being anywhere from 5-10 minutes longer than the 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 at Last", for example, added in a character who's pretty much the only person actually nice to the protagonist of the story).
- Adult Fear: The show was full of this in addition to more supernatural threats. The episode "In Praise of Pip" shows a bookie receiving news that his son Pip has been seriously wounded in The Vietnam War and is possibly dying. The rest of the episode revolves around the man hallucinating(?) that Pip is a ten year old boy again while he is dying of a gunshot wound. In what is a massively sad scene, he begs his son not to die and apologizes for not being a better father and role model to him while promising to do better even though he realizes it may be too late for both of them. In the end, the father trades his own life for Pip's.
- An Aesop: Once per Episode, with some exceptions.
- 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".
- Aliens Speaking English: Pretty consistently played straight. Averted in "The Invaders".
- 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."
- Always a Bigger Fish: "The Little People".
- 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.
- The American Civil War: The setting of "The Passersby", "Still Valley", and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". Also mentioned in "Long Live Walter Jameson" (see Exposition of Immortality below) .
- Ancient Keeper: "Elegy".
- 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...
- Some of the protagonists also qualify, such as Archibald Beechcroft from "The Mind and the Matter". Most of them, though, learn their lesson by the end.
- 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).
- Balancing Death's Books: "One for the Angels", "In Praise of Pip".
- Bandaged Face: The Reveal of a few episodes involved one of these, perhaps most famously in "Eye of the Beholder".
- Bank Teller: "Time Enough at Last". A bank teller is the sole survivor of a nuclear attack.
- 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.
- Baseball Episode: "The Mighty Casey".
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Many. A few examples include "The Chaser", "The Last Night of a Jockey", "A Game of Pool", and "Jess-Belle".
- 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.
- "Time Enough at Last" plays with this trope: Burgess Meredith's character never wishes for what eventually happens to happen, but he's always griping about never having enough time for his true love, reading. Then a nuclear apocalypse happens. Then his glasses break, just as he's settling down with his books.
- Be Yourself: The protagonist of "Mr. Bevis" learns this Aesop after his Guardian Angel makes him a Slave to PR.
- Becoming the Costume: "The Masks" and "Night of the Meek".
- Becoming the Genie: "I Dream of Genie". however, unlike most versions, this is an entirely voluntary example.
- Betty and Veronica: In "A World of His Own", Gregory West is married to a Veronica and has just created a Betty.
- Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: "The Hitch-Hiker".
- Big Brother Is Watching: Implied in "Third From the Sun".
- 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."
- Born in the Wrong Century: "Once Upon A Time". "No Time Like the Past".
- Bothering by the Book: Death does this in "One for the Angels", at least partially to get some mild revenge on the pitch-man that had duped him.
- Bottle Episode: Several, including "The Whole Truth". A good tell is if the episode is on tape instead of film.
- The Boxing Episode: "The Big Tall Wish" and "Steel".
- 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.
- In "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", just as Rod Serling mentions being beautiful, Marilyn, who up until this point had been a free spirited young girl and is now a conformist looking exactly like her friend Val, looks directly into the camera when Serling muses if this might be possible in the near future.
- 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, tells off a jerk co-actor, and takes a younger actor under his wing.
- Break the Haughty: Used in many, many episodes. "Four O'Clock" and "A 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").
- Toyed with in "The Masks".
- 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".
- Also, the titular "Mr. Bevis".
- Bystander Syndrome: In several stories, warning of the dangers of not taking a more active role or interest in world affairs. One perfect example is "A Little Peace and Quiet", where a harried housewife also refuses to take note of the fact that the Soviet Union and United States are on the brink of war, and that she – thanks to an amulet that can get people to "Shut up!" and "Start talking!" – might just be wearing the thing that can bring world peace. Instead, she uses the amulet selfishly (when her family gets to her or wants to deal with annoying visitors) ... and the United States pays a dear price in the end, thanks to her disinterest in world affairs and her not realizing that she held a gift of world peace – leaving her to finally stop time just an instant before a nuclear bomb detonates and wipes out much of central and southern California.
- The Caligula: The main character of "The Mirror".
- Calling Your Shots: In the episode "A Game of Pool", Fats and Jesse call their shots in a game of pool. The most impressive shot is when Jesse calls the side pocket after bouncing off three banks and making it.
- Came Back Wrong: "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank".
- Canon Sue: In-Universe; the main character in "Showdown with Rance McGrew" plays one in a TV Western...and Jesse James isn't pleased with it at all.
- Captivity Harmonica: In the episode "Shadow Play", and used to escape in "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby". In "Shadow Play", Adam acknowledges it's a trope, saying he learned it from watching prison movies.
- Cassandra Truth: "Back There", "The Time Element", "No Time like the Past".
- Catchphrase: "Submitted for your consideration/approval". "...in the Twilight Zone."
- Characteristic Trope
- Chekhov's Armoury: "The New Exhibit".
- Chess with Death: "One for the Angels".
- Christmas Episode: "Night of the Meek".
- 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.
- Clingy MacGuffin: Of the more nightmarish variety — "Talky Tina" and a guitar.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Mr Bevis.
- 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.
- Cool Old Lady: Aunt T. in "The Bewitchin' Pool".
- 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", Wallace V. Whipple in "The Brain Center at Whipple's" and Alan Richards in "The Jungle".
- Cosmic Horror Story: "And When the Sky was Opened".
- 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".
- Creepy Doll/The Doll Episode: "Living Doll", "Caesar and Me", "The Dummy".
- 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.
- Cruel Twist Ending:
- "Time Enough at Last".
- Lesser known examples include "The Purple Testament", "Young Man's Fancy", "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", "Black Leather Jackets", "What's in the Box?" and "Caesar and Me".
- And most of the 2002 revival.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: In "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?", the old man (played by Jack Elam) accuses Mr. Ross of being the "most suspicious of the bunch". Jack Elam's character also suggests that they check under Ross's coat for wings. Had they done so, they would have seen his third arm and known he was the real Martian.
- Danger Takes A Back Seat: "The Hitch-Hiker".
"I believe you're going my way..."
- Dark Is Not Evil: Death in "Nothing in the Dark".
- And before that in "One for the Angels"
- The Darkness Gazes Back: In "The Riddle of the Crypt", this happens twice to Irene Morrow. The first time she sees yellow eyes in the darkness it turns out to be a large owl, which attacks her. The second time it's a vampire that wants to drain her blood.
- Dead All Along: Episodes "Judgment Night", "The Hitch-Hiker", "The Passersby", (one possible interpretation of) "The Thirty-Fathom Grave", "Deaths-Head Revisited", "Death Ship", and "Ring-a-Ding Girl".
- Dead to Begin With: "A Nice Place to Visit", "A Game of Pool", "The Hunt".
- Deal with the Devil:
- "Escape Clause", "Printer's Devil", "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville".
- Surprisingly subverted in "Still Valley".
- Death of Personality:
- In "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room", a cowardly criminal is confronted by his better self, on the other side of a mirror. Eventually the other personality takes over. This is a rare example of this trope being a Happy Ending.
- In "The Lateness of the Hour", a woman discovers that she is actually a robot. Unable to cope, she goes mad and her "parents" reprogram her as a maid, effectively destroying her personality.
- Death Trap: "The Jeopardy Room".
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: "No Time Like the Past".
- 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution: "Time Enough at Last".
- Divide and Conquer/A House Divided: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street".
- Diving Save: The robot grandmother near the end of "I Sing the Body Electric".
- Divine Intervention: Possibly in "I Am the Night - Color Me Black". The Sun fails to rise on the day of a man's execution, and, once Jagger's been hanged, the darkness starts spreading everywhere.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Norma in "The Midnight Sun" is barefoot for the entire episode. Justified because the story's premise is the Earth heating up as it moves closer to the sun.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: "Nothing in the Dark", in which a young Robert Redford plays a gentle, well-meaning version of The Grim Reaper. Also, "The Hitch-hiker".
- Doppelgänger: "Mirror Image", "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room", "In His Image".
- Dream Apocalypse: "Shadow Play".
- Dripping Disturbance: This is one of the ordinary noises played with in "Sounds and Silences".
- Dropped Glasses: "Time Enough at Last".
- Dumb Blonde: In "Penny For Your Thoughts", the main character hears the thoughts of anyone standing near him. When tries to read the mind of a blonde woman in the bank, he can't hear anything.
- Earth All Along: "I Shot an Arrow into the Air", "Probe 7 - Over and Out". Inverted in "Third from the Sun" and "The Invaders".
- The Ending Changes Everything: Pretty much every episode.
- Enfant Terrible: Anthony Fremont in "It's a Good Life", Susan in "Caesar and Me".
- Empty Piles of Clothing: The fate of two characters in "Long Live Walter Jameson" and "Queen of the Nile".
- Episode on a Plane: Most famously in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". Also in "The Odyssey Of Flight 33".
- Equivalent Exchange
- Everybody Smokes: What with the show being made in the 60's.
- Every Episode Ending: Nearly every episode ends with a short commentary from Rod Serling, usually to deliver An Aesop, almost always ending with "...in the Twilight Zone."
- 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."
- Evil Mask: "The Masks", obviously.
- Exact Words: To Serve Man.
- 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 an American Civil War period picture, revealing just how he knows that period so very well.
- Expy: A year before Dennis Weaver played a man afraid to go to sleep in the episode "Shadow Play", he played a man with the opposite problem in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Insomnia".
- False Innocence Trick: "The Howling Man" is basically one of these from start to end.
- Fantastic Anthropologist: "Mr. Dingle the Strong".
- Fattening The Victim: In the episode "To Serve Man", after the hero discovers the alien Kanamits eat the humans they take to their planet as "ambassadors", he is taken prisoner aboard their ship. In the last scene a Kamamit is exhorting him to eat his dinner.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: The lead characters of the Time Travel episodes, especially "Execution".
- 555: "Night Call" used the KL-5 variant.
- 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. This is a definite case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, and a lot of questions if it is magic. All of the following are possible: the machine accurately predicted the future as it was meant to, it was designed for/attempted to trap people (which would be a lot of trouble for a few pennies), its only ability was to make you think it made accurate predictions, or it was in fact an ordinary machine and the seemingly accurate predictions were a series of improbable coincidences.
- Fresh Clue: In "Where is Everybody?", a man finds himself all alone in a deserted town with a case of amnesia. While he's exploring a police station he finds a lit cigar smoldering in an ashtray. When he looks in a cell he finds a sink with the water running and shaving equipment (including a brush with wet shaving cream) sitting around. All of this is evidence that someone was there not too long ago. The Twilight Zone Twist is that he's actually in a hallucination caused by isolation. Watch it here.
- Future Me Scares Me: "Spur of the Moment" and "Walking Distance". Inverted in "Nightmare as a Child".
- Gaslighting: "What's In the Box?" : Joe accuses his wife and the TV repairman of plotting to drive him crazy after his recently fixed TV shows him incriminating scenes of his life.
- Genre Anthology
- Genre Blindness: 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.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Captain Ross to Lieutenant Mason in "Death Ship".
- Get Back to the Future: "The Odyssey of Flight 33".
- 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 broadcast television.
- A God Am I: "The Little People", "On Thursday We Leave For Home".
- Government Drug Enforcement: Several episodes.
- Greek Chorus: Rod Serling starting with "A World Of His Own." He picked a bad time to start appearing on screen.
- The Grim Reaper: "One for the Angels", "Nothing in the Dark" (played by Robert Redford!), "The Hitch-Hiker".
- Grow Beyond Their Programming
- Guardian Angel: J. Hardy Hempstead in "Mr. Bevis".
- Guinea Pig Family: "Mute".
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Simon and Barbara in "Uncle Simon", especially to each other.
- Haunted Technology: "The Fever", "A Thing About Machines", "Living Doll".
- Have a Gay Old Time: In "Caesar and Me", unsuccessful ventriloquist Jonathan West breaks into a nightclub at the insistence of his evil dummy, Caesar. While there, they are found by the night watchman, who starts asking them questions. Caesar's response: "Who are you, the house dick?" At the time, "dick" was slang for a detective, but today, the idea of a "house dick" in a nightclub might bring something else to mind.
- Heads Tails Edge: "Penny for Your Thoughts".
- Heel Face Door Slam
- Hell of a Heaven: "The Hunt" plays with this trope.
- Henpecked Husband: Henry Bemis, in "Time Enough at Last".
- Here We Go Again:
- In "Judgment Night", U-Boat captain Carl Lanser is doomed to endlessly relive the sinking of a ship which he ordered torpedoed, but as a passenger on the ship with only a vague sense of impending disaster.
- In "Mr. Dingle the Strong", Luther Dingle's superhuman strength has been revoked by his Martian benefactors, who found his use of it disappointing - but a group of Venusians have just given him superhuman intelligence, beginning the cycle anew.
- In "Shadow Play", convicted murder Adam Grant tries to persuade everyone around him that his impending execution by electric chair is just his own nightmare. At the end of the episode, he is executed, and wakes up from the "nightmare" to be sentenced to death again, but with the "roles" in his dream rotated among those who played them.
- In "Dead Man's Shoes", the homeless man who put on the dead mobster's shoes and was taken over by his spirit to avenge his death is shot and killed - and another homeless man finds his body and puts on the shoes.
- In "Person or Persons Unknown", David Gurney wakes up to find that all evidence that he ever existed, including other people's memories of him, seems to have vanished. The episode ends with Gurney waking up from a nightmare - to discover that his wife, though she acts and talks as she has always done, looks nothing like he remembers.
- In "Death Ship", a trio of astronauts land on a barren planet to discover a wrecked copy of their ship and their own dead bodies in the cockpit. Eventually, they decide that it must be a hallucination to discourage them from landing and collecting samples, but at the end of the episode, they find themselves reliving their original decision to land on the planet to explore it.
- In "Uncle Simon", Barbara Polk looks after her rich but cruel inventor uncle, Simon, purely because she is his only heir and aims to inherit his fortune when he dies. When he does die, she is freed from his cruelty, but his will requires her to look after his final invention, a robot which eventually takes on his voice and personality, and she ends the episode as she began it, listlessly bringing hot chocolate to her ungrateful, now robotic, uncle.
- In "From Agnes - With Love", computer programmer James Elwood tries to fix a bug in Agnes, an office computer, which his predecessor could not solve. However, Agnes falls in love with him and begins breaking her programming - just as she did with his predecessor. At the end of the episode, Elwood is told to go on leave by his employer, and it is implied that Agnes will fall in love with his replacement as well.
- In "Spur of the Moment", Anne Henderson sees a woman in black screaming her name from a hilltop and flees in terror. She later determines that the woman was her older self, trying to warn her against marrying the wrong man. Eventually, she sees her younger self and tries to give her the same warning, but her younger self flees in terror.
- In "Queen of the Nile", columnist Jordan Herrick interviews actress Pamela Morris, who has somehow remained youthful despite her long screen career. He learns the hard way that she feeds off the life of young people around her using an Egyptian scarab - she is, in fact, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, now over two thousand years old. As the episode ends, another columnist arrives for an interview.
- In "The Time Element", bartender Peter Jenson tries to warn the personnel at Pearl Harbor of the impending Japanese attack - which he knows will happen as he was killed in the attack and has been reliving it ever since.
- 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.
- Hijacked by Ganon: "He's Alive" has Adolf Hitler hijacking a neo-Nazi campaign.
- Hilarity Ensues: "The Whole Truth"
- Historical-Domain Character:
- Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: "No Time Like the Past".
- Hoist by His Own Petard: "The Jeopardy Room", "The Brain Centre at Whipple's".
- Honest John's Dealership: "The Whole Truth."
- Hope Spot:
- Hot as Hell: "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," starring Julie Newmar as Satan.
- How We Got Here: "To Serve Man".
- Human Aliens:
- Part of the plot of "People Are Alike All Over." The protagonists of "Third from the Sun."
- "Probe 7, Over and Out".
- Human Ladder: "Five Characters in Search of an Exit."
- Human Popsicle: "The Rip Van Winkle Caper," "The Long Morrow."
- 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.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: "The Little People".
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: "The Invaders".
- Idiot Ball: In "He's Alive", where Hitler somehow survived (or returned from the dead), and is helping a bigot revive Nazism, they plot a false flag operation, in which one of the bigot's associates is killed and they frame the Jews. They pick up the Idiot Ball when they leave a message at the crime scene, calling the victim "a good Nazi", completely oblivious to the fact that no one would call someone a good Nazi except another Nazi. It isn't surprising when the police quickly catch on to the ruse.
- I'm a Humanitarian: "To Serve Man."
- Immortality Immorality: "Love Live Walter Jameson", "Queen of the Nile".
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum
- Inertial Impalement: In "The Once And Future King," Gary Pitkin, an Elvis impersonator, gets transported to 1953, where he meets the real Elvis Presley. At first, Elvis thinks Gary is his stillborn brother Jesse, Back from the Dead. However, when Gary begins coaching Elvis about his music, Elvis is reviled. The two men begin to fight, breaking a guitar at the neck. Then Elvis lunges at Gary; Gary rolls aside, and Elvis impales himself fatally on the jagged guitar neck.
- 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 Echo:
- Wordsworth does this to the Chancellor a couple of times in the penultimate scene of "The Obsolete Man:"
You're cheating the audience. Face the camera. ((later)) Wordsworth:
You must face the camera. It's very important. You said so yourself.
- The semi-Title Drop of "People Are Alike All Over".
Don't be afraid Sam! I've got a hunch... if there's anyone out there, they'll help you... As long as they have hearts and minds, they have souls! That makes them people! And... people are alike... they're bound to be a-like... ((later)) Sam (inside a Martian zoo)
: Marcusson! Marcusson, you were right! You were right... People are alike... people are alike everywhere
- Ironic Hell: "A Game of Pool" and "A Nice Place to Visit".
- Is This a Joke?: Standard Explanation for anything unusual and unexplainable.
- It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: "The Masks."
- Jack the Ripper: In "The New Exhibit" Martin Balsam plays the curator of a wax museum who becomes so obsessed by five wax figures of murderers, including Jack the Ripper, that he commits murder to protect them.
- Jerkass Façade: Fitzgerald Fortune from "A Piano in the House" is an arrogant bully because he secretly has the emotional maturity of a child. He is afraid of people, and as a result acts like an insufferable dick to everyone around him. He's even shown to be a Loving Bully (of the emotional variety) towards his wife because of it.
- Job-Stealing Robot: The plot of "The Brain Center at Whipple's".
- Kafka Komedy: "Time Enough At Last".
- 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 "Caesar and Me"). In his book The Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree identifies this as a symptom of Seasonal Rot.
- Karmic Twist Ending: Former Trope Namer as Twilight Zone Twist.
- Language Barrier:
- "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 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 Obsolete Man" is filled to the brim with ham...and some interpretative dance towards the end.
- Laser-Guided Karma: "Judgement Night", "Death's Head Revisited."
- Laugh Track:
- The Poorly Disguised Pilot "Cavender is Coming" featured a laugh track during its original showing and early syndication. It was removed from the syndication prints in the mid eighties.
- The Night Club scenes in the episode "The Dummy" have an obvious laugh track standing in for the audience laughter.
- Life Drinker:
- The title 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.
- Lilliputians: "The Little People", "The Fear".
- Look Ma, No Plane!: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".
- Louis Cypher: "The Chaser" features a character named Professor A. Daemon. His name is suspicious enough to make the viewer wonder about his true nature, albeit that doesn't seem the case at least until the end of the episode.
- Love Potion: "The Chaser".
- Magic Realism
- 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.
- Matter of Life and Death: "Perchance to Dream".
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: "The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
- 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.
- The Merch: Includes soundtrack albums, action figures, and a pinball game that has its own entry.
- 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.
- Mirror Universe: "Mirror Image".
- 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.”
- The Multiverse: The main character of "The Parallel" discovers that he has accidentally stumbled into a parallel world with a similar chronology to his own.
- 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.
- Murder Ballad: Used as a Plot Device in "Come Wander with Me".
- Murderous Mannequin: Subverted in "The After Hours"; Marsha is, at first, understandably terrified when the mannequins come to life, but it soon becomes apparent that they are friendly, and only want her to remember that she is also a mannequin.
- My Car Hates Me: "You Drive", "The Hitch-Hiker".
- My Grandson Myself: In "Queen of the Nile", Pamela lives with the elderly Mrs. Draper, ostensibly her mother. She is actually Pamela's daughter and Pamela is hundreds of years old, heavily implied to have been Cleopatra.
- Nazi Protagonist: The episode "Death's Head Revisited" centered around a former concentration camp officer at Dachau who revisits the camp to relive his memories of the many atrocities he committed during the war. He eventually receives karmic justice from the souls of his victims.
- Never Sleep Again: "Perchance to Dream", "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"
- The Night That Never Ends: "I Am the Night—Color Me Black".
- No Antagonist: "The Parallel".
- No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: In the episode "A Nice Place to Visit", an inveterate criminal dies and goes to the afterlife: a pleasant place where he gets everything he wants and all his gambles always pay off. He becomes dissatisfied and asks to be sent to The Other Place, saying he doesn't belong in Heaven. The reply he gets: "Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!"
- 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 Ending/Uncertain Doom: We never learn what happens at the end of "The Odyssey of Flight 33".
- 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 Ain't Like It Used to Be: "The Incredible World of Horace Ford"
- Nostalgia Filter: Happens in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville". Corrupt Corporate Executive 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".
- Not-So-Imaginary Friend: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "Mirror Image".
- One Character, Multiple Lives: In the episode, "A World of Difference", Arthur Curtis finds himself switching between two worlds - one where he's a normal businessman, and another where he's an alcoholic actor named Gerry Raigan who's playing the role of businessman Arthur Curtis in a movie.
- On One Condition:
- In "The Masks", Jason Foster tells his daughter and her family that unless they wear the Mardi Gras masks he has made for them until midnight, their inheritance when he dies will consist solely of train fare back to their home in Boston.
- In "Uncle Simon", Barbara Polk is told she has inherited her misanthropic uncle's entire estate, as long as she sells none of it and looks after his last invention: a robot which gradually takes on his personality, and eventually speaks in his voice.
- On the Next: Each episode ends with Rod Serling telling the audience about the next episode. For season four, clips from the episodes were also shown.
- Ontological Inertia: "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms".
- Ontological Mystery: "Where Is Everybody?", "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," "Stopover in a Quiet Town."
- Open Door Opening: During the fourth and fifth seasons.
- Out of the Frying Pan: In the revived series episode "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich". 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.
- Panthera Awesome: "The Jungle".
- Peggy Sue: "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville".
- Persecuted Intellectuals:
- In "Time Enough at Last", everyone looks down on and picks on Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) for being a reader.
- In "The Obsolete Man", Romney Wordsworth, the librarian (also played by Burgess Meredith) is considered obsolete, as books have been banned.
- Phone Call From The Dead:
- In "Night Call" an invalid starts receiving mysterious phone calls. The calls are eventually traced to a cemetery, where a fallen phone line is in contact with the grave of her deceased husband.
- "Long Distance Call" has a grandmother calling from beyond the grave and urging her beloved grandchild toward acts of suicide so they can be together again.
- Pilot Movie: In 1958, Rod Serling wrote a teleplay ("The Time Element") which he hoped to turn into a weekly anthology series. It's often included in the series' canon as its lost pilot episode.
- Please Don't Leave Me: A rare non-dying example occurs at the end of "A Piano in the House." The titular instrument reveals that Jerkass Fitzgerald Fortune's cruelty is simply a mask for his true persona: a misanthropic, frightened child terrified of the world and unable to react to others with anything but disgust and hatred. This revelation comes during a party, and all of the guests (including Fortune's wife) leave after Fortune's breakdown; he screams like a toddler, declaring that he doesn't want them to go and threatening to be "very naughty" if they do.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot
- 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.
- Pretty in Mink: Some furs are worn in some episodes, such as "Twenty-Two", and especially in "A Nice Place to Visit" to show the supposed grand nature of the place.
- Prophetic Fallacy
- Raised by Robots: "I Sing the Body Electric", "The Lateness of the Hour".
- 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.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "The Masks".
- Fitzgerald Fortune is on the receiving end of several of these in "A Piano in the House," but he shrugs them off, largely because he's using a magical player piano to force people to reveal their hidden secrets. At the end of the episode, though, one of the piano's songs prompts Fortune to give a Reason You Suck Speech to himself.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: See Instrumental Theme Tune above.
- 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.
- Ret Gone: "And When the Sky Was Opened".
- Ridiculously Human Robots: "The Lateness of the Hour", "The Lonely".
- Room Full of Crazy: Rod Serling said that when he first called for scripts, ""I got 15,000 manuscripts in the first five days. Of those 15,000, I and members of my staff read about 140. And 137 of those 140 were wasted paper; hand-scrawled, laboriously written, therapeutic unholy grotesqueries from sick, troubled, deeply disturbed people." The other three were well-written, but unsuitable for the show.
- Rule of Three: In "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up", said Martian has three arms. The Venusian has three eyes.
- Same Language Dub: In "The Bewitchin' Pool", it happened to Mary Badham of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, whose lines and voice in the outdoor scenes were so unintelligible, the directors had to have June Foray dub her lines.
- 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 Im 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".
- Sealed Evil in a Can: "The Howling Man."
Rod Serling: Ancient folk saying - you can catch the Devil, but you can't hold him long.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: "A Most Unusual Camera," "No Time Like the Past," and "What's in the Box."
- Shape Shifter Swan Song: "The Four of Us Are Dying."
- 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.
- Nonlethal version in "The Big Tall Wish".
- "It's a Good Life". No, it isn't!
- Silence Is Golden: "The Invaders", written by Richard Matheson, has no dialogue until the very end (when what little dialogue the episode has constitutes The Reveal).
- Slept Through the Apocalypse: "Time Enough at Last," subverted in "One More Pallbearer".
- 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.
- Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 0 (Non-Linear Installments).
- 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.
- Something Completely Different:
- "Cavender Is Coming", a Poorly Disguised Pilot for a prospective comedy series starring Jesse White as the title character, an apprentice guardian angel who assists a klutzy mortal played by Carol Burnett.
- 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 Madness: Discussed in "Where Is Everybody?" The town the protagonist is in is just a hallucination. He's really in an isolation chamber, and he's part of an experiment the government is running to see how humans would handle a solo mission to the Moon. He does make it through the experiment though and seems optimistic about mankind's chances of actually reaching the Moon despite his mental breakdown.
- 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.
- Speculative Fiction: The Sci-Fi elements and stories.
- Spooky Silent Library: "Time Enough at Last" ends with a lone man, an empty library, and a broken pair of glasses. Possibly better known by now through parodies than through the original.
- Stable Time Loop: "The Last Flight" and "A Hundred Yards over the Rim".
- 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. In "To Serve Man", however, although the full-size C-57-D landing ramp is used, the Kanamit spaceship's takeoff is represented by one of the eponymous Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, animated by Ray Harryhausen.
- The Little People uses footage from a Mercury Program launch.
- Stopped Clock: "Where is Everybody?"
- 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.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien
- 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 sponsors 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.
- Talking to Themself: "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room".
- 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.)
- Taxman Takes The Winnings: In "The Man in the Bottle", the Castles' second wish is for a million dollars in cash. After they give away some of the money, an IRS agent shows up and gives them a bill for the taxes (Federal and state) they owe on it. This leaves them with only five dollars.
- This Isn't Heaven: "A Nice Place to Visit."
- 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 Stands Still: "Still Valley" and "A Kind of a Stopwatch."
- 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.
- Title Sequence Replacement: The first season opening is often pasted over by the second season opening in syndicated reruns.
- Tomato in the Mirror: "The After Hours," "The Lateness of the Hour," "In His Image," "Ring-a-ding Girl". Ironically, played with in "The Mirror".
- Tomato Surprise: Too many to list.
- To Serve Man: Trope Namer
- 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.
- Touched by Vorlons: Luther Dingle from "Mr. Dingle the Strong". Twice.
- Town with a Dark Secret: "Valley of the Shadow."
- Tragic Hero: Captain Benteen in "On Thursday We Leave For Home."
- Troll: Oliver Crangle in "Four O'Clock". Did he shrink because what he was trying to do went wrong, was the whole thing a hallucination...or did every single evil person on Earth actually shrink, including him because he was evil?! The last possibility would have had very interesting results (some reminiscent of Steve Martin on "getting small").
- Truman Show Plot: "A World of Difference".
- 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. And we never will.
- 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.
- Twist Ending: Became infamous for this sort of thing.
- 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.
- Un Paused: "A Kind of a Stopwatch", until the stopwatch breaks.
- Urban Fantasy: Anything that takes place in a city, natch.
- Urban Legends: The basis of many episodes.
- Vampiric Draining: "Queen of the Nile". A middle-aged actress named Pamela Morris is actually thousands of years old - she maintains her youth by draining the Life Energy of young men.
- Video Inside, Film Outside: The six Season 2 "videotape episodes"; see Something Completely Different.
- Villainous Breakdown: Happens many times.
- Wait Here: In the episode "Still Valley" a Confederate scout gives orders to his partner.
Paradine: Now you stay here. If you hear a shot, you get back to the lieutenant at a fast gallop...If you haven't heard from me in 15 minutes, you get back there anyway.
- War Is Hell - "Two".
- Wasteland Elder: "On Thursday We Leave For Home". Subverted.
- Water Source Tampering: In "Black Leather Jackets", a group of aliens is sent to Earth to Kill All Humans by contaminating city water reservoirs with deadly bacteria.
- We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: Type 1: "The Gift", Type 2: "To Serve Man"
- 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.
- Jagger from "I Am the Night-Color me Black".
- Whack A Mole: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
- What Did I Do Last Night?: "Stopover in a Quiet Town".
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Brutally answered in "The Lonely."
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: "I Sing the Body Electric."
- Wife Husbandry: "The Fugitive".
- The Wild West: "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," "Execution," "Dust," "A Hundred Yards over the Rim," "The Grave," "Showdown with Rance McGrew," "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms," "Mr. Garrity and the Graves."
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: "Long Live Walter Jameson", "Escape Clause".
- 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.
- World of Symbolism: Some of the more esoteric reveals involve this.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: "The Rip Van Winkle Caper".
- 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 All Meet in a Cell: 'The premise of the episode called "Five Characters in Search of an Exit": An Army major wakes up to find himself trapped inside in a large metal cylinder, along with a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and a clown. None of them have any memory of who they are or how they got there.
- 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.
- You Have to Believe Me: A common occurrence in the series, but especially in "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby".
- You Look Familiar
- You Wake Up in a Room: "Stopover in a Quiet Town".
- Your Mind Makes It Real: "Perchance to Dream".
- Zeerust: A lot of outer space-themed episodes take place in the year 2000 or the late 90's.
- "Steel", in which human fighters have been replaced by boxing robots, takes place in the far off year of 1974.
- "Third from the Sun" showcased a sleek white phone that gave off soft, elevator-like tones when it rang. In fact, the rotary dial was on the bottom!
- "Elegy" starts with the landing of a rocket that in many ways works like how we imagine a UFO. They open the hatch, and down comes a ladder on a hinge.
The Twilight Zone '80s revival, and 2002-03 revival provide examples of:
- 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.
- Balancing Death's Books: "Welcome to Winfield".
- Baseball Episode: "Extra Innings" .
- Be Careful What You Wish For: "The Leprechaun-Artist," "The Library", "Cold Reading".
- The Blank: "A Matter of Minutes".
- Blind and the Beast: In "To See the Invisible Man", the only person to be kind to Mitchell during his punishment is a blind man who cannot see the implant telling others to ignore him.
- Brown Note: "Need to Know".
- Cast Full of Gay: "Dead Run".
- Color Me Black: Done in an episode of the 2003 reboot.
- Credit Card Plot: The 1980's episode "The Card." Also an example of an Cruel Twist Ending.
- 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.
- Dead All Along: "Kentucky Rye" [1980s Revival].
- Dead to Begin With: "Take My Life...Please!" [1980s Revival].
- Death Is the Only Option: In the 2002 episode "To Protect and Serve", a cop kills an abusive pimp to protect a woman, but the pimp comes back as a ghost and continues his evil ways. The cop eventually kills himself, becoming a ghost and allowing him to defeat the pimp once and for all.
- Deal with the Devil: "Dealer's Choice," "I of Newton," "Time and Teresa Golowitz," "Crazy As a Soup Sandwich" [1980s Revival].
- Divine Intervention: "The Executions of Grady Finch" [2003 Revival].
- Don't Fear the Reaper: "Rendezvous in a Dark Place."
- Dream Apocalypse: The remake of "Shadow Play" [1980s Revival].
- 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.
- Evil Old Folks: "Gramma," written by Harlan Ellison and based on a Stephen King story inspired by HP Lovecraft.
- 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.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Occurs in the original series episode "Deaths-Head Revisited" and the 1980s revival episode "Need to Know".
- Grand Theft Me: The end of "Gramma".
- The Grim Reaper: "Welcome to Winfield," "Rendezvous in a Dark Place" [1980s Revival].
- Hair-Raising Hare: in The Twilight Zone: The Movie, in the updated version of "It's a Good Life," the local Reality Warper asks his uncle to pull a rabbit out of a hat as a magic trick, then the rabbit turns into a hairless, hulking, snarling monstrosity before it goes back into the hat.
- Haunted Technology: "Her Pilgrim Soul" [1980s Revival].
- Henpecked Husband: "Button, Button" [1980s Revival].
- Here We Go Again: "A Day in Beaumont," "The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon," "The Hellgrammite Method" [1980s Revival}].
- The Hidden Hour: "A Matter of Minutes" and "Paladin of the Lost Hour" (both from the 1980s revival)
- Historical-Domain Character:
- 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.
- Human Aliens: "Small Talent for War" [1980s Revival].
- Human Popsicle: "Quarantine" [1980s Revival].
- I Choose to Stay: "Found And Lost" [2002-03 Revival].
- 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.
- 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'.
- 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 "Damn you!"
- Jungle Japes: "Cold Reading" features these coming to life inside a radio broadcast studio, including a native beating on a drum [1980s Revival].
- 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 how 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.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium" [1980s Revival].
- Living Doll Collector: An episode of the 2002 reboot featured a little girl who turned all her babysitters into Barbie dolls because she was lonely and didn't want them to ever leave.
- The end of "Azoth the Avenger is a Friend of Mine," another 2002 episode, sees Craig transforming his abusive father into an action figure with a magic spell.
- Living Shadow: "The Shadow Man" [1980s Revival].
- Lonely Doll Girl: Danielle in "The Collection", to the point of being a Living Doll Collector.
- Message in a Bottle: "A Saucer of Loneliness" [1980s Revival].
- Mirror Universe: "The World Next Door,” "The Road Less Traveled" [1980s Revival].
- Murderous Mannequin: The remake of the "The After Hours" [1980s Revival].
- My Greatest Failure: In "Azoth the Avenger is a Friend of Mine," the title character reveals that in his youth, he fled a demonic attack that killed his whole family. His shame over his action continues to motivate him.
- Not Afraid of You Anymore: Craig says this word for word to his father in "Azoth the Avenger is a Friend of Mine." His mother doesn't quote the trope name, her standing up to her husband to defend Craig implies this.
- Not-So-Imaginary Friend: "What Are Friends For?" [1980s Revival].
- Ontological Mystery: "Matter of Minutes" [1980s Revival].
- Opening Shout-Out: Both revivals feature images of Rod Serling in the opening credits.
- 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.
- Passing the Torch: "Paladin of the Lost Hour" [1980s Revival].
- Persecuted Intellectuals: In the '80s revival episode "Examination Day", the government exterminates anyone who scores too high on a mandatory examination at a young age.
- 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.
- Recycled Soundtrack: If you think the soundtrack from the 2002 series sounds oddly familiar, it's because the series' composer was Mark Snow and he reused some of his music from The X-Files.
- 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 did not appreciate - 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.
- Rerouted From Heaven: In the episode "Dead Run", a truck driver takes a job delivering dead souls to Hell. However, the people he's delivering there seem way too nice to deserve damnation. It turns out the new Celestial Bureaucracy that has taken over is using an overly-literal fundamentalist interpretation of The Bible, mainly due to them being paper-pushing Obstructive Bureaucrats, rather than actual malevolence.
- 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.
- Superior Successor: Anthony Fremont's daughter in the 2002 revival manages to be a Superior Successor to a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper. She can restore things that her father has willed out of existence (which he himself cannot do) and is immune to his telepathy.
- Talking to Themself: "Shatterday" [1980s Revival].
- Tanks For The Memories: "The Mind of Simon Foster" [1980s Revival].
- Time Stands Still: "A Little Peace and Quiet" [1980s Revival].
- Time Travel: "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty," "Profile in Silver," "The Once and Future King," "Lost and Found," "The Convict's Piano," "Joy Ride," "Time and Teresa Golowitz" [1980s Revival].
- Tomato in the Mirror: "The After Hours," like the original [1980s Revival].
- Town with a Dark Secret: "The Beacon" [1980s Revival].
- Truman Show Plot: "Special Service" [1980s Revival].
- Un Paused: Among others, "A Little Peace and Quiet" in the 1985 premiere. Penny, a typical 80's henpecked housewife, finds an amulet that allows her to stop and re-start time with the commands "Shut up!" and "Start talking!"); she abuses this privilege until the next night, when nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union breaks out.* Penny is able to freeze time just seconds before her hometown is destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
- 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].
- Wrong Turn at Albuquerque: "The Beacon".
- You Monster!: In It's Still A Good Life, Anthony Fremont's own mother calls him a monster after all the years she had to suffer under her son's godlike powers.
- You Will Be Beethoven: "Profile in Silver" and "The Once and Future King" [1980s Revival].
Guess what? Your whole life has been a dream, one of your family members is a robot, and that nice man that just moved into town is a Martian. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.