Rod Serling: Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the thirteenth planet of star system fifty-one, the year 1997. In a little while, supposedly, the ship will be landed and specimens taken: vegetable, mineral and, if any, animal. These will be brought back to overpopulated Earth, where technicians will evaluate them and, if everything is satisfactory, stamp their findings with the word 'inhabitable' and open up yet another planet for colonization. These are the things that are supposed to happen...Picture of the crew of the spaceship E-89 - Captain Ross, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Carter; three men who have just reached a place which is as far from home as they will ever be. Three men who, in a matter of minutes, will be plunged into the darkest nightmare reaches... of the Twilight Zone.
A trio of astronauts - Ross (Jack Klugman), Mason (Ross Martin) and Carter (Frederick Beir) - come across what appears to be evidence of intelligent life on an alien world. Upon investigation, it turns out that the ship they spotted is identical to their own ship, except that it has been destroyed in a crash... and inside it are what appear to be their own dead bodies. Further complications arise and the three men end up struggling, sometimes against each other, to try and figure out what's happening to them.
- And I Must Scream: Zigzagged. Ross, Mason, and Carter are doomed to be trapped in the same "Groundhog Day" Loop of finding their own bodies and realizing what happened for eternity—but they don't remember each loop as it happens, which softens the blow to a degree. They may be stuck in a situation for all time, but it will always be new to them and thus lacks the "aware of one's fate but unable to do anything about it" factor usually associated with this trope.
- Agent Scully: Captain Ross absolutely refuses to believe that they are ghosts, because there is no evidence that says so. He will prefer to believe that it's the work of aliens before accepting that they are ghosts. Eventually it is deconstructed because his reluctance to believe is what forces the crew, through sheer unrelenting willful denial, to continue to suffer the same situation he refuses to accept forever.
- Canon Foreigner: In the television adaptation, Mason sees his wife Ruth and daughter Jeannie in the afterlife while Carter sees Kramer and Mrs. Nolan. None of these characters appear in the short story by Richard Matheson.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: There is never information of what killed the crew originally, but the loop always starts with someone seeing "something glinting down there".
- Dead All Along: The whole crew of the ship.
- Determinator: Captain Ross. Unfortunately for his men.
- Detrimental Determination: An example Played for Horror: Ross' indomitable will is single-handedly responsible for their ever-lasting torment.
- Discovering Your Own Dead Body: Ross, Mason and Carter discover their own bodies in a crashed duplicate of their ship but Ross remains in denial throughout the story.
- Fatal Flaw: Captain Ross' determination to find a rational explanation (well, more rational than the crew being ghosts) even in the face of there being no other explanation, and his indomitable will... in the face of a Heroic BSoD, Ross instead wills the loop to restart through sheer denial.
- Flying Dutchman: Explicitly invoked by Serling in his closing narration.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When Lieutenant Mason starts to freak out over their bizarre experiences, Captain Ross punches him in the face and knocks him down.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: And the narration even compares it to the "Flying Dutchman", a never-ending hell.
- Heroic BSoD: Captain Ross at the end, still looking for some rational explanation when Mason and Carter already figured out that they are dead. Unfortunately for the latter two, the result of this breakdown is instead to keep believing that they are alive and the events are some kind of illusion, and that they will keep trying to find an explanation however long it takes... thus triggering the loop.
- Named by the Adaptation: Ross and Mason are given the respective first names of Paul and Ted in the television adaptation.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Mason's daughter Jeannie was killed in a car accident, as was his wife Ruth.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Very much looking alive up to and after the incredible reveal, and suffering a "Groundhog Day" Loop for eternity.
- Post-Modern Magik: Not only is spaceship E-89's fate akin to the fate of the Flying Dutchman, it takes place in the near future rather than the present.
- Psychic Powers: Aliens with these are one of Ross' attempts at an explanation of what's going on.
- Riddle for the Ages: How did the crew originally die, if every time they see "something glinting down there", it's the wreckage of their own crashed ship?
- Scully Syndrome: Ross' attempts at finding a logical explanation for the situation they are enduring include theories about time travel and even aliens with mental powers. Because those are more logical than being ghosts.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Carter exhibits one after he, Ross and Mason discover their own bodies in the crashed ship.
- Time Travel: Discussed. Ross speculates that they may have circumnavigated time and been sent to a probable future in which they will die when they try to take-off but he believes that it can be prevented.
- Tuckerization: Mason's wife Ruth is named after Richard Matheson's wife.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: In 1997, the E-89 is investigating the feasibility of establishing a colony on the thirteenth planet of Star System 51.
- Undeath Always Ends: Sadly, not the case...
Rod Serling: Picture of a man who will not see anything he does not choose to see, including his own death - a man of such indomitable will that even the two men beneath his command are not allowed to see the truth. Which truth is: that they are no longer among the living. That the movements they make and the words they speak have all been made and spoken countless times before, and will be made and spoken countless times again, perhaps even unto eternity. Picture of a latter-day Flying Dutchman sailing into the Twilight Zone.