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YMMV / The Twilight Zone (1959)

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • In "Living Doll":
      • Is Talky Tina really evil or was she just trying to protect Christie?
      • The names "Christie" and "Tina" are both nicknames for Christina. Knowing this, could the doll be the side of Christie that wants to hurt her stepfather? Alternatively, was Tina the self-created guardian of a young girl trying to cope with a cold and distant father-figure?
      • Was Erich a man trying to become a father to a little girl that not only wasn't biologically his but a constant reminder that he couldn't have children of his own? Or was his passive-aggressive behavior to his wife and stepdaughter a sign of emotional abuse?
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    • In "One for the Angels", was Death really going to take the little girl only to be distracted by Bookman, or was the whole thing a Batman Gambit to let Bookman die on his own terms?
    • In "Time Enough At Last" Burgess Meredith's charming performance makes the protagonist sympathetic, and the ending cruel. Read Serling's script without Meredith's performance, and the character comes across as a misanthrope so severe his only reaction to human extinction is happiness that now he'll have time with no one bothering him. His fate looks more like Laser-Guided Karma.
    • In "Young Man's Fancy", is Virginia a long-suffering young woman who has finally (and justifiably) reached her limit with her husband's relationship to his mother, or is she only irritated at Henrietta's influence over Alex because she wants to control him herself?
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    • In "The Invaders," the reveal that the titular characters are actually human space explorers, and the woman whose farmhouse they've landed on is actually a sixty-foot tall giant alien, leads to these questions. Was the alien woman a destructive monster, or simply a frightened soul who was trying to defend herself and her home the best she could? And similarly, were the astronauts correct in attacking her, or did they view her as a threat simply because she was so large? To further muddy the waters, it's clear that the astronauts are the initial antagonizers—they land on the woman's roof, and all she does is go to check it out; she's clearly terrified of their presence, but they start shooting anyway. Who is the real "bad guy?"
    • In "Death's Head Revisited," Is Gunther Lutze really being tortured into insanity by the ghosts of his victims, or is it deeply buried guilt bubbling to the surface that's manifesting in the form of hallucinations of his victims?
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    • "The Masks": This fanfic, written in Perspective Flip, is about Emily's side of things, based on the heirs' behavior toward Jason and toward each other. It is heavily implied that they were fully aware of their less-than-ideal character and had more than one gosh-darned valid motive for their "greed." For his part, Jason showed he was fully aware of his own less-than-ideal conduct toward the outside world and sought to make sure his servants didn't suffer for it.
      • For that part, is Jason really a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, dispensing justice on greedy relatives or is the story suffering from Protagonist-Centered Morality? He does spend the last few hours of his life insulting his remaining family members (as unpleasant as they are), forces them to wear horrifically ugly masks under threat of being cut from his will, and doesn't tell them what will happen if they wear them until midnight. Yet in the end, he passes away peacefully, his face unchanged while his family suffers for the rest of their lives with their altered faces.
  • Broken Base: Episodes like "The Mighty Casey" or "Mr Dingle The Strong", which are more light-hearted and comedic in tone, divide the fanbase: the majority of people find Rod Serling's attempts at comedy pretty cheesy and cheap while others appreciate a more sentimental and subtle type of comedy like "Night Of The Meek" with its alcoholic Mall Santa rather than mere slapstick.
  • Complete Monster: In a series that rarely contained anything resembling pure evil, these two were the exceptions:
    • Gunther Lutze, from season 3's "Deaths-Head Revisited", is a former Nazi concentration camp captain at Dachau, described in the opening narration as "an animal whose function in life was to give pain". Lutze revisits Germany, and plays a game where he mentally torments a woman at a hotel who recognizes him and is utterly terrified. After this, Lutze visits Dachau, reminiscing about his atrocities and flashing back to the times when he had innocent victims hanged, shot or experimented on as if those were the best years of his life, until he is confronted by Dachau's "caretaker", a former inmate named Becker. Lutze had murdered so many he can't even initially remember he actually killed Becker years ago before he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims. As the ending narration states, he is representative of a time "when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard", into which they threw away their conscience.
    • Pamela Morris, from season 5's "Queen of the Nile", is a famous actress known for her beauty and vitality. Implied to have originally been the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, Pamela has remained alive and youthful for thousands of years by seducing men and then magically sapping their life energy, causing them to rapidly age into piles of dust. Not only does Pamela not share her gift of eternal life with any of her children through the ages, it's also implied through what she says to her daughter that she's murdered some of them for their lifespan and that they only exist to serve her.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: In "Uncle Simon", it's stated in the narration that neither of the two main characters are very likeable, so it could be hard to care about whether either Barbara or Simon gets what they want.
  • Ear Worm: NENE-NENE-NENE-NENE... Even 60 years after it started, the show's theme is the go-to anthem for anything bizarre that occurs.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending:
    • "Mute" has a girl conforming to the natural verbal speaking of society and losing her telepathic powers. This is portrayed as good because her parents supposedly saw her as just an experiment (which the beginning implies they did), but she still lost a great power and a potential boon to society just to become normal. Even worse, is how she was practically bullied into it.
    • "Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross": Salvadore Ross is killed by the father of his girlfriend after selling him his compassion. As much as he had it coming, he's still left a ton of people in his wake including an old man with a broken hand he claims will never heal, another elderly man who lost his fortune and house while young, and his girlfriend who now has a father with absolutely no compassion whatsoever. Though Tropes Are Not Bad, because this serves as a reminder that regardless of his Heel–Face Turn, he still did a lot of terrible things to achieve this Heel–Face Turn and needed to pay for his actions.
    • "A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain": Flora is certainly getting punished for marrying an older man purely for money, but one might wonder whether her husband will get "punished" along with her, given that she's stuck with him for the next 18 years or so and might not be happy about it. Though, it was implied Harmon's brother who despises Flora and cares deeply for Harmon will regularly check up to ensure Flora's maintaining her responsibilities.
  • Fair for Its Day: While most episodes are timeless in their Aesops, a few that deal with bad marriages have become less-resonant with modern values, now that divorce isn't as stigmatized as it was back in the 1960s. While "The Bewitchin' Pool"'s message of putting the children's needs into consideration is still potent, its implication that a divorce will drive children away from their parents forever definitely comes across as short-sighted today (not to mention the implications that the kids are committing suicide by drowning themselves).
  • First Installment Wins: There have been a few revivals of the series, but the original show is easily the one most people remember and most people do consider the best.
  • Growing the Beard: While the first few episodes still hold up well compared to the rest of the series, the show really started becoming the icon it is today with "Walking Distance" and "The Lonely"note  when the main characters became more human and the plotlines became more in-depth while maintaining its metaphoristic writing.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Albert Salmi's frequent casting as a villain becomes this after his death in murder-suicide.
    • Rod Serling smoking a cigarette in most episodes, since they most likely caused his heart attack and death.
    • In the episode "The Chaser", Roger Shackleforth uses a Love Potion and turns his Love Interest Leila into a Love Hungry possessive girl. Many people have compared this with "Rick Potion #9" where a man is basically drugging a woman into sleeping with him a.k.a. rape. However, to be fair, Rod Serling doesn't seem to portray the man as justified for using the potion.
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight: The death of Jonathan Winters gives a new layer of meaning to this speech he delivered during his guest spot in "A Game of Pool", as renowned billiards champion "Fats" Brown:
    Dead? Not really. As long as people talk about you, you're not really dead. As long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn't die just because the man does.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Set during World War II, "A Quality of Mercy" sees a lieutenant in the American forces sent back in a time by a few years and into the body of a lieutenant on the Japanese side. This main character here was played by Dean Stockwell, who would be on another show with a similar "time travel into other people's bodies" concept about thirty years later.
    • In the episode "Kick the Can", the main protagonist, an elderly man says "friendship is a magic thing."
    • Watching the future Captain Kirk, the go-to name for Large Ham characters, losing his cool and going completely bonkers in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is hysterical.
    • During "A Thing About Machines," the phrase "mortal combat" is used repeatedly in odd places.
    • In "Death Ship," the captain is a Stubborn Mule who flatly refuses to believe that what looks like a fatal crash is in fact a fatal crash, and he won't stop until he can prove he's right. Wouldn't be the last time Jack Klugman played someone so intensely stubborn about such things...
    • In "The New Exhibit", the wax figure of Jack the Ripper is wearing a scarf, has curly hair and prominent cheekbones...
    • "The Whole Truth" features a dishonest salesman being incapable of lying (due to buying a magic car). Years later, there's a movie about a man with an occupation synonymous with lying, being incapable of lying as well (this time from a birthday wish).
    • "The Masks" has a very minor character Jeffrey, who is an African-American butler who shows abhorrence towards the family (bar Jason). 25 years later, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had Geoffrey Butler, who pretty much epitomized Servile Snarker.
    • The mannequins in "The After Hours" sympathize with "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha".
    • "Living Doll'' revolves around a sentient and malevolent doll and the mother's name is Annabelle.
    • Much of "Static" centers around a radio that plays programs from the Golden Age of Radio, but only when the man who owns the radio is in the same room. Fifty-some years later, many radio programs from decades past are readily available for listening pleasure through streaming and on-demand audio services.
  • Hollywood Homely: Downplayed with Paula from "The Masks". While the mask does leave her somewhat homely looking, with eyebags, a slightly large nose and lips, and no eyebrows, compared to her parents and brother she got off fairly easy. Which is ironic, given that her grandfather punished her for her vanity.
  • Hollywood Pudgy: Justified with Marge Moore in "A Piano in the House." She really is obese, and this makes her determination to be a good sport about her weight and her secret fantasy of being as tiny and graceful as a snowflake all the more poignant.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Erich Streator in "Living Doll". Even the writer of that episode stated that he's not a good guy and yet you can't help but feel for him in this situation. He wants to improve himself, but the evil talking doll keeps screwing up his chances.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • The Twilight Zone Theme Tune is spookiness.
    • "Imagine, if you will..."
    • "Submitted for your approval..."
    • "There is something on the wing"
  • Narm:
    • The episode "The Fever", which focuses on gambling addiction. It mixes the anti-gambling message and supernatural elements really badly and ends up looking like a hilariously over-the-top PSA that literally ends with a slot machine causing a middle-aged man to fall through a window to his death.
    • The woman's response to "Dachau" is kind of funny.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Quite a few episodes but "Person or Persons Unknown" stands out as it's completely free of any sci-fi or supernatural elements. You could wake up one morning and find that all memory and record of your existence has been completely erased and you have no idea how or why.
  • Sci Fi Ghetto: Ever wonder how a prime-time series on a major television network could get away with frank (and absurdly edgy for the time) examinations of controversial social issues, while being sponsored by some of the very groups it was most critical of? On paper, it was just a silly science fiction show.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Perhaps the Ur-Example. Every single episode has had its plot reused, redone, or parodied by some sci-fi/horror show, movie, or book. Most modern viewers watching the series for the first time will often find themselves scratching their heads and asking, "How did people think this was scary? The story's been done to death." It's been done to death because Twilight Zone did it first (and because other shows — most notably The Simpsons and Futurama — have parodied the stories, specifically "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "It's a Good Life", "To Serve Man", among others). It really can't be overstated how explosively original (and at the time, controversial) a lot of the plots were, and the fact that they've since been repeated and redone is a testament to The Twilight Zone's success as a show.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped:
    • Why is the Mall Santa in the Christmas Episode "The Night of the Meek" The Alcoholic?
      "All I know is that I'm an aging, purposeless relic of another time, and I live in a dirty rooming house on a street filled with hungry kids, and shabby people. Where the only thing that comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is more poverty! I just wish, Mr. Dundee, that on one Christmas - only one! That I could see some of the hopeless ones, and the dreamless ones... just on]] one Christmas - I'd like to see the meek inherit the Earth. That's why I drink, Mr. Dundee... and that's why I weep."
    • "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street". And then the same anvil had to be dropped again in the 2000's remake. Prejudice, paranoia, and hysteria can do your enemy's job a lot better than the enemy can. It also supplies the Values Resonance page quote.
    • The episode "He's Alive!", featuring the ghost of Adolf Hitler as the mysterious advisor to a Neo-Nazi organization, may not seem to fit in this category today. Although, given that some four thousand people wrote in complaining about the portrayal of Hitler as a villain (more hate mail than any other episode triggered), it certainly fit into the category back then. What definitely falls in this category is the closing narration, where Serling explains that as long as hate and bigotry, regardless of its recipient, exist, "he is alive".
    • "I Am The Night-Color Me Black" is about the wrongful execution of a black man for a killing of a bigot in self-defense. The episode is clearly based on lynchings (and partially inspired by Emmett Till's death), features black men speaking from the voice of moral authority over white people, and heavily implies that many in the town don't care whether the man's guilty so long as they get to kill him. This episode aired in the final season in 1964, after the show's cancellation, and bare months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
    • Serling's closing speech from "Death's Head Revisited":
      Rod Serling: There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it, they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worse of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in The Twilight Zone, but wherever men walk God's Earth.
    • "The Obsolete Man" is about a a totalitarian ruled state that deems people obsolete for not adhering to the Chancellor's agenda. In the end the Chancellor falls victim to this fate after breaking one of his own rules after Rod Serling points out the Chancellor and the whole state was obsolete for not recognizing the value of humanity.
  • Spiritual Successor: You won't have to search long to find an article describing Black Mirror as "the new/modern/21st century Twilight Zone."
  • Sweet Dreams Fuel: "The Night of the Meek," "One for the Angels," "I Sing the Body Electric," "A Penny For Your Thoughts." The twists are happy (or quirky), not cruel, and everyone gets what they wanted.
  • Uncanny Valley: "The After Hours" has several examples of the mannequin variety.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Phyllis from "What's In The Box?" Her husband Joe is a philandering jerk who sees himself killing her on their TV and eventually being executed for the crime then ends up killing her in real life (and who isn't immune to this trope himself), she is a embittered and unsupportive wife who keeps mocking and goading him when he tries to tell her what he saw, even calling him crazy. And her laugh is annoying.
  • Values Dissonance: While most episodes have aged like a good scotch, others...didn't.
    • "The 7th is Full of Phantoms" with its depiction of the Sioux.
    • "The Encounter" perpetrates the myth that Japanese collaborators assisted at Pearl Harbor. As a result, it was withheld from syndication for many years and not repeated in the United States until 2016.
    • "One for the Angels" with the neighborhood eccentric being a friend to all the children in the neighborhood and not being the subject of Pædo Hunt suspicion. Granted it's implied the parents of the neighborhood know the old salesman very well.
    • Same goes for the title character in the episode "The Fugitive", who hangs around children, is particularly close to a young girl, seems a bit too happy to get a kiss from her in one scene and basically has to keep his bond with her secret from her mother. Doesn't help that the narration at the end of the episode reveals that she eventually becomes the queen to his king. Some may think that the girl's aunt telling him "You so much as talk to her and I'll call the cops on you" was ahead of her time.
    • "Nightmare as a Child" trumps both of those previous examples by having Peter Selden admitting to having been attracted to Helen Foley (a woman about 20 years his junior) when she was 11 without her even batting an eye at the comment.
  • Values Resonance: As previously noted under Some Anvils Need to be Dropped, many, many episodes transcend their time and place in a philosophical and evenhanded manner that still manages to land frequent Gut Punches or bluntly address Family Unfriendly Aesops through the lens of the fantastic.
    • In "Living Doll", the fact that Erich is infertile is actually (albeit subtly) mentioned. Even today, male infertility is often stigmatized.
  • Vindicated by History:
    • The aesop of "Death's Head Revisited" is that we need to remember The Holocaust because if we don't we risk it happening again. This has become more and more relevant over time with all the Holocaust denials and rise of antisemitism, especially in Europe.
    • "He's Alive" has sadly proven prescient with the rise of the "alt-right" in the United States and Europe, considering it got hate mail when most people still had fresh memories of World War II and the Holocaust.
    • "The Miniature" has received a lot more praise in recent years for having a main character with a very accurate portrayal of Asperger's Syndrome, a neurological condition that was virtually unknown when the episode first aired, and, for its time, wasn't nearly as accepted as it was today.
  • The Woobie: Many, many characters, usually the protagonist of any given episode unless they're an Asshole Victim.


Example of: