I’m engaged in a noble project with my twelve-year old daughter: watching every single Twilight Zone episode and ranking them. We watch and run them through a rubric to give them a score from 0 to 7. The episodes are graded in three categories: Concept/Plot/Characters (4 points), Tone (1 point), and The Twist (2 points).
The episodes this time were from Volume 43 of the DVD collection. We get the Twilight Zone’s pilot, one of its all time classics, and one that’s just okay.
Where Is Everybody? (Season One, 1959)
Hey, it’s the very first episode of the series! A US Air Force pilot finds himself on a road outside of a town. He can’t remember his name or how he got there. He goes into a diner but no one is there, so he pours himself coffee. In the town itself, the parks are empty, the stores unmanned, a movie plays in the theater but with no audience. He grows more and more desperate as he tries to figure out the answer to one question: where have all the people gone?
Concept/Plot/Characters—A pretty good idea, although necessarily light on character, since there’s only one and he has no memories. This episode does a good job of maintaining interest in what might have been very boring circumstances. Credit goes here to actor Earl Holliman and Rod Serling’s script for being engaging enough to keep us interested. (3 points)
Tone–The episode has a sort of quiet, nightmarish quality that it maintains right up until the conclusion. (1 point)
The Twist–My guess as to how it would end was totally off. It has a twist that explains everything that happened satisfactorily, yet without being foreseeable. (2 points)
Total=6 points (Pretty Good)
Not quite one of the very best episodes, but an awfully good one. The twist in particular is perfectly executed, a great introduction to what the Twilight Zone is all about. If it were 1959 and I was watching this new Twilight Zone show for the first time, this episode would definitely have me coming back in future weeks.
Eye of the Beholder (Season Two, 1960)
Janet Tyler is in a hospital with her face totally covered in bandages. She’s just undergone her latest surgery for a horribly disfiguring condition. It’s still a couple days until she can take the bandages off. It the surgery hasn’t worked this time, Janet will have to go live in a village with “her own kind,” for this society cannot bear to have anybody who looks like her living in it. The doctor and nurses are sympathetic and hope for the best, but if the surgery hasn’t turned out well, there’s nothing more they can do. Televisions playing in the background depict some sort of fascistic rally where a raving great leader expounds on the need for conformity.
Concept/Plot/Characters—This episode is filmed in an ingenious way. How are we able to sympathize with a character whose face we can’t even see (and for that matter, we don’t see the faces of the doctor or any of the nurses, either)? Purely through their voices. With a just a few lines, we get insight into the misery of Janet’s life up until that point, and the genuine sympathy the medical staff has for her situation. Rod Serling’s script builds up the tension effectively, until that final reveal when the bandages come off. (4 points)
Tone–Pitch perfect. From the first moment, we want to know what Janet will look like when the bandages come off, and are waiting for the big reveal. (1 point)
The Twist–One of the all time classic twists. A perfect mix of shock and sudden realization of how the ending changes your understanding of all that came before. (2 points)
Total=7 points (Excellent)
My daughter says this is her favorite episode. I’m not sure it’s quite my favorite, but it’s definitely in my top five. Certainly one of the best TZ episodes ever filmed.
A Thing About Machines (Season Two, 1960)
Mr. Finchley is a snob who lives in a big mansion stuffed with antiques. He’s rude to anybody who crosses his path–the television repairman, the secretary who types up his notes for the gourmet restaurant reviews he writes for a magazine, the police officer who takes the report when his car rolls down the driveway and into the street. But if he’s rude to people, he’s very, very rude to machines. The TV, the radio, the clock, he tosses them downstairs or strikes them with a fireplace poker when they upset him. Apparently the feeling is mutual, for the machines have started fighting back.
Concept/Plot/Characters—The concept never goes anywhere. I think the problem is, why does Mr. Finchley hate machines so much? We don’t know, so there’s no particular interest in seeing him abuse them, nor in their revenge. He’s just angry for no special reason that we’re ever filled in on. It’s only the fine acting and pretty good dialogue that make the episode even a bit bearable. (1 point)
Tone–I think maybe this episode was supposed to come across as a bit jauntier than the angry tone it ended up with. Not totally off, but certainly didn’t hit the bullseye. (.5 points)
The Twist–I suppose there’s a small amount of satisfaction in seeing an unlikable snob get his comeuppance, but you can see the twist, such as it is, from a mile away. (.5 points)
Total=2 points (Okay)
My daughter and I agreed on this one. Not quite bad enough that you need to skip it, but not one you need to bother seeking out, either.