The Top 5 Original 'Twilight Zone' Messages

As we all excitedly watch the new Twilight Zone series rebooted by Jordan Peele, it's good to reflect on the morals and messages of Rod Serling's edgy original series that pushed boundaries of television and storytelling. The 20th-century show covered themes ranging from greed to self-acceptance and revolutionized the way ideas could be expressed on television. Here are the top five original Twilight Zone lessons—and cheers to Jordan Peele's reboot!

Spoilers ahead for the Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone series.

  1. 1. "Time Enough at Last"

    Henry Bemis is a bookworm who is regularly mocked for his passion by everyone from his boss to his wife. Wanting nothing more than to be alone and read, Bemis sneaks away to vault of the bank he works at for a moment alone with his book. While in the vault, an H-bomb detonates, and he's saved by having been in the vault at the of the explosion. He's distraught at the devastation, believing himself to be the last man on Earth, before stumbling upon a library. The books have survived, and with great joy he realizes he got exactly what he wished for: to be alone and read. As he finally goes to sit down, he trips and his glasses break. He cries out in agony, as he will never be able to read his beloved books again.

    This episode is one of the most well-known and a personal favorite of mine. The theme of "be careful what you wish for" has been told many times, but this classic telling is one of the most beloved for it's excellent unravelling and ending. It really drives home the message that Bemis has gotten to be alone but at a tremendous cost.

  2. 2. "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"

    On Maple Street, Anytown, bright lights fill the sky in the afternoon but disappear shortly after. In the evening, all the electronics in the town cease to work. Isolated, many of the neighbors decide to walk to see how far the blackout reaches when a young boy, Tommy, warns them not to. He states that because of the lights in the sky from earlier, they must be in the midst of an alien invasion from a story of his. The adults shoot this down, until a man, Les, is revealed to have the only working car in town after the outage. In the paranoia of their circumstances, the town devolves into a witch hunt for who knows what's going on until they begin actively searching for alien spies among their neighbors.

    As the hunt continues throughout the night, random lights and appliances begin to come to life in various houses, further pitting neighbor against neighbor. The fighting and chaos continue to build until gunshots ring out into the night. In the distance, two aliens stand beside their ship on top of a hill. They are glad to see that humans will do most of the work for them in destroying themselves, as just simply letting their paranoia and fear run rampant will make them kill each other.

    This episode shows how powerful paranoia is. From the very moment something went wrong, people began to mistrust each other. It escalated into a witch hunt and the mob-mentality took full hold resulting in complete chaos of the town. Despite the confirmation of the alien's existence, the people were doomed regardless because they never banded together against the threat but instead turned on each other.

  3. 3. "The Shelter"

    The episode opens with Dr. Stockton hosting guests at his home. Stockton is well-liked by his guests and neighbors, and everyone trusts him personally. He tells his guests how he has just finished building a bomb shelter for himself and his family in the backyard. Suddenly, Stockton's son bursts into the room saying that a Civil Defense announcement has been made and unidentified objects are headed their way. The party erupts into chaos and in the panic, Stockton is able to take his family and slip away.

    When the party realizes he is gone, they run to the bomb shelter pleading for him to let them in. Stockton explains that the shelter can only sustain himself and his family, and sadly he cannot help them. The guests become enraged and attack the door. Right as the door breaks down, a second announcement comes on the radio stating that the objects are merely falling satellites and are harmless. The guests apologize and shamefully walk away. Stockton and his family are left standing there, wondering if his neighbors would have really murdered him and his family to survive instead.

    "The Shelter" is an interesting take on "do or die" scenarios. This episode takes place during the Cold War era, when threats like this were present in every household in America. Dr. Stockton is not only respected and liked but also a trusted doctor to his neighbors. He's a good man and was only able to protect his family, yet his "friends" were prepared to murder him in their panic. It shows how fear can change the hearts of people in an instant and makes you question how deep loyalties actually are when tested.

  4. 4. "King Nine Will Not Return"

    James Embry is aboard a World War II bomber named King Nine when it crashes in the desert. He finds no evidence of survivors among the wreckage. Distraught, Embry goes through the episode trying to piece together what happened while progressively becoming more disoriented. He begins to hallucinate the crew before seeing modern (in the 1960's) planes fly above, before the viewers finally see that his crash was a hallucination itself.

    It's revealed to the audience that 17 years before, Embry was supposed to command the King Nine but fell ill. The King Nine crashed, and 17 years later, Embry finds a newspaper talking about the WWII crash which sends him into a deep despair. Overcome with survivor's guilt and grief, the episode ends with the veteran in the hospital, traumatized and plagued with nightmares.

    The post-traumatic stress disorder themes in this episode showed how many veterans still endured hell from their service. It also highlighted the survivor's guilt that many dealt with every day in a time period where WWII was still a recent ordeal for the world.

  5. 5. "Eye of the Beholder"

    "The Eye of the Beholder" deals with themes of self-worth and perception of beauty. In a world that values conformity, a woman, Janet Tyler, undergoes her last effort to conform to society's beauty standard or be shipped off to live with the "ugly." The doctors give the uncomforming woman her 11th and final surgery, all hoping for a success. The outcome of the surgery is revealed as her bandages come off, and the woman is devastated to find out the surgery failed and there was no change.

    It's then revealed that the woman is beautiful, but all of the doctors are deformed by our standards, resembling the faces of pigs. The woman is distraught to be exiled to live among her kind and a handsome man, Smith, arrives to take her. He comforts Tyler, assuring her she'll find love and acceptance in exile, as "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

    The message of valuing your self-worth and acceptance in your appearance is not anything substantial, as when "ugliness" is accepted it's no longer ugly. The episode highlights how what people perceive as normal is different for everyone.

What to look forward to

The 1959–1964 Twilight Zone series touched on a wide range of social issues, making it in a lot of ways a mid-century Black Mirror. The topics covered were groundbreaking and demonstrated morals to audiences in an interesting and unique way through television. It was ahead of its time in many ways and was much more than a "creepy" TV show. The themes covered still ring true today and are always worth revisiting. As Jordan Peele's new rendition arrives for us all to enjoy, it's important to remember the roots of the original show to get excited for the upcoming social issues that are yet to be tackled.