The Twilight Zone was an afternoon staple of my childhood summers. In Los Angeles during the 80s, two episodes ran in syndication every day from 12pm-1pm. An older boy who lived around the corner would watch my younger sister and I in the afternoon for a few bucks until my mother came home from work. He insisted that he be able to watch The Twilight Zone and that if we missed even the first few minutes of an episode, that it would ruin the whole show and we may as well not even watch it. Between that discipline and the Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day marathons, The Twilight Zone is every bit a part of the fabric of my cultural upbringing as was my Italian grandmother’s cooking, Transformers in my backpack and Tommy Lasorda’s Dodgers.
It wasn’t until much later in life that my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone shifted from the time-traveling commercial jet and dinosaur cameos of “The Odyssey of Flight 33” and the surprise twist of “To Serve Man” a title which referred to a cookbook, to the more thought provoking social and political commentary that were the basis of other equally enthralling episodes.
I’d like to offer up the top 8 episodes of The Twilight Zone that do a fine job in the world of human freedom by commenting on either individualism, free markets or liberty – perhaps even all three.
We’ll go through the first four here and then the top four next week in part II.
(The list will solely draw from the 30 minute episodes of season 1-3 and season 5, the only seasons available of the series currently available on Netflix. Season 4 episodes were an hour long and can be seen on DVD or OnDemand at Amazon.)
#8 – The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (S01E22)
One of the more well known episodes and another personal childhood favorite due to it’s simplistic representation of mob mentality . A quiet friendly neighborhood is torn apart by a sudden loss of electrical power as neighbor turns on neighbor over why power is restored to certain cars or homes. A veil of suspicion falls over the entire community which culminates in the killing of one of the neighbors at the hands of one their own.
While others have tried to use this episode as an example of McCarthyism and needless suspicion, I view this as quite the contrary, because the townspeople were purposefully toyed with by outside forces. Those alien creatures sat above the town and watched it turn into a riotous mob solely due to their manipulations. Let us also remember, Joseph McCarthy and Whittaker Chambers actually were correct.
It’s on this list because whether threats are contrived or real, we must not allow ourselves to live in a society where suspicion trumps privacy. Just because your neighbor’s car starts does not explicitly imply they had anything to do with why yours does not. Do your own research and work together.
#7 – Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up (S02E28)
Similar to the one above, this fun episode has six bus passengers and their driver are delayed on their jouney in small dinner due to a snow storm, where two police officers show up investigating the crash of a flying saucer in a nearby lake. Tracks from the crash site led the officers to the dinner where there is now one extra person accounted for. This leads everyone to suspect each other of being a monster.
Things never get quite as bad as it on Maple Street, and that’s all thanks to the two officers who, while determined to find the alien, never cross the line in violating anyone’s civil rights. Once the all clear is given for safe roads, the patrons are ready to leave. When one of the officers questions if it’s wise to let them leave, the other replies, “We can’t hold anybody on suspicion of being a monster.” Amen to that brother.
#6 – Five Characters in Search of an Exit (S03E14)
This is actually one of my all time favorites. Five individuals – a clown, a hobo, a bagpipe player, an army major and a ballerina – find themselves trapped in a round metal room with no doors or windows. The only way out is about 25 feet upward where no ceiling exists.
It’s a simple study in human interaction. The nature of our inquisitiveness and determination against those who would have us simply accept current conditions. The major is the new comer to the group and while the rest have decided to accept their current state of being, he is dead set on learning where they are, why they are there and how to leave. His greatest adversary is the clown, who mocks his every attempt at leaving and tries to convince him to simply accept his fate. But through shear will, the major rallies everyone to give it all they’ve got to form a human ladder in the hope that one of them will be able to reach the top and be free.
#5 – The Rip Van Winkle Caper (S02E24)
A band of four thieves make off with $1 million worth of gold in 1961 and then proceed to preserve themselves in a state of suspended animation for the next 100 years until such time as their crime is forgotten and the gold will be worth far more.
Problems arise once they awaken and find that walking out of the hot desert is their only chance at surviving. One by one they turn on each other and and begin bargaining with their gold for each other’s share of the wealth. The cold irony sets in when it is revealed that in this future, 2061, gold is essentially worthless since man has discovered a way to mass produce it. One has to wonder if somewhere, someone 100 years ago stashed away $1 million in US currency to find that today it wouldn’t buy you anywhere near as much as it would have then or perhaps even as much since the federal reserve’s quantitative easing periods of the last 8 years.
Click here for the Top 4.
[Updated to include link to Top 4.]