How to Escape The Twilight Zone

Submitted for your approval,

While most encounters with The Twilight Zone result in terrible death, loss of sanity or other horrible misfortune, a few lucky souls manage to survive their brush with the unknown and come out on the other side. 

Embedded inside every episode of the Twilight Zone is a nugget of truth about human nature or society. While these stories did not take place in the real world, they often contained real world truths about the dangers of bigotry, superstition, censorship, fear mongering, and emphasized the need to cling on to the best parts of our humanity as we become more technologically advanced.

In an effort to learn some life lessons about how to survive one of the darker places of the human imagination, I’ve started to put together this list of special episodes where things don't go completely terribly wrong.

As a note, before you get started in here, there are several spoilers. Those who aren't already avid fans of the Twilight Zone will probably want to watch all 156 episodes of the original series before reading any further in this post.

The Escape Artists

We begin by highlighting the rare cases of people who managed to enter and exit the Twilight Zone.

Having Confidence In Your Own Future

Sometimes the key to success is finding the right balance of superstition and making your own fate. Don't dwell on the past, work towards making a brighter tomorrow.

Nick of Time – Watch On Hulu

While honeymooning William Shatner almost gets trapped in a paranoid frenzy by a penny operated predication machine that bosses him around. As they leave, we see another couple who didn't make it out. 

Shatner vs Supersition

Counterbalance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio. Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstitution, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence - having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Nick of Time

The Trouble With Templeton – Watch On Hulu

Dealing with troubles in his personal and professional life, an aging actor revisits his glory days through his memories, only to be rejected by his former friends. Upon returning to the present he discovers that his recollections had merely put on a play of their own to trick him into not living in the past, giving him renewed strength to take on his current life challenges.

Mr. Booth Templeton, who shared with most human beings the hunger to recapture the past moments, the ones that soften with the years. But in his case, the characters of his past blocked him out and sent him back to his own time, which is where we find him now. Mr. Booth Templeton, who had a round-trip ticket - into The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, The Trouble With Templeton

No Time Like The Past – Watch On Hulu

Disgusted with the present day, a scientist uses a time machine and tries to alter key historical events (such as killing Hitler) but after multiple failures he finds that time can not be altered. Learning his lesson, he resolves to work towards positively impacting the future instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

Incident on a July afternoon, 1881. A man named Driscoll who came and went and, in the process, learned a simple lesson, perhaps best said by a poet named Lathbury, who wrote, ‘Children of yesterday, heirs of tomorrow, what are you weaving? Labor and sorrow? Look to your looms again, faster and faster fly the great shuttles prepared by the master. Life’s in the loom, room for it. Room.’ Tonight’s tale of clocks and calendars in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, No Time Like The Past

A Penny For Your ThoughtsWatch On Hulu

When a coin lands on its side, Dick York  temporarily gains the ability to read minds and though there are some misunderstandings, tries to use the new power responsibly. This leads to finding a previously unknown confidence in himself that continues after things return to normal.

One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge, but all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration, or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole, a human coin, on edge for a brief time - in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, A Penny For Your Thoughts

Encounters with the After Life

Though we've learned a lot about the universe in the 50 years since the Twilight Zone originally aired we still aren't any closer to understanding death and the afterlife, nor have we gained new mechanisms for coping with loss. In these episodes we're shown that life is worth living even when things look bleak or near the end, but that it also does eventually come time to say goodbye.

A Passage for Trumpet – Watch On Hulu

Jack Klugman plays a down and out drunkard of a trumpet player who tries to give up on life. While stuck in limbo he has a chance to talk things through with a peculiar trumpeter named Gabe who convinces him to give living another chance.

Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone
— Rod Serling, A Passage for Trumpet

Changing of the GuardWatch On Hulu

A professor forced into retirement is on the verge of suicide but decides to not kill himself after a supernatural encounter with former students who were inspired by his teachings.

Professor Ellis Fowler, teacher, who discovered rather belatedly something of his own value. A very small scholastic lesson, from the campus of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Changing of the Guard

Long Distance Call – Watch On Hulu

A young boy tries to drown himself in an attempt to be reunited with his beloved dead grandmother and is allowed to live after his fathers pleads with her spirit.

Playing telephone with the dead is standard fare in the Twilight Zone.

A toy telephone, an act of faith, a set of improbable circumstances, all combine to probe a mystery, to fathom a depth, to send a facet of light into a dark after-region, to be believed or disbelieved, depending on your frame of reference. A fact or a fantasy, a substance or a shadow - but all of it very much a part of The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Long Distance Call

Nothing in the Dark – Watch On Hulu

The infamous Death shows up for an elderly woman as Robert Redford and shows her that the unknown isn’t always to be feared.

There was an old woman who lived in a room. And, like all of us, was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us, in or out, of the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Nothing in the Dark

Looks Can Be Deceiving

When things around you don't make sense, that doesn't always mean you're crazy. On the other hand, that may in fact be a clear sign that you've completely lost it.

Where Is Everybody? – Watch On Hulu

Also notable as the first episode of the Twilight Zone, a mysterious stranger in an empty town turns out to be a potential astronaut slowly losing his mind during an experiment to test the limits of isolation in space travel.

Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Where Is Everybody?

I Sing The Body Electric – Watch On Hulu

Written by Ray Bradbury (and later the name of a short story of his by the same name), an android housemaid is brought into a home to help care of three children after the death of their mother. Despite not being human she is eventually loved as one of the family and everyone lives happily ever after.

A fable? Most assuredly. But who’s to say at some distant moment there might be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a grandmother whose stock in trade is love. Fable, sure, but who’s to say?
— Rod Serling, I Sing The Body Electric

Twenty Two – Watch On Hulu

A stressed out Barbara Nichols is in the hospital suffering from a mental breakdown caused by recurring nightmare. Despite everyone thinking she's insane the dream ultimately contains clues that later save her life.

Those nightmares are trying to tell you something.

This is Miss Liz Powell. She’s a professional dancer and she’s in the hospital as a result of overwork and nervous fatigue. And at this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare. In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side. The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare, a problem uncommon perhaps but rather peculiar to the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Twenty Two

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

While not everyone makes it out of the Twilight Zone, there are some noteworthy cases for what to do when escape is not an option.

Two Enter, One Leaves

A Game of PoolWatch On Hulu

Wanting to be known the greatest pool shark of all time, Jack Klugman has a chance encounter with a previous, now deceased, legend. Upon winning the game he gets the title but finds himself stuck with defending his name in the after life for all time.

Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out after his funeral that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion’s mantle, has gone fishing. These are the ground rules in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, A Game of Pool

The Jeopardy Room – Watch On Hulu

Attempting to defect to a new life, a former KGB agent must outwit a sadistic enemy assassin in a game of cat and mouse where he is all but guaranteed to lose.

The cast of characters- a cat and a mouse, this is the latter. The intended victim who may or may not know that he is to die, be it by butchery or ballet. His name is Major Ivan Kuchenko. He has, if events go according to certain plans, perhaps three or four more hours of living. But an ignorance shared by both himself and his executioner, is that both of them have taken the first step into the twilight zone.
— Rod Serling, The Jeopardy Room

Starting Over In the Unknown

Third From The Sun – Watch On Hulu 

With nuclear war on the horizon a scientist realizes the only chance of survival for his family is to travel to an unknown planet in a stolen experimental rocket ship. Now on their way to another world, like all refugees of war, it is unclear if they are coming or going from the Twilight Zone.

Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the third planet from the sun. And for William Sturka and the men and women with him, it’s the eve of the beginning - in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Third From The Sun

TwoWatch On Hulu

Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson find out the hard way that when you're the last two people on Earth after an apocalyptic war, you were probably made for each other, even if you previously fought for opposing armies.

Romance at the end of the world.

The time, perhaps 100 years from now or sooner; or perhaps it’s already happened 2 million years ago. The place, the signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily, but the place is the Twilight Zone
— Rod Serling, Two

Probe 7, Over and OutWatch On Hulu

The last survivors of mankind stranded on an alien world might just be the next Adam and Eve.

Do you know these people? Names familiar, are they? They lived a long time ago. Perhaps they’re part fable, perhaps they’re part fantasy. And perhaps the place they’re walking to now is not really called ‘Eden.’ We offer it only as a presumption. This has been the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Probe 7, Over and Out

Kick the Can – Watch On Hulu

An old man in a retirement community believes acting young will make him young. Though everyone thinks he's crazy, he succeeds when playing the game ‘kick the can’ and escapes into the Twilight Zone where he becomes a child again.

Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for ancient people, who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking - to visit - The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, Kick the Can

“When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal”

In some cases the best you can hope for is a last chance to go out in style.

The Obsolete Man – Watch On Hulu

A librarian in a totalitarian society is sentenced to death by the state for having an obsolete profession. Taking advantage of a loophole in the system allowing him to choose the method of his execution Burgess Meredith gets the last word by revealing the true nature of the Chancellor (and those like him) on television.

You’re a librarian, Mr. Wordsworth! You’re a dealer in books and two cent fines and pamphlets and closed stacks and the musty insides of a language factory that spews out meaningless words on an assembly line. Words, Mr. Wordsworth, that have no substance and no dimension, like air, like the wind, like a vacuum that you make-believe has an existence by scribbling index numbers on little cards.
— The Chancellor

One for the Angels – Watch On Hulu

Attempting to outsmart Death, a kind hearted salesman accidentally places the life of a child in danger. Doing the right thing, he earns his place “Up there” in the After Life.

Lewis J. Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: pitchman. Formerly a fixture of the summer, formerly a rather minor component to a hot July. But, throughout his life, a man beloved by the children, and therefore, a most important man. Couldn’t happen, you say? Probably not in most places - but it did happen in the Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling, One for the Angels

So there you have it friends – study these episodes carefully and you too may be one of the few to escape, or at least survive in, the Twilight Zone!

[Update: For further reading, check out this recently dug up Mike Wallace interview with Rod Serling from 1959]