The Twilight Zone is a series known for its twist endings and it's safe to say that many of the show’s most well-known episodes are at least partially recalled due to a twist in the tale. Within the show’s output are several truly memorable and effective twist endings. We’ve narrowed these down to 20 and ranked them in order of effectiveness. We will unveil them in groups of 5 over the next four days. Let us know your favorite twist ending on the series. Please note that we have not considered episode 142, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," in this list as it was not an original production of the series.
Here’s a look at #s 10-6.
10. “The Dummy,” season three, episode 98
Written by Rod Serling, based on an unpublished story by Lee Polk
The story: Jerry, a ventriloquist, is convinced his dummy, Willy, is alive and trying to kill him.
The twist: The dummy is alive and facilitates a switch, wherein Willy is alive in the flesh and Jerry is a wooden dummy.
Note: Hardly an original take on a theme, “The Dummy” excels due to the weird nature of the treatment and in an exceptional performance from Cliff Robertson. The most obvious influence is the fifth and final segment from the 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night, which features Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist who is taken over by his dummy. Or is he? In this prior treatment of the theme, the nature of the switch is left ambiguous, whereas Serling and company decide on a memorable final reveal of a physically grotesque nature.
Read our review of Dead of Night (1945) here.
9. “Third from the Sun,” season one, episode 14
Written by Rod Serling, story by Richard Matheson
The story: On the eve of war, two families make an escape off-planet in an experimental spacecraft.
The twist: The family is escaping to Earth.
Note: The episode is based on the second professionally published short story from Richard Matheson, which originally appeared in the October, 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. The short story functions merely for the snap at the end and though it is effective, Serling’s adaptation is masterful. The cast is exceptional, particularly Fritz Weaver and Edward Andrews, both making the first of two appearances on the series. It remains one of the most suspenseful and tension filled episodes of the entire series.
8. “I Shot an Arrow into the Air,” season one, episode 15
Written by Rod Serling, based on an unpublished story by Madelon Champion
The story: When a mission to space strands a group of astronauts on what they believe to be an asteroid, a ruthless member of their company murders his companions in an attempt to horde the meager resources for himself.
The twist: The spacecraft never left the planet and crash landed back on Earth.
Note: Though the episode does not offer much in the way of logic, it does possess a twist ending so effective that Rod Serling used it again when crafting the first draft screenplay for the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes.
7. “The Midnight Sun,” season three, episode 75
Written by Rod Serling
The story: Two women try to survive as panic spreads across the globe. The Earth has suddenly beguns to move closer to the sun, causing unsustainable levels of heat.
The twist: The entire experience was a product of the young woman’s fever dream. The Earth is actually moving away from the sun, creating unsustainable levels of cold.
Note: Though viewers will recognize the machinations of Rod Serling’s twist ending for “The Midnight Sun” from previous episodes such as “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return,” it remains a highly engaging episode with a neat shocker of an ending. The added power of the twist is that the young man, wonderfully portrayed by Lois Nettleton, is so thankful to be free of the heat-induced nightmare, not yet realizing that the darkness and cold she currently enjoys will soon engulf her and everyone else into the icy folds of death.
6. “The Silence,” season two, episode 61
Written by Rod Serling
The story: Archie Taylor, a longtime member of a gentleman’s club, challenges a younger man of the club, who talks too much, to remain silent for one year for $500,000.
The twist: The younger man remains silent for a year but Taylor cannot pay. The young man then reveals that he has severed his vocal chords in order to remain silent.
Note: Although nominally based on Anton Chekhov’s short story, “The Bet,” the vicious twist ending was an invention of Rod Serling. This episode is often noted as one of the few in the series to be devoid of any supernatural or science fictional elements.