Life in the Twilight Zone

Every year Syfy (formerly Sci-fi Channel) airs a Twilight Zone marathon for New Year’s.  For those who don’t know, The Twilight Zone is a 1960s anthology series which focused on science fiction, fantasy and horror elements in its stories.  It’s often brought up when strange or unfortunate coincidences occur, generally by those who grew up with the show.  But speaking as someone who’s memorized almost every episode of The Twilight Zone, I have to say, it doesn’t seem like such a bad place to live (spoilers for a couple of episodes follow).

I say this because unlike real life, the worlds depicted in TZ have rules.  The episodes have a pretty strong sense of justice, which manifests in a couple of different ways.  Despite danger, horror, and other problems characters face, good people in the Zone generally come out on top.  The episode”Mr. Denton on Doomsday” features a gunslinger with a potion that makes him a perfect shot running up against an opponent with the same advantage, but ends by having them both survive their encounter.  The protagonist of “A Penny for Your Thoughts” develops the ability to read minds, but uses it to get his and his co-worker’s due at work before losing the ability.

By the same token, bad people are generally punished for their vices and evil ways.   “The Four of Us Are Dying”  sees a shapeshifting con man meet his end, as does “A Nice Place to Visit,” in which a gangster who initially believes he has gone to heaven finds he’s sorely mistaken.  The Zone has a particular vendetta against Nazis, with numerous episodes telling stories of former Nazis receiving some form of supernatural justice.

This isn’t to say that everything always works out in the Twilight Zone.  Episodes like “Mirror Image” and “It’s a Good Life” are pretty rough on their characters.  But what makes The Twilight Zone stand out, especially when compared to imitators like Tales From The Darkside and The Outer Limits, that TZ almost always depicts good people meeting bad ends as a genuinely tragic thing.  The show doesn’t delight in the suffering of innocent people, and even when it’s necessary for the story it’s not used as a cheap joke.

Okay, this one was kind of jokey, but in general my point still stands.

So yes, I wouldn’t mind living in a world where as long as you treat everyone right, you can weather all manner of living dolls, space aliens, and gremlins on wings.  But just to be on the safe side, I put together a list of rules to follow if you find yourself in… the Twilight Zone:

  1. Make sure your job is average, but not too average.  Dentists, bankers, accountants and the like don’t fare too well.  Ideally, become as washed-up athlete or musician, so your story can be a heartwarming change of fate.
  2. Do not under any circumstances purchase any miracle cures, new life-changing inventions, strangely familiar antiques, or other curios.  Best case scenario: you learn to appreciate what you have in life.  Worst case scenario?  A gruesome fate illustrating your major moral failings.
  3. Don’t go in for cosmetic surgery; you look fine.  Trust me, it’s everyone else who looks like pigs.
  4. Try to maintain a healthy balance of caution and optimism when dealing with space aliens.  They may want to eat you or put you in a zoo, but they could just be looking for a friend.
  5. It’s possible you are dead, a robot, a mannequin, or a down-and-out actor playing the role of your former life.  Take these revelations in stride.
  6. Shrewish wives, manipulative bosses, and other unsavory acquaintances usually get what’s coming to them.  Tough it out, but don’t be afraid to use telepathy, telekinesis, immortality, or other abilities you’ve been keeping on the down-low to stick up for yourself, should a climactic opportunity arise.
  7. If you’re a secret Nazi war criminal, turn yourself in.  Prison and even the death penalty are much better than being killed by vengeful ghosts or being forced to relive dying in a battle on an infinite loop.

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