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The Best Twilight Zone Twist Endings

Very few television shows can claim legendary status in the same way that "The Twilight Zone" can. In the annals of television history, it's often looked at as the gold standard of writing for both science fiction and horror. The show spawned from the mind of Rod Serling who, in the 1960s, most definitely had his finger on the pulse in terms of then-modern events. From communism to space travel to man's own hubris, no subject seemed to be off-limits in Serling's high-concept examinations.

The show is beloved for its clever writing and often unsettling atmosphere, but it's best known for its endings (more specifically, its twist endings), many of which are highly regarded and still discussed decades later. These are just a few of "The Twilight Zone's" twist endings that were the most shocking or thought-provoking. Considering that we're discussing the conclusions of several "Twilight Zone" episodes, be forewarned that spoilers are ahead!

Where is Everybody?

For a show as well-known and celebrated as "The Twilight Zone," making a good first impression was paramount to its success. Luckily, the show's inaugural episode "Where is Everybody?" wasn't just a good pilot — it was a great one. The concept (much like ones for many future episodes) is simple. Yet, it succeeds at creating a highly unsettling environment. An unnamed man with no memory of who he is or where he is from finds himself alone in the middle of nowhere. After finding a recently deserted diner, he eventually makes his way into a small town.

However, the town is also bereft of human beings, leading to the man's paranoia increasing. He always seems to just miss a person by only a few moments, finding only a lit cigarette or a rotating book rack. As night falls, he finds a cinema with a film poster that tips him off to his true identity as a member of the U.S. Air Force. After finally succumbing to his fears, the man begins violently pressing a crosswalk button — which, in reality, is a panic button. The man is soon revealed to be Sergeant Mike Ferris who is being prepared for the isolation of space travel. It's a simple but effective twist, and one that would definitely set the stage for the show's following 150-plus episodes.

Five Characters in Search of an Exit

Some episodes of "The Twilight Zone" made a point of throwing the viewer right into strange circumstances. The Season 3 episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" was a great example of this, immediately showcasing a rather bizarre situation. In this instance, we are immediately thrust into a bizarre situation with an even more bizarre cast of characters. That is perhaps the best description of the key players in this episode — characters — specifically a clown, a vagrant, a bagpiper, a ballerina, and an Army major. Other than their appearances, they have no knowledge of their true identities, and they are stuck in what appears to be a gigantic metallic cylinder.

They speculate as to where they are and make an attempt at escaping that's preempted by a sudden, loud noise. Upon their second attempt to escape the cylinder, the major makes it to the outside, revealing the episode's twist. It shows that the metal cylinder is a donation bin, and our five characters are simply abandoned children's toys. Serling's somber narration confirms this but also ends on the hopeful note that they might find companionship and love one day. With a steady buildup to a bizarrely benign explanation, it's a great twist in a great episode.

The Masks

As far as setups go, "The Masks" has one of the "The Twilight Zone's" most simplistic yet sinisterly brilliant premises. A wealthy old man is knocking on heaven's door, and his family has come to see him before he dies. To put it politely, the man's family are far from the nicest people. They are clearly only interested in the inheritance they'll receive after his death. On the eve of his demise, he has one final request: He wants the family to wear masks until midnight. The titular masks are all hideously ugly, which, as we learn, is intentional. Each face horrifically parodies the true nature of its wearer. A brutal exchange of words ensues for the episode's remainder as the old man dresses down his entire family.

The old man eventually dies, leaving his ghoulish family alone to celebrate their ill-gotten gains. However, this is where the twist occurs. Upon removing their masks, the family is shocked to discover their faces now permanently resemble their respective party masks. In his final moments, the old man succeeds in bringing his cruel and selfish family's ugly nature to the surface. The beauty of this episode is just how harsh the dialogue between the old man and his family is. "The Masks" is "The Twilight Zone" at its most effective, using supernatural circumstances to shine a harsh light on legitimate human conflict.

Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

Many of the best episodes of "The Twilight Zone" keep you guessing to the very end. "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" boasts an ingenious premise and an effectively unsettling atmosphere. One snowy night, two state troopers locate a crashed UFO and follow its occupant to a roadside diner. They inform the people at the diner (Haley the cook, a bus driver, and his passengers) that it's very likely the alien is among them. With all of the occupants stuck due to an icy bridge, things get tense very quickly. What ensues is an anxious round of arguing and paranoid speculation.

After a phone call alerts them that the bridge is safe to travel, the passengers and driver depart. A short time later, one of the passengers, Ross, an ill-tempered business man, returns and explains that the bridge has collapsed. Haley is quick to point out that Ross isn't wet, leading to the reveal that he was the alien all along. He confirms his Martian identity by displaying a third arm. However, his gloating over an oncoming Martian invasion is short-lived thanks to the episode's real twist: Haley is also an alien. Revealing a third eye, the cook smugly informs Ross his Martian allies will not be arriving. An invasion from Venus is already underway. It's a brilliant "gotcha" moment in which the viewer receives two twists — both executed with masterful precision and delivery.

To Serve Man

"To Serve Man" is perhaps the most frequently quoted episode in the entire run of "The Twilight Zone" for very good reason. The episode tells the story of the Kanamits — a race of 10-foot tall aliens with telepathic abilities. Upon their arrival on Earth, the Kanamits make their intentions of peace and technological advancement known to the human race, leaving behind a book that outlines their race's beliefs. Michael Chambers, a cryptographer working for the U.S. government, leads an effort to decode the book, eventually revealing its title as "To Serve Man."

The translation seems to dissuade the human race of its paranoia. Many humans, Michael included, begin lining up in droves to relocate to the seemingly idyllic planet of the Kanamits. However, his fellow translator, Susan, is still driven to translate the rest of the text. Having finally deciphered the alien tome, Susan rushes to warn Michael of her discovery: "To Serve Man" is a cookbook! It's a spectacular twist that many fans and critics alike still praise 60 years later. The ending is so iconic that it's been referenced by "The Simpsons." 

Eye of the Beholder

When it comes to twist endings, "Eye of the Beholder" is a doozy. A bandaged woman waits in a dimly lit hospital room for the results of her recent facial operation. All she wants is to be "normal" and join the outside world without being looked at as a repulsive freak. After a tense and emotional buildup, the doctor and nurses, whose faces are also obscured, finally remove her bandages. However, upon removing them, we see that there isn't anything wrong with the woman's face — at least by our standards.

It's then revealed that this is an alternate world where ugliness is the accepted norm and beauty is seen as an abnormality. The woman attempts to flee the hospital but is stopped by a handsome man who is there to take her to a colony for "their kind." It's an absolutely jaw-dropping twist aided by the episode's superb build up and cinematography. The effect is an utterly surreal and depressing mood.

The Little People

Showcasing the recurring cruelty of human nature was a common theme in many "Twilight Zone" episodes. A prime example of this is in the episode "The Little People." In this ingenious, self-contained science fiction story, spaceship commander William Fletcher and his copilot Peter Craig land on what appears to be an uninhabited planet. However, the duo quickly learn that they are not alone. The planet appears to be inhabited by ant-sized humans. Over the course of the episode, we see Craig slowly lose his mind, becoming increasingly megalomaniacal and power-hungry. Threatening to stomp on them, he forces the little people to build a giant, life-size statue of him. As Craig becomes engrossed in his godlike role, Fletcher is forced to depart without him.

However, just as Craig's delusion and madness reaches a fever pitch, he is hit with an absolutely shocking revelation when a second pair of astronauts appear — immense in size compared to Craig — and pick him up for examination. Craig is killed. As is body lies crushed on the planet's surface, the little people celebrate. This twist caps off the episode perfectly, with Serling's closing narration classifying it as "...a small exercise in space psychology."

The Silence

"The Silence" is a unique episode in "The Twilight Zone's" history. It contains no supernatural or science fiction elements. We meet Archie Taylor, a member of an affluent men's club who has a particular dislike for fellow club member Jamie Tennyson. Taylor has had enough of Tennyson's motormouth. He makes an intriguing wager with the talkative man: If he can shut up for an entire year, Taylor will pay him $500,000. Tennyson takes up residence in an enclosed room in the club where he'll be monitored with microphones for a year.

Much like "The Masks," the true draw of this episode is its unrelenting cruelty. During Tennyson's silent year, Taylor resorts to the lowest of tactics to get Tennyson to crack, even insinuating that Tennyson's wife is committing adultery. However, the year comes to a close, and Tennyson succeeds at staying quiet. Yet, it was all for naught. Taylor reveals he does not have the promised $500,000, having lost his wealth in years previous. In a shocking twist, it's revealed that to ensure his victory, Tennyson had his vocal chords severed and will never be able to speak again. It's a fitting end for a devious little episode that showcases man's underhanded nature and cruelty.

Stopover In A Quiet Town

In "Stopover in a Quiet Town," married couple Bob and Millie Frasier wake up after a party in a large home that is not their own. Things take a quick turn into the bizarre when they both realize that the home they're in isn't normal. The entire house appears to be phony. There's no working phone, and the fridge is filled with fake food. Soon, they are drawn outside by what sounds like a little girl's laugh. Yet, they find no one.

As they look around the town, they discover more unsettling irregularities such as fake grass and animals. After a ride on a train that goes nowhere, they make one more attempt to escape before discovering the truth that looms over their heads — the hand of a gigantic little girl playing with her "toys." The unsettling nature of this episode cannot be overstated. As is the case in many "Twilight Zone" episodes, the conclusion is a mind-blowing concept.

Time Enough at Last

What would you do if you were the last person on Earth? It's a common question asked in countless science fiction and supernatural stories. "Time Enough at Last" is regarded as an essential episode in the original run of "The Twilight Zone." In the episode, we meet Henry Bemis — a man who loves reading above all else. However, his job at the bank, his boss, and his overbearing wife are obstacles to his insatiable book habit. One fateful day, Bemis is shaken by an explosion while on his lunch break in the bank's steel-lined vault. The blast is soon revealed to be the result of nuclear war which has devastated the entire world!

Bemis emerges to a post-apocalyptic landscape. After searching through the rubble, he determines he is the last man on Earth. The isolation nearly pushes Bemis to take his own life. However, he discovers that one of the few buildings still standing is a library. Bemis finally has enough time to read and all the books he could ever want, but, just as he sits down to begin, his thick-lensed spectacles fall off and shatter. "Time Enough at Last" has one of the cruelest twist endings in TV history.

The Invaders

"The Invaders" is an episode so deviously crafted that you won't fully understand it until its shocking conclusion. This is a unique outing for "The Twilight Zone." There is almost no dialogue for the majority of the show. In the episode, we are introduced to an old, disheveled woman who resides in a small cabin in a remote location. Her solitude is interrupted by the arrival of what appears to be a small alien spacecraft manned by two robot-like beings.

The aliens begin to menace the old woman with their futuristic-looking pistols which leave portions of her skin horribly burned. She eventually manages to destroy both of the beings and their ship. As the camera pans around the destroyed saucer, we are then shown the truth. A voice from the spaceship (which is a U.S. Air Force exploration vehicle) reveals that the two beings were actually human astronauts who have stumbled across an alien world populated by giants. In terms of twist endings, it's just about the least expected thing that the writers could have thrown at us. It serves as an excellent finale for a unique episode that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Shadow Play

Dreams and nightmares have been the backbone of many great stories. Leave it to "The Twilight Zone" to go the extra mile with the concept. "Shadow Play" is an oddity in that it tells you its twist almost from the very start: Everything we are witnessing is actually a dream — more specifically, a nightmare — belonging to Adam Grant. Grant has just been found guilty of murder and is now facing impending execution. Yet, this seems to be the least of Grant's worries. During his trial, he frantically informs the jury that if he dies, they'll all cease to exist.

The brilliance of this episode lies in Grant going through the motions with this continuously repeating nightmare. Additionally, it's fascinating to see the district attorney and local newspaper editor dealing with their own paranoia in regard to Grant's claim. Up until the episode's conclusion, the viewer — as well as the characters — are kept guessing as to the reality of what they're witnessing. In the end, it's revealed that Grant was indeed right because all of reality blinks out of existence at the moment of his execution. The episode ends where it started. However, characters have switched into different roles. Grant once again must live his nightmare. This is dark, unsettling, and thought-provoking writing that is elevated by superb acting and pacing — everything that makes "The Twilight Zone" legendary.