Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone wasn't all about twist endings. It really wasn't. Only a few of the original episodes used them. ("It's a Good Life" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" worked as well as they did for other reasons entirely.) But they remain the element people most fondly remember—and so we offer this affectionate look at twist endings both divine and wretched.
As this is a discussion of endings, this entire list comes with a spoiler warning. If you proceed beyond this point and find out something you'd rather not know about an episode you haven't seen, you really have only yourself to blame.
The obnoxious denizen of the men's drawing-room club won't stop talking until a fed-up fellow member bets him half a million dollars that he can't stay silent for one full year. He surprises everybody by winning—only to be told that the guy who offered him the wager is broke and can't pay up. Too bad he cheated by having his vocal cords severed. He must really want to utter some choice obscenities right now.
I Shot an Arrow Into the Air
Eight astronauts blast off from Earth only to crash-land on what they think is an asteroid. Of the three survivors, one is a vicious coward who must have done some fancy talking to get through NASA's stringent psychological testing; he kills the others to obtain their portion of their dwindling water supply, only to stumble over a ridge to find an Arizona highway and telephone poles. The story works only if you actually believe that three astronauts can be too stupid to identify the only planet in the solar system with a breathable atmosphere.
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?
When a UFO crashes in a frozen lake, state troopers track the footprints to a diner occupied by bus passengers waiting for a bridge up the road to be declared safe. Which one is the Martian? Paranoia ensues until the bus departs and crashes, the sole survivor returning to the diner to reveal a third arm that establishes himself as the Martian. But guess what? The counterman is from Venus! Ooooh.
Time Enough at Last
Pity poor Henry Bemis, who loves the written word and has to snatch literature in brief doses, because he's also persecuted for it by his tyrannical boss and a wife so cruel that she punishes him by crossing out every line in one of Henry's poetry books. In such a circumstance, being the only man to survive a nuclear war can be a good thing ... until, surrounded by volumes that have mysteriously survived the firestorms intact, Henry breaks his eyeglasses. Whoops.
Eye of the Beholder
Janet Tyler has spent her life an outcast in a state that despises her because of her ugliness. She hopes that her 11th attempt at plastic surgery will finally allow her to live a normal life. When the bandages are peeled off, her horrible ugliness remains. Unlike the doctors and nurses, whose own features we have not seen until now, she does not look like a pig who's been smashed in the nose with a mallet.
Five Characters in Search of an Exit
A ballerina, a soldier, a clown, a bagpipe player, and a hobo all find themselves trapped at the bottom of a strange metallic cylinder, tormented by the regular din of ringing bells. We eventually learn that they're all dolls donated to a Salvation Army toy donation bin. In other words, this is Toy Story as told by Kafka.
To Serve Man
Based on the classic short story by Damon Knight, this one's about towering aliens who come to Earth determined to end all war and poverty, because of the titular volume. Which, we find out too late, happens to be a cookbook. Sounds yummy.
Where Is Everybody?
Earl Holliman wanders the streets of a deserted town, asking the question of the title and growing increasingly creeped out, until he collapses and reveals that he's really an astronaut hallucinating in an isolation booth. If he washes out of the program because of this, we can only protest. They passed the guy from "I Shot an Arrow in the Air."
The After Hours
Marsha White travels to the ninth floor of a department store only to discover that she's one of the mannequins, temporarily come to life in an arrangement that allows them to take turns. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.
The Midnight Sun
Norma (Lois Nettleton) sits and swelters in an apartment slowly becoming an oven as the Earth spirals toward destruction in the sun. The "it was only a dream" ending, usually a storytelling no-no, becomes slightly awesome as we learn that the Earth is actually heading away from the sun ... and that everybody's going to freeze to death instead.
Nothing in the Dark
The elderly shut-in who refuses to open the door for fear of letting in Death makes an exception for the wounded police officer played by a young pre-stardom Robert Redford. Well, guess what? Robert Redford IS Death. And you thought that The Great Gatsby only felt that way.
The Little People
Another person of questionable mental health working as astronaut, Peter Craig lands on a planet of tiny human beings and decides to stay there because it's so much fun to knock over their buildings and make them scurry for cover. Then the humans who make him look like an action figure show up—and accidentally crush him in their mountainous hands. Serves him right.
Third From the Sun
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, and one of the very lamest of all Twilight Zone episodes, which is saying a lot, given the worst of the competition. William Sturka leads a group of refugees from a threatened nuclear war. They steal an experimental spaceship and head off to a new world ... which just happens to be a place called ... (gasp) Earth.
Those tiny space-suited figures giving that impoverished woman such a hard time? They're ... from Earth. Are you beginning to notice a pattern here?
People Are Alike All Over
Astronaut Samuel Conrad expects the worst after a crash-landing on inhabited Mars. His partner Marcusson lives just long enough to assure him that people are alike all over ... which turns out to be true when the comfortable home the locals provide Conrad turns out to be a zoo. But does he get cable?