The Twilight Zone's 10 Best Twist Endings

Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images
Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images

Television plays host to a number of holiday traditions. In addition to repeated airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, the end of the year is also a time for people to revisit The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling’s seminal series that used fantasy elements as metaphors for social issues.

The practice of The Twilight Zone marathon began in the 1980s, when affiliates like WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles aired the series around-the-clock on New Year’s Eve. In some ways, The Twilight Zone was the original binge-watch. That’s due in part to viewers looking forward to revisiting the show’s trademark: Like short story author O. Henry, Serling and his writers often utilized a plot twist in the climax of their scripts, a conceit that helped make The Twilight Zone an enduring classic.

In anticipation of this year’s New Year’s marathon on SYFY that begins December 31 and runs through January 2, here’s where to look out for 10 of the best shock endings in the show’s history. (The list is in no particular order. You can also find episodes on Netflix. And don’t worry: You’re entering a spoiler-free zone.)

1. “To Serve Man” // Season 3, Episode 24

The imposing Richard Kiel of James Bond villain fame is part of a telepathic alien race known as the Kanamits who have come to Earth with seemingly benevolent intentions. They have answers for war, famine, and other plagues afflicting humankind. To help substantiate their claims, the government enlists two cryptographers to decipher the written text they’ve left behind. The disturbing truth is discovered when it’s already too late.

Opening Sequence: Cryptographer Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) reclines in his alien ship quarters, where it’s apparently permissible to smoke.

2. “The Little People” // Season 3, Episode 28

Commander William Fletcher (Claude Akins) and Navigator Peter Craig (Joe Maross) are two astronauts forced into an emergency landing on a desolate planet. As the dutiful Fletcher tends to ship repairs, Craig goes exploring and finds a race of microscopic inhabitants. Rather than resume their mission, Craig wants to stay behind to rule as the beings' deity. Inviting worship of a false idol doesn’t end well for him.

Opening Sequence: Fletcher descends a ladder on the stranded rocket ship and informs a lackadaisical Craig the vessel can be repaired in a day or two. Unfortunately, that’s time enough for Craig to get delusions of grandeur.

3. “The Masks” // Season 5, Episode 25

Mardi Gras comes to The Twilight Zone in this tale about a wealthy, terminally ill man named Jason Foster (Robert Keith) who invites his belligerent, greedy family to help settle his affairs before he expires. Foster insists all of them—self-absorbed daughter Emily, her cash-obsessed husband Wilfred, and misbehaving offspring Wilfred Junior and Paula—don masks in honor of the occasion or risk losing their inheritance. But Foster isn’t in a celebratory mood.

Opening Sequence: Two of Foster’s waitstaff arrange flowers for the patriarch’s expected guests while Foster is examined by his physician in his bedroom. With little time left, he's adamant that he hang on long enough to impart one final piece of fatherly wisdom.

4. “The Silence” // Season 2, Episode 25

Can money buy silence? That’s what Colonel Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) proposes to Jamie Tennyson (Liam Sullivan), a fast-talking chatterbox who gnaws on Taylor’s nerves at their social club. Taylor wagers that Tennyson can’t remain completely silent in a glass-walled room inside the club for one entire year. If he can, Taylor will pay him $500,000. The matter becomes one of resolve, as Taylor attempts to antagonize Tennyson into speaking by any means necessary.

Opening Sequence: Tennyson rambles on about his investment strategies as Taylor grows increasingly agitated. After consulting with his lawyer, Taylor tells the waiter to pass along a note explaining his unconventional gamble.

5. “Eye of the Beholder” // Season 2, Episode 6

In a society that values conformity, Janet Tyler (Maxine Stuart) has undergone several procedures to improve her cosmetic beauty. The latest—and last—will determine whether she will be deemed acceptable by the high standards set by the state-run hospital. Tyler herself has no idea of the outcome, as the bandages have yet to come off.

Opening Sequence: Tyler rests in her hospital bed, face obscured by gauze, as a nurse tries to soothe her concerns over her hideous appearance.

6. “Time Enough at Last” // Season 1, Episode 8

Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is a bookworm working at a bank who can’t keep his nose out of a good yarn. His love of the written word antagonizes both his boss and his wife Helen (Jacqueline deWit), who each grow tired of his diverted attention. Soon, Bemis finds himself in a world with all the reading material he likes—he’s seemingly the only survivor of a nuclear explosion.

Opening Sequence: Bemis assists (actually, short-changes) a bank customer while keeping a copy of David Copperfield in his lap.

7. “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” // Season 1, Episode 15

Has any space traveler ever met with a welcome fate in The Twilight Zone? After crashing on an asteroid, the four surviving members of an eight-man crew begin to wander the dry landscape in search of water and other life. What they find instead is the kind of cruel fate that would make anyone think twice about suiting up for space exploration.

Opening Sequence: Mission control prepares the Arrow 1 spaceship for lift-off as Serling explains it’s the first manned aircraft into space. (If Serling is narrating your day, it might be time to return to bed.)

8. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” // Season 2, Episode 28

A roadside diner is the site of a chamber mystery, though the objective isn’t to find a murderer—it’s to discover who among the patrons might be an alien whose ship has crash-landed in a nearby pond. As two police officers investigate, each customer has both reasons and excuses for being the uninvited extra-terrestrial.

Opening Sequence: As snow falls, state troopers investigate reports of an unidentified flying object that’s cut off some of the tree tops. Footprints lead away from the pond and toward the diner.

9. “The Invaders” // Season Two, Episode 15

A woman (Agnes Moorehead) living in a dilapidated cabin is terrorized by a tiny race of alien beings that have landed their spacecraft on her roof. She uses everything at her disposal to ward off their high-tech assault, including fire, before the viewer understands their true intentions.

Opening Sequence: Serling introduces a farmhouse that’s “handmade, crude,” and “untouched by progress.” Its lone occupant is a woman who has been alone for years until a crash from above changes everything.

10. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” // Season 5, Episode 22

This adaptation of the Ambrose Bierce short story of the same name was originally produced as a French short film in 1962 and screened as part of The Twilight Zone in 1964, a path that earned it trivia status as the only Zone episode—and possibly the only episode of television—to have won an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. In the Civil War-torn South, resistance fighter Peyton Farquhar (Roger Jacquet) is about to be hanged by Union soldiers. He escapes, determined to be reunited with his wife no matter the obstacle.

Opening Sequence: Serling introduces the episode by pointing out it’s the first time the series has presented a film shot by others.

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

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