“The After Hours”

If you were picking one episode of The Twilight Zone to show someone who had never seen the show before, which one would it be?

You could opt for the iconic “Time Enough at Last,” with its devastating O. Henry-type ending. Or the wrenching “Eye of the Beholder” — its looking-glass world, full of unforgettable meditations on the true nature of beauty and ugliness, never fails to leave a mark on any viewer.

Me? I’d probably pick the episode that first aired on June 10, 1960: “The After Hours.”

The After Hours3

Not that it’s necessarily better than the two named above — or, perhaps, a dozen others. But “The After Hours” is, for me, the Zone in miniature. We’re set in a seemingly normal world, with a woman on a normal task: shopping for a gift.

But then this world begins to appear odd. People say and do strange things. A sense of fear and dread creeps in, bit by bit, as we try to unravel the mystery with the unsettled Marsha (played beautifully by Anne Francis, in the first of her two Zone roles).

Is this all in her imagination? Or is someone playing a trick on her? Is this a normal woman being harassed by mannequins come to life, and if so, why? Thanks to Serling, and an incredibly talented cast and crew, we’re kept guessing right up to the end.

The After Hours2

And then — and this aspect of the story may be what puts it over the top for me — it’s not a sad or horrifying ending. Yes, Marsha’s turn among the “outsiders” has come to end (for now). But she’s not being punished or destroyed. She’s not the victim of unseen forces or an uncaring universe. She’ll enjoy another opportunity to live among “real people” again in the future.

The ending may not be quite so happy for the rest of us. It’s hard to look at store mannequins quite the same — sort of like spotting a line of birds on a jungle gym after watching “The Birds.”

Serling, as always, wraps it up perfectly:

Marsha White, in her normal and natural state. A wooden lady with a painted face who, one month out of the year, takes on the characteristics of someone as normal and as flesh and blood as you and I. But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Just how normal are we? Just who are the people we nod our hellos to as we pass on the street? A rather good question to ask, particularly … in the Twilight Zone.

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 06/10/2011, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Well done. I might choose that episode myself, for the same reasons. I might also choose Stopover In A Quiet Town – the tale of something startlingly unusual that has happened to two people as normal as the rest of us.

    • Yes, Cathy, that’s a frequently overlooked key to the Zone’s success. It doesn’t start off with, say, some strange monster on a weird planet, or something like that. It nearly always begins with people who look just like you or me. Then (and here’s why we watch) they’re put into an off-beat situation. Without that grounding in reality, though, I doubt these stories would grip us the way they do.

  2. That’s a good choice, Paul. I wish I could do-over my son’s introduction to the Zone. He was 10, I thought he would be old enough, so I chose one that had a good twist ending (as I recalled): “To Serve Man.” Well, not only was it not as good as my memory had made it, but my son actually found the ending a little upsetting. Luckily, he’s seen some more since then that have been more to his liking – “A Game of Pool,” and “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.” Right now, his 7th grade English class is reading the script of “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” — but the teacher is showing them the 2002 remake, and not the original! I was flabbergasted. I have offered to show him the real deal, but so far he hasn’t taken me up on it. Hopefully, if I don’t push too hard, he’ll come around!

    • I’ve thought about that before, Mike: What if someone saw one of TZ’s few duds, or a really good one that felt too scary at the time, and he or she decided TZ was a bad show? Whereas if they’d started with another episode, things might have been different. I guess that’s where dedicated fans like yourself come in. All you can do is keep encouraging them to re-try the real deal!

  3. Thie episode makes you want to think (as I suspect Rod Serling does) just HOW normal are the men and women we see every day or pass on the street. In the Cold War, in which seemingly innocuous men and women are unmasked as Soviet spies (or nowadays as terrorists), this is a topical way of thinking!

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