The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.
Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.
The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.
In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them.
Indeed, they feature some of his finest writing. Some are stirring …
The Chancellor — the late Chancellor — was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so was the State, the entity he worshipped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man — that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under ‘M’ for mankind … in the Twilight Zone.
— “The Obsolete Man”
Some are wistful …
Martin Sloan, age 36, vice president in charge of media. Successful in most things, but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives: trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there’ll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there’ll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then too because he’ll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind, that are a part of … the Twilight Zone.
— “Walking Distance“
Some are cautionary …
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own — for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined … to the Twilight Zone.
And some serve as painful but necessary reminders …
There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes — all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s Earth.
— “Deaths-Head Revisited”
The ones I’ve quoted here are atypical, though, in at least one respect: length. Most of the time, Serling’s “outros” were much briefer — perhaps only a sentence or two.
Sometimes, of course, that’s all that was needed. Take the conclusion to “The Hitch-Hiker”: “Nan Adams, age 27. She was driving to California, to Los Angeles. She didn’t make it. There was a detour … through the Twilight Zone.” It’s perfect. Nothing more needs to be said.
But other times, Serling had to streamline what he’d written because the episode was running long. Many of the short conclusions were actually much longer in their original form.
Some of them don’t really suffer for being trimmed, but others? Well, this is Serling. Let’s just say it’s a shame the time constraints of network TV forced him to edit himself.
Look at “The Grave“, which stars Lee Marvin as an Old West gunfighter bedeviled by an outlaw seeking vengence from the Great Beyond. Serling ends it this way:
Final comment: you take this with a grain of salt or a shovelful of earth, as shadows or substance, we leave it up to you. And for any further research check under ‘G’ for ghosts … in the Twilight Zone.
Now look at Serling’s original:
Legend, folk tale, or just an apocryphal old wives’ tale passed down from one naive generation to the next — that’s all possible. But death, just as life itself, has little pockets of mystery. Little caves of unexplored depths and uninhabited basements too dark to distinguish what is shadow and what is substance. This one we leave up to you. Does a marker on a mound of earth mean the end? Maybe the answer is in one of the caves, holes or basements of the world. Or maybe it’s one that can only be found … in the Twilight Zone.
There’s no question that the shorter, final version is a nice one. The alliteration, the juxtaposition of “grain” and “shovelful,” the suggestion we look under a certain letter to learn more (one of his favorite rhetorical flourishes) … all elicit the usual smile from the audience.
And sure, the original may lack the conciseness of the final version. But I can’t help but miss the phrasing about “little pockets of mystery,” the bit about the “little caves,” and his intriguing question about exactly what that “marker on a mound of earth” means.
Are they essential? No. But these touches are pure Serling, and — uber-fan that I am — I wish they had made the final cut.
File them under “M” … for missing treasure.
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. WordPress members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 09/26/2014, in Twilight Zone and tagged Deaths-Head Revisited, Rod Serling, The Grave, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, The Obsolete Man, Twilight Zone, Walking Distance. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.