As I mentioned in my post about The X-Files, The Twilight Zone was a favorite show of mine in my own youth. When I set out to cover childhood in spooky entertainment, I was curious to see what childhood looked like on The Twilight Zone. I could not remember many episodes that featured kids. When I went looking for episodes to study, I really did not find that many focused on children, but a common theme emerged quickly in the episodes that did—adults treat kids pretty badly in The Twilight Zone. As any casual viewer of the show knows, most episodes of The Twilight Zone end with a short, sharp commentary on human behavior. What I found was that the episodes that focus on children are most often commenting on the relationship between children, adults, and imagination, with children usually (not always) holding a moral high ground counter to their adults.
If you enjoy The Twilight Zone and its take on life, you would like Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak. It’s a short, pity read that examines classic episodes, the lessons they teach, and what they have meant to actors, filmmakers, and other creators.
In this post, I am focusing on the seasons that are currently available on Netflix, curiously seasons one, two, three, and five. Because there aren’t that many children in general, I have focused on children rather than girls specifically.
Children on The Twilight Zone
Nightmare as a Child (1.29) In “Nightmare as a Child,” a woman who was traumatized by witnessing her mother’s murder returns to her hometown after years away. She comes home one night to find a little girl sitting on the stairs outside her apartment and befriends the “strange…sullen and wise” child only to later discover that the girl is herself from the time her mother was killed, a manifestation of her repressed memories coming back. Often, children represent things that adults are afraid of, but this episode makes that dynamic literal. The ep, written by Rod Serling, also reminds me of a Hitchcock movie on a small scale.
Long Distance Call (2.22) In this episode, a little boy’s doting grandmother passes away, but she keeps calling him from the other side on a toy telephone. This dynamic disturbs his parents, especially when the little boy disappears to the other side. I’d class this one under adults treating children badly, as the grandmother, whose grandson “gave her new life” pretty much takes over the little boy’s life as she refuses to let go and move on. It’s a story about death and grief that takes a characteristically dark turn.
It’s a Good Life (3.8) This episode stars the same little boy as “Long Distance Call”, Billy Mumy, as Anthony, a boy who has terrorizes his Ohio village by making anything that displeases him disappear—people, most of the dogs, television that he doesn’t create with his mind, a lot of food, electricity. In this one, the child is described as a monster by narrator Rod Serling. There’s not much of a moral to this story unless you factor in how terrified Anthony’s parents are to discipline him. He set a man on fire with his mind, so I kind of get it.
The Fugitive (3.25) In this sweet episode, Jenny has a strange, older friend (it’s a bit weird, really), Ben who seems to have magical powers. It turns out Ben is really a king from another planet. Ben helps Jenny escape from her aunt, Mrs. Gann, who threatens and berates the little girl for seemingly no reason. The moral of this story is startlingly straightforward. Serling narrates: “Mrs. Gann will be in for a big surprise when she finds this under Jenny’s pillow because Mrs. Gann has more temper than imagination. She’ll never dream that this is a picture of Old Ben, as he really looks, and it will never occur to her that eventually, her niece will grow up to be an honest-to-goodness queen — somewhere in The Twilight Zone.” Mrs. Gann is taken to task not only for her bad behavior, but also for her lack of imagination—a quality that is obviously valued in the Twilight Zone, but is also associated with children. In this episode, as in “The Bewitchin’ Pool” below, children use their imaginations to escape bad caregivers, but their imagination is made real by the Twilight Zone.
Little Girl Lost (3.26) I think that when Steven Spielberg came up with Poltergeist, he had to have been inspired by this episode of The Twilight Zone, written by Richard Matheson. In the story, Tina (played by the same actress as Christine in Living Doll, Tracy Stratford) has gone missing in her home, but her parents can still hear her. Her father calls his friend, Bill, who I thought was going to be a cop, but he’s a physicist who determines that Tina is in another dimension. From there, if you’ve seen Poltergeist, you’ve seen this episode, only her dad and dog go after her.
Living Doll (5.6) This episode is my personal favorite iteration of the evil doll trope. In this version, a Talky Tina doll seeks revenge against a stepfather who treats his stepdaughter, Christie, with disdain. I find this episode very dryly funny. The doll says things to the stepfather like, “I’m Talky Tina and I’m going to kill you” in the same sweet voice she says to everyone else, “I’m Talky Tina and I love you.” The stepfather throws the doll away and she finds her way to a phone and calls him. As the doll continues to threaten him, it starts to look a lot like he’s losing his mind, and his wife—who I cannot figure out how he ended up with in the first place—starts to leave him. It’s a great, tight, funny evil doll story. It’s an episode in which the adult who treats a kid badly actually gets his comeuppance.
The Bewitchin’ Pool (5.36) In this episode, two terrible people fight frequently in front of their kids, who escape to an imaginary world on the other side of their backyard swimming pool, which features a home for unloved children run by an old woman named Aunt T. This episode is a pretty straightforward critique of the parents and portrait of the kids’ coping mechanisms, but what I think is interesting that their imaginary escape includes doing chores.
So, although children do not feature prominently in The Twilight Zone, when they do appear, they most often reflect poorly on adults, providing an outlet for the series’ trademark critique of 1950s culture and human behavior.
What are your favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone? Personally, mine is “Time Enough At Last”. It’s chilling.