The Twilight Zone is an amazingly diverse program that offers stories of almost every conceivable theme and setting within the overall structure of intelligent modern fantasy. One area in which The Twilight Zone excelled was in the story of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series. -JP
#20 - The Chancellor is Consumed, from “The Obsolete Man,” season two, episode 65
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Elliot Silverstein, starring Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver
Rod Serling’s “The Obsolete Man” is a uniquely frightening take on dystopian futurism in the style of Geroge Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It is one of the bleakest episodes of the series and presents a nightmare scenario in which personal freedom is a thing of the past, government purges are common, and televised executions are society’s chief form of entertainment. What Serling and director Elliot Silverstein add to the familiar formula is an idiosyncratic style which contrasts huge, minimalist sets with cramped, cluttered spaces to juxtapose the indifferent conformity of the government with the unique individualization of the person. The episode plays out like a spy thriller in which the individual manages to get the best of the government agent using the government’s own crude tools of discipline. As compelling as this surface story is, the most disturbing moment in the episode is when the Chancellor himself is deemed obsolete after an off-hand remark about God in a moment of panic. Instead of the cold, formalized session which judged Romney Wordsworth obsolete, it appears as though the Chancellor is physically consumed by a chanting congregation at something resembling a black mass. It is a haunting moment seen through twisting, skewed camera angles so unlike what previously unfolded. Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver, both repeat performers on the series, turn in powerful performances and the episode remains a triumph of design and direction.
-Rod Serling appears on-screen at the end of this episode to deliver his closing monologue. This is the second and final time he does so. The only other time in which Serling appeared at the end of an episode is the first time he appeared on-screen at all, for the final episode of season one, “A World of His Own.”
Read our full coverage of “The Obsolete Man” here.