‘The Twilight Zone’: Not Even the Devil Escaped Rod Serling’s Imagination

It’s May 11, a k a #TwilightZoneDay, and if you’ve never seen this classic TV series in its original 1960s incarnation, all the episodes are available at CBS All Access (and there’s a lot sprinkled across YouTube).

It was a generally secular show, but with a very definite moral core and point of view, largely due to its creator, voice and on-screen host, Rod Serling. A decorated World War II veteran and amateur boxer, Serling was raised in a Jewish household, but converted to Unitarianism to marry his wife, Carol.

He was a fearless and talented writer, who often clashed with network and studio heads over his willingness to take on controversial subjects. In “The Twilight Zone,” which originally ran from 1959 to 1964, Serling introduced and closed out the episodes, which employed excellent writers, directors and actors.

Many of the stories had science-fiction and horror themes, often used as vehicles to explore contemporary issues of politics, racism, war and even faith.

One, called “The Howling Man,” dealt specifically with a monastery where Satan is kept prisoner, and how and why he is set free.

Here’s a review:

OK, so they did a show about the Devil, but why should Catholics watch “The Twilight Zone”? I’ve gathered comments from some folks on that very subject.

From the “Why I Am Catholic” blog, in a post called “Thanks to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone”:

Whole fan sites are devoted to analyzing the moral messages and twist endings of Serling’s Twilight Zone tales. One theme of all the episodes I have viewed is Serling’s view that human beings must connect with one another. And that all humans have equal value. According to his wife, Rod Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”

This care for others certainly is a value we hope we are nurturing in our children. As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”

On the same subject, from The Catholic World Report, in a story called “The Battle Against the Devil Is Still Being Fought Today”:

It’s the devil that’s in dire straits—imprisoned—in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “The Howling Man”, an allegorical story that depicts a Satan captured and imprisoned to curtail the wickedness he inflicts on man. The devil eventually escapes by exploiting the weakest human link, exactly the manner in which he relentlessly works on the conscience of each human being.

From “The American Catholic,” talking about an episode called “The Night of the Meek”:

Originally broadcast on December 23, 1960, the Twilight Zone episode Night of the Meek features Art Carney as a drunken Department Store Santa with a big heart who substitutes for Santa on Christmas. Rod Serling sums up the message:

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.

Here’s a quick summary:

And from Catholic-homeschool-focused Seton Magazine (as in Mother Ann Seton), in a post called “12 Reasons You Should Watch ‘The Twilight Zone'”: 

The Twilight Zone takes us into the mind of Rod Serling, who was an underrated observer of human nature and culture in the Twentieth Century. That is reason enough the watch the show, but the stories are top notch.

I am always searching for movies with a good message, because without a good message, movies and shows must succeed purely on the level of entertainment, and most shows fail on that level. The Twilight Zone succeeded brilliantly on both counts.

The final episode of The Twilight Zone may have aired over fifty years ago, but many of its observations are, as Serling might say, “as timeless as infinity.” You might even say it has many Catholic elements. As I watched the show as a child, most of these elements escaped me, but now I understand the deep level of significance that Serling was after.

So if you’re looking for a new show to devote your time to, you aren’t likely find a better one. As J. J. Abrams, one of today’s finest directors, said: “The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television.”

Here’s a rundown of some top installments:

Happy #TwilightZoneDay!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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