If you need to know one thing about me, let it be known that I am obsessed with The Twilight Zone. It’s also been a passion of mine to learn more about the show. I love a good oral history of anything, and The Twilight Zone is rich in it and many other things. As I got older, I learned there was more to The Twilight Zone than meets the eye. I learned to dissect deeper meanings and lessons from each episode. Previously, I had a set of articles on another website dedicated to ‘Learning The Lessons of the Twilight Zone.’ Now… I’m back to give you more lessons and deep dives into previous episodes I’ve covered and new episodes that will be so damn good to uncover. So to those who knew me then, welcome back! To those who are new, welcome to my personal level of crazy.
For this week, we’re going to be diving and learning from one of the funniest episodes of the Twilight Zone titled The Masks (S5E25). Warning: There will be spoilers.
We all wear masks. The masks are to hide some of ourselves that we don’t want people to see. Sometimes we wear these masks for good, and sometimes we wear them for the bad. We still cover up. Sometimes they help, sometimes they hurt, but we all know we hide behind them. In The Twilight Zone, the episode The Masks (S5E25) takes this idea and turns it around to where those masks become physical manifestations of what we know.
New Orleans. The time? Mardi Gras. Who doesn’t like to party with the best of them? However, when you have some unfinished business to attend to, there’s no time to party. The Masks starts with a dying man–a rich dying man. Jason Foster (Robert Keith) is this man, and he’s waiting to walk through death’s door at any moment. Before he does, he calls together his family for one last hurrah before he goes into the light.
He is joined by his daughter Emily Harper (Virginia Gregg), a wallowing hypochondriac, and Wilfred (Milton Selzer), her husband and a greedy business dude with skeevy ways about him. They also have their two children Paula (Brooke Hayward), a self-indulgent, narcissistic girl and Wilfred Jr (Alan Sues), who is in the beginning stages of being a serial killer since he likes to torture animals and people, and he’s a massive bully in general.
Jason’s family is set to inherit a huge fortune, each and every one of them, but there’s a catch. They must stay with him in his house that Mardi Gras night and wear masks. These are special types of masks, though. Remember those character traits I told you about the family? They will wear the masks of those. Jason sarcastically tells them they will wear the face that is “the opposite of what’s inside them,” but little do they know what they’ll find when they take them off.
This episode of The Twilight Zone is a cool one and never fails to make me laugh. It’s a pretty straight-forward episode but still gives you that mighty twist at the end. Here’s a fun fact about The Masks before we get into the lesson: this is the only episode of The Twilight Zone that was directed by a woman. I kid you not. Ida Lupino was an actress, singer, producer, and director who made her debut in the episode “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” (S1E4). She played a woman stuck in her golden days of film. This wasn’t her first directing credit, but a first for The Twilight Zone because she was the only one to both act in and direct an episode for the show. Cool, huh?
The Lesson: We, as humans, tend to hide behind a mask for many different reasons, but if you’re paying close attention to this episode, you can be in real trouble for what you hide behind. Our awesome host knows of his family’s greed, deception, and lies. He knows that the only reason they’re in his presence is to get his inheritance. He knows that for them to indeed find out who they were on the inside, he had to make way for THEM to honestly find out what they are on the outside. The story behind the masks is important, so if you were confused before, let me break this down for you.
According to Jason, the masks that they were wearing was created by an old Cajun. They have “certain properties” about them and have to be worn during Mardi Gras. The ritual to this is that they have to pick a mask that is the ‘opposite’ of the personality they have. Jason introduces the masks to his family but tells them what they are and what they’re the opposite of.
Wilfred thinks of himself as a friendly, outgoing, and extroverted man, so he’s equipped with the mask that shows greed, avarice, and cruelty. He “thinks” of Emily as brave and courageous because she’s standing so tall with his being sick. *cough cough* sarcasm *cough cough* He gives her a mask of self-centeredness and being gutless. He deems Paula beautiful and selfless and gives her a mask of vanity and ugliness to put on. Last, but not least, is Wilfred Jr. who Jason says is timid, gentle, and courteous, but gives him the face of a dull clown that dimwitted and not too bright. Oh, and his face? He wears the mask of Death because it’s right at his door. Very clever, huh?
Back to the lesson. Jason knows damn well that his family is out for one thing and one thing only, and that brings us to the end of the episode. He tells the family about themselves and basically tells them to go f*ck themselves. He says that they finally get his money, but each of them, still donning the masks, are so ugly inside that he needed to teach them a lesson. The lesson: they’re all caricatures. Grotesque images of what they think they are to what they actually portray.
After our favorite dude dies, the family rejoices. They’re rich now. They’re going to be rich for a very long time. But first, these horrible masks need to come off. Wilfred unveils himself first still happy and in glee. Emily shrieks. Wilfred’s confused. We, the audience, see his face for the first time; it’s the same face as the mask he was wearing. The greed, avarice, and cruelty are permanently on his face now, leaving him with the ugliness that was inside of him. This includes the other family members too.
All of them, one by one, take off their masks to reveal what is truly inside of them manifested to the surface. The family isn’t even able to go out and enjoy that wealth and vast fortune. They’ll never be able to leave this main house again. They will always be under the roof living as the caricatures they are.
The main take from this episode is that you should never be ugly on the inside because people can see that on the outside as well. The mask that you wear and show to people should be one that you show all the time. Don’t be a caricature of yourself. Don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not. That mask will fall, and they’ll find out WHO you are in a matter of time. The mask that you show can become a physical manifestation of who you are. Also, just… don’t be a dick dude.