The Twilight Zone is noted for telling stories about a wide variety of characters, many of whom end up suffering a twisted punishment through bizarre means. “The Masks,” another 5th season episode, is an exemplar of this particular story-type. The story is set in New Orleans in the home of Jason Foster, a ridiculously wealthy, and notably blunt old man who is also dying. In any other story, you might think Jason was the one fixing to get what’s coming to him, but that thought disappears the moment you meet his relatives, who are all the very definition of “pieces of work.”
Let’s see now, there’s Emily, Jason’s daughter, who is an eternal hypochondriac (and unwitting hypocrite), always believing she is on death’s door suffering from some malady. There’s Wilfred, Emily’s husband, who only cares about money. And next to those two are the grown children Wilfred Jr., who apparently used to like torturing small animals if Jason is to be believed, and then there’s Paula. Paula is an interesting case because at first her only “sin” appears to be that she’s obsessed with her own appearance. Don’t let her fool you; later in the story she goes into a tirade about the miserable time she’s having waiting for her grandfather to die. In short, there’s little to no redeeming value in any of Jason’s kin, and the dying millionaire knows it.
Instead of simply cutting them out of the will, however, Jason decides to inflict his own punishment, perfect for the Twilight Zone. Since it is the night of Mardi Gras, everyone in the family must wear masks. But these aren’t any ordinary party masks. These are grotesque, disturbing things to look at. I often find myself wondering what color those masks were (since the episode was filmed in black and white it’s impossible to say for certain), since the colors might have added to their disturbing nature. But I digress…
You’ll also note Jason says they were made “by an old Cajun” which should be a big clue to the audience that something supernatural will happen eventually if you put them on. But Jason includes a fool-proof catch: if anyone in the family refuses to wear the masks, then all any of them will get from his estate is train fare back home. Jason knows full well his relatives are far too greedy to pass up on his fortune. So they all put the masks on (even Jason, he wears a death’s head), and they wait for midnight, when Jason says the masks can come off.
This next part is, for me, the saddest part of the episode, because as midnight approaches all of Jason’s family beg him to let them take the masks off, saying how stupid this is and how they can’t bear it. Jason then turns to them all and says:
“Have you all had your say?….is there nothing else you have to say to me?”
Having read between the lines, I’m convinced that Jason is giving his family one final chance to show him that they have at least one redeeming quality about them. If just one of them had shown some spark of caring, I really think Jason would have called it all off and let them take the masks off. But the chance is wasted on these people, and as midnight strikes, Jason finally passes away. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence he died at the stroke of midnight either. Earlier in the episode, Jason mentions that there’s a “ritual” to the wearing of the masks. While he describes it in some detail, I think he leaves a crucial detail out. I suspect, that for the ritual to take full effect, someone has to wear the death’s head and sacrifice their life at midnight. It makes sense if you think about it, most stories involving magic will tell you that powerful magic requires some form of sacrifice. And since Jason was dying anyway, it follows that he would choose a relatively quick death over suffering who knows how much longer. And if he can punish his relatives at the same time…so much the better.
And what a punishment! The reveal of what the masks have done make this one of my favorite episodes to this very day. And to those who might say “Well can’t they just get plastic surgery to fix their faces?” That’s just it, they can’t! You see, going for surgery would mean revealing their problems and flaws for all the world to see. And you saw how they all act, they’d never be able to do that. So they’re stuck with their punishment for the rest of their lives.
Let me know what you think about “The Masks” in the comments below and have a great day!
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