When his doctor tells him that he could die at any moment, the wealthy Jason Foster gathers his heirs including his daughter Emily Harper, her husband Wilfred and their children Paula and Wilfrid Jr. Jason doesn't think much of any of them and it's clear they can't wait to get their hands on his fortune. It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans and he has one last request - for each of them to wear a carnival mask. Each of the masks is meant to reflect some aspect of their personality - and leave a lasting impression on them. Written by
"The Masks" by Rod Serling has enough inferences and similarities to Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 short story, "The Masque of Red Death" that one can conclude Serling was making a kind of 'homage' to Poe with this episode. As with Serling's teleplay, Poe's story concerns a group of people all gathered together in a remote house with a sinister host who forces them to put on masks and participate in a "game" which turns out to be a morality lesson tailored to each guest's particular sin/flaw. Poe ends his story with everyone dying of the plague while simultaneously horrified how wretched a human being they had become. Bummer huh? Not to spoil it for everyone, but this episode of Twilight Zone pretty much goes there too. It is no wonder that Serling, (clearly not an optimist about humanity!) would be attracted to such a cynical tale. The remarkable part is that this episode ever got on TV at all! Today, this type of moral fable would never make it to production: not sexy enough-too depressing-zero physical action, etc. But that is why this series was SO GREAT! Serling operated outside all accepted conventions of television drama, and somehow did not let network hacks ruin his vision. And that is a rare thing in television, my friends. To get a sense of the genius of Serling as a writer, read Poe's "The Masque of Red Death" first, then see the show.
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