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The Twilight Zone (Episode #105): “Valley of the Shadow” (airdate 1/17/63)
The Plot: An intrepid reporter follows a sweet lead (his runaway dog) into a small, hidden town to find a wondrous place of peace and prosperity that demands he stay there forever.
The Goods: Written by Charles Beaumont, this episode tills some difficult soil. At its heart is the question of whether ultimate power is safe to deliver to the masses and into the hands of our leaders. It asks whether the world is even ready for salvation. If it isn’t, what’s the price and point of trying to save it?
Philip Redfield (Ed Nelson) is an outsider, an alien who wanders into a tucked-away town that has the ability to manipulate atoms to create, destroy or move anything they care to. With great power comes great responsibility, but Redfield sees it as his responsibility to take the secrets of peace to the greater world beyond the town’s borders.
The deal that’s struck with Redfield is that he can either live with them for the rest of his life (one that will be lived out in shiny, shimmering prosperity) or be put to death to ensure that the secret will be kept safe. As it turns out, peace is pretty dull, and Redfield teams up with a woman (Ellen Marshall) who desperately wants to leave. His fate is sealed, and a plan to steal the book containing the town’s methods is developed.
Substance aside, there are some teeth-grinding performances here, and the skeleton of the episode (which seems almost stolen directly from “1984″) raising ten questions for every answer it offers. Who are these men that deserve the secret of creation and are they truly using it correctly? Is a world of prosperity a land of honey or a prison of leisure? Can there be Good without Evil? Is keeping the secret to themselves unethical or the right thing to do?
That’s just a handful. Redfield is a rebel, and of course his dalliance with his lady love and subsequent escape are all part of an elaborate plan to test him. The book he manages to sneak out of town is a decoy (pro tip: always look inside the book you’re stealing to make sure there’s actual writing inside it), and he’s sentenced to death.
Which only raises another question: is murder justifiable if done to impede mass murder? If you go back in time to kill Hitler, can you still get into Heaven?
Or, to phrase it less ecclesiastically, wouldn’t you still end up in prison for killing a man? Isn’t taking a life, at its core, evil?
The episode has a truly bizarre ending that any screenwriting professor would give a failing grade. After the adventure and the death sentence, Redfield finds himself back at the gas station with his dog (who hasn’t run away), presumably cluing us in that it’s all been a dream. Or that the elders of the town have somehow sent him backward in time (while altering it) to make sure he doesn’t find them. It seems to be the latter, because he spies the woman who loved him (and sold him out) tearing up on the street corner.
It’s a wonderful episode that works well because of how much curious ground it has to cover. It’s a strong use of science fiction – to deliver people we can relate to in situations that we can’t. It’s abstract made concrete, and it makes you wonder what’s really going on in all those small towns just off the highway.
What do you think?
The Trivia: For even more questions, the title comes from a phrase in Psalm 23. Yet another context to view the episode through.
On the Next Episode: Neo-Nazis!
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.