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The Twilight Zone (Episode #69): “The Passerby” (airdate 10/06/61)
The Plot: A Confederate soldier rests for a spell on the front porch owned by Lavinia Goodwin – a widow who watches hundreds of soldiers pass by on their march home from the war.
The Goods: Season 3 is shaping up to be the strongest season. There are iconic episodes from others, of course, but so far there’s been nothing but quality from the third outing, and it represents a kind of maturity in the writing (which has thankfully gotten away from padding huge chunks of the script) and in the kind of actors that they can hire to guest star.
More than just a clever concept, this episode is grandly haunting in its delivery. The effect is thanks to stoic writing, strong acting from Joanne Linville and James Gregory (who are waiting for Godot in the 19th century), and a dreamy set design that places Goodwin’s house both in the midst of a believable southern swamp and in a nowhere space without a horizon.
Instead of a plot, the story focuses on the conversation between the two newly acquainted comrades. In a sense, though, they don’t begin as strangers. They are both members of The South, and the hospitality of that connection is apparent. They might not know each other, but they know the same killing, the same blood, and the same horrors of loss.
It’s a melancholy trip down a road no one wants to head down. The Confederate Sergeant plucks his guit’ box to a tune Goodwin’s husband used to sing. They share company and cups of water. She discusses her hatred and clawing need for revenge – not against the man who took her husband’s life in battle, but against any Yankee that she sees.
What’s absolutely stunning about this episode is its patience. It’s one of the few truly effective slow burns delivered by Rod Serling, and it’s more than a bit jarring to watch something like it on television.
The ultimate lesson of the episode is to let go of regret and anger. Goodwin is stuck in a physical and metaphorical rocking chair, unable to move from the settlement she’s created because her veins pump with hot grease instead of cool blood.
What’s most fascinating is that the reveal of reality doesn’t just act as a twist, it acts to add weight to an already-heavy tale. Goodwin sits on her porch and watches the soldiers limp on down the road – always headed in the direction of the afterlife. This is a road for those who have lost their lives, which means that Goodwin so thoroughly refuses to move on that she’s built a house on the side of the road. Not only does she not march forward, she’s crafted a shelter to keep her safe from the inevitable.
The feeling is so powerful that even her husband’s pleas for her to join him on the other side go unheeded. By the time the “last casualty of the Civil War” strides by, it’s unclear whether her tortured spirit will be able to accept fate or continue sitting on that porch even after the parade of soldiers passes by.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Joanne Linville appeared in about a billion television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, Hawaii Five-o, and Barnaby Jones, but she never starred in any of them.
On the Next Episode: A pool player demands to get his shot at the best of the best – a man who is no longer living.
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.