Director: Elliot Silverstein
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: James Gregory, Joanne Linville, Rex Holman, David Garcia, Warren Kemmerling, and Austin Green
Composer: Fred Steiner
Air Date: 10/6/1961
Production Code: 4817
Following the death of Abraham Lincoln (Austin Green), a traveling Confederate Sergeant (James Gregory) takes a rest in the front yard of Lavinia Goodwin (Joanne Linville)—a woman whose husband, Jud Goodwin (Warren Kemmerling), had supposedly been killed in the Battle of Yellow Tavern. Unable to forgive the men responsible for Jud’s death, Lavinia intends to murder the next Union solider who passes by her property—against the wishes of the Sergeant, whose life was saved by a Lieutenant (David Garcia) in the Union Army.
A ghost tale, “The Passersby” employs a variety of horror clichés in conjunction with a Civil War theme. History buffs and Rod Serling enthusiasts will therefore appreciate this episode, which offers a sobering outlook on the aftermath of the bloodiest, most terrible conflict ever to occur on American soil.
As both Union and Confederate soldiers march along the path to who-knows-where, certain tropes (e.g. a thick blanket of fog enveloping dead trees, overgrown foliage, and shadowy figures approaching from afar) accentuate the ominous picture of death, decay, and post-war trauma that Serling attempts to paint in this episode.
Late one evening, the Lieutenant (at first appearing only as a silhouette with no discernible features) decides to park his horse in front of Lavinia’s home and ask for water—a spectacle that, when complemented by the haunting music of composer Fred Steiner, works to build and maintain a layer of suspense prior to the climactic scene.
Though bittersweet, the twist ending is revealed through an inordinate amount of exposition.
For containing a realistic portrayal of the grief, bitterness, and personal devastation resulting from the casualties of war, “The Passersby” should be commended. Especially worth noting is the lens of neutrality adopted by Serling, who, by refusing to comment on the politics of the Civil War, demonstrates the futility of allowing hatred toward individuals (represented here as soldiers fighting for a cause greater than themselves) to poison one’s perspective on life.
“The Passersby” is a poignant, atmospheric episode of The Twilight Zone. By explaining the obvious, however, the conclusion to this offering—an otherwise remarkable story of forgiveness—may evoke criticism from viewers of an astute nature.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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