Director: Perry Lafferty
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Cast: David Opatoshu, Ed Nelson, Natalie Trundy, Jacques Aubuchon, Dabbs Greer, James Doohan, Suzanne Cupito, Henry Beckman, Bart Burns, King Calder, Pat O’Hara, and Sandy Kenyon
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 1/17/1963
Production Code: 4861
Hoping to refuel his car, reporter Phillip Redfield (Ed Nelson) stops at a gas station in the town of Peaceful Valley. Unable to find a restaurant or book a hotel room, Phillip—having witnessed a bizarre occurrence involving his dog Rollie—prepares to leave the town and write about his experience. Preventing Phillip from returning home, Mayor Dorn (David Opatoshu) explains that Peaceful Valley—whose residents possess the technology to transmit matter, reverse the flow of time, and resurrect the dead—must remain in a state of constant quarantine from the outside world.
Combining science fiction tropes with philosophical discussion, “Valley of the Shadow” earns its status as a season four highlight. Especially worth praising is the setting for this episode, which, though not overtly creepy or ominous, will induce a primal fear of “being trapped” in circumstances beyond one’s ability to control.
In the early scenes, “Valley of the Shadow” generates an air of unease by introducing many idiosyncratic characters: a nervous hotel clerk named Ellen Marshall (Natalie Trundy); a group of locals who smile blissfully while gathered around a terrible car crash; and three government officials who capture, threaten, and interrogate Phillip for no apparent reason.
Also effective is the claustrophobic atmosphere of later sequences, wherein Phillip, despite having his every need fulfilled by the townspeople, reacts to his new home/prison as if he were a caged animal—an appeal to the human desire for absolute freedom, even at the cost of physical comfort and security.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Instead of executing the protagonist for his escape attempt, the town elders eventually perform a mind wipe on Phillip before allowing him to leave Peaceful Valley. Of course, viewers may question why Dorn—supposedly a wise and knowledgeable figure—fails to consider the above solution upon his first encounter with Phillip.
This episode should be noted for its fascinating moral quandary. On the one hand, Phillip makes an obvious and compassionate case for sharing the town’s technology with those in need, even drawing a comparison between Adolf Hitler and the leaders of Peaceful Valley—able but unwilling to cure disease and end world hunger, fearing what could happen if the wrong person were to acquire a so-called miracle device. The motivations of the townspeople become self-evident, however, when Phillip resorts to theft, murder, and deception in order to attain said technology and use it for benevolent purposes—a statement on the dangers of viewing complex, nuanced ethical problems through a black-and-white filter.
“Valley of the Shadow” benefits from stand-out performances and thought-provoking dialogue. Fans of The Twilight Zone should therefore enjoy this episode, which suffers only from occasional pacing issues and logical inconsistencies.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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