“A Small Town” continues a run of mediocre episodes with a meditation on the allure of power and the threat of unintended consequences.
This recap of The Twilight Zone season 2, episode 8, “A Small Town”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The back half of The Twilight Zone season 2 has been on a cold streak, and it continues with “A Small Town”, a disappointing examination of the allure of power, the threat of unintended consequences, and the idea of who could and should be responsible for change in a community. That community, the obviously-titled Littleton, is populated by thin archetypes who, like the story that concerns the fate of their small town, never really go anywhere.
Similarly to the last episode, the motivations of Jason, the protagonist in The Twilight Zone season 2, episode 8, are rooted in grief. He was the husband of the well-liked mayor who was tragically killed in a car accident, and without her, finds himself aimless and Littleton in the clutches of a more self-serving figurehead who, as he reminds us later, was never democratically elected. There was a real opportunity for some commentary on the democratic process here, but “A Small Town” misses that open goal in favor of a story in which Jason’s newfound power runs away from him.
That power comes from a miniature model of the town that Jason quickly discovers has a direct effect on the life-sized version. When he sprays water on the model, it starts raining in Littleton, and so on, and so forth. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that has a lot of potential all the same, and as Jason uses suggestions of the townsfolk to create positive changes that end up getting attributed to the mayor, it seems like The Twilight Zone season 2, episode 8 is going to explore that potential.
It doesn’t, though, as the focus becomes Jason’s crusade against the mayor, dropping rocks on his car and sending a tarantula – which is obviously giant-sized to the mayor – to chase him down the street. This is a trite example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, which is a played-out theme at the best of times, but “A Small Town” doesn’t even commit to it, instead having Jason confess his responsibility during something of a minor uprising and reveal the magic model. Jason and the mayor fighting over who’s in charge until they eventually topple the model, leading to the complete collapse of Littleton, works as a metaphor for the pettiness of leadership squabbles and how, when they descend into matters of ego, it’s always the little people that suffer. But that’s a conclusion most viewers would have had no trouble arriving at on their own.
The whole thing ends on an ambiguous note, pushing the idea that perhaps positive change will result from calamity, which seems like a cop-out. All the episode’s characters feel directionless, as believable as figures that might decorate one of those model cities, and it never draws a proper link to the kid who chronicles Jason’s changes in colorful murals on the town’s walls. All in all, it’s a missed opportunity to say something impactful.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.