To me, all towns that are located in the middle of nowhere exist in The Twilight Zone. All of them. Because of how remote they are, because of the mystery that surrounds them and because of how recluse the people who live in them are. Small towns deal with things on their own, they don’t like outsiders and most the time they’d rather go extinct than change their ways. So it makes sense that The Twilight Zone would take up residence in places where the oddness can be contained. The fourth episode of The Twilight Zone, like in the episodes of old, zeros in on a town that’s small enough to not be noticed when chaos erupts inside it, until it’s too late.
In a small town in Alaska, police sergeant Yuka Mongoyak has arrested her brother Jack on Christmas Eve and is taking him to the station so he can be pardoned by Captain Lane Pendleton. It’s a tradition that he does every year, it makes him feel good about what little power he does have. So when it comes time for the annual pardon, Yuka goes back to get her brother but discovers a stranger who has mysteriously appeared in one of the cells. He claims that his name is “A. Traveler” and he has come a long way to be pardoned by Captain Pendleton. Despite the weirdness of the situation, the traveler is allowed out of his cell and begins to mingle with the guest of the party. He becomes popular almost instantly and they all accept this new stranger, except for Yuka. She had a knack for knowing when things aren’t the truth, and this Traveler is nothing but a liar.
However when the Traveler begins to reveal things about everyone in the room that he shouldn’t know, suspicions quickly rise that he isn’t what he says he is. Every detail he gives out is just specific enough to sting and after he causes a fight, Pendleton has the Traveler returned to his cell. Thinking they have the upper hand, Pendleton and Yuka decide to question the Traveler to find out more. But in the dark of the cell Pendleton Jack and Yuka all spot antennas on the top of his head. The Traveler denies and deflects, turning the spotlight to Captain Pendleton. He tells Yuka that Pendleton is in league with Russia and has sold information. When Pendleton leaves to check on the shed that lowers the town, the Traveler convinces Yuka that when his people take over she will be in charge with them. He unlocks his own cell, proving to her she’s been right all along and he isn’t what he says he is. However it also proves that something is coming and Yuka races off to find the Captain. When she finds him at the shed, Yuka holds him at gunpoint. At the station Jack asks the Traveler to unlock his cell, which he does, and Jack tells him that maybe things will be better with them in charge. As the Traveler shifts into his true form, UFO’s descend from the sky and the invasion begins.
When it comes to aliens, in the Twilight Zone they have always had the upper hand against humans. In the newest episode this is no different, the Traveler is ahead of everyone at all times. Even Yuka who doesn’t believe a word he says, falls short of being able to come out on top. He is able to use her weakness against her, thinly veined as it being her way to get what she wants most for Christmas. And that’s what I appreciate most about the episode. The fact that aliens will almost always be the ones to humble humans as a being. Here on earth we dominate, but when it comes to the universe we are vastly unprepared.
I also love the way Peele always keeps the situations in the realm of possibility. There are always moments where the dialogue grounds you and reminds you this couldn’t be too far off from our reality now. The small ways Captain Pendleton demeaned Yuka and her brother by saying that before the town existed there was “nothing but Eskimos” as if the natives were somehow less. It was spoken with such ease and received chuckles, but was clearly uncomfortable for Yuka; something that happens every day for marginalized people who work with those who aren’t. The Traveler having such an alien like phone but knowing the tensions between America and Russia used it to easily able to cover it up. He knew that the hatred, whether it be unconscious or not, would blind the Captain to what was really going on. Which could very well happen today in our dimension.
As far as Twilight Zone episodes go, “A Traveler” is my favorite of the new ones so far. It has just the right amount of weirdness grounded in reality that I love about the Zone in the first place. Between the remoteness of the Alaskan town to the aliens that come to invade us, Jordan Peele has made his home right in the center of The Twilight Zone. And we’re better for it.