The Twilight Zone

Season 1 Episode 28

A Nice Place to Visit

Aired Unknown Apr 15, 1960 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (5)

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  • A Nice Place To Visit

    You could fill a conference hall with The Twilight Zone's "small, hungry" men. Hell, you could fill a football stadium. There are plenty of episodes in the series with nuanced characters and complex relationships, but ever couple of weeks, Rod and his writing staff would trot out either an "idle dreamer" or one of those afore mentioned weaselly bastards, and you knew you were in for it. The most fundamental sin in the Zone is selfishness, and all the pain it causes, and it's a mark in the show's favor that all these greedy creeps at least had an illusion of depth, even if there wasn't much to distinguish them. Take Harry Francis "Rock" Valentine, the protagonist of "A Nice Place To Visit." He's not one of TZ's most iconic leads, not by a long shot, and his character is mostly defined by his convenient inability to grasp the irony of a situation until the episode requires him to do so. But there's that certain edge to his desperate want, and his general anger toward the world. Like all of his ilk, he's furious because he believes he's been cheated, and this speaks to a hole in the center of him, something that whines and snarls and can never be entirely sated. It's a step up in complexity from your standard "I'm just evil because the narrative needs a villain" bad guy, but that only goes so far. And given how much "Visit" relies on us caring--or at least being interested in--the fate of its lead, that's a bit of a problem.

    In his The Twilight Zone Companion, Mark Zicree describes "Visit" as a "prolonged one-liner," and I can't really argue with that. We start with Rocky in the middle of a robbery, a shop owner dead on on the floor next to him, and we know from that moment on, Rocky's fate is sealed. Which means when Rocky seems to get shot by a cop, and wakes up next to a chummy gentleman in a white suit, we don't trust this gentleman's apparent chumminess. There's irony a'coming, and that becomes more obvious when the gentleman starts offering Rocky anything his greasy little heart desires. There's a well-furnished apartment, beautiful women, any money he wants. Whenever he gambles, he always wins; whenever he plays pool, he always wins. And so on. We spend a lot of time watching Rocky be perpetually astonished at how kind fortune has become, and, since we're not idiots, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Eventually, Rocky gets bored with all his wealth and pleasures. He's decided he's in Heaven, but he's sick of how Mr. Pip caters to his every whim, and he wants to leave. That's when Pip tells him in he's not in Heaven, and then the Devil laughs uproariously, and we're done.

    There's just not much to this. We've talked before about 's occasional tendency towards one-note storytelling, and this is about as pure an example as I can imagine. Given all the time we spend with Rocky, we don't know anything about him at the end of the episode that we didn't know at the start. There's some fun in watching him bounce of Pip, especially since we know everything Pip says must have a buried threat behind it, but there's no real dramatic dynamic between them until the very end. Blyden is a caricature as Rocky, but it's hard to blame him, since that's how the character is written. Cabot has more fun, and he is genuinely terrifying when he laughs at the end, but it's not really enough to justify the episode. It's entries like this that helped TZ become such an anecdote generate machine, because it works well in description, but there's nothing you get from watching the episode itself. It's thin, and it never shows much interest in being anything but thin.

    Could this have worked? I'm not sure. I think maybe. The cliched, too-much-of-a-good-thing style of ironic punishment is a little silly as presented, especially given just how far Pip is willing to go to grant Rocky his desires. Episodes with ironic punishments need the audience to wince when the punishment is revealed; the effectiveness of the irony depends on us being both taken by surprise at a good turning into a negative and really believing in that negative once it's revealed, and that doesn't really happen here. Sure, it would get boring to keep winning every time you gambled, but gambling isn't the only avenue Rocky has available to him. He can have any woman he wants, and people are constantly praising him whatever he does. He can torment the cops who tormented him in life without fear of reprisal. It's hard to buy that he'd be sick of all of this after, what, a month? I can accept that a world without conflict or risk could get boring, but "boring" really isn't sufficiently sadistic to justify all the time spent. As far as Hells go, the "wow, partying is kind of a drag" Hell really isn't going to scare anyone straight, and while it's possible to interpret the ending as a sort of, "Ho ho, now that you've figured out the secret things can get really nasty," it still feels like everything leading up to that moment is just a clever sort of stalling.

    But like I said, maybe it could have worked, if you wanted to view Rocky's punishment as less a cheap gag about being careful what you wish for, and more a statement on the emptiness inherent in the character himself. It's easy for me to think, "Oh man, I would have so much fun in this kind of Hell," but this isn't my Hell, if such a thing even exists. This is Rocky's Hell, and it's suited to exploit the central hollowness of his character. He wants the satisfaction beating the system he's convinced is rigged against him, but now that he's finally won, it's not enough. He's still empty and small, and you could use that to justify why his dreams don't ever go beyond the "dames and dollars" level. He can't take full advantage of this particular Hell because of who he is.

    Except Rocky shows a fair bit of psychological insight at the end of the episode, when he explains to Pip why he's so unsatisfied by his "perfect" life, and, while I realize this would've been difficult to pull off on a television show from this era, that insight makes me wonder if maybe Rocky's dreams might not have been a little more complex than we're allowed to see. If he'd exhausted more possibilities, if his fury at the world had gone beyond messing with the occasional cop or being rude to a woman, I would've been more satisfied by the episode's conclusion. For fun, imagine an episode in which Rocky's afterlife really did start off as a paradise, but his pettiness and hate slowly degraded that perfection, and day by day, week by week, his initial joy turns into something darker, something sadistic and vicious. He turns to torture, to violence, to destruction, he murders dozens, then hundreds of strangers, he takes over the country then the world, and it's still not enough, it still doesn't sate his hunger, so he starts launching bombs just to see what they'll do, and in the end, it's Hell on Earth, but it's a Hell he created, because Hell is the only thing he could create.

    I'm not saying this would've been a story you could've told on The Twilight Zone, but the point is, my alternate version would've at least created some kind of dramatic arc for the episode. "Visit" has its moments, as its always fun to see someone getting everything they want, even if the getting eventually sours. Ultimately, though, it's too shallow and limited to be worth the time.
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