A Grain of Salt and a Shovelful of Earth: On The “Twilight Zone,” “The Grave,” and a Lack of Western Ghosts

My favorite episode of The Twilight Zone opens with a scene that even the narration admits ought to be the end. The audience sees a desolate, windswept village, one that the imagery of westerns has trained us to understand is somewhere in the Southwest, likely New Mexico. A man is gunned down in the middle of the dusty street, the shots fired by several of the village men hiding in doorways. After he falls, his body is carried into the jail, and a witness is sent to fetch the wounded man’s father and sister to be with him before he dies.

All of this happens in just a few moments, and is merely the prologue. As Rod Serling says in introduction:

Normally … this would be the end of the story. We’ve had the traditional shoot-out on the street and the Bad Man will soon be dead. But some men of legend and folk tale have been known to continue having their way even after death. The outlaw and killer Pinto Sykes was such a person, and shortly we’ll see how he introduces the town, and a man named Conny Miller in particular, to the Twilight Zone.

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