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One Underrated Twilight Zone Episode Is A True Crime Cautionary Tale


“I Am the Night — Color Me Black” is not a popular episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Paste once ranked it 119th in its list of the original 156 episodes, and in the book “The Twilight Zone –- The Complete Episode Guide,” author Nick Naughton writes that the cautionary tale “emerges as one of the dullest ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes in the history of the show.” He calls it “slow, talky, [and] dramatically obvious,” and notes that it “finds Rod Serling on his high horse to no great effect.” To his point, the episode is existential above all else, concerned more with its message than with any semblance of plot momentum. Jagger eventually dies, and the darkness over the city doesn’t lift. A reverend (Ivan Dixon) declares that the darkness is hate, so thick in the air they may as well choke on it. “There’ll be sun again. There’ll be daylight,” the deputy insists. There isn’t.

While “I Am the Night — Color Me Black” isn’t an easy watch, it’s one that feels as uncompromising in its sentiments today as it did at the time. It’s not just the bigoted man’s hate that clogs the air, but the hate of the apparently progressive man who shot him, of the townspeople who showed up for the execution like it was the latest movie, and of the leaders who shepherded this failure of justice. “He hated, and he killed, and now he dies,” the reverend says after the execution, addressing the entire town. He continues: “You hated, and you killed, and now there’s not one of you who isn’t doomed.” When this episode aired, 44 states still had a legal right to use the death penalty. As the Civil Rights Movement took the nation by storm, police began getting away with violence and mistreatment that made front page news. And, according to the Tuskegee Institute Archives, Black people were still being lynched in America while “The Twilight Zone” was airing.

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