The Twilight Zone season 2 delivers a parable about politics and power in episode 8, “A Small Town”. The episode focuses on Jason (Damon Wayans Jr.), a resident of Littleton and the husband of the town’s former mayor, Trina. In the opening minutes of “A Small Town”, viewers learn that Trina died a year ago. Jason has been quietly struggling with his life ever since then, but his luck quickly shifts when he stumbles upon a magical replica of Littleton. If he changes anything about the replica, no matter how major or minor, the real town of Littleton is altered in the exact same way. Jason first realizes that he possesses this strange ability when he sprinkles the replica with water, which simultaneously causes rain to pour down outside his window.
Jason gives himself a clear mandate at first. Hidden away from public view, with no one else knowing what he’s now capable of, Jason fixes the things that the residents of Littleton have been griping about: he repaints the local diner in a fresh new color, he takes care of little nuisances such as potholes and old trees. Jason even adds an eye-catching sign in an effort to draw new visitors to the town, potentially goosing up tourism. As often is the case with The Twilight Zone, it’s unclear how the main character ends up in such an unusual situation. But there are suggestions, in the script written by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due, that Jason is in the middle of some sort of divine test.
The test is complicated by the fact that everything Jason does to the replica, every secret improvement, seems to be helping the election prospects of Mayor Conley (David Krumholtz). In the line of succession after Trina’s death, Conley is a two-faced politician that bullies residents he doesn’t like. Throughout the episode, Jason struggles with the question of whether to stop improving his replica since that would mean helping Conley as well.
“A Small Town” shows how absolute power is a dangerous weapon regardless of who ends up wielding it. Ultimately, Jason decides to sabotage the replica in an effort to sabotage Conley’s chances of remaining in office. Unlike in its first season, and perhaps as a response to criticism, “A Small Town” avoids any blatant references to the current political and social landscape in the U.S. It shows that Conley is an awful mayor, prone to picking fights with a single mother and her teenaged son. But it also makes clear that Jason shouldn’t keep his magical abilities for too long.
This is made explicit in the ending of “A Small Town”. The replica is destroyed in the middle of argument between Conley and Jason over who should possess it. Conley’s reputation is tarnished as well, but Jason finds a measure of redemption when he comes clean about the fact that he was the one behind Littleton’s improvements. The community rallies around Jason, suggesting that this was what the town needed all along. Jordan Peele’s outgoing narration makes mention of this as well, lingering on the fact that Littleton’s closeness as a community matters far more than any magical fix.
It’s a slight narrative, particularly when compared to episodes like “The Who of You” and “Among the Untrodden”, but “A Small Town” is memorable on an aesthetic level. The contrast between the replica and the real town leads to several striking visuals, as directed by Alonso Alvarez-Barreda, including the moments which highlight the fact that Jason’s golden wedding ring fell into the replica before it was destroyed. As a result, Littleton now has a huge chunk of gold to help them in the rebuilding process. It’s an optimistic end, matching a season of The Twilight Zone which has been optimistic overall.