In a small town in the Midwest Sheriff Charlie Koch is getting up to go to work. His wife Ella criticizes him for getting up in the middle of the night but he tells her that even though it’s pitch dark outside, it’s morning. He tells her to have breakfast ready for a condemned prisoner named Jagger who is being hanged that morning.
When Charlie gets to the jail Deputy Pierce remarks on how strange it is for it to be so dark at eight o-clock in the morning. Pierce is upbeat about the hanging but is upbraided by the local newspaper owner Colbey for having perjured himself by lying about powder burns he had seen on the victim. And Colbey indicts himself and Koch for not doing more to bring the facts to the attention of the court. We also hear that Jagger killed a “bigot” who burned crosses on lawns. We are led to believe that maybe it was self-defense.
Colbey goes in to talk to Jagger. He asks Jagger if he wants to talk to a priest but Jagger says he doesn’t believe in God. Jagger tells Colbey that all he feels is fear and anger.
At the scaffold a crowd assembles to watch the hanging. Reverend Anderson a black man asks Jagger if he enjoyed shooting the victim and Jagger says he did. Then Anderson tells the crowd that Jagger was guilty. Jagger rebukes him. But based on what Anderson says the guilt he is talking about is not legal guilt for murder but guilt for the sin of hate. Jagger jeers at the crowd and tells them that he will choke and dance for them but he won’t ask for forgiveness.
Jagger is hanged and it gets even darker until the crowd says they can’t see almost anything. Reverend Anderson theorizes that the blackness is hate and that the crowd has so much of it that they can’t hold it in anymore so it is escaping into the air and enveloping the whole town.
The sheriff, deputy and newspaperman return to the jail and Pierce tries to encourage them by claiming that any minute now the fog will break up and the sun will emerge as bright as ever. Colbey turns on the radio and we hear that other dark spots are appearing at especially hateful places around the world. The radio mentions the north of Vietnam, a street in Dallas, Texas, a prison in Hungary, Birmingham, Alabama and the Berlin Wall.
Rod Serling was a pretty straight forward progressive. So naturally his convictions show up in his work. But only in a few episodes does he let it get out of control. Unfortunately, this is one of those. The litany of straw man moments is long. The man Jagger killed was a cross-burning bigot who intimidated black people. The perjured deputy, the cowardly sheriff and newspaperman. The death penalty claiming an innocent man. The crowd baying for blood at the foot of the gallows.
The episode is not without artistic and storytelling merit. In fact, if it had just been evenhanded, I think it would have made its point. No one can deny that the world is full to overflowing with hate. We all feel it and suffer from its effects. But Serling always points the finger of blame at those he sees as his political enemies, namely the non-progressives. It’s his default move.
In deference to the competent acting I’m going with a C. If I were judging it on honesty the grade would be much lower.