Maple Street is Anytown USA on a late summer afternoon when an object like a meteor streaks across the sky emitting a loud roar. The local residents talk about the event a little bit but nothing seems to come of it until it is noticed that the electric power and telephones are out. When they also determine that battery powered radios are no longer picking up radio transmissions and automobiles won’t start, one of the men, Pete, decides to walk over to one of the other blocks to see if the problem is local or general. Two of the other men, Steve and Charlie, decide to head downtown to speak to the police. But an adolescent boy Tommy warns them that he read a science fiction story about outer space invaders turning off the power and other things, and in the story, people weren’t allowed to leave the area. Several people scoff but Steve and Charlie don’t leave and pretty soon everyone seems to be getting pretty nervous. Tommy elaborates on the story explaining that the story included aliens hidden among the real humans who were directing the attack. When Les (another neighbor) suddenly finds his car starting up on its own, he becomes the center of suspicion. Charlie becomes the chief inquisitor questioning people about what suspicious things they’ve seen or heard. When Steve tries to defuse the hysteria, Charlie starts questioning his loyalty and stories about Steve’s” ham radio” hobby become another source of suspicion.
At this point the neighborhood is in a panic when they hear a lone individual walking toward them down the darkened street. Some of the neighbors say it must be the monster. Charlie takes a shotgun and fires on the walker who drops to the ground. When they reach the body, they find it is Pete returning from his investigation off the block. He’s dead. Now everyone turns on Charlie and accuses him of instigating the whole mess. He deflects the blame by accusing Tommy and his family of being the invaders. Just then lights start going on and cars start up at random locations on the block and the panic turns into mob violence with stones hurled through windows and sporadic gun fire heard.
The scene shifts to a hill above the town where two human appearing aliens are discussing the effect of cutting off power and other utilities to the residents of Maple Street. They decide that this strategy will consistently force the humans to attack each other in fear and allow the aliens to conquer Earth without firing a shot. Serling has an epilogue where he says that prejudice is a weapon that can kill and scapegoating has consequences.
This is a fairly well-known episode. It seems to be directly targeting the McCarthy anti-communist events. Despite the fairly far-fetched results of the action it is a lively story with plenty of villains and even a hero (Steve). It’s an effective bit of propaganda and based on Serling’s politics makes his point. And even though I am on the other side of the fence I’ll give it a B+. But honestly, that Tommy kid really should be drawn and quartered for causing the whole stupid thing.