Today, we look at the episode of Rod Serling’s short-lived postmodern Western, The Loner, that gave an excellent spotlight to Brock Peters playing a former slave dealing with racism in the old West.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
All this month, I’ll be spotlighting great Black-centric TV episodes.
The Loner was an attempt by Rod Serling, after The Twilight Zone ended, of getting in on the Western craze while trying to do commentary on how much he hated most Westerns (Serling felt that most Westerns were childish). Serling had long hated Westerns, and it really drove him nuts how popular they were while he was doing his other TV shows.
An interesting thing to me, though, is that while The Loner was good, it wasn’t like some shockingly good series. It wasn’t really any better than, say, Gunsmoke at the time. So it’s kind of funny to see Serling crap on TV westerns all the time and then when he actually did one himself it was just…fine.
However, a standout episode of the series was Season 1’s “The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove,” where Brock Peters (best remembered for his role in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, as the Black man that Atticus Finch valiantly attempts to defend. Star Trek fans likely remember him for hos role as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) played a former slave who fought for the Union in the Civil War and now that the war was over, he was coming to join his father, who had moved west.
Lemuel Stone meets up with Bill Colton (Lloyd Bridges), the “loner” of the series, and they befriend each other. Colton goes along with Stone to visit Stove’s father, who they discover has been lynched by a Ku Klux Klan-like group calling themselves The Avengers and wearing white hoods. The Avengers have stated that no one is to cut him down for a few days, but Stove decides that he will still do it, and asks for a minister to come to read some words at his father’s burial and, presumably, at Stove’s. Colton gives him this odd speech about how basically two wrongs don’t make a right (it’s so weird), but obviously, in the end, Colton is with Stove when he gets his father. The minister shows up and when the Avengers arrive, the minister is a pretty big bad ass by agreeing to stand wit Colton and Stove in the face of his possible murder. If they want to open fire on Stove, they’ll have to kill him, too.
Eventually, the sight of the minister being there, and Stove and Colton killing the two ringleaders (after the bad guys tried to shoot first, of course), leads to the other Avengers scattering. The episode ends with Colton promising Stove that Stove isn’t alone in this world.
Peters is given some meaty material here. I especially appreciate his reaction to first seeing his father. A total mental breakdown, as he shouts to his dead father, hanging from a tree, “Hey, Papa, I’m home!” So rough.
Okay, if I’m going to have 329 more of these (and 21 more this month), I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!