When it comes to the original run of The Twilight Zone, I have many episodes that I consider to be my favorites. But if I had to pick just one episode to go back and watch for the first time all over again, it would have to be the season 1 episode “A Nice Place to Visit.” Not only is it a well done episode, I also feel like it has the most memorable “wham” line in the entire series (feel free to correct me if you feel otherwise). But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a look at the episode.
“A Nice Place to Visit” is notable for starting off with a bang, literally, as the lead character, a hardened thief named Rocky Valentine gets shot and killed while fleeing a robbery. Soon after, Rocky meets Pip (Sebastian Cabot), who introduces himself as Rocky’s “guide” to this strange, new world he finds himself in. Larry Blyden is quite convincing as the hardened-beyond-redemption Rocky, playing the character in just such a way that you can’t feel any sympathy for him.
And where exactly is Rocky? Well, it takes the gangster some time to work it out, but he eventually does realize he’s not on Earth anymore (though you’d think being accompanied by a mysterious figure dressed in white would’ve been a big clue, but then again Rocky’s not that smart). Rocky then decides that since he’s dead and not burning up in flames, well then he must be in Heaven! You really can’t blame Rocky for jumping to this conclusion, as the gangster has found himself in very plush surroundings: he’s in the penthouse of a posh hotel and casino, he has beautiful girls waiting on him hand and foot, a brand new car to drive whenever he wants, and he always has the best luck at the gaming tables. It’s an absolute Paradise for someone like Rocky…or is it?
See, if you pay attention, there are clues seeded from the beginning that indicate Rocky isn’t where he thinks he is. For example, observe how Pip interacts with Rocky, particularly when he’s trying on his new clothes. While his “guide” is full of flattery, he’s not exactly sincere in his compliments. And then there’s the fact that no one else is in “Heaven” with Rocky. You don’t need a Masters in Theology to know that Heaven isn’t meant to be an empty place. There’s also the telling look at Rocky’s “file” in the Hall of Records (during the gangster’s brief doubts that he’s ended up in the correct place), where it’s revealed that Rocky had quite the sinful life, with no redeeming moments whatsoever. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful Sebastian Cabot is in his role as Pip throughout the episode. The way he plays the character, you can tell he’s more than happy to guide Rocky throughout his “domain” but he’s also visibly holding quite a deal back (as we’ll see shortly).
The biggest clue of all to what’s going on can be found in Rocky’s unnatural luck. What seemed to be a heavenly blessing is actually a curse, because try as he might Rocky can’t stop winning, no matter what game he plays! That might not sound so bad, but think about it: imagine you’re playing a game and all you do is win, time after time for DAYS at a time. That would get boring wouldn’t it? Well, after a month in “Heaven” that’s exactly what happens to Rocky; the gangster is bored out of his skull because he’s getting everything he ever wanted with absolutely no risk involved, an intolerable situation for someone like Rocky, who’s thrived on risk his whole life. Rocky can’t stand being in a place, no matter how nice, where there isn’t any risk to him.
As a result of this boredom, while Rocky still believes he’s in Heaven, he finally decides he’s in the wrong place after all, and asks to go to “the other place (Hell).” And that’s when it happens, that’s when Pip delivers the immortal line that turns everything you thought you knew about this story on its head:
“Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!“
How I wish I could go back and relive the first time I heard that line over again, because it really is a game changer. The idea that such a nice place could really be “the other place,” it really blew my mind. I think of all the series’ twists, this is the one that hides itself the best, right until the end anyway. Of course, in hindsight, given The Twilight Zone’s known history of unexpected twists, maybe a lot of people saw it coming after all. Regardless of whether you expected it or not, Rocky’s reaction to finding out where he’s been all this time is priceless. It’s amazing how quickly you want to leave when you find out your “Paradise” is actually a gilded cage in the middle of Hell itself.
Let me know what you think of “A Nice Place to Visit” in the comments below and have a great day!
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