When things are really tough, we tend to hope for something miraculous to happen, for some bit of magic that will transform some inevitable doom. Of course, hoping that something will be the case is a form of imagining it to be the case, and so is something that takes place in the Twilight Zone, that is, in the imagination.
Things are really tough of Luis Gallegos, who is not only a poor Mexican in a hard-scrabble Western town of tough, unsympathetic white pioneers, but he has just accidentally killed a white girl, and has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging, probably all in the same day. And it’s worse than that: There is a surly, disgusting resident named Sykes, who has provided the rope for the hanging, and taunts Luis about his impending execution. This is the second episode featuring a hanging.
Luis accepts his sentence, but his father hopes for a miracle, and Sykes exploits this, selling him some “magic dust” that will save the day, and spare his son. And, surprisingly to everyone present, Luis is spared, after his father spreads the dust. The dust is spread, the hangman’s rope breaks, and Luis survives. A miracle, or just a post hoc occurrence?
What is special is not the breaking of the rope, but what happens next. The victim’s family has the authority to order the execution to continue, or to pardon Luis. The mother says: “we leave it like this – one victim is enough.” Serling concludes: “In any quest for magic, … first check the human heart.” As in so many episodes, the final outcome is the result of natural, not supernatural, causes.
Following on the heels of “Night of the Meek,” it bears mention that Serling’s characters and themes exhibit cultural and ethnic diversity that was far less present in television and film than it is at present. “Dust” portrays the brutal racism towards the native Mexicans whose land in what became the American Southwest was taken from them, particularly through the character of Sykes. “Night of the Meek” reveals the poverty of those unable to provide for themselves, the poor and the elderly of the inner city. Even the suburbs, the sanitized, seemingly uniform community of white residents, turns out to crack with the slightest suspicion of a loss of security in “The Monsters are due on Elm Street.”