"A Stop At Willoughby" is the thirtieth episode of The Twilight Zone, first broadcast in May of 1960. It was written by Rod Serling and was directed by Robert Parrish. It starred James Daly as harried advertising executive Gart Williams, Howard Smith as his boss, and features a small part by Jason Wingreen, later the voice of Boba Fett, as a train conductor.
While most of my viewing of Twilight Zone episodes has been done with a clean slate, this one is one I am well familiar with. In fact, in my family, the titular town in this episode is a catchphrase of sorts. But this episode makes more sense to me after viewing other Twilight Zone episodes.
Gart Williams is having trouble at work, in a 1950s executive type of way, and having trouble at home, because his wife expects him to be a careerist. His only relief comes on his evening commute home, when he catches a glimpse of a peaceful town called "Willoughby", which he then loses sight of, and which the conductor claims to have no knowledge of. As his problems become deeper, his glimpses of the town become longer and more involving. At the end of the episode, we see what exactly "Willoughby" is, and it is a bittersweet revelation.
What I have realized after watching other Twilight Zone episodes is that this episode fits in the category of magical realism. There is nothing necessarily supernatural in it. And instead of exploring a single external concept (for example: what if a man could change his face?), it deals with subtle emotions. It does have some social commentary, but I read it as more of a personal story, interspersed with large doses of nostalgia. It is similar to Walking Distance, Elegy and the pilot Where is Everybody? in its treatment of the connection between an idealized small town America and the mixed threat and promise of the future. This is perhaps not the most stark or memorable episode of the Twilight Zone, but it deals with its themes well.