****AT THE SIGNPOST UP AHEAD: THE SPOILER ZONE!****
An indigenous Alaskan policewoman, Sgt. Yuka (Marinka Sila) is taking her own drunkard brother Jack (Patrick Gallagher) to jail on Christmas Eve on a drunk & disorderly charge. There, he is expected to get some turkey, a slice of pumpkin pie, and the annual Christmas Eve pardon of the amiable yet egotistical Captain Pendleton (Greg Kinnear); the captain’s annual tradition. Since the year has been slow, Yuka is sure her foul but harmless brother will be released in a matter of hours, at most.
After locking Jack in a cell to sleep it off for awhile, Yuka participates in the annual Christmas party of her colleagues, where Pendleton holds court…speechifying with holiday cheer. The power of the station house periodically dips due to their proximity of a secretive (and vital) military installation, but Pendleton doesn’t seem to mind, as he reminds his colleagues to give thanks to their mindful military neighbors. It’s the sort of empty political theatrics that can rub some the wrong way, and the duty-bound Yuka quietly regards her sheriff as something of a blowhard.
With the cells darkened, Yuka goes to release her brother for his ceremonial pardon when she is shocked to see another prisoner in an adjacent cell… a well-dressed young man in a pinstripe suit and hat, who identifies himself as an “Aggro Traveler” (he states he legally had his name changed to “A. Traveler”). Yuka wonders just how the hell he got into the cell, and rushes to fetch the partying Pendleton. Traveler tells the Pendleton an elaborate story that strokes the captain’s ego; how Traveler come their town in the hope of receiving a legendary Christmas Eve pardon by the famed Capt. Pendleton.
Pendleton is flattered at the expense of a policeman’s curiosity, and instantly offers the suspicious but magnanimous young man his Christmas Eve pardon, as well as run of the station, allowing him to partake in their office party.
Using an unusual translucent cell phone (Russian design, the Traveler claims) to record video for his YouTube channel, the Traveler ego-strokes his way around the local precinct… but his charms fail on the suspicious Yuka.
Things begin to sour a bit as issues about the Traveler’s true identity are raised, which he expertly defects by carefully manipulating those within the station. He seems to know their thoughts, mixing lies with half-truths to stoke paranoia. He tells Yuka he’s a high-ranking agent, investigating corruption at their station that could affect the security of the United States (with no ID, because he’s too top-secret to carry one, of course).
Pendleton himself begins to turn on the young man, as the Traveler raises ethical concerns about the captain betraying the town with a clandestine Russian connection. This plays right into the suspicions Yuka has about Pendleton. She doesn’t realize that she too, is being manipulated by the Traveler. The increasingly paranoid captain believes he sees the young man briefly morph into an alien creature, as he flees to get help from the town’s military neighbors…which will lead the Traveler’s invading aliens to a critical power shed junction between their town and the military base.
Back in his cell, Traveler makes an offer for Yuka to join the ranks of his alien invasion. Yuka instead takes a police SUV in pursuit, trying to stop him from accidentally revealing the location of a critical power shed which the aliens invaders are hoping to exploit. She eventually catches up to him, and they both take a deep breath to realize how expertly they’ve been pitted against each other… as fleets of alien spacecraft appear in the wintery Alaskan skies.
Back at the precinct, drunkard Jack wonders if his new alien overlords will do a better job of running the planet, as he and the alien enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie together…
Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead”) appears to have a great time as “A Traveler”, and much of the episodes charm rests largely on his shoulders. Even when he’s blowing sunshine up everyone’s hind quarters, it’s really difficult not to like this guy…or being.
“A Traveler” shows some of the sillier customs of the holidays, but removing the seasonal veneer, it reveals an aspect of what we really are…a distrustful species with hostility towards differences within our own kind (colonialism vs. nativism, Russian paranoia, etc) that can be all-too easily exploited (by the right alien), with just a few soothing words and a pinch of holiday cheer.
In an episode that could be described as a mashup between the classic “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up” (the humor) with just a pinch of “Night of the Meek” thrown in only for Yuletide seasoning. “A Traveler” is an entertaining enough entry that suffers primarily from a too-literal ending, as well as an overly padded running time. This is a story that could’ve been easily told in the classic series’ 25 minute format with room to spare.
Despite treading upon familiar Twilight Zone territories, “A Traveler” is solid tale in the mold of the classic series, with a bit of sly social commentary, though lacking the depth and the impact of its source episodes cited earlier. While “A Traveler” isn’t exactly The Twilight Zone at its best, it’s hardly the worst of the lot, either. Even the classic series had a number of run-of-the-mill episodes, of which “A Traveler” would be right at home.