Night Gallery – The Sins of the Fathers (S2E21)

ngsinsof04God help us, another segment described by Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-hours Tour as “considered by many the show’s finest hour.”  There’s the first clue — it is 30 minutes long, but feels like an hour.

Michael Dunn, the 20th century’s Peter Dinklage, returns to his master’s house on horseback and tells them that everyone they are looking for is busy or dead or both.  They suggest Dylan Evans, so the diminutive Dunn continues his ride.

Sadly, Evans is about to croak himself.  First he was sick with the plague, now he is sick with the famine.  The family has not eaten in a week.  Dunn tempts Evans’ wife with talk of lamb, eggs, onions, bacon, bread, cake, cheese . . . but there is no way Evan can make the trip.

The deal is that Evans is a sin-eater.  Upon the death of a villager, the corpse is surrounded by a smorgasbord.  By eating the food laid out near the corpse, the sin-eater absolves the deceased of his sins.  Sounds a little too convenient during a famine, like God telling Joseph Smith that multiple teen wives were the way to salvation.

ngsinsof09Unfortunately, Dylan is too sick to make the journey, so his wife comes up with a plan. She will send their son Ian to be the sin-eater.  He is to send the mourners out of the room and stuff the food into his cloak, bringing it back home for their family.  He protests that he doesn’t know the routine, but his mother assure him it is just a lot of wailing and moaning.

So Ian and Dunn go back to the Craighill house.  Ian is spotted right away as a phony, just a boy, not a real sin-eater.  He salivates looking at the food laid out beside the body featuring colors unseen elsewhere in the segment.  He sends the others out and stuffs the food into his clothing.  He is doing the requisite wailing and moaning as he is so frustrated at not being able to eat this feast yet.  The mourners outside take this as a sign that the sin-eating has succeeded.

Despite having not eaten in a week and having a cloak full of food, he runs the 12 miles home without taking a bite.  His mother neatly puts the food in bowls, but will not let Ian eat.  She places the food around his now-dead father, and expects Ian to do some real sin-eating.  He is to be the sin-eater of the sin-eater.  At the thought of his exponential sin-eating, being damned forever, and being damned hungry at the moment, he begins wailing and thrashing about.

ngsinsof16I really don’t understand the whole concept.  At one point, it is said that the food must be eaten off the body like Sushi Girl, but that never happens.

And unless I complete misread what was happening on the screen, Ian’s mother was sopping up the sweat on his chest with a piece of bread.

Frankly, a little disappointing.  After reading about how great this was supposed to be, and how controversial, I really expected some cannibalism.


  • Twilight Zone Legacy:  Cyril Delevanti was in four episodes, but must have been small parts.  Alan Napier was in one episode, but is better known as Alfred in the 1960’s Batman.
  • Michael Dunn was everywhere and always great — Star Trek, Wild Wild West,etc.  Richard Thomas does a little too much screaming for my taste here, but he carries it off believably.
  • Unfortunately, someone had the bright idea of taking horror babe Barbara Steele and dressing her in a burka like Heather Graham in Outer Limits.
  • Skipped Segment:  You Can’t Get Help Like That Anymore.

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