Jordan Peele’s updated The Twilight Zone takes on hot topics while still being wildly entertaining.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you definitely should.
Viewers have always loved the uncanny, which is why Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone was so wildly successful back in the 1950s-1960s, and continues to gain viewers through re-runs sixty years later. Spanning over 150 episodes, the show took on the bizarre and macabre, featuring everything from extra-terrestrials to robots.
But even Sterling’s show required updating, and who better to helm the reins than Get Out and Us director Jordan Peele? Following a similar anthology style to the original series, the first season of Peele’s The Twilight Zone was far more condensed—only ten episodes long—but with powerful messages that are bound to resonate with contemporary audiences.
It is surprising that barely anyone is talking about the new show, which features an excellent cast and outstanding writing. We look at each of the episodes of the new The Twilight Zone and outline why you should be watching it.
The Big Sick writer and actor Kumail Nanjiani leads this stellar opening episode of a stand-up comic who is a bit too political to be successful. That is, until he gains the power to make everyone laugh by talking about someone in his life. His shows become rousing successes but the people he talks about concurrently disappear from existence. A great way to take out enemies, but what about loved ones?
Not only is this episode full of surprises, but it also includes a ton of references to the original The Twilight Zone. Banking on Nanjiani’s likeability and believability, ‘The Comedian’ is suspenseful and heart-breaking with an ending that is as stunning as it is unexpected. And who can’t love a show that opens its inaugural season with a majority of people of colour in its cast?
If you’re looking for a story about responsibility and abuse of power, with a hint of the supernatural, you can’t do better than this.
Nightmare at 30,000 Feet
Adam Scott plays Justin Sanderson, a depressed journalist who hears a podcast about the very flight he’s on. Aware of their dire circumstances, Justin does everything in his power to prevent the crash, including accusing fellow passengers of sabotaging the plane. But is he simply playing into the hands of fate?
Another thriller of an episode, ‘Nightmare at 30,000 Feet’ also has much to say about race relations across borders. There are distinct undertones of racism in the way Justin reacts to his co-passengers and who he thinks could be the saboteur. In the end, the answer to Sanderson’s questions were right in front of his nose—but like so many people who believe they are doing the right thing, he simply doesn’t see it.
This tense episode will leave you reeling with its revelations and question how you would react in similar circumstances.
One of the best episodes of the new The Twilight Zone, and also more culturally relevant, ‘Replay’ sees Sanaa Lathan’s Nina Harrison trying to spend one last day with her son Dorian, played brilliantly by Damson Idris, before he goes to college. But a racist police officer has other plans, finding excuses to hound Nina and Dorian. Chances are high that Dorian will not live to see the end of this day, unless Nina uses a magical camcorder that lets her relive events she’s recorded.
One couldn’t ask for a more obvious and powerful statement on race relations in America than with ‘Replay’. Sanaa Lathan puts in a powerhouse performance that will have you shaking with rage and fearing for Dorian’s safety till the credits roll. The police officer’s singular, dogged determination to ruin Nina and Dorian’s day is horrifying to watch but so true to life. If the first two episodes somehow fail to gain your attention, ‘Replay’ will have you hooked on this show.
One of the more bizarre episodes of the season, ‘The Traveler’ tackles race and otherness with a heavy doze of science fiction. Sergeant Yuka Mongoyak, played by Marika Sila, a young actor we need to see more of, is the only indigenous officer in her Alaskan precinct. She has to deal with the constant jibes and macho-ness of Captain Lane Pendleton, Greg Kinnear at his smarmy best, but it all comes to a head on Christmas Eve, when Mongoyak’s own brother, Jack (Patrick Gallagher), is in jail. And then, a mysterious visitor, A Traveler (Steven Yeun), appears out of nowhere. A Traveler seems to be a huge fan of Pendleton’s but Mongoyak soon realises that that’s not the only thing wrong with the visitor.
‘The Traveler’ capitalises on Sila’s presence as the constantly ill-at-ease sergeant to portray the eeriness of her situation and the ensuing events of the night. Kinnear is amazing as the self-centred big fish in a small pond, who, after receiving a few compliments from A Traveler, considers himself a celebrity. It all comes to a bizarre conclusion that is as other-worldly as it is chilling, making you question whether the people you know can be trusted, and challenges how you perceive people who aren’t like you.
This episode doesn’t hold back with its political statements. John Cho plays Raff Hanks, a failed campaign manager who decides to back a child, Oliver Foley, astutely portrayed by Oscar-nominee Jacob Tremblay, who makes YouTube videos about wanting to be the president of the United States. Hanks is so desperate for a win, that he does everything in his power to ensure Foley wins. He never questions whether the child should win.
We all know who this episode is about—Tremblay’s Foley is a barely disguised version of the current US president, all talk and impulse, with little interest in the wants or needs of the people. Instead, Foley is someone who manages to win over enough people with promises that will do more harm than good. We have already seen Tremblay’s repertoire and he absolutely shines in this episode.
In Cho, ‘The Wunderkind’ has a personable and smart protagonist who puts his faith in the wrong person—a feeling so many people are beginning to become familiar with. The episode starts off as pastiche but slowly proceeds into tense territory with an ending that is horrifying and painfully revealing.
Six Degrees of Freedom
One of the few episodes of this debut season to take place off Earth, ‘Six Degrees of Freedom’ follows a space crew on a year-long mission to Mars. But the moment they are about to leave for orbit, an apocalyptic event takes place—if they don’t leave Earth, they die with everyone else. If they do leave, they do so with the knowledge that their loved ones may be gone forever.
This episode makes the most of its claustrophobic environment and tense circumstances to study human emotions and relationships. Of course, this being The Twilight Zone, there are plenty of eerie moments and an ending that is both disturbing and intriguing. But more than anything else, this episode asks viewers what they would do in similar circumstances and how they would cope with loss.
The entire cast is brilliant, led by a multi-faceted performance by DeWanda Wise as mission commander Alexa Brandt. It’s also amazing to see a science-oriented story featuring a majority cast of female characters, including a woman of colour as the lead. This is more than enough to make one love ‘Six Degrees of Freedom’, and the suspense adds another striking layer that one can’t help but be drawn to.
Not All Men
This episode takes its name from the nonsensical #NotAllMen that all too often appears in conversations about the impact that toxic masculinity has on marginalised communities, particularly women. Taissa Farmiga plays Annie Miller, a quiet office worker who is thrilled to go on a date with her co-worker. But when the date goes awry, she is left disturbed and wondering how she is meant to interact with her colleague at work. But all those concerns are pushed aside when a meteor shower turns the men of the town into hyper-violent beings, causing untold havoc in their path.
‘Not All Men’ is as brutal as it is on the nose. There is no beating about the bush with the message in this episode, as the male characters, the good and the bad, become horrifying caricatures of themselves, beating each other senseless. The dialogue co-opts the constant barrage of harassment women face and subverts them in telling and powerful ways that will have you pumping the air with your fist.
The ending is stunning, succinctly identifying and rectifying the problem that plagues so many misogynists. If only they would watch this episode and learn how to cure themselves.
Point of Origin
Once Upon A Time’s Ginnifer Goodwin plays Eve Martin, a housewife far too comfortable in her perfect life. But after her household help, Anna Fuentes (Zabryna Guevara), is whisked away by authorities, Eve finds herself also detained under mysterious circumstances with no escape in sight.
The most chilling episode of the season, ‘Point of Origin’ will have you fearing for your safety and questioning how anyone can hate another simply because of where they came from. This episode tackles people’s reactions to immigrants head-on and doesn’t hold back in its estimation of ICE. Immigrants in all countries will feel a distinct chill watching this episode, but this episode isn’t aimed at immigrants—it’s aimed at the people who view immigrants as ‘other’.
‘Point of Origin’ shows Peele and co.’s genius by employing a white housewife as the protagonist, thus making her relatable to a large segment of the population. By tying Eve’s plight into Anna’s, the episode shows how easily people can begin to perceive someone as ‘other’. Had the story followed only Anna, the target audience for this episode wouldn’t have any reaction to the story—Anna isn’t like ‘them’, but Eve is, and so if something like this can happen to her, it can happen to them, as well.
I could write an entire article on ‘Point of Origin’, which is brilliant, tense, heart-breaking, and terrifying in every way. This is one of the strongest stories about immigration that one will encounter, not only on the show, but in recent years, and demonstrates just how good The Twilight Zone is.
The Blue Scorpion
Chris O’Dowd plays Jeff Storck, a university professor who is struggling with his divorce, when he finds his father has killed himself using an elusive gun known as the Blue Scorpion. Once the gun comes into Jeff’s possession, strange events start occurring around him and he soon begins to wonder whether this gun is more than just a weapon.
For all intents and purposes, ‘The Blue Scorpion’ is an unnerving episode about a sentient gun and a man who becomes a bit too attached to it. But dig under the surface and this episode starts to question current policies surrounding gun control and the general apathy towards gun violence in certain parts of the world. The text of this episode is so subtle in its takedown of such policies that only the most astute will see it for what it is—a diatribe against those who believe that having access to guns is more important than the people they kill.
Chris O’Dowd does a phenomenal job of playing the increasingly unhinged Jeff while still managing to highlight the episode’s primary goal of dissecting gun laws. An astoundingly well-written episode with a deeply disturbing ending that should have the power to change opinions on guns.
The final episode of the debut season of The Twilight Zone is surprisingly its weakest. But not for lack of trying. A meta episode to end all meta episodes, ‘Blurryman’ follows Sophie Gelson, played by Zazie Beetz, a writer on The Twilight Zone (yes, you read that right), as she desperately tries to escape an ominous figure who is stalking her.
I say this episode is the season’s weakest, but only because its message isn’t as impactful as those of the episodes before. There is no discussion of race, immigration, gun violence, or the human capacity to abuse any and all power one has. Instead, this episode questions how our imaginations work and when, and why, we begin to hold ourselves back so we can fit into the world. The episode does so through the rather terrifying figure of the Blurryman whose identity is as surprising as it is extraordinary.
There’s still plenty to love in this episode, which is nothing short of an ode to The Twilight Zone, both the new and old versions, and a call to action for all those who dare to dream. The episode may leave you underwhelmed, but it will certainly make you want to create something beautiful for yourself.
You Should Watch This Show!
These brief glimpses of the episodes of the new The Twilight Zone should give you a good enough idea of the direction of the show and why it resonates with contemporary audiences. This season is undoubtedly all about taking a stand against the injustices in this world, and it does so with gripping and thought-provoking storytelling.
Alongside the episodes’ throwbacks to the original show, and the links between each instalment of this season, The Twilight Zone is a wonder of easter eggs and excellent moments that live on with viewers long after the credits have rolled.
With Peele at the helm, The Twilight Zone manages to achieve what so many shows, anthologies and otherwise, fail at—creating compelling stories featuring diverse and talented casts. This is the kind of show that welcomes everyone with open arms, before terrifying the living daylights out of them (in a good way).
Every episode is memorable in its own way and it is unfortunate that more people aren’t talking about how good this show is. There is so much to love and we can’t wait till the next season gives us more horror and wonder from The Twilight Zone.