Twilight Zone S2: Episodes 3-7

Today we continue our deep dive into the second season of the new Twilight Zone. Spoiler alert: there’s glimmers of hope dragged down by more dullness.

03. The Who of You

  • This episode doesn’t actually have a twist at all, but it’s basic concept, of a man that can jump from mind to mind and uses it to try and escape with a chunk of stolen cash, is actually pretty fun. It’s engaging to watch the detective following him try to unravel what’s going on and there’s a bunch of reversals and twists that keep things interesting.
  • It does showcase the problem that often the new Twilight Zone is overly blunt: actors pretend to be other people, and now he can be other people. Whoa dude. The previous episode, Downtime had the same problem, customer service manager has to deal with customer service, but it was a little less irritating than it is here. Especially because The Who of You actually tries to wrap the episode up with the metaphor by having the main character get the acting job he couldn’t at its start.
  • More in general could’ve been done with the main character. Part of it is that while his conflict is external, he wants to get away with the money, but it’s not an internal conflict. A better structure might’ve had him slipping from body to body trying to get back to his original one and his old life, but slowly realizing as the episode goes on that he doesn’t actually want to be that person anymore.

04. Ovation

  • This episode is a depressing return to the status quo after the promising direction of the last two episodes. The premise, that a down on her luck singer gets a coin that makes people love her singing regardless of whether it’s good or not, is insultingly simple. As is the theme. Fame isn’t as great as we think it is? Really? Really?
  • The episode also reveals a common problem in the new Twilight Zone, which is that characters never have interesting reactions to their newfound powers. The main character here isn’t like, awesome, I can just make money and be famous and it’s chill, who cares if my music is good or not.
  • And that gets to another core problem with Twilight Zone characters, which is that they’re rarely likable or interesting. They tend to be pretty terrible people, and while not all characters have to be likable, it’s harder to make bad ones fun to watch, and getting us to care about the downward spiral of a character is hard in such a short span of time.
  • Also the twist that he sister is now the famous one is poorly set up and has no real emotional gut punch.

05. Among the Untrodden

  • This episode, which is too boring to even give a synopsis of, hits all the problems we’ve talked about before: an unlikable and shallow main character, a middle act that sags, and falling action that’s very mildly more interesting than the episode as a whole. It’s not really worth slowing down this video to discuss, and the main emotion this episode elicited from me was boredom and mild irritation.

06. 8

  • The premise of this episode, confusingly titled 8 despite being the sixth episode of the season, is that there’s a research base stationed in Antarctica which collects and researches deep sea animals until one starts killing the researchers.
  • It’s a departure in structure from previous episodes. In my first video I talked about how Twilight Zone episodes are essentially parables where the main character has to learn something. Meet in the Middle and Ovation are both good examples of that type of espide, but 8 is less a parable and more of a horror story in terms of genre. 
  • Because of that shift in genre, it also doesn’t conform to the universal twilight zone structure we talked about before of status quo, supernatural introduction, main character exploring the supernatural element, escalation, twist, and then falling action. In the case of 8, there’s no settling in phase. Settling in is replaced with mystery, which instead of flagging instead creates tension that explodes in the escalation phase.
  • Another advantage of this approach is that character depth isn’t really needed. While it would be nice, complexity and depth aren’t actually key to the functioning of the plot. There’s a mystery and monster at the heart of it, and both help propel the story forward in a way that’s really engaging.
  • Unfortunately, all that promise is completely mangled in the episode’s second half. An octopus somehow is not only intelligent enough to immediately learn coding well enough to hack a computer, but also understands genetic engineering and is somehow going to manage it underwater and without complex tools.
  • Worse, all the characters become completely passive and just stand around narrating what the octopus is doing without making a serious effort to stop it. The octopus is basically unstoppable and omnipotent, and the central conceit simply too stupid to work, too sudden and not set up enough.
  • It’s an episode that’s an interesting departure in terms of structure and genre, but not actually a good one, the central conceit just too dumb to work.

07. A Human Face

  • This is in my opinion the best episode of season 2, or really the new Twilight Zone as a whole. The premise is that a grieving couple discover an alien in their basement that has the shape and voice of their daughter who committed suicide.
  • The episode works because it nails two things: the characters feel real and believable, and the lesson they have to learn isn’t trite an dumb. Both the husband and wife, while not horribly complex, feel multifaceted, with flaws and strengths and senses of humor, and most importantly, the rawness of their grief is hard not to relate too.
  • One of the ways the episode makes its characters feel real is that it doesn’t directly tell you what’s going on with it’s characters. They never just stand around and exposit like characters in other episodes. Instead information is revealed through their conversations and arguments, which is far more naturalistic. Even when they’re relating information about the other person it helps characterize them by what they choose to say and how they say it. Dialogue is a powerful tool, and the writers deploy it well here.
  • The length of the episode also works to its advantage. Like Downtime, it’s a half hour, ten minutes shorter than most of the other episodes in the second season. Each scene moves the plot forward and none are wasted.
  • It also manages to do something that all of the new twilight zone episodes try to do, but never quite manage: it makes the couple’s decision at the end of the episode to overcome their grief feel real and earned. It’s not some trite message they have to learn, but instead a character moment. They choose to go with the alien that looks like their daughter despite not knowing if she’s tricking them or not, not knowing if she’s leading them to their deaths, because it’s the only way to let go of their grief and regret. They’re ready, ready to take that risk to no longer be held back.
  • It’s not a perfect ending, or a perfect episode. The explanation of the alien is a little blunt, and the narrator giving an answer as to whether the alien was manipulating them or not cheapens it, but emotionally on the whole it feels earned.

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