This Twilight Zone review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Episode 10
The season finale of Jordan Peele’s newly rebooted version of The Twilight Zone is perhaps the best argument for why the sci-fi classic was brought back to life in the first place. Unlike all the previous entries of the new Zone, this episode presents its twist right away: you’re actually watching a fake version of the new Twilight Zone, and the writer of the faux- episode, Sophie Gelson (Zazie Beetz) is slowly losing her mind.
The episode is excellent, but not because it’s a metafictional story about a sci-fi writer trapped in their own creation. This isn’t an on-the-nose cautionary tale about how escapist sci-fi can ruin your life or make you desentized to the real world (a la Black Mirror’s “USS Callister.”) Instead, the newest episode, “Blurryman,” play out like a valentine to the original Rod Serling series, but the meaning of the story is thankfully open-ended.
After a cold-open in which Seth Rogen plays a writer who accidentally causes a nuclear holocaust just by writing about it; the episode reveals that Seth Rogen is playing Seth Rogen, an actor in an episode of the The Twilight Zone. Remember that moment in Adaptation when “Charlie Kaufman” (played by Nicolas Cage) visits the set of Being John Malkovich? This is the new Twilight Zone’s version of that. Jordan Peele is playing “himself,” but a kind of hyperbole version of himself; as though he was playing “Jordan Peele” on the TV show Extras. This version of Peele isn’t an asshole, but he’s certainly more of a jerk than he seems to be in reality.
But, this is all in the service of a great premise: in the narrative, Peele is simply Sophie’s boss, and he wants some rewrites from her that she’s having a hard time delivering. Early in the episode, the two discuss the importance of the opening narration from the “narrator,” Serling in the original and Peele now. During their conversation, Sophie makes great pains to point out that The Twilight Zone is so much more than its sci-fi genre trappings, to which Peele replies, “Our show is sci-fi, right?”
It’s an important moment, because that single phrase ends ups defining the entire episode. Throughout the story, Sophie is stalked by a strange, blurry figure, a person who seems to be intent on scaring the shit out of her. But, she’s also be dogged by the notion that she’s working a lot and perhaps taking the “importance” of writing for The Twilight Zone a little too seriously.
This culminates in a flashback to her youth: we see young Sophie being accosted by a parent for wanting to escape into The Twilight Zone; specifically, the classic episode “Time Enough at Last,” in which Burgess Meredith wanders an empty post-nuclear Earth, searching for something to read.
The solitude of the main character from that classic episode and Sophie’s existential crisis are intertwined into an excellent meditation about the responsibilities and purposes of science fiction and fantasy. Is it all just commerce? A repacking of a product? Or do the messages from science fiction matter? Do they change people? Most pressingly: is it all just a little childish to play so much scary make believe?
This final question is answered smartly when Sophie eventually discovers the identity of the Blurryman; it’s none other than Rod Serling. The viewer is invited to believe that Sophie has literally entered another dimension, or, more specifically, a place where various dimensions can be accessed.
As the two walk into an endless hallway of black and white doors, the voiceover reminds us that things from our childhoods should not be set aside; and that perhaps this middle ground between important art and pop entertainment is exactly where the new Twilight Zone wants to live. It’s an ending that will warm the heart of any longtime fan of thoughtful science fiction, but also make you feel like a kid again; longing for just one more new episode of your favorite far-out show.