This Twilight Zone review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Episode 9
For better or for worse, the first season of Jordan Peele’s new version of The Twilight Zone will be perceived as the most politically motivated version of the series, ever. But then again, what good science fiction series worth its space salt isn’t? The difference between the new Zone and say, something like Black Mirror is in degrees of subtly. While both shows are pretty obvious about what issues they’re tackling, the new Zone is a little more on-the-nose. And, in the latest episode, “The Blue Scorpion,” the political message of the episode is wrapped up in a last minute twist.
Fans of the old Twilight Zone or even old school SF stories (like the oeuvre of Harlan Ellison) will find something of a classic set-up in the new episode; “The Blue Scorpion.” When a man named Jeff (Chris O’Dowd) discovers his anti-gun hippie father has unexpectedly committed suicide with a white-handled gun, sporting a creepy blue scorpion, he’s drawn into a narrative, which seems to be controlled by the haunted gun itself. The audience sees that the bullet that killed Jeff’s father, had his father’s name, “Ottis” emblazoned on the side. Now, once Jeff gets a hold of the gun, there’s a bullet with hisname on it, too.
In an early twist, the episode raises the stakes when Jeff suddenly meets a ton of other Jeffs. His wife’s divorce lawyer is named Jeff. His wife’s new boyfriend is named Jeff. Even a gun dealer willing to pay a fortune for the Blue Scorpion has the last name Jeff. So, which Jeff will the magic bullet claim? Will the mythical Blue Scorpion really solve all of our Jeff’s problems, and if so, how?
This tension is fantastic, as is Jeff’s slow transformation from unwilling and fearful gun owner, to a person who is literally in love with this powerful Blue Scorpion. Because this is The Twilight Zone, Jeff’s love affair with the gun is slightly supernatural — we’re told repeatedly that it is haunted and cursed. But, the obvious point here is that in real life, people do love guns, and seemingly value their love of those objects above other people.
Jeff’s job in the episode is an anthropology professor, and in a moment of slightly contrived thematic layering, has a conversation with one of his students about the differences between anthropomorphization and animism. The former, he explains, is all about thinking objects or animals have human characteristics, the second is a religious belief.
For Jeff and the gun — and maybe many gun owners — the adamant defense of guns does often feel like a religion in real life; one way or another. When I spoke to the writer of this episode, Glen Morgan, a few weeks back, he told me the goal was to do an episode about a gun that didn’t feel too obvious. “We worked really hard to make sure that the left wouldn’t turn it off right away, but that the NRA wouldn’t either,” Morgan said.
For the most part, this approach works. When the employees of a shooting range suspect Jeff is plotting a murder, they’re visible horrified and distrustful. All the gun dealers ask for Jeff’s paperwork. In other words, the pro-gun people are presented as law-abiding, and not “gun nuts.” Which is part what makes the poignancy of the episode a little better than some of the other recent new Twilight Zones.
Like Jeff, I’m staunchly anti-gun, but like many left-leaning folks, I enjoy fictional narratives aboutguns. Whether or not this fetisization of guns in media is duplicitous or not isn’t really the point of “The Blue Scorpion,” though. The point is to make us realize that a “good guy,” like Jeff can fall in love with the power of a gun, which in fairness, anti-gun people do all the time when we watch movies and TV featuring a ton of guns.
Briefly, when watching these things, have a love affair with guns. In those stories, the guns aren’t real, they’re just metaphor. What this Twilight Zone episode does is sort of sarcastically suggest that the love of the object is the problem, that yes, guns do kill people, but that people loving guns is worrisome, too. After all, Jeff quotes Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (“Did you take five shots or six?”) as he parades around his house playing around with his gun.
In the Kurt Vonnegut novel, Deadeye Dick, the narrator says ironically: “The bullet was a symbol, and nobody was ever hurt by a symbol. It was a farewell to my childhood and a confirmation of my manhood.” The bitter misguided idea behind this notion is disturbingly on display in the ending of “The Blue Scorpion.” Eventually, the magic gun doeshelp Jeff, just not in the way we thought: He accidentally kills a neighborhood criminal, surprisingly, also named Jeff. This random act suddenly makes Jeff a hero.
After it’s all over, and Jeff gets a happier ending than we sense he deserves, the Blue Scorpion finds its way into the hands of two children, and sure enough, one of the bullets has the name of one of the children on it. The ending doesn’t sayone of these children will die, but it is clear that the fantasy of a powerful gun is still haunting the characters in The Twilight Zone. Just like that same fantasy haunts everyone in our world, too.