The Twilight Zone: Heather Anne Campbell On Crafting Twists
The writer of “Not All Men” and co-writer of “Six Degrees of Freedom” explains the most chilling new trips to The Twilight Zone.
This week, the latest episode of Jordan Peele’s newly rebooted Twilight Zone tackles aspects of the #MeToo era with the chilling episode “Not All Men.” When a meteor shower seemingly causes all the men in small town to turn into murderous rioting monsters, the episode explores just exactly where the problem comes from originally, and more importantly, how women can fight back.
The episode also borrows a few beats from one of the best episode of the original series; “The Monsters are Due On Maple Street.” But, the writer of the episode — Heather Anne Campbell (who also co-wrote “Six Degrees of Freedom” — tells Den of Geek that this episode wasn’t about fan service. She also revealed why she thinks the twist in this episode worked, and also, how the writers’ room of the new Twilight Zone approach writing horror.
We caught up with Campbell just before the new episode dropped. Here’s what she told us.
Spoilers ahead for The Twilight Zone Episode 7: Not All Men.
DEN OF GEEK: How did “Not All Men” get written? Was this something you pitched to Jordan Peele and Glen Morgan? Aspects of it feel like a reboot of the classic episode “The Monsters are Due On Maple Street.” How much of that was in there?
HEATHER ANNE CAMPBELL: I did pitch this episode Win Rosenfeld before the writers’ room began. Obviously, the episode is generated by headlines we are all faced with. I didn’t want to do fan service exactly to the original series. But I did want to do some hat-tipping to the original Serling episodes.
This episode flips that premise of that Serling episode though right? I mean, the big spoiler is that there is no extraterrestrial influence. Can you speak to how that twist formed?
One of things I was playing with is that women [in real life] are constantly in The Twilight Zone. And that a lot of the headlines we read every day, whether it’s school shootings or police brutality, they are always positioned as culturalproblems; America has a gun problem, for example. But, the truth is that for woman reading that headline, there aren’t usually female shooters. And police brutality is predominantly — if not exclusively — a male problem.
further reading: The Twilight Zone On Stage – A Classic Enters a New Dimension
So, women who experience the news everyday are being indicted or being made complicit in problems we have no responsibility over or agency in. I kind of wanted to get at that kernel and really be like: Hey, for a woman navigating in the world, things are a little bit weird. And I think that’s the energy of my favorite sci-fi and my favorite Twilight Zones.
At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that some men have the power to “resist” this false anger epidemic. One character says he just “chose not to” sort of give in. Can you unpack that moment for me?
I would credit both CBS and Win[Rosenfeld] and Jordan[Peele] to make it clear that this was a choice these characters were faced with. That each of the male characters in this supernatural — but not supernatural — experience, were given an option. And I think it was an excellent way to clarify the issue.
Okay, so at the end of the episode, we’ve got a kind of zombie-esque Luke Kirby lurching toward Taissa Farmiga, entoning Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” It seems like this song has become the stalker song. Is it officially ruined now?
I’ll be straight up honest: I’m pretty sure that was Jordan’s idea! I think he was like, “Oh, he’s got to sing that song. It’s got to be that song.” I think it’s a great addition. And I think it is ruined forever. Yes!
You have a background in comedy. People often talk a lot about a connection between horror and comedy, do you think that’s true? Did your comedy writing help you with both with the writing of “Not All Men,” but also, “Six Degrees of Freedom”?
I believe the relationship between The Twilight Zone and comedy is connected to how the characters react to the premise. So in “Six Degrees of Freedom,” if you hear that the world is blown up and you’re an astronaut and your reaction is “Oh shit man, my car. I really loved my car.” If that’s how you responded to it, that’s a comedy premise. But if you react with sadness and horror then it’s a Twilight Zone episode. In the same way, if you were to do a sketch version of “Not All Men,” it would be a bunch of dudes having a fight in a bar, and like main character saying, “What are they so angry about? Are they out of oysters?” It would just be like the wrongresponse to the problem.
I don’t think having a comedy background is a prerequisite — Glen Morgan is a brilliant thinker, and doesn’t have a comedy background, as are many people who work on this show. But you know, Jordan obviously does. So, I won’t say that having a comedy background hurts.
And that’s because both horror and comedy rely on writing hyperbole? Right?
Yeah. I think laughter is often is what follows after we are frightened. That’s why when you see a horror movie, after you’re scared, and you remember you’re not really in danger, and then, everyone in the audience laughs. With The Twilight Zone, that relationship is braided, we’re not trying to elicit laughter, we are trying to elicit horror. But it’s still surprising. The surprise is the key.