This TWILIGHT ZONE review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 7
It may be the fact that 2020 is a better episode of The Twilight Zone than any writer could ever conceive of, or that we’re living in an actual dystopian nightmare, or that we’ve seen enough real-life monsters to be desensitized to them when we see them on our screens, that makes “A Human Face” feel so aggressively meh. Sure, we haven’t had a cosmic event and alien visitors chewing on our furniture —yet— but certainly, if it were to occur, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that’s happened in the past few months.
This episode of The Twilight Zone talks about grief, and the things people will do to bring back those they lost.
Voices on a radio make an announcement warning of a cosmic flare no one need worry about. On a nondescript suburban street, inside a contemporary family home, Robert (Christopher Meloni) and Barbara (Jenna Elfman) are grieving the loss of their daughter, Maggie (Tavi Gevinson), and packing up to move house.
After a strange but fleeting electrical disruption, the couple investigate in the basement, where they find a weird, semi-transparent being, which very vaguely takes on the image of their daughter. They run away, like they have good sense, and Barbara asks Robert if he noticed “her” eyes. Believing she’s seen her daughter, Barbara refuses to leave the house, and they return to the basement instead. Senses gone.
Back in the basement, the creature begins to morph, eventually taking on the shape of their daughter. It speaks to them with her voice, and they run away —again— and hide in the bathroom, which seems futile given it exited the basement by passing right through the ceiling. The creature doesn’t walk through the door to get to them, though, it calls to them from outside, becoming more solidified in the process.
They disagree on whether to engage “her,” but Barbara gives in and opens the door. Robert is desperately trying to cling to rationality, and tries to convince himself and Barbara that what he sees with his own eyes isn’t real. And with that same vehemence, Barbara is trying to ignore the very obvious Otherness of the being mimicking their daughter. He wants to move forward and she wants to go back.
Robert spends the entire episode, from the moment he’s on-screen, maintaining a healthy detachment from any emotional traps. He’s breaking down the furniture in his daughter’s room when we first meet him because, he says, movers charge by the hour. But more importantly, his daughter is gone, and what’s left is just stuff.
Throughout the ordeal, he’s firm that the creature is not his daughter. He is not swayed when he hears Maggie’s voice, nor when she thoroughly drags him for being a hands-off parent and emotionally abusive husband. And it’s not that he doesn’t believe his daughter is there somewhere —because he’s absolutely trying to convince himself as much as he is trying to convince his wife, that Maggie is gone gone and the being wearing her visage is not her— but he refuses to open himself up to the potential, because losing his daughter twice might be something he can’t logic his way out of.
Barbara, on the other hand, just needs a reason. She’s not reluctant at all to trust the creature, which she’s seen both in its true form (presumably) and mid-transformation into the facade of her daughter. She knows as well as Robert that Maggie is gone, but she needs to believe she’s not, because she hasn’t moved on and hasn’t wanted to.
Not-Mags confesses that they’re a Biological Pacification drone, sent to conquer, but that they became so entangled with Maggie’s —the real Maggie’s— thoughts and emotions, they turned off their directive (to “conquer,” whatever that means) and want to post up and play house with their pseudo-parents instead. Robert has asked every right question, and makes every right assumption about not-Mags motives and tactics, and not-Mags tells them, to their faces, that he was absolutely correct.
Barbara just takes it all at face value because she never needed to be convinced. As soon as she thought she had even a modicum of hope to see Maggie again, she latched onto the idea, never mind the how or why. Robert though, is vindicated. The being is there to conquer them, like he assumed, and it took on their daughter’s appearance to do so, like he said. Yet —YET!— it only takes not-Mags to express her love for him, to give him one quick cuddle, for him to throw away all of the logic and rationality he’s been clutching onto this entire time.
Once Barbara and Robert accept their alien child, they walk out their front door hand in hand, along with everyone else in this neighborhood. Because apparently they live on a block where literally every child has died? The creature has fulfilled its directive, though. However happy the outcome is for the couple, the population is pacified.
I definitely get what this episode is trying to say about grief —about how people will believe in, or do anything to be with their loved ones again— but this point has certainly been made before, in much more entertaining and emotionally satisfying ways. Even with fantastic performances by the entire cast, this episode fails to impress or make any impact whatsoever.