Jordan Peele’s ambitious reboot of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” has managed to become one of the most polarizing series of the year, but it’s definitely inspired people to talk and that’s a good thing. Peele is not settling on merely a tribute, but has managed to retrofit a lot of classic episodes to modern sensibilities. While some episodes were clunkers, most episodes this season have been fantastic. With the season finale airing now on CBS All Access, I thought I’d list the five best episodes of the first season.
5. Six Degrees of Freedom
A radical spin on “Where is Everybody?” episode six is the most heavily science fiction oriented episode, centering on a group of space explorers deep in the universe. During their historic trip to Mars, they receive word that Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war and there is no going back. Faced with being probably the only human beings in existence, the struggle to survive becomes more and more harrowing. The grief and mourning becomes overbearing, allegiances are tested, power structure is managed, and sanity falls apart as one crew member swears that they’re all being watched by an unknown force. Teeming with a killer soundtrack and a great surprise ending, “Six Degrees of Freedom” is definitely thought provoking and suspenseful.
4. A Traveler
Another very politically relevant statement about our current social and political culture, episode four is a wonderful spin on “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Focusing on a small jail in Alaska, the group of officers is preparing to ring in Christmas and celebrate the night away. As they ready the annual pardon of a prisoner, they find a mysterious suited man in the cells asking to be removed.
They don’t know how he got there, but his charm and way with words arouses everyone’s curiosity. Steven Yeun once again proves he can play literally any role as he portrays a unique albeit menacing character who is a charming gent at first but soon proves to be even more sinister than we ever imagined. As he begins revealing secrets and turning neighbor on neighbor, the episode reveals how easy it is to spin the wheels on certain social constructs allowing anyone or anything to take over. Filled with wonderful atmosphere, and a stunning final scene, “A Traveler” is impressive.
A spin on the classic “A Kind of Stop Watch,” Episode three pits its focus less on personal desire and more on racial relations. Sanaa Lathan is great as mom Nina, a young woman driving her son Dorian to college for freshman orientation. On the road there, she pulls out a vintage camcorder to chronicle the journey. After a small embarrassing moment at a diner, she hits a button and realizes the camcorder can rewind time and allow her to replay the moment all over again.
While driving they’re confronted by racist officer Lasky who looks for every reason to become aggressive with Dorian and bring him in. When the confrontation ends violently, Nina uses the camcorder to change his fate. Soon she begins using the camcorder to avoid the officer, but no matter what she does he keeps finding his way to them. “Replay” is a lot about racial injustice and the challenges faced by minorities in the world, no matter what they do, and it’s also about the fear of letting go of our children and allowing ourselves to come to grips with our inability to control everything.
2. The Wunderkind
A spin on “It’s a Good Life,” episode five asks us “What would happen if a petulant, spoiled, self centered brat became the president of the United States?” Can you imagine what would happen if a spoiled rotten brat was given all the power at his fingertips? Jacob Tremblay from “Room” gives a disturbing turn as Oliver, a young boy who becomes a pet project for Raff (John Cho), a has-been campaign manager after he releases a viral video to become president. What starts as a fun experiment turns in to a nightmare as Oliver reveals himself to not only be spoiled, vain, and immensely temperamental, but also crafty and vindictive. “The Wunderkind” might end up being the most relevant episode of the new season and a narrative that will stick to you for days.
1. Blurry Man
While the series itself has been an anthology, episode ten “Blurry Man” shows how Jordan Peele has been thinking about the bigger picture since the beginning. Zazie Beetz plays Sophie, a writer on the new “The Twilight Zone” who is having a tough time getting the narration for the new episode in time. With Jordan Peele urging her to get it done, and Sophie drawing discontent of her crew, including the episode’s stars. Much to her horror, Sophie realizes she’s being chased around by a blurry man, a blurred being that is dead set on pursuing her in every facet of her life.
He’s even appeared in every single episode of the season so far. “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it,” claims one of the episode’s editors. And yes, the Blurry Man does in fact appear in every single episode of the season including the premiere “The Comedian.” It’s a stunning little recurring Easter Egg that brings full circle what Sophie is experiencing. As the Blurryman follows her around and stalks her, Sophie comes to a huge realization that shakes up the whole series. The finale is a wonderful tribute to the legacy of “The Twilight Zone” and a fantastic statement about the power of stories and how they can benefit us by expanding our world, and helping us escape what we can’t control in our reality.
“The Twilight Zone” is now streaming on CBS All Access.