Season one of Jordan Peele’s rebooted Twilight Zone was a bit of a heavy slog for me. Well, at least for most of the episodes. It wasn’t that the writing wasn’t good, but I felt like someone was trying to teach me a lesson all season long. The final episode changed that though. The writing and the dialogue addressed that the previous several episodes were too “on the nose”. I had high hopes for season 2, but to be honest, did nothing to keep up with when it was going to return. Finding out recently that, not only had it come back, but it was long since over, I thought: I’d better get back to that series. So for the next 10 weeks, join me as I venture back into that land of shadow and substance. Come with me into The Twilight Zone.
Meet in the Middle is a bit more akin to the original series in that the episode length is closer to the 30 minute format, which I think works far better than the longer form. That said, the first 15 minutes or so were extremely frustrating to me. And I’m not alone! I have the pleasure of taking this trip with some friends, so I do get a little added insight into these stories this time around!
Meet Phil, played by Jimmi Simpson, who has always reminded me of Christian Slater. The episode opens with Phil on a date and being very uncomfortable to watch. The audience is put off Phil from the start as he complains that a girl he’s meeting for dinner doesn’t quite look like her profile picture. It’s embarrassing and more than a bit awkward. Then Phil starts hearing a voice in his head; that of Annie. Actually it’s still pretty awkward as he ignores everything going on around him to “talk” to her. What we have here is a case of long-distance telepathy, but as a guy who works for a company that focuses on mental health, I really worried about where this was heading! While it doesn’t really go there, neither of them ask the most basic questions of one another: where do you live? What’s your name? Let’s look each other up, because let’s be honest with each other…!?! No, nothing like that!
Thankfully, at about the 15(ish) minute mark, I realized the relationship that develops is a really nice one. The two people seem to be filling a void for each other. Things are going well for Phil until he plans to meet Annie. Annie claims she is being followed and Phil is desperate to save her. Somewhere before this happened, I realized I had been filled with anxiety. Maybe this was the awareness of what I was watching: surely there could be no happy endings in The Twilight Zone. And there were a couple of hints that seemed more Twilight Zone than the actual ending: I thought maybe they were speaking not just through a long distance in space, but time as well. (Think: Frequency!) But instead of going for a very science fiction ending, we managed to get just a bit darker…
The episode does a masterful job of building tension and roping us in. I realized, for a guy I disliked at the start, I really became invested in his plight. The episode deals with the need for human connections and while I love that idea, I also think that’s part of the downfall of the story. Annie tells Phil that he does “have a purpose” but that purpose is basically to be her puppet. There are a number of problems with this for me. First of all, she ends up endangering her child. Second, she banks on this guy being able to do something that is a total gamble. But most of all, it paints Annie as a complete psycho. The story goes out of its way to let you know that the relationship between Annie and Phil develops over months. With zero physical interaction, there’s every indication that the relationship that’s developing is real. I don’t believe a human being can fake that level of relationship only to brutally betray that person. I couldn’t do that to any friend of mine, even the brief ones that you make at work that never develop outside of the office, let alone one that is so close to me as to literally be in my head!
“Who doesn’t have a little existential dread…?” I didn’t dislike the episode because it was bad. It’s not; it’s actually an incredible 40 minutes of television. I didn’t like it because it was that bleak end that says people are selfish, ruthless, and cold. That people can betray one another faster than a monologue in a tv show can end an episode. I think if you find someone who you connect with, even without the idea of any intimacy, you are not likely to betray that person. (Oh, speaking of intimacy, the writing did take a lazy detour at one point that felt unnecessary and it would actually have been more effective at showing the connection between the two had they avoided it, but thankfully, it’s a brief scene!)
I realize this is The Twilight Zone; there are very few happy endings. But I’d like to think that those unhappy endings are just a bit less bleak about the human condition than this was. Still, I’d take this sort of story to the socio-political commentary I was getting with nearly every episode last season. Let’s see how long that lasts! ML