I feel like I entered the Twilight Zone myself when I started to watch this episode. I mean, it was weird enough when I learned many months late that the second season of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone had come out and I somehow missed it, but this episode makes me think there was a purpose to my missing its return. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and I’m living in an imaginary world… or maybe that’s just what I’m programmed to think!
I don’t spend that much time in the car. My drive to work is 35 minutes; my ride home is about 40. I therefore don’t get involved in many podcasts but there is one that I never fail to listen to. Oh, I might be a week or two behind, but I haven’t skipped a single one of Eric Molinsky’s excellent Imaginary Worlds (external link). This particular week in question, I caught up on episode 175: Living in a Simulation. So impressive was the episode, that I wrote to a group of my friends, suggesting they too give it a listen. Then, satisfied that I’d shared a good podcast, I sat down and watched The Twilight Zone, episode 2: Downtime. Usually, as I write, I take down some notes to focus on, but I was so flabbergasted by the story that I only had a few comments.
Downtime has an unusually happy opening for a Twilight Zone episode. It’s not just that the first face we see, and will be spending the episode with, is that of the beautiful Morena Baccarin. She plays Michelle Weaver and is the best at what she does; she works in customer service for a hotel and has just been given a promotion. All of the staff are delighted for her too. We are introduced to the hospitality world of hotel management and no one does it better than Michelle. Over a lunch break, she experiences something horrific and steps outside to see a giant eye in the sky watching her, but no one seems troubled in the slightest. Its a very scary opening.
And yet, there’s a reason no one is worried. They all know what’s going on: they are living in a simulation. The first hint I had was when her boss gives her the promotion and says “you chose the right life.” I wondered about the simulation but it still didn’t quite click. Then when she has two customer service people come to talk to her, they made it all clear. The plot is around people who chose to go to sleep and live a life in a game. They select their avatar and can live in the game as their characters, while they sleep in real life. In fact, Weaver is actually a man in the real world who opted to play the game as a female. But Michelle is having a hard time with this revelation and that’s when Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale shows up. He’s the best at what he does in the industry; he’s the customer service master, akin to Baccarin’s character. It’s a fascinating parallel.
I’m not cruel enough to spoil the story by telling you how it ends. I will credit Peele’s writing because when the people “power down” during the titular downtime, they all stare up with their mouths slack jawed as if they are sleeping because, in fact, they are sleeping. The idea of the story is fantastic and it does make me speculate about reality as all good science fiction should. I also want to comment, as it’s been a subject of discussion in my own circle, that the 30 minute format really works wonders for The Twilight Zone. This episode is a neat and tidy 32 minutes and it never feels padded, unlike the first 10 minutes of last week’s story. The episode holds the viewers attention from start to finish.
I don’t know how I missed the return of The Twilight Zone when season two premiered, but at least now I know why I missed it. I appreciate that whoever programmed the game had the decency to let me listen to Imaginary Worlds first, so it would get my brain doubly excited for this episode. (Now if only they could program my kids to clean up after themselves…) ML
I enjoyed several of the classic Twilight Zone episodes for how they could challenge us to rethink our perspectives. Downtime was the first in Peele’s TZ to come close enough to that same appeal for me. In the sense of how people can choose their realities everyday, and how SF may variably dramatize the subject of simulated realities from The Matrix to Inception, this one clearly has an agreeable message. Namely that we don’t always have to feel unrealistic about what realities we want to live within. It’s a most naturally human desire, and so Michelle’s choice makes her more identifiable, even if it’s imaginable that somewhere down the line she may get another chance to make a new choice. For a down-to-basics SF story that only the Twilight Zone universe can fairly refresh enough in our eyes, Peele made a fine impression here and especially thanks to Morena’s elegant performance. Thanks, ML, for your review.
LikeLiked by 1 person