Sometimes The Twilight Zone feels like a very unpleasant place, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s bleak. We meet a guy who is just awkward to watch. He comes home to a miserable girlfriend who is unsympathetic. Not that he deserves it. He seems to be unable to figure out how life works. Then we meet a detective who actually seems like a reasonably decent guy; flawed but decent. He might be the only redeeming character in the story. But first we have to travel with Harry as he moves from one body to another. And it’s not a pleasant ride! That’s not to say that the story isn’t good, because this season has been far better than the first, but it’s just an unpleasant place to find oneself.
When we meet Harry, he’s auditioning for a role; he’s an actor, but not a very good one. When he starts swapping bodies, it was an obvious metaphor for when an actor “becomes a character”. I didn’t expect that to be mentioned directly in the episode, and it adds a nice touch, but it was still a pretty obvious point. When Harry decides the best way to pay a bill is to hold up a bank, we know this dude is a deeply lost soul.
“Charge him with criminal hypnosis!” His first victim made me think we would follow her throughout the remainder of the episode, but that wasn’t the case. He seems to jump from body to body. The issue that I was having was keeping track of who was in Harry’s old body. See, it wasn’t a 1:1 swap. When Harry (body A) goes to body B, the mind of B is in Harry’s body. Ok, makes sense. When Harry then goes to body C, that person pops into body A meaning the B personality gets to go back to where it belonged. Now look, we’re watching a show about body swapping; we have to accept what one might call “suspension of disbelief” but I was finding that logic questionable. Not to mention, it brings up yet another episode where mental health might be the target of some discussion. From the detective’s point of view, he’s got Harry’s original body (body A) locked up and watches him go through an alarming number of personalities. Considering Jordan Peele’s Get Out, I can’t help but wonder if Peele takes some pleasure in writing about diseases of the mind. All well and good, except it seems to place an otherworldly excuse on a very real problem, and I do take some issue with that.
Now, Harry makes a lot of dumb mistakes, as one could expect from a guy who decides to hold up a bank anyway. At one point, he takes over a barista’s body just after dropping the money bag on the other side of the counter. He sees cops coming and thinks he’ll get caught if they see him. The only problem is that it would have been far easier to just stand there and push the bag under the counter, or ignore the bag completely. The cops would have come in and the previously occupied body would have sounded like a raging nutcase if he said he was in someone else’s body moments before. Like so many episodes, it’s good drama, but forgets the logic of the overall world. Once Harry learned he could be whomever he wants, that bag of money should have been chump change to him!
For the most part, the issues are more character driven than script driven, but I did have a problem with the script. There’s a moment when a Psychic tells the detective where Harry is and together, they leave precinct to pick Harry up. The thing is, Harry was at the Psychic’s shop during the day, but in no time at all, it was night. How long did it take the detective to get there? That was the one major blunder if you ask me!
I do love a good morality question though and the psychic, who learns what Harry can do, makes a point that he too is a conman but what he does makes people feel good, so does that make it right? Of course, we’re kind of against Harry from the start so we automatically side with the psychic, but the truth is, both are doing something amoral. People usually go to a psychic knowing that they are going to an amusement park sideshow; I don’t think most people expect to really find true revelation there. I mean, if the psychic really were able to do the things they said, I doubt anyone would go. Who wants their innermost thoughts on display!?
“That’s a person!” I did like that the psychic made the point of explaining to Harry that using a person is still a person that’s being used, not a shell or a husk. He lambasts Harry because of lack of empathy and when we think about it, it’s true. He simply doesn’t care.
“But who really knows anybody, right?” There is a real surprise to the ending and its a clever bit of direction that gives us a hint to how things will play out but again, I won’t spoil these reviews. Suffice to say, I was impressed by the direction because once seen, you facepalm yourself for missing it, but I never picked up on it once while watching!
“Everything hurts!” I often speculate on the results of actions in movies and our TV shows. I couldn’t help thinking of what the Psychic said because each person he took over had to deal with the fallout of the actions. The bank lady, Jill, for instance, would probably lose her job, and who can save her? I think Reece, the detective, was an idiot as well thinking it made sense to trust Harry. But the biggest fallout will happen off-screen, after the episode. Sooner or later, the body Harry occupies will fall into old patterns and somehow let slip who he is. He may have found a temporary cheat, and for the audience, that’s enough. But if we think about what is likely to come of Harry’s life, it will be one of acting forever, never actually being able to be himself, always a man living a lie in someone else’s shoes. And that’s pretty bleak… ML
The classic Twilight Zone gave us an episode about a man’s twisted desires and powers to become other men called The Four Of Us Are Dying. Between that and The Who Of You, there may be fair sympathy for how some people feel needs to escape from themselves. When we think of non-sci-fi examples in this regard like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Taking Lives, it’s easy enough to see how such characters can be insanely dangerous. So The Twilight Zone proves once again how the sci-fi and supernatural themes can surprise us most with a message or outcome that’s ultimately down-to-Earth. The message I can easily get from this story is how self-acceptance, self-respect and self-love are most vital to our mental health and social lives. Thank you for that, Mr. Peele, and thank you, ML, for your review.
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