Last week I mentioned just what a bleak place the Twilight Zone could be. While I stand behind that, it’s not really the Zone itself that’s bleak, but the people who we find entering it. The problem is often one of perspective; people don’t always understand the ramifications of what they want. More importantly, they don’t recognize that to really achieve greatness, it has to be earned. If it’s just given to you… well, things don’t always work out the way we think they will. I think Ovation is best summed up by Spock in the classic Star Trek episode Amok Time. Spock tells Ston that sometimes having isn’t as pleasing a thing as wanting. In other words, be careful what you wish for.
Jurnee Smollett plays Jasmine Delancey; a young woman who sings on a street corner to make a few dollars. She hopes to be famous. When she meets Fiji, an already famous pop-culture icon, she gets her wish fulfilled with a token that makes people applaud for her… and she doesn’t have to be particularly good to get that applause. When Jasmine comes to terms with the fact that this token is destroying her life, her sister tosses it into the river. The second act is basically all about watching Jasmine retreat to a cabin in the woods and become a recluse while waiting for her fame to die down before it’s causing her to lose her mind. Unfortunately, this created a punchline I’d seen coming from miles away.
The issue I take with the episode is how much it feels like Jordan Peele is taking a look at mental health and attributing psychological issues with magical items. He’s done this repeatedly this season, making mental health something fanciful. Working for a healthcare company opens ones eyes to some of these things. The Zone makes a disease seem like there’s a magical reason for needing treatment. I actually don’t think I agree with this even in a science fiction story. I am pretty sure the reason for this is that The Twilight Zone tends to be about things that happen to people and we, the audience, are left taking an emotional journey with them. That part works; you do feel for many of these characters, especially the likable ones, unlike last week’s Harry. Jasmine was likable from the start, but she loses sight of who she is, and that’s never a good thing.
I do have to wonder if Peele was actually sharing a message about celebrity and just how fleeting a thing that really is. Take someone popular like Britney Spears today and by tomorrow, she’s been replaced with the next big name. That’s just the nature of celebrity but is Peele having a go at it, as if it’s too fleeting to be worth pursuing? On the other hand, there’s a discussion between Jasmine and her sister Zara that might appeal to the SF crowd a bit more. Zara is a doctor while Jasmine is an entertainer. They debate the importance of both jobs: one saves lives, one makes life worth living. I think there’s a lot of value in that realization. You can keep a person alive, but are you condemning them to a life if it doesn’t have value. (To prevent things from getting to dark, I’ll remind fans of Doctor Who’s Love and Monsters whose Ursula is kept alive as a stone slab. That’s not a life worth living. However, if she has the right engagement and entertainment, it might just be a life she can be happy with. I’m not sure she’ll have that with Elton, but I leave that to them to decide.) In any event, it’s an interesting point and while one may indeed deserve more credit, I think there’s a critical need for both in our world.
“You’re a beautiful octopus…” Well, that wasn’t said of Jasmine, rather of her predecessor, Fiji, but I did find irony in that for an episode featuring Jurnee Smollett, the main heroine of HBO’s Lovecraft Country. What a genuinely talented actress! Her descent into madness doesn’t work that well for me because it assumes that when she went into hiding at her cabin in the woods, she’d lost touch with her only constant friend: her sister. It’s too big a leap and works only if you don’t think about the “real world” that the people inhabit. From a storytelling perspective, it just about works but it takes a bit too much effort on my part to fully accept it. And that’s been the overriding feeling I’ve gotten from Peele’s Twilight Zone: these episodes are good, but they have the potential to be so much better. Maybe someone should give him a coin… ML