So far, this season has impressed me more than season one, but none of the episode really wow’d me… until now. I finally feel we have a strong episode that can hold up as an example of what The Twilight Zone is really all about. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Downtime was conceptually excellent but it still didn’t have that zing we expect from The Twilight Zone. I think what it comes down to is that we had a good story, with a cast of people I could relate to, going through things all teenagers go through (namely struggling to fit in), sprinkled with a dose of superpowers and a twist ending that would impress the late Rod Serling. It’s about time too; we needed a win like this.
We are introduced to Madison, who is a very superficial girl with superficial friends. In comes Irene who is the target of her bullying. Because of a school science project, Irene discovers that Madison has psychic powers. She begins developing a friendship with Madison and together they start to explore just how deep those psychic powers go. They work on mind reading, thought projections, conjuration, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and a whole array of fun X-Men style abilities. Not all manifest, but those that do are fun to watch. She seems to be really good at her mind powers; reading minds and controlling other people’s thoughts, but it’s the conjuration skill that makes the episode. Suffice to say, the twist in the tale was one I really didn’t see coming. What I expected was that Irene was really the catalyst of Madison’s powers, but that takes a surprise turn.
The problem with this iteration of The Twilight Zone is it crumbles like a cookie with a degree of scrutiny. Basically, the last season and a half was like a box of assorted cookies. There are a few tasty chocolate chip cookies in the batch which are the highlights but even those crumble a bit. (I mean, the coconut ones that I want to fling into a fire are like last seasons The Wunderkind so at least it’s good to know we get some really tasty treats too!) In this episode, the drama works really well and it’s by far the tastiest treat we’ve had to date, only being rivaled in by Blurryman, and I’ll be honest: I think this was better. The nice thing about an anthology is that it’s like eating cookies at someone else’s house: you don’t have to worry about the cleanup too much. I mean, there is a sense of a cohesive world when we see the magazine from last week’s Ovation (so maybe this is best equated to eating cookies at your sister’s place; you feel some obligation to clean up, but maybe you don’t have to go crazy…) But when you think about the world that Madison and Irene occupy it breaks down a bit. We have a boarding school for girls that has an entirely unused area that only the elite/cool kids know about? And the heads of the school don’t think to lock it off or, at least, clean up all the graffiti? What about when Irene falls from the ledge (which, no pun intended, had me on edge the whole time); does no one think to call for an ambulance? Even if they came and found her alive, at least a call should have been made! And would a school allow a science project called “the anatomy of a loser” with actual footage of a student in compromising positions? I think not!! Although Roger made a good point when we discussed this and maybe there’s a chance this would pass muster simply because the faculty member grading the projects had been blackmailed by the students earlier in the episode, so I might be willing to consider it. Lastly, when the next “new student” arrives, does that not flag anyone as being a bit weird that students vanish and new ones come in to replace them? Seems alarming to me. Of course, this could be a side effect of a power, making the people overlook certain things, but I’m not sure we have just cause to believe that.
Mind you, that doesn’t change a very strong episode from still being strong; it just means you can’t think about the “real world implications” too much. The bottom line is that we are offered a really important look at teenage angst. Irene chastises Madison because she “won’t admit that you are different!” There’s nothing wrong with being different (says the red-headed Italian) but when you’re a teenager, all you want to do is fit in and have friends. And Madison knows this better than most. Perhaps a real lesson at play here, as another friend pointed out, is that being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At any rate, it’s a very well done episode with a great cast!
Since I still can’t bring myself to spoil the ending but it is my favorite episode so far. Abbie Hern plays Madison; and I have to say it’s not cool that The Twilight Zone has so many characters that are tough to warm to, but it’s made more unpleasant when they are as pretty as Madison. Irene is played by Sophie Macy who is hard to watch because we see her being abused so much and she’s so incredibly likable. I hate seeing people abused like that. But then, that’s what makes the twist so good; it zings you when and where you least expect it.
Yes, this series has been a mixed assortment of cookies, but this has been the tastiest of the bunch so far. I’m not really worried about the cleanup after such a winner. Let’s see if Peele can keep the momentum going for the last 5 episodes. ML