Of all the episodes of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone, this is the one that had some of the most interesting discussion between me and my group of “penpals”. We’re a handful of friends that watch shows “together”, which is to say, separately, but we watch the same episode of a show each week so we can discuss it. When we discussed this one, a lot of thoughts went back and forth and it’s interesting because some of those shared with me were things I’d noticed, but I am so big a sucker for the human/alien friendship, that I ignored the obvious. This made me upset with myself because I realized I’m a prime victim for this sort of alien takeover! Now I’m going to be more on my guard than ever before!
For me, it was three episodes in a row that made me realize how good the writing could be when we stay away from making a political or societal commentary. Season one tainted me and when I found out that season 2 had come out, I was hardly ready to jump into it. But the last three have been great, which makes me wonder if all the best ones will be coming at the end of the series. Among the Untrodden was a terrific story and the first real homerun of the season. I loved 8, the story of our octopus friend who plans to conquer the land. Now A Human Face is the latest in a series of top notch episodes. And what makes this one work? Is it the small cast? There are only 3 characters in the whole story. Is it the recognizable setting? The whole thing takes place in a house that is being sold. Or is it that we can relate to family dynamics? Even if we are not parents, we are all someone’s child and we know the baggage that comes with even the most “normal” of families.
Robert and Barbara are selling their home after the death of their daughter, Mags. When they see a strange light show and hear a noise in the basement, they go to investigate and find a marvelous creature gnawing on a table. It goes through a series of changes as it stabilizes its form before settling on that of Mags herself. Then the family drama begins.
This story is largely about how we react to appearances. The alien life form is not human but Barbara (Jenna Elfman) is willing to accept her because she insists the creature looks like her daughter. I found myself wishing to be in Robert’s place from the start though, because even before it looked human, I desperately wanted to talk to it. Just today, at the time of my writing this, I’d passed a Spirit Halloween store and became happy. I love October because it’s the month the monsters come out. But this year has made me question things about myself; a side effect of the covid-lockdown no doubt, but I’ve been trying to understand things that have been a part of me for nearly 50 years. I don’t know why I love the monsters so much; why I find the creatures that look different from us so appealing that I want to make friends with them all. The very day I was questioning that, I watched this episode and it basically showed that human love, kindness and decency do bridge the gap between races. We can become friends with the alien. This is probably why I loved the episode. It reaffirmed something in me that I’ve been really questioning lately. I feel like I am very different to people around me. Other adults have baseball caps, and golf paraphernalia, and fishing trophies in their home offices; I have heads of monsters, statues of Cthulhu and a bust of a jester that was passed down through my family, yet the eyes seem to follow you when you move about the room. And sometimes I think there’s something wrong with me because of it. So imagine how much I loved this episode that told me that being open to those strange, different things might actually be a positive thing!
And to think, I thought I was going to find it cliché when it was so obvious that the dead daughter was coming back; I’d seen it coming from the start, the moment the radio announcer talked about the meteor shower. I saw some of the dialogue coming too; mom wants daughter back at all costs, ignoring the obvious. Dad is a hardheaded oaf who is not interested in understanding the unknown. Very predictable. But when Mags says she’s a “biological pacification” tool, I was expecting the alien to be evil; it basically admits that’s what it came to do. Instead, it befriends us. Or at least, I think it does. There is the possibility that it did exactly what it was supposed to do: conquest through acceptance. Pay special attention to the final scene, when we see other people walking out of their houses, perhaps all biologically pacified… but I’m going to trust that Peele’s narration speaks for itself. Communication worked and love is not a weakness!
However, this is where we need to dive into some of the mistakes of the episode; mistakes I had been willing to turn a blind eye to until my friends flagged how silly they were. When Barbara and Robert run from the creature, the smartest possible path is out of the house. They’ve just seen it eating a wooden table before passing physically through the ceiling from the basement to the main level to get to where they are. Instead, the two geniuses run up another flight and lock the wooden bathroom door behind them! And alien-girl stays outside, knocking to get in rather than phasing through the woodwork! Peele’s narration was the icing on the cake for me, he says we changed the creature, but we didn’t. When we see all the other families walking up the block at the end, all holding hands, I realized they’ve already been pacified. And was this the most unlucky town, all having lost children? Or did we just happen to watch the only family that lost a child? I think it might have been far more interesting to have followed the family that always wanted a child and couldn’t have one? Take us on the same journey with the couple who never had a child and show us how that played out! No matter how you cut it, maybe a town being pacified is not such a bad thing. Pacification doesn’t mean we are slaves, it just means we are at peace, and that’s probably still a good thing. Right?
I do love when Peele manages to drop in some Easter egg although I can’t help but wonder how many get by me. The moving boxes are all marked with Dingle Moving with what appeared to be a strongman on the box. Mr. Dingle The Strong was the title of a classic Twilight Zone episode. Also in attendance was The Invaders invader on a dresser. Some nice touches there.
Look, I’m not saying I’d be all calm and collected if I lived through the same situation but I do think I would have tried to communicate with the creature even before it changed to look like someone I knew. At the very least, the moment it spoke some form of recognizable language, I think I’d ask if it meant me any harm. Maybe that means I’ve been biologically pacified. Maybe I can retain something that I don’t even know is gone if I fight the creature, but is it worth it? Isn’t contentment the ultimate goal anyway? And isn’t being kind and accepting of one another so much better than holding onto negativity? I suppose it’s possible that I’ve already been taken over by the aliens but hey, I’m at peace with that decision! ML… with thanks to my genius friends!