CBS’s The Twilight Zone
Season 1, Episode 3: “Replay”
Directed by Gerard McMurray
Written by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “A Traveller” – click here
Soundtrack note: Brenton Wood’s “Oogum Boogum Song” leads us into this episode.
In a diner, Dorian Harrison (Damson Idris) and his mother Nina (Sanaa Lathan) are talking about his upcoming time at college. She’s a throwback, using a handheld camcorder— which recorded his “first little baby steps“— to capture these tender moments before she sees him off on the next big step of his life. She’s been a strong single mother for quite some time. She and her son love each other, even if he’s a little embarrassed by her show of affection during lunch. Across the diner is a highway cop, Officer Lasky (Glenn Fleshler), who’s having a “chicken fried steak” kinda day.
Something’s unsettling for Nina. When she goes to rewind, so that Dorian’s not caught on tape making a mess of his shirt with ketchup, it’s as if she’s rewound time itself. The uncanny sense she’s gone back in time hits her. She asks Dorian if he just squirted ketchup on himself. He’s confused. She thinks it’s a major case of deja vu.
The Narrator, Jordan Peele, explains Nina “left her past behind” so she and her son could have a better life. Only now she’s caught in a loop of time, forced to relive the past, one step at a time. Such is life in the Twilight Zone.
Mother and son, despite mom’s strange moment, get back on the road. There’s several mentions of Uncle Neil. There’s obviously some sort of trauma in her past. It’s affected everything in her life. Now Dorian wonders if, as “a black man in America,” not knowing his roots has alienated him from himself/his identity.
Then, they’re pulled over by the same cop from the diner, Officer Lasky. Immediately, when Nina mentions taking her son to college, the cop quips about the “black school.” Things get intense when the officer sees the camera’s recording. He tries to put his hand in the window, wrestling with Dorian. Nina hits the rewind button accidentally.
Time skips back, when Dorian’s holding the camera on his mom and driving. Nina struggles to figure out where she is, in time and space. To Dorian, it all sounds crazy as she rambles about them being pulled over. Nina wants to get out for air. Officer Lasky pulls up behind them talking about “state code” because they’re not pulled over far enough. Dorian and the cop get into it. Right before the officer uses his taser, mom skips them back to the diner. She makes them leave earlier, while Lasky’s still eating.
In a motel, mom and son stop for a while to eat junk food and watch movies. Dorian talks about fate, in the sense he believes “things happen but they happen the way they should.” Suddenly, there’s somebody who’s come to see them: Officer Lasky. He’s asking for ID. Dorian questions why they have to provide identification and won’t take his bullshit. Things turn violent, and mom pushes the rewind button. They’re back at the diner, all over again.
Nina takes the camera and goes over to speak with Lasky. She offers to buy him a piece of pie. She thanks him for his service and makes small talk, stressing the fact Dorian is all she has, telling the cop how much her son means. Before Nina and Dorian leave the diner, she’s asked by Lasky how she got her nice Volvo. She takes offence to his suggestive tone. Outside, the officer confronts them about proof of ownership. He’s devolved into thinly veiled racism, as well as misogynoir, believing a) a black person can’t own a Volvo unless they’re selling drugs, and b) a single black mother can’t afford an expensive vehicle. Ugly stuff. This makes Nina angry, so she yells at him. In the middle of it all, Dorian rushes for his phone to show a picture of the pink slip. Lasky pulls out his gun and shoots Dorian as he holds up the phone.
“Sometimes the road just takes you elsewhere”
Glimpses of the future.
An older Nina watches Dorian playing with his children. In a grim parallel, Dorian, the father, is shot with a bubble gun by his son— a mock version of the shooting Nina’s just witnessed in the parking lot. Right now, she’s waiting at the medical examiner’s office to identify his corpse. She asks about the “old camcorder” that was with them when Dorian was shot. She uses it to rewind once more.
She and her son get out of the diner right as Lasky is coming in to sit down. On the road, Nina can’t stop thinking of what could have happened. They pull over so she can tell him about the “cosmic strings” being pulled returning them to the same fated point in time.
So, what can they do? How can they escape?
Nina must confront her past. They have to take the only route she wasn’t willing to take, going to her brother Neil’s place. The neighbourhood where she grew up only conjures old, sad memories of her other brothers dying on those streets. Neil (Steve Harris) is happy to see his nephew. He and his sister have lingering problems. She tells him about the potentially “magic” camcorder— it’s the one that used to belong to their father. She tells Neil about the unavoidable cop. Her brother believes it.
Neil, Nina, and Dorian use Neil’s knowledge of the city to get them to the university, avoiding all typical routes, like a 21st-century Underground Railroad. A great, albeit unsettling metaphor about the ways black people are forced to live in a disparate world from white people: they have to choose which streets are best to take and when, what time of day is best to walk home alone, and many other considerations us white people take for granted, decisions we’ll never have to make solely because of our skin (the essence of white privilege— things that’ll never affect us, even if we’re poor or discriminated against in other ways, too).
Regardless, Neil, Nina, and Dorian are still confronted by Officer Lasky.
The cop pulls his gun and Neil steps to him. They’re on the grounds of a historically black college. All the other black people stand facing the cop, too. Soon there’s a load of cops and they’re on one side against a sea of black faces. Nina pulls out her best weapon against their instruments of violence: her camera. Many other black people behind her pull out their own cameras. Rather than rewind and try to rewrite history, Nina presses record: “We‘re all witnesses.” Eventually the cops withdraw with their guns rendered powerless. Dorian walks into his future unharmed.
A new history’s written.
He’s able to grow and have his own children while Nina ages and watches him write more of that history. She passes on the camera to her granddaughter, the next generation. But the little girl drops it. Nina scrambles to try piecing it back together, worried about what will happen now that it’s gone. Will they be able to live without tragedy striking? Can Nina ever be certain of that, with or without the camera?
“But for some evils, there are no magical permanent solutions,
and the future remains uncertain.”
In a broader perspective, the replaying of time, in the context of these black characters, is the reliving of history. On a national level, black Americans have to relive history almost every single day when it comes to dealing with white nationalists and other hideous racists, the police, and more.
Likewise, people of colour, in general, are reliving many things in the era of President Agent Orange that many (white) people thought was a by-gone time. Those old, horrible, racial histories lie just beneath the surface— on the highways of America, in the diners, along the streets, across college campuses. “Replay” makes clear it is, sadly, inescapable. The episode’s not without hope. The suggestion is, if POC come together united, they can overcome anything. Whiny white people will HATE this episode. For that reason, Father Gore (a white dude) loves it even more than he did already.
“A Traveller” is next time, directed by one of this website’s favourite filmmakers, Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch), and starring Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Mayhem).