CBS’s The Twilight Zone
2×01: “Meet in the Middle”
Directed by Mathias Herndl
Written by Emily C. Cheng & Sara Amini
* For recaps & reviews of Season 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of 2×02, “Downtime” – click here
Phil Hayes (Jimmi Simpson) waits at a table in a restaurant, then he’s sitting across from his date, Julia (Sara Amini). Things are slightly awkward. Phil’s not quite as smooth offline as he is online. Out of nowhere he starts to hear a voice calling: “Hello?” But his date can’t hear anything, and he’s trying to have two conversations at once— one in real life, the other in an existential soup swirling around his head. He looks kinda psychotic, so he dips out to the bathroom. He and the woman inside his head are each having their own problems. Some of the conversation spills out of his head, some remains inside. Neither he nor the woman can figure out what’s going on. They agree to stop talking. And the voice disappears inside Phil’s head.
As the Narrator (Jordan Peele) suggests, it could be madness, or who knows what else. This is actually a case of the “tangled enigmatic switchboards” crossing over its wires among the Twilight Zone.
Although the voice is no longer with Phil he can’t stop thinking about what happened. So, he asks if she’s still there, and they realise neither of them went anywhere. Phil talks with his therapist (Kristin Lehman) about it, as well as his troubles dating. He’s stuck seeing dates as a transaction rather than a personal connection, feeling he’s “doomed to be alone.” He projects a lot onto others when he himself isn’t exactly a prize, calling his latest vapid and boring when he was the one making a huge deal over curly hair in a picture online. Is Phil experiencing multiple personalities? Is it “existential dread“? Or, is the voice appearing to teach him an existential lesson? Right now, the voice is bored. She and Phil then come to bond over loathing their therapists.
At a coffee shop, Phil starts sussing out what the woman can hear/see. All she can hear is when he’s “thinking at” her. This leads to the woman starting to offer him dating advice, pushing him to ask out a barista he’s been sizing up. He’s a little too late when a man shows up chatting with the barista. Then, Phil and the disembodied voice go out for pizza. They go on getting to know one another more, even if it’s all quite strange and surreal. The woman suggests they put this odd situation to use for their benefit. Eventually they get into a more romantic sort of conversation. The woman introduces herself: she’s Annie Mitchell (Gillian Jacobs). And everything gets slightly more intimate, as if they’re on a psychic date.
Annie tells Phil not to look her up because it’ll spoil the romance. He goes directly against it, searching her on Facebook. This makes him fall for her even deeper, getting a look at her profile picture. Their psychic relationship continues like they’re in the same place, in genuine love. To others, Phil appears like a crazy man talking to himself, laughing, smiling for no reason. In his head, he’s deeply in love. They watch TV shows together, they eat ice cream together.
When Phil wants to meet Annie tells him “it‘s complicated.” He goes back online and realises she’s married. He confronts her and she knows he’s been looking her up. She tells him her marriage isn’t a happy one. Their mental connection’s given her the happiness she’s lacked. Phil can’t just let her go, either. He can’t stop thinking of the greater purpose for this new connection, leading him to other big questions about existence. Annie tells him the main thing is holding onto hope, like she’s been doing. Their relationship also moves to a psychic-physical level.
The next morning when Phil wakes up he talks to Annie only to discover she feels things have gone too far. She says it’s “too dangerous” for her. She wants to be done, and then she’s gone. Phil finds himself all alone inside that head of his, that new love he was feeling slipping away from him. There’s nothing he can do but long for Annie, wandering aimlessly where once he had her company to fill the void inside him. He’s utterly lost. He tries to reach out again across the psychic landscape. Annie doesn’t respond and it sends Phil into an entitle male meltdown, calling her a bitch.
Phil’s concerned that he might’ve made the whole relationship with Annie up, that such a psychic connection never happened. He’s coming undone entirely. He goes back to online dating and his terrible attitude. He can barely listen to a woman for a minute without zoning out. From the depths of the mental void comes Annie’s voice again, after weeks. She wants to meet Phil.
Not long until Phil’s on a train headed toward Annie. While they talk she mentions a creepy guy following her. She gets more scared by the second as the man sits next to her. Phil attempts to reassure her yet the creepy man continues to follow Annie even after she gets off her train. He tries to guide Annie to safety and she makes it into a crowded shop. But the creep’s following her, and then Annie screams. Of course Phil goes into hysterics, helpless to do anything other than wait for hours to get to her.
When Phil gets to the market looking for Annie he can’t find her, just broken glasses that look just the ones she wears. Her voice returns. She tells Phil she’s in a dark place, she thinks it’s the woods. The sound of an owl is the only thing keeping them connected. Phil goes blindly into the forest looking for Annie. He comes to a house where he knocks on the door, asking the man who answers if he’s seen Annie. He uses the psychic connection to confirm this is the man who took her, so Phil attacks him. He beats the man brutally until he’s soaked in blood, then caves the guy’s head in right before a little girl and her mother— Annie— find the insanity in their living room. Phil’s thrilled to see her, but we now see that the whole connection was nothing more than madness all along. Cops show up to save Annie and her girl, dragging Phil the murderer away in cuffs.
Well, that’s not quite what happened.
Annie can hear Phil. She just used him to liberate herself. Goddamn, girl!
“I told you you had a purpose”
A fantastic way to open Season 2! At certain times Season 1, which I adored, did feel like all it was doing was aiming at something social or political. There didn’t feel like enough episodes that just did some weird, surreal stuff for the sake of genre. And this episode really leans into that rather than going immediately for something deep. Rest assured we’ll still get plenty of interesting sociopolitical commentary!