CBS’s The Twilight Zone
Directed by JD Dillard
Written by Jordan Peele
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Meet in the Middle” – click here
* For a recap & review of 2×03, “The Who of You” – click here
Michelle Weaver (Morena Baccarin) works at a high-class hotel, the Farringham. She’s angling for a promotion from her boss Reggie (Darren Dolynski). He doesn’t look overly interested in hearing her sell herself for the job. He’d rather hear an elaborate joke about a head of lettuce and a Canadian woman— perfectly captures the banality and foolishness of these corporate situations. Plus, she’s got the job as hotel manager. Her dedication to the business has been noticed. Reggie and the staff all see how much she cares about the hotel.
There’s something a bit too conforming about the way Michelle operates, micromanaging the attitudes of her employees while letting customers walk all over them. In her world money means you can do and say whatever you want to get whatever you want. On a break, Michelle has a quick chat on the phone with her husband Carl (Colman Domingo). Right after that she experiences a pain in her temple, and everyone feels the building shake.
Outside everyone’s stopped in their tracks. There’s a massive globe-like object in the sky. Nobody else seems to be that bothered other than Michelle. She feels another pain and hears a strange noise. One woman comes over asking: “How long is downtime?” Michelle has no clue what’s happening. Everybody looks to be in a trance, staring up at the mechanical sphere in the sky. The Narrator explains how Michelle’s been working her way up in an hierarchical, ordered world, but now the very world itself is changing around her as she tumbles through the Twilight Zone.
“You really picked the right life”
When Michelle sees a cop she asks about the sphere. He tells her it’s scheduled “world maintenance.” She gets home looking for Carl. She finds him unaware of whatever has been going on outdoors. Then out of nowhere, Carl drops into a totally different somewhat Irish accent, calling himself Danny. He’s aware of the downtime. He says it’s time to go wake up. Yet Michelle still has no clue. Carl goes out onto the lawn, looks into the sky, and it’s as if his mind disappears.
A little bit later Michelle receives a visit from two skater dudes, supposedly Customer Service. They ask her if she knows who she is, attempting to diagnose her issues. They’re even able to take the knife she’s holding away because this is all some kind of simulation. It’s part of “identity tourism” through Sleepaway. Your brain helps you create an avatar to live out as a virtual fantasy while you’re sleeping. Essentially, you can live a whole other life while you’re asleep then wake up to your real one. Michelle is a construct created by someone named Phineas Lowell, who’s in a coma. The Customer Service guys have to “restore Phineas” which will effectively negate Michelle’s existence. What a sad, existential blow for her psyche.
Customer Service brings in Ellen Lowell (Serinda Swan), an emergency contact for Phineas. She and Phineas are married. She tries reaching through to her husband via Michelle, who’s left in the middle of this wild mess. Ellen has a talk with Michelle, though the latter only wants to go back to what she imagined was a normal life. They continue to have an awkward conversation, as Ellen recalls when she and Phineas first met over a cracked vase. The crucial thing is that if downtime ends Phineas will be trapped in the simulation. Michelle doesn’t want to leave her life, and she can’t remember anything to suggest Phineas continues to exist inside her. Somehow, Ellen reaches Michelle and convinces her to try and believe. But Michelle backs out the last second.
Michelle tries to keep out of sight of Customer Service, heading back to the Farringham. The place is dead silent. Guests and staff are left standing with their mouths gaping, looking out into the sky. Michelle’s the only living thing left aside from a terrifying pigeon on the ledge outside. The bird makes a hideous noise and flies away— it’s drawn Customer Service to the hotel and they head in to track Michelle down.
On the hotel roof, Michelle runs into Tom (Tony Hale). He’s part of the escalated customer service, like any other capitalist enterprise. He’s trying to straighten things out with Michelle before downtime’s over and people get back to playing this virtual game. Michelle still can’t separate her identity from Phineas in the sense that she knows she isn’t real, that Phineas is the real one. However, Tom says there is “nothing to go back to” anymore. Michelle’s left with the choice: keep playing the game and staying in character, or logout.
When downtime is finished the fake world reignites. Michelle returns to her “synthetic world.” Ellen returns to the hotel. And simulated life goes on. A devious tale from The Twilight Zone. Again, I love when these episodes don’t reach too far for theme. Sometimes it’s enough fun to just be weirded out, or whatever the case may be— here, it’s a proper dose of everyday existential dread.