CBS’s The Twilight Zone
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by Emily C. Chang & Sara Amini
* For a recap & review of 2×03, “The Who of You” – click here
* For a recap & review of 2×05, “Among the Untrodden” – click here
Fiji (Sky Ferreira) is a pop star. She’s shooting a new video and getting all the typical praise heaped upon celebrities by everybody around them. Her team’s excited about her new music, so are journalists. But something seems to be missing from Fiji’s life, there’s an emptiness about her amongst all the applause and the kind words. She heads off to walk the street on her own, slightly disguised. She stops to listen to someone playing guitar and busking, a woman called Jasmine (Jurnee Smollett). They get to talking about musical aspirations. Fiji hands over a special coin to Jasmine, right as excited fans spot her and crowd her for selfies, and then she’s drowning in a crowd of people. Then, when nobody expects it, Fiji steps into the road in front of a bus and gets run down. Jasmine’s left with that strange coin, confused and horrified.
Of course we all know that the mysterious coin handed to her is going to change things. Jasmine goes to a vigil for Fiji and begins playing her guitar, singing in memory of the dead star. Everyone’s drawn to her song. Everybody starts to clap, just like all the people around Fiji did before she died. Like the Narrator says, what good is an ovation, all the praise, if it “drowns out the performance“? Jasmine’s taking a trip into the Twilight Zone that may just show her all the worst aspects of fame.
Not long before J.J. Malloy (Thomas Lennon)— the host of Ovation, a massive show in which contestants’ success is coincidentally based around audience applause— is scoping out Jasmine while she’s busking. He wants to make her into a big star. Jasmine thinks the show’s cheesy, but she’s going to audition anyway. There are plenty of other talented folks auditioning, though the judging audience proves a tough sell. Good thing Jasmine’s got that coin, huh? She doesn’t even have to finish a whole song before the applause comes thundering from out of the seats. Even J.J. is clapping.
And on goes Jasmine to the Ovation finals!
Life has seriously changed for Jasmine. She can barely run through the park without people stopping her for selfies, getting free hot dogs, and being hounded by people who are all big fans of her. It’s a bit confusing to her older sister Zara (Tawny Newsome), who sees through the big act. Zara tries to do what she can to get through to little sis, however, Jasmine’s gone full pretentious and actually thinks what she does makes “life worth living” versus considering her sister “just a doctor” a.k.a someone who literally saves lives in surgery. Jasmine is fast descending into the pitfalls of fame.
Something becomes clear to Jasmine when she’s onstage messing up her own song and people are still clapping loudly, cheering for her like she’s killing every note. The whole thing’s a surreal nightmare, as the veil starts to slip. Nobody notices anything wrong except her. They’re all too busy clapping their hearts out, drawn not to Jasmine but the power of that coin— the coin itself is like the dark magic of capitalism, a literal piece of currency that’s a supernatural key to fame, propelling the mediocre into an upper class stratosphere, like the myth of the meritocracy exposed before our very eyes. More interesting are all the clapping emojis Jasmine gets via text the following morning, followed by her looking outside to see all sorts of random people cheering and clapping for her on the street. Is any of the fame worth it if it isn’t actually earned? Jasmine clearly feels weird after her awful night onstage. Does winning necessarily mean the best person won? No. Not in the Twilight Zone, and not in real life.
Yet Jasmine still hasn’t bought into the coin, particularly once Zara shuts down any superstitious ideas about it. This lets Jasmine fall further into the dream of fame. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a bit creepy. People, day after day, are outside her house clapping, following her in the park clapping, and soon she has to run away from them just to find a moment’s peace as fans treat chasing her down for selfies like a sport. Jasmine realises things are happening because of the coin, but she doesn’t want to give up the fame, either. A bittersweet pill to swallow.
It all gets worse. Nothing gets any better. People clap so loud Jasmine can’t even finish an interview with a talk show host (Paul F. Thompkins). Her driver almost kills them when her song comes on the radio and he won’t stop clapping rather than steering the vehicle, forcing her to take the wheel and turn off the radio. Now her fame’s actually making life dangerous. Not just for her, but for others. Jasmine goes to see Zara at the hospital and causes a surgical team to stop in the middle of surgery to applaud— even the guy under anaesthesia with his torso opened up claps!
Finally, Jasmine gives Zara the coin necklace. Her sister tosses it into the water. It’s gone.
Jasmine goes up to a cabin by the lake to get away. A nice vacation from her newfound identity as a celebrity. She drinks tea on the porch and reads and enjoys the quiet instead of hearing applause around every last corner. Eventually she gets some mail. In amongst everything is a magazine with an article about her, the rise to fame, her sudden disappearance. Jasmine misses that life, being talked about, being wanted by millions. And after a while, mail brings news of another pop sensation taking her place, Mynx. It makes her jealous for all she had and threw away. It drives her into a rage. Especially because she had to have a magic coin to get to where stars like Mynx get without such help. Jasmine craves the applause, like a junkie.
Jasmine returns to the city busking. She sounds bad and people make fun of her. She sees J.J., who doesn’t recognise her and runs away. She decides to go get a closer look at Mynx, whose waves of applause are, indeed, because of the coin after all. Mynx is actually Zara— she went in for that coin instead of letting it get lost. And Jasmine has no idea she’s stabbed her own sister until after it’s happened. Brutal dramatic irony.
Fantastic episode! Themes of corruption re: fame are interesting enough, and to add The Twilight Zone‘s brand of sci-fi to it just brings everything to another level. There are hilarious and disturbing moments throughout, even with that pitch perfect ending where Peele’s Narrator picks up the coin, clapping, and walks away.