CBS’s The Twilight Zone
2×05: “Among the Untrodden”
Directed by Tayarisha Poe
Written by Heather Anne Campbell
* For a recap & review of 2×04, “Ovation” – click here
* For a recap & review of 2×06, “8” – click here
Madison (Abbie Hern) goes to a Catholic boarding school. She and her class have just received a new student Irene (Sophia Macy) who recently moved there. Irene is a fan of “monsters” and “memes” and other “cool stuff.” Some of the other girls make fun of her, beginning to bully her before she’s actually in her seat. Not easy being young, especially for girls. And Madison shows signs of something strange when she tosses a pencil at Irene’s head and it disintegrates into ash on the floor. Or, is it Irene showing those signs? The Narrator explains this story’s about the intersection of weird powers and the weirdness of adolescence— at the intersection where the Twilight Zone is found.
None of Irene’s school experience gets any more positive. She works away at her science fair project on psychic abilities, though tries, to no avail, to get it changed. We see her going over various psychic tests and Madison received a 0/24 on them all, almost as if they were all purposefully answered incorrectly. This makes Irene curious, so she goes to Madison’s room to talk about the test. Madison denies it’s all “stupid bullshit” and goes harder making fun of Irene, who pushes the girl to accept she could have a superhuman-like ability. She refuses to accept any “nerd powers.” That’s surely not going to convince Irene to stop wondering.
When Madison sees that Irene’s left test cards at her door she tries them out. She gets every last one correct, freaking herself out as she deals the cards as fast as possible guessing each one right as she goes. So, she has secretive meeting away from the popular crowd to talk with Irene. The two girls meet in the shadows of their school. Madison thinks she’s been tricked, but Irene tries to tell her it’s all real. Irene suggests they figure out Madison’s powers then “use them for stuff.” Oh, my.
Irene sets up a real witchy-style room for them to conjure up Madison’s psychic power, albeit the latter of the two thinks the whole deal is corny. She runs through a bunch of different potential powers, from astral projection to clairvoyance to precognition and more. Again, Madison treats most of it like it’s foolish. She doesn’t know why Irene cares about it, either. Neither does Irene come clean about why this all interests her so much. Regardless, they get to more tests, and practise makes perfect, right? Madison’s powers get stronger with every use.
What’ll Madison do with her abilities? Not great for a shitty popular girl to be able to read minds, giving her more ammo to bully other girls at school. Irene’s created that monster, like she’s Victoria Frankenstein. Although Madison starts to get nicer with Irene, less nasty. They’re becoming friendlier. It’ll just get more difficult for Irene once things with Madison’s powers get scarier. And they certainly will. The two girls get caught after hours by a teacher. Madison uses her psychic sight to blackmail the woman into not talking, and Irene even piles on trying to get the balcony key. They don’t get it. Yet Madison discovers she can conjure things when the key drops from out of nowhere into their possession.
After the key’s used it disintegrates like the pencil earlier. Hmm.
Sucks to watch Madison’s friends treat Irene like an idiot. Irene gets high and drinks with them, trying to prove a point. There’s reluctance in Madison to bully her new friend, as if she’s got feelings all of a sudden. Shit goes real sideways when Madison starts to bully her friends back instead, using things she’s gleaned from reading their minds to toss in their faces. Like teenage fights aren’t bad enough! The situation gets tense when Irene stands up to stop the girls from fighting, clinging onto a piece of stone that lets go, and she plummets to the ground below. The others run off while Madison goes down to Irene, who wakes up moments later. “Did you save me?” Irene asks. She’s totally fine. Maybe Madison’s powers are stronger than either of them could’ve imagined.
The fall strangely makes Irene popular amongst Gwen and the other friends, leaving Madison on the outside after the altercation. An odd reversal of popularity. Worse is that Irene kinda digs it, so she leans into being popular, so much so she forgets to meet up with Madison for their latest witchy session together. But she’s not actually popular with the other girls, they mostly like making fun of her. Madison pulls Irene out of there and warns her to stay away. When Irene bites back a bit Madison claims they’re finished as friends.
Gwen and the girls claim they have a surprise for Irene at the Science Fair. Irene purposefully does a shitty project to fit in with the cool girls rather than what she originally intended to do with her psychic research. The big surprise is Gwen’s project: Anatomy of a Loser. They took video of drunk Irene talking about orgasms and passing out, blasting it on several screens so that the whole school can see. This prompts Irene to scream loudly, breaking the screens and dropping the bully girls to the floor catatonic. Like a 21st-century Carrie.
The actual magical powers, all along, have belonged to Irene. She’s been manipulating Madison in order to become a popular girl. Madison has finally figured it out, given that every single time she’s used those supposed abilities Irene has been there, too. Irene denies she has powers, pleading with Madison to accept she has supernatural abilities. She insists: “I am your friend.” Madison accepts that she’s made a friend, a real one. And once they’ve finished hugging, Irene turns to ash, like the pencil, and the key, and she disintegrates before Madison’s eyes. They were Madison’s powers after all.
Soon there’s another new girl at school. But, is she real?
Or is she another one of Madison’s creations?
(Poem on the board: “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” by William Wordsworth)
“You wanted a friend”
This may be my favourite episode of The Twilight Zone under Jordan Peele’s production of the series. A top contender, to be sure. This was a stunning story that kept me guessing until the end, and the two young actresses in the leads were great. An unnerving tale worthy of the original series, in my humble opinion. It has all the hallmarks of a classic.