Review: “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” Makes An Unscheduled Stopover In ‘The Twilight Zone’

Today the first two episodes of the new CBS All Access series The Twilight Zone were released. TrekMovie has adopted this show as we are big fans of the franchise and as it is a genre show on CBS All Access, home of Star Trek on TV. And like we do for our other adopted show The Orville, we will review each new episode on a weekly basis.

The Twilight Zone Season 1, Episode 2 – Released Monday, April 1, 2019
Written by Glen Morgan and Marco Ramirez
Directed by Greg Yaitanes

Adam Scott as Justin Sanderson

Recap

We’re introduced to our lead character (Adam Scott) via a disorienting shot of an airport security body scanner. Of course, gets pulled out of the line for an extra patdown. The stress and annoyance of traveling are already apparent, and relatable.

At the airport newsstand, he picks up a magazine with the cover story “The End of Civility?” and chats with a pleasant fellow named Joe Beaumont (Chris Diamantopoulos), who was reaching for the same thing. Turns out our main character wrote the cover story: he’s Justin Sanderson, an investigative journalist, and Joe is a fan. Flattered, Justin pays for Joe’s magazine and signs it at his request. As they part, Joe says, perhaps a bit ominously, “be seeing you” (Number Six is that you?).

Adam Scott and Chris Diamantopoulos

Justin is flying from Washington D.C. to Tel Aviv, Israel, on Northern Goldstar Airlines Flight #1015. He anxiously checks in with his wife via phone, which fills in the info that Justin is a reporter on the edge of a breakdown, having suffered one not long ago. He feels this assignment “will be the opposite of high stress.” He says he saw some “fucked up shit” in Yemen, and it shook him up. As his wife reminds him, his therapist has given him a mantra for anxious situations: “The past is the past, and that will help me get through the now.”

As his ticket is scanned, he notes the recurrence of the number sequence 1015. He’s boarding flight number 1015, the flight was delayed to 10:15 pm, and the date is October 15th (10/15).

After graciously giving up his first class seat to help a family in need, Justin heads to coach, where notices Joe, his buddy from the airport. Settling in his new seat, Justin finds an MP3 player in the seatback pocket with a podcast called “Enigmatique.” The episode cued up is titled “The Tragic Mystery Of Flight #1015.”

As he listens—of course he listens!—the podcast starts describing exactly what is happening around Justin: the flight attendants going through the safety demonstration of buckling up, the thunderstorm outside, and so forth. The host dramatically says: “Little did the passengers of flight 1015 know, that in less than an hour their plane would disappear from flight control radar, never to be heard from again.” This understandably freaks him out, so he chants “the past is the past,” the mantra from his therapist. The podcast says the captain’s name is Donner—the name of the captain of his flight. The podcast describes the plane hitting a bird. Justin tries to shake off his mounting fears by splashing water on his face and re-reciting his mantra. He nervously and repeatedly presses the call button. The flight attendants insist everything is fine, adding that they’re too high up to run into birds.

Joe, his newsstand buddy, confirms from the seat behind him that yes, it was a bird. Joe is a suspended pilot for the airline, hitching a ride for free since there was open seat on the flight. He tells Justin that the flight attendants wouldn’t actually know if they’d hit a bird—that’s not something the pilots would tell them—but birds are problem around Dulles.

Things spiral. Justin keeps listening to the podcast and getting freaked out by the details that match everything happening around him. The podcast host points out that the flight crew can be seen by the passengers on the in-flight screens, which is unusual. It’s supposed to provide some peace of mind, but really, this whole thing smells like telegraphing (because it is).

The podcast suggests an unknown electronic device might have been responsible for the crash. Justin anxiously flutters over to two men using a phone and tells them to turn the device off. “We’re Sikh, bro,” one of them tells him, assuming he zeroed in on them for racist reasons, but he was actually much more fixated on the device itself than who was holding it. They assure him the phone is in airplane mode.

The podcast reveals that there’s an air marshal aboard the flight, there to make sure a Russian mobster named Igor Orlov makes it safely to a hearing on exposing mob connections—perhaps the flight was targeted to silence him. The poor flight attendant, played by Katie Findlay (who was in the delightful series Man Seeking Woman a couple of years back), has to keep telling him to go back to his seat and stop harassing other passengers. Eventually, one of the pilots has to leave the cockpit to settle things down. Justin is rapidly becoming everyone’s un-favorite guy.

He runs into Joe again, who’s guzzling down more inflight booze. Justin asks if he’s the air marshal. Joe says he’s simply a pilot, but says that since he used to be a pilot he knows how air marshals do their job: “Their job is to think think like a terrorist, the best way to spot deceptive behavior… act like a deceptive person.”

The pilot returns to have words with Justin in the aft galley. Justin, desperate to change the events from what the podcast has laid out, says he knows they’re going to signal air traffic control with the phrase “Goodnight New York” at 11:15 pm, just a few minutes from now, and begs him not to say those words, “because those are the last words that anyone will ever hear from the plane.”

There is indeed an air marshal on this flight, just as the podcast said, hiding in plain sight. She’s a woman (China Shavers) who was sitting an aisle over from his seat. She’s been keeping an eye on him this whole time; throughout the episode, the camera has drifted over to cover her reactions to Justin’s panicky behavior. She steps into the galley during the conversation with the pilot and quickly and quietly zip ties Justin’s hands, arresting him for disturbing everyone and making threats against the safety of the flight.

China Chavers and Katie Findlay

The air marshal sits him down and tells him, “Podcasts don’t predict the future, we’re not going to disappear. But we’ll have people waiting for you when we land that can help you.” The pilot whispers to the marshal that they have another situation, so she leaves Justin unattended. On cue, Joe sidles up to Justin and tells him he believes him.

The seemingly cool ex-pilot appears to have been preying on poor Justin’s mental state. Justin feeds him the encouragement he was clearly looking for, when he says “You’re a pilot, you could turn the flight around and land us in Canada safely before we vanish.” Justin knows the code to the flight deck, thanks to the podcast. (Stupidly, it’s 1015, which is the flight number. I seriously hope no one does that in real aviation.) Joe sees his chance to take a sort of revenge on the airline and “redeem” himself as a pilot.

As he gets up to take over the cockpit, Joe spoon-feeds Justin what he most wants to hear: “You’re doing a good thing, you are saving these souls.” Joe gets in the cockpit and takes down the pilots, which thanks to the handy cockpit-cam we saw before, the passengers all see. They’re shocked. Joe has a plan to drop the cabin pressure and raise the temperature so people pass out, which he does after slipping Justin a canister of air. (Where did he get that from?). So Justin witnesses the whole thing.

Joe restates Justin’s mantra over the intercom: “I wanna thank you, Justin, you taught me something. The past is the past and I can’t get that back, I’ll never be the man I once was, but you’ve given me the clarity of awareness and the opportunity to find peace, and escape the past.”

The deranged ex-pilot takes the flight off course, signing off from the radio with the phrase “Goodnight New York,” just as the podcast had described. The plane soars through the storm clouds into parts unknown…

The Odyssey of Flight 1015?

Justin wakes up on the shore of a large body of water with luggage and other debris from the plane around him. The fuselage can be seen mostly intact in the distance, slowly sinking into the water. Surprise: The MP3 player has made it through the crash safely. Ominously, he discovers another podcast episode on it, this one titled “The Mystery of Flight Of 1015 – Part 2: The End of Civility.” The host explains that their first part was so popular they decided to do some digging into what happened, and they found that after months of searching, miraculously every passenger survived—except one: Justin Sanderson.

Distraught, and perhaps finally understanding that his own paranoia about the crash has in fact been the cause of it, Justin looks up to see that the fellow passengers have walked down the beach towards him. They curse at him, blaming him for the crash (rightly so). Justin protests, “I tried to save us,” but the last thing we see is the mob swarming him (with a nod to Lord of the Flies).

Adam Scott

Analysis

The episode is shot with a slightly gritty look, and usually with a very short focal depth, conveying that we’re seeing things from Justin’s point of view. The wider shots are often positioned unusually low or slightly too high to be comfortable. The intended effect is to make the viewer feel as uneasy as Justin, and it works.

Similarly, especially early on, the episode focuses on the anxiety of flying and the mundane things that happen during a flight: Doors being closed and sealed, belts being buckled, and the occasional bit of turbulence are all focused on both visually and aurally—the snap of a belt buckle, or the thunk of the airplane door are exaggerated for effect.

I have mixed feelings about the episode. I like that it wasn’t (yet another) remake of “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet.” Instead, it’s a cousin to the classic story. In this case, we get another common (perhaps cliché?) twist that Justin was his own worst enemy, and he was the undoing of the flight all along. There’s no supernatural gremlin element, which I guess the producers felt might seem hokey for the gritty 2010s, but as a result, the ending is less ambiguous.

Speaking of the ending, the episode effectively has two endings. The first is when the flight heads off into parts unknown. If the story had ended there it would have left things in a slightly more fantastical (and potentially upbeat) place, with Joe potentially redeeming himself as he heads for a tropical island (or whatever else your imagination might want) in the Twilight Zone. This would make things a little bit like “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”

Instead, we get a much more grim coda. The plane has crashed somewhere in the wilderness, and everyone survived only to turn on Justin and give him his comeuppance. As the narrator (Jordan Peele) wraps things up: “In his final moments, Justin Sanderson made the case that he did everything he could to avert disaster, but in the end, he was an investigative reporter unwilling to investigate himself until it was too late. Justin discovered that the flight path to hell is paved with good intentions, and it passes directly through the Twilight Zone.”

This ending is a bit of a wasted opportunity. It’s an interesting idea in and of itself, and could have been used to deconstruct the traditional narrative of the story. It could have been from the point of view of the survivors and could have worked back through what happened on the plane via flashbacks and from recollections of the passengers about “this deranged man with an MP3 player,” or something similar that would really set it apart from the original episode.

A theory I think deserves attention is that Justin’s friend Joe may be a manifestation of his paranoia. Joe shows up in the airport just as he’s pleased with himself for making a cover story. Joe then appears right when Justin needs someone to confirm his suspicions about the flight. Joe is also able to wander over to Justin during the flight with ease even after the incident with the air marshal, and no one else ever interacts with him. If this is a Fight Club type concept, then Justin is Joe, and Justin is not a pilot, despite being convinced he needs to be one to “save” the flight, so it could explain why the plane crashed instead of landing safely on the east coast of Canada as Justin had originally envisioned.

As is, the episode is satisfying, but as I mentioned in my preview of the new Twilight Zone last week, the writers really need to be aware of the sly humor and fantastical elements that The Twilight Zone can have. Not everything needs to end on such a firmly grim note, and there can be ambiguity.

Random observations

  • The episode is not quite a remake, but it is obviously inspired by the classic episode. Richard Matheson and his original story are given a “based on” credit.
  • Early on when something may have hit the engine, it jostles the plane a bit. Justin is of course seated over the wing and he looks out at the engine, so we get a fun visual nod to the idea of a gremlin on the wing from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
  • When it dawns on Justin that he’s being recorded by all the passengers around him, he’s publicly shamed into quieting down. This is a common occurrence on flights now, with people able to show the world a person’s bad behavior in an instant.

Twilight Zone connections

  • It appears that the producers are setting up a bit of a shared universe with this version of Twilight Zone:
    • The number sequence of 1015 will show up again, 01015 is the license plate of the state trooper’s car in next week’s episode “Replay.”
    • Below Progressive Pointe (the title of the magazine with Justin’s cover story) is a magazine with a cover story titled “Not Kidding Around The Unprecedented Rise of Oliver Folley” – which is a reference to a forthcoming episode with John Cho called “The Wunderkind.”
    • Samir Wassan from “The Comedian” is seen on the cover of yet another magazine at the newsstand.
  • The MP3 player Justin finds is Whipple brand, a nod to the original Twilight Zone episode “The Brain Center At Whipple’s.” Whipple was a large mid-west manufacturing corporation, the president of which was driven to instability and neuroses when he replaced all of his employees with automation.
  • Among the debris is a toy version of the gremlin from the classic Twilight Zone episode that inspired this episode.

The classic gremlin washes up on shore in toy form


Keep up with The Twilight Zone news and reviews here at TrekMovie.com.

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Duncan MacLeod

I would have loved a Shatner cameo, though it was probably too expensive. I have the original Nightmare at 20,000 feet on DVD

Outside of his mug on one of the fake magazines, that would have been ridiculously self serving and taken a lot of viewers out of the story entirely.

Professor Spock

Amazing episode. Good job CBS, this was a very surreal experience for me.

CmdrR

Did I beat the rush? Good. THANK YOU, TrekMovie, for looking at shows Trekkies are likely to have interest in. I appreciate the look-see into other entertainment realms. I know Trek is home base, but this site can handle the load. So… yay! Watched Ep. 1 and liked it well enough. Will now check out the classic cover.

dhaffner

I have to admit, I disagree. I see these Non- Star Trek posts and think “Wow, just when Star Trek has so much going on, lets clutter up a Star Trek site with other non-related stuff”. Since Star Trek folks like Star Wars too…and video games, will this site just become like all the others? I hope not.

Tiger2

Here’s a solution for you dhaffner, you can always exercise free will and simply not read or POST in the non-Star Trek news articles like this one.

Not sure how releasing a few articles a week is ‘clutter’ when 95% of the articles are still Star Trek related? And last time I checked, they still report all the Star Trek news that comes out anyway so what’s the problem?

Dhaffner

I thought making a comment about being concerned the site might stray from the overall topic seemed appropriate. I’m not badmouthing the work done here, in fact I appreciate it. It was a cautionary concern. Comment sections, to me, seem like the very place to voice concerns like this. I was not suggesting the two or three articles in the feed are a problem, but suggesting a slippery slope that could turn it into much much more.

Tiger2

OK fair enough. I wasn’t trying to get on your case about it but it just seems like such an odd argument to have in general. Plenty of websites deal with other subjects and mediums no matter what the name of the site says. The two non-Star Trek sites I visit for TV and movie news for example is IGN.com and Comicbookmovie.com. You may not have read them but you probably have heard of them. IGN covers any and every major movie and TV show with a devoted review section, but IGN actually stands for Imagine Games Network. It started solely as a gaming site as if that wasn’t a big enough topic to cover but has broadened to basically all mediums now.

Comicbookmovie of course covers mostly DC and Marvel movies/TV but it doesn’t stop there and also covers every other movie and TV show out there including Star Trek just like IGN covers as well. And I think its fair to say with 20 comic book movies and TV shows showing up every year they could really just stick to that and it would be enough. But they don’t.

My point is I don’t get why so many get hung up over it in the first place? This site is a business end of the day and while Star Trek may be big, its still infantile when it comes to every day news on it. You say there is a lot but there really isn’t outside of a big news dump every so often. Outside of the weekly reviews and news about upcoming episodes its hardly anything sustainable. Most sites wouldn’t survive on 2-3 articles a day and this site can literally go days without a single new piece of news. When it was just the movies, it could go for weeks at a time so they fill up the lack of news with other things. So if they feel expanding into other non-Trek subjects gets more views, then have it.

All these sites are all basically genre sites and focus on the sci fi and fantasy stuff because, shockingly, there are a lot of sci fi and fantasy geeks on the internet who reads it. I would be more than fine if they covered EVERYTHING just like so many do now. I would be fine with news about GOT, Stranger Things, Marvel, etc, etc just as long as Trek stayed their primary focus. But since they cover only Trek and the Orville full time its not exactly like the site forgets where its priority is at. Just weird people think this is a big deal at all. You should be happy to see them expanding their content because it brings in more viewers and not the same 100 or so people it usually brings.

CmdrR

I so wish they’d have made Joe’s identity (real or imaginary) clear. But, I guess we’re supposed to wonder about it… along with podcasts from the future… and how they’re titled.

Wheelie

If only Joe had turned into a hokey monster. I like hokey monsters.

Matt

Any word on international availability? I’ve checked our 10 All Access here in Australia and its not listed yet

Rob

CBS really need to get their distribution sorted – same for the Short Treks. The world’s a small place now and there’s an expectation that content becomes available in major markets within a short timeframe. Fans of Trek and the Twilight Zone are likely tech savvy and, while I’m not condoning piracy, will use a VPN or other means to access content. It seems like CBS AA are still in the 1960’s and thinking people will wait ages to see stuff. It’s especially galling here in Oz, where they have a ready outlet with their newly acquired Channel Ten & Ten All Access.

ML31

I wait a year for a number of shows to show up.

Matt

I’m especially skeptical of how Ten All Access will fare here. We are a small and now very crowded market as far as Streaming Goes – plus they hurt their chances of subscribers based off their mandate with Freeview to offer TenPlay. Why subscribe when you can just catch up shows for a few months after they air on Ten.

Plus the way the rights of so much of their content has already been divided up between Nine and Seven (for example Nine isn’t giving back Big Bang and Young Sheldon any time soon). At the moment the only reason to get Ten AA is to watch 90s sitcoms and the Charmed Reboot. The Good Fight is on there, but its first run was on SBS.

If they give away Twilight Zone and the Picard series to other services, I know I wont subscribe and you can probably call Ten AA DOA

dennycranium

All that’s needed is a vpn (virtual private network) With a vpn, one can mask their ip address and make it look like their in a different geographical location. I use ExpressVPN. I change my location from Canada to USA for CBS all Access or my Amazon Prime or Netflix. I then change my location to UK (Isle of Mann) so I can do my repeat viewing of Disco in 4K on Fridays.CBS? I pay 9.99 for commercial free, I’d pay more to watch Disco and TZ in 4K on your streaming service! For those of you concerned about cost? Netflix, CBSAA,Amazon Prime and Express VPN offer a free trial. Yes, you might have to wait for the season(s) to finish and binge everything out over a couple of weekends.

I thought the ending was kind of weak, but everything up to that was great. So this one is a miss for me, but an entertaining one.

PEB

I have a soft spot for Adam Scott, or should I say ‘Mr. helmsman of the USS Defiant during the Battle of Sector 001 in First Contact only never to be seen again in uniform’

ML31

This episode really blew hot and cold. It started out interesting and creepy. But it really should have ended with the plane diving off. But instead, we get this silly and idiotic coda where everyone supposedly survived, the plane obviously nowhere near anything in a flight patch from DC to Tel Aviv, (yes, I know they shoot in BC but they should have made a better attempt at hiding their location limitations)and they all give the poor guy his comeuppance. A bad ending can kill a good TZ episode.

Regarding the title and credit to Richard Matheson… Seems to me the only things lifted from the original story was the title and the fact it took place on an airplane. This was not only not a remake, it wasn’t even a “reimagining”. It was a 100% different story. That’s not a complaint about the episode but it’s just that if you are going to credit RM and use the title one would expect some sort of similar element.

I never noticed the connections to other episodes but I hope to GOD they are not going to all meet somehow at the end of the series run. Please just be fun little easter eggs and nothing more!

BillyBoy

Hmmmm… sounds like the response to the pilot was underwhelming and people were disappointed by it.

Let me guess… CBS shrills and Star Trek Discovery fanboys who saw The Twilight Zone premiere on CBS All Access think its “hands down, best version of The Twilight Zone since Rod Serling’s” and “loved every minute of it”. Their response to anyone who feels differently is probably “Well all first seasons of The Twilight Zone had a poorly received premiere episode, you just gotta give them time to finding their footing” and “Perhaps the real reason you dislike the show is having a black man as host is too much for you? Sad that you can’t accept anyone but straight white males in the 21st century”

Boris

So despite the creepy atmosphere and the classic Twilight Zone structure, I didn’t like this one so much because of the ending. Both endings. Some people are saying this should have just ended with the plane going down, but that makes Justin being the cause of the crash the twist, and I knew this would be the case as soon as the podcast got rolling. But the ending we do get is completely botched. *Everyone* turns on him? The trained air martial? The pilots? All the passengers? So they thought he was a terrorist or whatever. Fine, but you don’t kill a terrorist. You subdue him, arrest him. Maybe if he was killed by one passenger, shot out of fear or something, it could have been better, but what we get is just weak and completely unbelievable, and not in a good way.

ML31

I was more bothered by 100% of the passengers surviving such a horrific plane crash. Only in the Twilight Zone, I guess.

Boris

That too, but we didn’t really see the crash itself, so there was some room to maneuver there

Alan

And we’re back to writers that have no idea how anything works. Pilots can’t control the flow of oxygen in masks. Pilots can’t remove cabin air pressure without ascending to an unsafe altitude. Also the pilot needs an oxygen mask too in the event of loss of cabin pressure. Why can’t the Air Marshall get into the cockpit? How did he take out two pilots?

Sigh.

albatrosity

Adam Scott has the best First Contact cameo, way to kick off a career!

Fabio

No entiendo qué tiene que ver la Dimensión Desconocida con Viaje a las Estrellas. En fin.