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
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?).
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.
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…
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).
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.
- 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.
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