There’s something special about the more blunt episodes of The Twilight Zone. While Serling’s show centered heavily around fear of fascism and oppression, around the potential rise of a new Nazi-esque regime (okay, maybe it’s still a tad relevant), Jordan Peele presents us with another issue that lies quietly underneath the surface in the form of racial profiling. This is a tricky subject for me, as I not only have great respect for police officers and their dedication to protect and serve as well as having friends on the police force, the conversation revolves around bad eggs that paint the entire group in a harsh light.
Nina Harris (Sanaa Lathan) and her son, Dorian (Damson Idris), are headed to college so he can begin work on his film degree. A simple task, but when Officer Lasky (Glenn Fleshler) decides to harass them after he sees them having lunch in a diner it gets tricky. Through a series of events, Nina discovers that if she just hits rewind on her camera she can rewind time and return to the diner. Thus begins a cycle, each new attempt ending in further tragedy. She uses this to have some fun with Dorian, joking about lottery numbers in hotel room and enjoying their road trip, but each time they wind up on the losing side of the issue. Eventually they don’t even make it out of the parking lot at the diner.
Racial profiling lies at the heart of this story, but what lies even deeper is a series of deeply-held stereotypes between communities and the way that choices surrounding them feel like something we have a lack of agency in. There’s a really sweet scene between Nina and the officer, as she buys him a slice of pie and they bond over lost loved ones. She rewinds after this goes awry and all seems well, but Lasky’s face gives away so much. He holds the door for the pair, smiling and allowing them to pass, and then is overcome by something more than he understands. This may be an episode of The Twilight Zone and it might be about things beyond our understanding, but so much of this is stripped away and the power of choice is given over to ideations beyond control.
There’s so much I loved about this episode, from the mechanism of turning back the clock to the devil-bobblehead referencing the classic episode “Nick of Time,” but I can’t say that I loved it. I know for many it will strike home, highlighting an issue that is very prominent in the American landscape today, but some of it lacked so much nuance for me. There’s a target audience here, and I can appreciate it without being part of it, but I think some of the way events play out is completely lacking in humanization for the officers and I have to fault it for that. There is an attempt to lend an air of humanity to Lasky, but it is almost immediately taken away by an instant that suggests the very atmosphere itself is influencing his decision.
This remains a sweet and competent story, though flawed, and it accomplishes what some of the very best classic episodes did in that it forces us to question the direction of the society we live in. I think these are good things to push, to ask of an audience, but in an era of layered characters and an attempt to give everyone their fair moment in the light I just can’t let this go. I respect what they’ve done here and what Jordan Peele (alongside writer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds) is aiming for, but I wish they’d developed some of their characters a bit more to let the story breathe and feel like a more open look at the issue they’re tackling this week.