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Lucinda Dryzek, DeWanda Wise, Jessica Williams, and Jonathan Whitesell in "Six Degrees of Freedom."

“The Twilight Zone” (2019): Episode Six Review

Lucinda Dryzek, DeWanda Wise, Jessica Williams, and Jonathan Whitesell in “Six Degrees of Freedom.”

The Great Filter theory, developed by economist Robin Hanson, posits that the reason humans have failed to find extraterrestrial life is that all advanced forms of life destroy themselves before expanding habitation beyond their original home. If an alien race ever lived on Pluto, we would not know of them because they killed each other before making it off Pluto and towards Earth. The Great Filter challenges any species’ existence. Can advance life overcome existential hurdles – whether created by a natural force or themselves – to extend its reach across multiple planets?

That question is central to The Twilight Zone’s sixth episode “Six Degrees of Freedom.” As a group of five astronauts are preparing launch for a round-trip to the red rock of Mars, humanity enacts its Great Filter via nuclear war. North Korea launches missiles at a number of the United State’s largest cities, and the United States aptly retaliates. Global warfare ensues just as the team is celebrating the beginning of their historic mission. The crew’s space center is among North Korea’s targets, so they hurriedly launch the ship into the galactic abyss and reckon with the fact they are likely the last humans left.

Their coping mechanisms – a generous phrase, given the gravity of the situation – are varied. Crew leader Alexa Brandt (DeWanda Wise) is an ardent supporter of detachment. She orders the ship’s AI assistant, a.k.a. Space Alexa, to block all communications to Earth as a protest to Rei Tanaka’s (Jessica Williams) repeated calls to her parents’s home. Flight surgeon Katherine Langford (Lucinda Dryzek) tries to ease the tension between the two of them by embodying the things the whole crew cherishes from civilization; she sings songs to the crew, creates birthday parties, and consoles the crew through their apocalyptic nightmares. Jerry Pierson (Jefferson White) mansplains the situation to all of the crew, bringing up the Great Filter Theory to explain the severity of their mission’s implication, as if the severity of nuclear annihilation isn’t apparent enough. Jerry also makes sophomoric remarks about the differences in everybody’s reality. “In your reality, those tomatoes taste real but in mine? No way.” The crew collectively rolls their eyes at his faux-intellectual garbage.

Jefferson White in “Six Degrees of Freedom.”

But Jerry’s penchant for institutional skepticism is the linchpin of the episode. He decides at one point that the whole mission is a simulation. At some point before launching, the crew was transported to a Six Degrees of Freedom simulation that allows for space-like motion. His 200-day long experiments have proved that none of this is real, man. It’s all a test to see if humanity is capable of passing through The Great Filter and expanding its life reach to other habitats. Jerry, sans suit, releases himself into the great black vacuum to prove his hypothesis.

The ship has no windows, so the crew is unable to see what happens of Jerry’s body, or if they indeed are not floating through space. Their only vision of the outside comes through cameras – cameras that could be manipulated by the system, bro. While they think Jerry was likely going mad from the shock of Armageddon, maybe he was onto something. His conspiracy has the power to corrupt the whole mission. The burden the crew carries as the last human life in existence, though, is far too heavy to be risked by Jerry’s potential mindless rambling.

“Six Degrees of Freedom” attempts to answer the question of humanity’s ability to survive despite its worst tendencies by embedding various broad traits in its crew. Captain Brandt is goal oriented and determined, unwilling to let the grief of Earth’s demise hold her back from the mission. Rei is angry at the world, but her anger stems from sentimentality. Rei wants to believe in the strength of the human race. Now that optimism has been wholly corrupted, and every effort she makes to contact people at home proves that hope is essentially dead. Katherine is the loving mother of the crew. And Jerry, of course, is not trusting of institutions nor accepted cultural narratives.

Jefferson White, Lucinda Dryzek, DeWanda Wise, Jessica Williams, and Jonathan Whitesell in “Six Degrees of Freedom.”

What happens when you put all of these people together and give them the knowledge that they are the only of their kind? Essentially you get the same dynamics that Earth is familiar with. Optimism in the good of humanity is usurped by “rational” progress toward a scientific goal that leaves the interests of society behind (think of Deep Fake videos; they are technological achievements that will certainly ruin massive aspects of national and international relations). We try to reconcile those heartless failings with care and tenderness, which works for awhile until personal interests conflict yet again.

While acknowledging the toxic tendencies society leans toward, “Six Degrees of Freedom” ends on a largely hopeful note that seems to suggest humanity can pass through The Great Filter. The potential for that success, though, depends on trust not only in one another as individuals but the alliances we share as groups. It is an oddly pro-government stance from a show that has depicted the darker sides of governmental bodies (see “Replay” and “The Wunderkind”). Of course, we can work passed corruption if we cling to what makes humanity worth fighting for. The crew of “Six Degrees of Freedom” successfully keeps our virtues at the forefront of their minds, and through that focus they are able to keep out species alive – if just for a small moment.

Episodes of “The Twilight Zone” are available exclusively at CBS All Access.

Endgame + Game of Thrones = Girl Power?

Endgame + Game of Thrones = Girl Power?

So, last weekend was a bit of a big deal.  Between the release of Avengers: Endgame and the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night”, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre just experienced one of the best weekends in genre history.  Endgame shattered opening weekend box office records.  GoT hit 17.8 million viewers, HBO’s highest viewing total in its history.  Endgame was the culmination of 21 movies and 10+ years of storytelling, arguably (only for the most argumentative) the most ambitious film project in cinematic history.  GoT, on the other hand, was hurtling toward a potential conclusion to the storyline that’s been in the making since the first scene kicked off the show over eight years ago.  So yeah, last weekend was a huge deal.  As a big fan of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre I was naturally excited to experience it all.  Yet on Monday morning as I was catching up on group texts and discussing things at the office I kept circling back to one thing: women played a massive part in creating the biggest weekend in this genre.  This realization hit me in two big ways.  First, the female characters I’m referring to were not just secondary characters with big moments, but major franchise characters who greatly impact the story.  Second, the execution of that was so natural that it didn’t even dawn on me until much later.

When you consider the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre there is not a shortage of significant female characters.  Ripley (Alien), Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), and Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are examples of female leads who were the face of their respective franchises.  When you look at the historically great movies and TV shows in the genre, though, female involvement is still present but with significantly less star and narrative power.  Star Wars featured a prominent female character, Leia, but the story was still Luke’s story.  The second trilogy had Padmé, but not much female representation beyond that.  Battlestar Galactica had a number of prominent female characters, but at the end of the day the storylines were driven mostly by an Adama or Gaius Baltar.  The Harry Potter franchise had Hermione and a host of other major female characters, but Harry and Ron were still the bigger focal point.  Lord of the Rings had Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel which were important to the story, but outside of only a few key moments that story was definitely driven by the male characters.  The list goes on to include other big franchises like The Matrix, Avatar, Lost, and others.  Even the earliest movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had minimal female involvement.  This is not an indictment of those franchises, in fact I love them all, but the significance of the female characters in those franchises didn’t seem nearly as noticeable when compared to Endgame and “The Long Night”.

That brings me to the other point.  The storytelling which got us to last weekend’s big moments has been leading us there for several years.  Game of Thrones has been building its female characters since the beginning of the series.  Cersei and Daenerys have been main characters since the first episode.  Sansa, Arya, and Brienne have grown throughout the series to the point that they are main characters as well.  Going into this final season Arya and Sansa had been added to that upper echelon of main characters formerly reserved for Jon, Dany, Tyrion, Cersei, and Jamie.  As the events unfolded in “The Long Night” there were some narrative surprises including almost all of the aforementioned female characters, but they were 100% believable.  Those characters had become so multidimensional that it didn’t seem out of character for a normally diplomatic character to pick up a sword and start stabbing, or for a battle hardened killer to show signs of doubt and resort to running away.  A big part of what made “The Long Night” such a big event was that natural progression of those characters.

The path to prominent female inclusivity for Endgame was a little less organic than Game of Thrones, at least for the first half of the MCU.  Women have been involved in most every MCU movie, but outside of Black Widow, those female roles were mostly limited to non-superhero support roles.  There became a slow influx of female hero characters like Scarlet Witch, Okoye, Wasp, Gamora and Nebula, among others.  That culminated in this year’s Captain Marvel, the first MCU movie to feature a female lead.  By the time of Endgame, many of those characters are no longer around due to Thanos, but there’s still a prominent crew of female superheroes which impact the events of the movie.  I won’t say more than that with regards to characters and events; but like “The Long Night”, the female characters significantly affect key sequences which impact the story.  Those characters are such an ingrained part of the story at this point, though, that those moments felt natural and not forced.

While I’m heaping praise all over these two franchises I do want to acknowledge some of the franchises which laid the groundwork that helped bring more female inclusivity to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre.  As I mentioned above, Aliens, Buffy, and Hunger Games were big in promoting female star power in the genre.  In recent years Wonder Woman, Star Wars VII/VIII, and Rogue One have been instrumental in pushing women to the forefront of Sci-Fi/Fantasy films.  Women are also becoming bigger characters in other traditionally male-dominated forms of entertainment.  This year’s Wrestlemania was main-evented by a Women’s Triple Threat Match.  At the time of that event it wasn’t a stretch to say that the three participants in the match were near-consensus top five superstars among ALL wrestlers, not just women.  Becky Lynch was considered by most to be the top star in the business, which was unheard of in the wrestling world.

Also, while this post is overwhelmingly positive toward the MCU and Game of Thrones, this is not to say that everything those franchises have done with female characters has been perfect.  Both have given in to stereotypes and genre tropes which marginalize groups of people, not just women.  I also don’t want this post to be some sort of declaration that women have taken over Sci-Fi/Fantasy and climbed the mountaintop or broken a glass ceiling or whatever cliché you want to use.  Despite the fact that these characters were allowed to organically grow into this level of prominence and that it took me a while to recognize the difference of those moments versus the genre expectation, the fact is that I did notice it and it did stick out, which means it’s still not normal.  As a guy I don’t feel remotely qualified to talk about representation, or lack thereof, for women or any group, but as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan it was really cool to see these characters get big moments on the biggest stage.

I’d love to hear what you thought of Endgame and “The Long Night”, be sure to leave your comments below.

The Funkhouser Situation E57: Endgame CPR *Spoiler Free*

Chris Tomlin and Lee Cruse can’t wait to discuss Avengers: Endgame and they’re prepared to talk about it all without giving The Funkhouser Situation audience any spoilers. Listen to them tap around the topic and talk about a few other things around the world of pop culture, like…

— Adventures at the grocery store.

— The enormous pressure the writers faced to finish the Marvel series properly.

— The final season of Big Bang Theory.

— Taylor Swift has a new music video.

— A look back at John Singleton’s best movies.

— Will the new Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron movie be any good?

— A little Game of Thrones discussion.

— A royal rumor in Hot Goss!

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to The Funkhouser Situation podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Jake’s Cigar Bar. 

Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in "The Wunderkind"

“The Twilight Zone” (2019): Episode Five Review

Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in “The Wunderkind.”

Andy Samberg’s comedic opus Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – a spoof on modern pop music stardom – features a scene in which Samberg’s character Conner4Real shits in the bathroom of the Anne Frank House. The scene is a riff on Justin Bieber’s infamous note left in the Anne Frank House’s guestbook: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” David Ehrlich wrote in his review that Popstar‘s satire is not quite as absurd as the real-life event it criticizes. “There’s no getting around one stubborn truth about this frequently hilarious movie,” he writes. “The incident that may have inspired it was also the incident that rendered it unnecessary.”

The same can be said of The Twilight Zone’s newest episode “The Wunderkind,” in which an eleven-year-old child is elected President of the United States. The episode takes this premise to very heavy-handed and obvious places, offering nothing new to our already frantic discourse concerning the White House. “Huh, doesn’t this childlike behavior remind us of a certain orange-faced Oval Office occupant?” asks the episode’s writer, as if they are the first to deem Trump’s conduct childlike.

Local cute boy Oliver Foley (Jacob Tremblay) initially rises to moderate fame as a lets-play YouTuber who pwns the noobz in Fortnite – he makes a point to say his first content endeavors centered on Minecraft, but he is too old for that “little boy” game now – but shoots to viral stardom when he announces his candidacy for President. Disgraced campaign manager Raff Hanks (John Cho) sees Oliver’s video and immediately pounces on him as a serious candidate. Raff ran his previous campaign into the ground, but Oliver is a chance at a new beginning.

John Cho as Raff Hanks and Jacob Tremblay as President Oliver Foley in “The Wunderkind.”

Oliver clicks with the American public instantly. His statements bestowing the virtues of “being nice to other people” and “having more Star Wars movies” seep into the citizenship’s hearts. His apparent goodness makes him a strong enough candidate as any, so the public believes, and he skyrockets to the top of the polls instantly. Despite several poor debate performances displaying no true knowledge of public policy – sound bites include “taxes are good except when they’re bad, but they’re mostly good, right?” – Oliver utilizes his innocent charm to cement his throne as America’s Sweetheart, climbing his way to the American Presidency.

Oliver’s brattiness is teased throughout the episode through screaming matches with is parents or refusal to participate in debate prep, but only when he ascends to the Oval Office does his character truly sour. His demands as Commander-in-Chief turn quite extreme. He calls for Nintendo to give all American’s a free Gameboy or he will impose a million-dollar-per-Gameboy tax, burying the company in a pit of financial failure. He wants to “fire” all of Congress when they request his medical report. The aides, rather than pushing against Oliver’s demands, follow his wishes blindly. Any confrontation leads to an immediate firing.

The Trump allegory is painfully hamfisted. Stories of Trump’s inadequate knowledge of governmental functions and refusal to consider other’s points-of-view are far too numerous for me to mention. But the attempt at political commentary in “The Wunderkind” proves useless as it is preaching to the choir. No Trump supporter will see “The Wunderkind” and think, “Oh gee, maybe Trump really is bad.” Nor will any Trump nay-sayers come away with new insights on his Presidency. The episode regurgitates familiar rhetoric surrounding the Trump era with no new perspective to offer. “The Wunderkind” is not trying to make an argument; it is inviting already like-minded viewers to join in on beating its dead horse. Trump is a petulant child! We get it!

We have seen a lot of incredible Trump Era art that insightfully examines what led to his Presidency and his failings as a leader (BlackKlansman, Sorry to Bother You, The Death of Stalin, and The Favourite are four examples from 2018 alone). But those films are adding to the conversation and try to point out toxic aspects of the United States that were already thriving before Trump took office. “The Wunderkind” has no similar ambition. It is content to say “Trump is bad” and leave it at that. In a show as hellbent on confronting questions of American identity as this new Twilight Zone revival is, “The Wunderkind” single-layered identity as an anti-Trump narrative does not bravely enough consider what it is about Trump that is so troubling. It is more comforting to point and mock than it is to look inward.

Episodes of “The Twilight Zone” are available exclusively at CBS All Access.

Steven Yeun as A. Traveler in "The Traveler."

“The Twilight Zone” (2019): Episode Four Review

Steven Yeun as A. Traveler in “The Traveler.”

The Twilight Zone in its first three episodes has delivered a variety of genres: “The Comedian” is a mildly supernatural parable; “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is a mystery; and “Replay” is political allegory. It is fun to see the show bouncing around different avenues to deliver its storytelling. But now The Twilight Zone has entered truly bonkers territory with its science-fiction laden fourth episode “T Traveler,” and the confidence I once had in being a moderately intelligent person has been shaken by this episode’s refusal to hold the audience’s hand.

“The Traveler” takes place in the State Trooper station of a small Alaskan community. It is Christmas Eve and Captain Lane Pendleton (Greg Kinnear) is hosting the station’s annual Christmas Party. Every year – to boost his own ego – he pardons one of the criminals in the jail to spread seasonal joy. Since nobody is in the jail on Christmas Eve, Sergeant Yuka Mongoyak (Marika Sila) arrests her brother Jack (Patrick Gallagher) simply to provide Captain Pendleton a pardonee for the party.  Yuka locks her brother in the cell and returns to the party until Pendleton gives her orders to release him.

When Yuka  comes back to release Jack she discovers a stranger (“Adrian Bryant’s Pick for Sexiest Man Alive” Steven Yeun) has entered Jack’s neighboring cell. The man claims to be a hit YouTuber named A. Traveler.  A. Traveler, well, travels across the world to create video content covering his adventures across the globe’s greatest natural and man-made feats. Captain Pendleton’s pardoning ceremony is one such feat in the eyes of the YouTube community, according to the stranger. As A. Traveler’s praise for the Captain grows more extreme (he once claims that Russian agents say they will never invade the U.S. because they’d have to get through Captain Pendleton), Pendleton  consents to giving the well-dressed stranger the greatest gift of all: a trademark Pendleton Pardon.

A. Traveler joins the Christmas party after being released and proves to be quite the guest. He sings karaoke, he praises each officer individually, and he does his fair share of flirting. But as Yuka grows more suspicious of the conspicuous guest, he begins to exhibit alarming behavior. He outs the dirty laundry on some of the officers’ disorderly conduct (a la excessive drinking and refusal to pay child support). Pendleton’s attitude on the man turns sour after his draconian escapade. Yuka, similarly distressed, attempts to ally with Pendleton to discover the mystery behind the well-dressed visitor.

Marika Sila as Yuka in “The Traveler.”

“The Traveler” is very concerned with the questions about truth and agenda. All of the characters, including our main protagonist, are made to be untrustworthy. While Yeun is the antagonist-lite of the episode, Pendleton is also quite shady, bemonaed by Yuka and Jack as a self-indulgent prick. He opens the Christmas party with a speech about how his Christian ancestors tamed the great, uninhabited land of Alaska. The tension between his alpha-colonialist sentiments and Yuka’s resentment of Inuits (as well as other Native American groups) being pushed to the ass-end of his – and America’s – cultural narrative creates a fascinating dynamic between the two characters: Pendleton is the worst of America’s patriotic tendencies, and Yuka seems to want to usurp him at any point she can. Sadly, this specific duality is rarely explored beyond the episode’s first twenty minutes.

A. Traveler utilizes their division to his liking. He lauds Pendleton as the epitome of American values (in many ways, he unfortunately is), but tells Yuka that soon she will be rightfully in charge of the post. Between his hypocritical attitudes to the two and his repeated lies concerning his identity – one moment he is a YouTuber and the next moment he is an FBI agent – we learn A. Traveler has many secrets hidden beneath his charming grin. But the episode seems to be asking us if trusting Pendleton or Yuka is any more reasonable than trusting A. Traveler. Motives inherently infect institutions, and believing in any one person’s agenda can be very dangerous.

“The Traveler,” despite its interesting questions on individual exploitation, is a tonal mess. At some points it desires to be a governmental thriller, but when it settles into that groove it moves into a mild but contextually jarring science-fiction world where natural laws as we understand them are tossed away. The cast does as well as it can with the material – thankfully neither the script nor the direction dampen Yeun’s astronomical sex appeal – but their performances get lost in the mixed messaging of the story. While it is a nutty episode that I cannot stop thinking about, it does not build to a wholly satisfying experience.

That is as much as I can say without spoiling the end. But I can’t not talk about the absurd direction that this episode takes in its last few moments. So after this point there will be spoilers for “The Traveler.”

Steven Yeun as A. Traveler and Greg Kinnear as Captain Pendleton in “The Traveler.”


In the early moments of the episode we see a pink star overlooking the State Trooper station as Yuka and Jack make their way in. They are both perplexed by the sight, but shrug it off as a harmless anomaly. The moment they resume marching forward the star zips away into the forest line. What we now see as a U.F.O. is a not-so-subtle hint that this episode is about aliens. I was well primed, then, for Steven Yeun to be an intergalactic troll.

What I was decisively not prepared for, however, was that this intergalactic troll would be a meddler in international affairs. A. Traveler reveals that Pendleton has sold the location of the nearby Air Force base’s power grid to the Russians. He insists that if Pendleton does not act quickly, the Russian agents currently on their way to confirm the location will be sabotaged by the American agents that the Traveler have tipped off.  Pendleton will be exposed as a treasonous agent and will be put away for the rest of his life, if he is lucky enough to not have started a full-scale war between the two countries.

Pendleton rushes to the grid to stop the Russia/America conflict, but then there is no Russia/America conflict. A. Traveler lied so that Pendleton would lead his alien army to the grid for them to invade. When Yuka is left alone with A. Traveler after Pendleton leaves, he reveals his scheme to her while also revealing her abdication of her duties in favor of taking down Pendleton. A. Traveler has lied to her repeatedly and she has pressed him on those lies, except for when he promised Yuka that she would take over Captain Pendleton’s job very soon. That lie she accepted. Once the promise was made, Yuka,  became much more hands off, and therefore complicit in a scheme she could have obstructed. The Traveler still leaves the opportunity to take Pendleton’s job (assuming his demis) open to her, under the condition she submit to his authority.

Deciding that she will not cave to A. Traveler’s plot, Yuka rushes to stop Pendleton from revealing the location of the grid. She arrives to find Pendleton fully aware that A. Traveler was lying. He also exposes her corrupt ambition for wanting to overthrow him. “It’s only a lie if we choose to believe it,” he says while staring down the bullet of Yuka’s shotgun. Alien ships soon fly over the two of them, and the credits roll.

Admittedly, I have a hard time making out what the episode is trying to say. As mentioned above, it seems to be delving into ideas about how we exploit our personal agendas at the expense of progress. Both Pendleton and Yuka are at war with each other over conflicting interests; all it takes it the Traveler to raise their conflict to its full potential. Pendleton’s knowledge, though, muddies the waters for me. I don’t believe it is meant to be an optimistic ending – one that would be saying man can be aware of his flaws enough to know when he is being played – given that the aliens do invade. His last line, though. I don’t know what to make of it.

I am going to have to revisit “The Traveler” again to make sense of the whole ordeal. I am unsure if it is admirably ambitious or remarkably silly. Regardless, trying hard toward a great goal and failing in art is much preferable to playing it safe. Of course, it may have hit its target. I may just need to give myself more time to find out what that target is.

The Twilight Zone’s first episode, “The Comedian,” is free on YouTube for those without a CBS All Access subscription. All other episodes will only be available on CBS All Access.

Sanaa Lathan and Steve Harris in "Replay."

"The Twilight Zone" (2019): Episode Three Review

Sanaa Lathan and Steve Harris in “Replay.”

I was at dinner with a friend when my girlfriend, Kennedy, started blowing up my phone with irate text messages. What the heck. / That’s not Twilight Zone. / That doesn’t have a freaking lesson. / That’s just throwing in something pretty weird and being like, “Huh, weird, right? / I am mad. This is not correct. Why did this happen to me. No good.

She was referring specifically to “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,”  the second episode of the new Twilight Zone series. While I bemoaned the failings of “30,000 Feet” for some length last week, Kennedy put its primary issue far more succinctly than I managed to: “It is not surreal,” she said. “It is a murder mystery. Rather than a ‘who-dun-it,’ the episode is ‘who-gonna-do-it?’ That isn’t Twilight Zone-y.”

She has a point. The glaring flaw of the first two episodes is that the premise is not in any way metaphorical. While “The Comedian” is supernatural, the idea doesn’t really hold an inherent message. “Nightmare at 30,000” is hardly supernatural and meanders endlessly to a lame climax. Serling’s aim with the original Twilight Zone was to bring sociopolitical discussion to a television world through allegory, as outright mentioning politics would never be allowed. That the first two episodes of CBS All Access’s new swing at the property are so apolitical is a peculiar failure.

The Twilight Zone’s third episode, “Replay,” is a massive course-correction toward political messaging. While Serling’s original show could only hint at current events, “Replay” outright addresses social struggles while still maintaining the otherworldliness of the original series.

The episode revolves around Nina Harrison (Sanaa Lathan) and her son Dorian (Damson Idris) as they travel to Dorian’s college freshman orientation. Nina is filming the event on a massive camcorder from years past, which Dorian takes ample time to mock. Nina discovers that when she hits the Rewind button on the camcorder time itself literally reverses. Nina uses the ability to reverse time repeatedly in attempt to avoid confrontation with Officer Lasky (Glenn Fleshler); despite the repeated do-over’s, the different routes she takes to the school, and the varying degrees with which she tries to relate to Lasky, every trip to the college results in Lasky pulling Nina and Dorian over, putting them into great danger.

Sanaa Lathan and Damson Idris in “Replay.”

“Replay,” by Kennedy’s metrics, is incredibly Twilight Zone-y. It is remarkably tense; Lasky pulls the family over multiple times throughout the episode, but each encounter between the three grows more fearful. Lasky is stern and relentless, and his racism seethes through his pores any time he speaks with Nina or Dorian. The fear Nina and Dorian have of Lasky is, unfortunately, the fear that many African American families must live with. The sight of red and blue sirens always bring the prospect of fatality at the hands police, and the epidemic of police brutality is at the center of the episode’s plot.

“Replay,” as well as being politically cognizant, is very cheesy and sentimental – as many Twilight Zone episodes are. Nina as more or less shunned her family and childhood life, not having talked to her brother Neil (Steve Harris) in years, nor going to her father’s funeral once he passed. Dorian does not resent Nina for depriving him of an extended family, but he desperately begs her to reconnect with Neil and develop a familial connection that he has not been blessed with. The “solution” to overcoming Lasky’s threatening presence is tied to Nina’s family (I will not spoil how, exactly), and it brings a sappiness to the episode that the first two notably lacked.

The show emphasizes the power of solidarity. Nina needs to learn to embrace her past to ensure a safer future for her son. Her solidarity with her family – and the African American community at large – are key to the episode’s thematic and emotional success. “Replay” is hopeful for the future while recognizing the difficulties that come with progress, and the balance of optimism and realism is a key tone that unites the episode with Serling’s original series.

Damson Idris and Glenn Fleshler in “Replay.”

The stance that “Replay” takes against police brutality is very likely to alienate some viewers from the show. The original series was no stranger to episodes critiquing racism, but none were quite as overt as “Replay” is. And police brutality, especially in conservative states like Kentucky, is always sure to spark rage condemning the “war on police.” CBS’s release an episode so aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement (various allusions to Black Lives Matter are interspersed throughout the episode’s locations) speaks to a mission of inclusion present from the series’s  start (thinking of Jordan Peele hosting, Kumail Nanjiani being the lead of the first episode, and the team of African American writers who worked on “Replay”) and a willingness to give stories to populations that – even in the ’60s Twilight Zone – have been excluded from Hollywood en masse.

“Replay” pushes the political legacy of Rod Serling much farther than I am sure he ever would have imagined. Even if it alienates more conservative viewers (although hopefully they will learn from the episode rather than immediately protesting it), the push works exceedingly well and is exactly what the show needed to improve on the banality of its first two episodes.

The Twilight Zone’s first episode, “The Comedian,” is free on YouTube for those without a CBS All Access subscription. All other episodes will only be available on CBS All Access.