The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling
Episode directed by Jonathan Frakes
Welcome back to our look at the 2002 Twilight Zone reboot! Now the show’s air dates and production dates are completely different, but we’re gonna go with the latter which means this first episode (the pilot) didn’t actually air until six weeks into the series run; something that makes it even MORE confusing when you find out that this is the ONLY episode of the series that is one hour long story instead of two episodes put together. As confusing as that must have been to whoever was watching this series as it aired (someone SURELY had to have been doing so, right?), this can sometimes happen. You needn’t look any further than The Menagerie from the original Star Trek series which was the original pilot but then later retrofitted into a two parter in the series proper. So what do we have to look forward to from the first episode of this series? Well it has Jeremy Piven in it from before he was on Entourage but since that’s a show I’ve never seen, my reference pool for the guy is basically Smokin’ Aces and The Good: Live Hard Sell hard. Not only is he in this episode, but he’s the STAR and it’s all about him developing the power to read minds! Neato! So does this episode prove that the series was worth bring back a second time, or is it all too clear right from the beginning that we’re on a ship that’s sinking fast? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with our hero Tyler (Jeremy Piven) and his two work buddies, Buddy and Shannon (seriously, his best friend is named Buddy, I guess so we don’t get confused), who are at the site of a recently downed telephone line. Tyler has a crush on Shannon but he doesn’t have any confidence in himself and uses being poor as an excuse to not ask her out. I guess telecom repair people don’t get paid a lot, but then again this is the guy who buys scratcher tickets hoping to win it big, so maybe his idea of success is a bit on the unrealistic side. Not only that, but the person he’s pining over seems like an irresponsible jerk considering she goads the guy into going to the top of the line to fix it mere moments after the storm ended. Gee… I wonder if anything is gonna go wrong…
Tyler is brought to a hospital that is really oddly lit (are people with flood lights standing outside all the windows?) and is basically declared Totally Fucked upon his arrival; having suffered MASSIVE trauma and now has these really gross veiny scars all over his chest that are called The Devils Fingers which I’m PRETTY sure isn’t a real thing. The snarky doctor (whose actor looks very familiar) thinks he can bring the guy back though. How? With a defibrillator of course! After all, the best way to beat electricity is with even MORE electricity!! Somehow, this actually works and Tyler wakes up only slightly worse for wear!
Tyler’s recovery seems perfunctory at best as he’s released rather quickly with a couple of pain killers and a diagnosis of short term amnesia to cap things off. Fortunately his buddy Buddy (Vincent Laresca) is there to drive him back home so that he can recover properly and Tyler does seem to be getting better. However, there appear to be some side effects popping up that you’d think a competent hospital would have picked up on, but then you’d have to ask why they released him so quickly and why they didn’t even bother to bandage his burns before sending him on his way. I don’t know, maybe his insurance didn’t cover it.
The side effects at first appear to be just a blue halo around certain people he comes across, but they quickly evolve to include hearing their thoughts as well; eventually leading to the point where he exercise some control over this new power. Through his own research, Tyler finds out that there’s this unique type of lightening that happens once in a blue moon or something that can build up an electrical charge in whatever object it strikes. I thought that’s what ALL lightening does, but then again we’re in a story where electric shock grants mind reading powers so I guess anything is fair game here. It’s just a plot device anyway to tell a story about someone getting unexpected gifts; plus this scene also lets us see Jeremey Piven yell at thunder!
Once he gathers all this google research (this was filmed before Wikipedia was a thing), he tries to get help by going back to the doctor from earlier who I just realized is the guy who held the hospital hostage in that one episode of House (Zeljko Ivanek) so clearly Tyler is in good hands!
Well that went nowhere. Seriously, what doctor wouldn’t be interested in finding out why one of his patients suddenly got the ability to read minds? He even proves it to the guy, and yet the doctor still doesn’t feel the need to at least run some tests on him! Oh well. Look on the bright side! He can use his powers to help those in need… such as himself. He goes with his buddy Buddy to the seediest bar in the city to scam a grand off of people who seem very eager to cut him or anybody up. They have a throwaway line about how a real casino would just kick them out if they won too much, but I’m PRETTY sure they could win at least a couple games without getting noticed and the payout would be much higher while also not having to risk getting their head caved in by a baseball bat. Whatever, Tyler now plans to use his psychic powers to get him and his buddy Buddy rich. Hey, at least it makes more sense than slapping on some spandex and getting shot in alley by a mugger. Not only that, but Shannon (Olivia d’Abo) starts to notice him and they start going steady now that Tyler has a bit of confidence in himself. Well, that and her guilt for sending him up on that pole to bear the brunt if Zeus’s wrath but hey; progress is progress! He also promises himself not to ever use his powers on her without her permission (*cough* bullshit *cough*) which I guess is supposed to show that he’s a good guy but really is just showing that he’s a Nice GuyTM; doing the bare minimum of decency and expecting to get brownie points for it. Okay, that may be a bit unfair as its not explicated stated that that’s how he feels about it, but the scene where he’s explaining this to his buddy Buddy can still be read as such.
The point is kind of moot though anyway because he ends up telling her pretty early on about the psychic powers, and while she is a bit wary, she still into him. All is good then, right? Nope. She may be into him, but she takes a firm stance against dating her co-workers which means Tyler now has to take his scamming up a notch so that he can be financially independent. Or you know… just quit his job and work somewhere else. Oh who am I kidding? Even without the threat of my one true love being permanently out of reach, I’d STILL use my powers to get rich. Do you KNOW how much I spend on movie tickets a month!? And honestly, what he DOES end up doing is hardly evil or even that dishonest. He starts going to bars where investors hang out, listen to their thoughts for tips, and then invest accordingly. Now whether or not that is TECHNICALLY insider trading (he has no connection to the companies he’s trading on and his ability to hear thoughts PROBABLY wouldn’t be that functionally different from overhearing a conversation), at least he hasn’t gone full super villain and isn’t out there robbing banks or fighting The Flash.
Not only is Tyler’s wealth increasing, but so are his powers which have seemed to work their way up to mind control… I think. It seems like he’s getting into their heads and controlling them that way rather than simply giving them orders (closer to some sort of possession rather than Killgrave), though it’s still creepy no matter how it works. Shannon doesn’t seem to think so for some reason and finds this all ever so charming which puts Tyler in a good mood, until she asks him to read her mind. What she was TRYING to think about was a toy she used to have. What he found along with that is that she wants to… JUST BE FRIENDS! What a twist! Also, it’s kind of surprising considering that she WAS into the guy in earlier scenes and just couldn’t allow herself to take the leap because of their working relationship which no longer exists. At first he tries to be cool about it, but we go into a sort of montage mode after their dinner together where we see him over the course of several months as he throws himself in his Wall Street scheme and begins to self-destruct.
It’s an awkward part of the episode because it’s not quite a montage, but so much time passes in only three or four minutes of the episode to the point that almost immediately after the dinner where Tyler learned that Shannon wanted to just be friends, we’re at ANOTHER scene of those two talking; mostly about the fallout since the last time they were together. Not only that, but this scene also points out just how flat of a love interest Shannon really is. She starts admonishing him for the blandest and lamest of reasons and it does nothing to endear us to this character or understand why Tyler is so hung up on her. She wants him to reveal his super powers and do good deeds for the world, such as going to court so he can tell if people are lying. Yeah… try to get THAT past any civil rights lawyer. See how far you get. We already HAVE polygraphs and yet those are hardly enough to convict anyone. Who’s gonna take a strung out Jeremy Piven seriously when he takes the stand and declares that he can read people’s minds!? On top of that, Tyler’s argument against coming forward is a pretty solid one. If ANYONE actually believed him, he’d probably face jail time for insider trading and may even end up in a science lab with needles shoved into his brain. I don’t usually like the “Black helicopters and government agents will sweep you up for being different” argument, but it’s a good enough counterpoint for whatever weak-sauce tongue lashings that Shannon is hitting him with. Also, I can totally buy that happening in a Twilight Zone universe which has explored the idea of government overreach in the past. Even if we ignore that, what’s his obligation to come forward? Sure he could use some rehab and therapy, but that doesn’t mean he’s a monster! Not only that, but she gets on his ass about the (supposed) insider trading and goes on a spiel about how every dollar he earns is a dollar he’s stealing from someone else who has hopes and dreams and blah blah blah. He’s not misrepresenting information to the public (which really CAN lose honest people a lot of money) so I just can’t work up the outrage that she’s feeling about this dude using his powers to beat an already crooked system. Shannon decides to walk out on Tyler forever which I guess is supposed to be bad but all I can think of now he’s free to find someone who isn’t gonna judge him constantly. Tyler is still hung up on her though and it only gets worse when he looks out the window and sees his buddy Buddy hug her which throws him into an inconsolable rage. Just how pissed is he? Enough to stick his head in a microwave which will supposedly super charge his powers. Okay…
The dude’s in full on crazy mode at this point (just one costume change away from becoming The Dastardly Brain Shocker or something just as ridiculous) and he chases down Shannon to a park to force her to love him with his mind powers. The scene is kind of ridiculous considering the effect they use to show him asserting his psychic influence (not to mention the overacting involved), but the scenario is no doubt horrifying as the dude starts demanding that she loves him and gets inside her brain to try and force her to do so. This episode somehow manageed to stumble into some dark and nerve-wracking territory, but the execution ends up leaving a lot to be desired.
The guy gathers his wits long enough to realize that leaving now would probably be in his best interest so instead of continuing his assault on Shannon, he heads to his buddy Buddy’s garage (drinking the entire way) and has a carefully thought out exchange of words with the man about bro code and boundaries. Not really. He just psychic blasts the shit out of him too, but like with Shannon he stops after it’s clear that this PROBABLY isn’t the best way to endear himself to this person. Unlike with Sharron though, he doesn’t immediately bolt and instead starts trying to apologize. His buddy Buddy though has had enough and declares that he will no longer be his buddy, but instead will henceforth be known as his ex-buddy Buddy! I get the reason why the episode went in this direction as Tyler HAS to reach rock bottom for the overall point to be made, but I kind of find it hard that someone who’s been his best friend their whole life (as well as been standing by and making money while this guy was killing himself in plain view) would just drop him like that instead of try to get him help. Sure; Tyler’s gone WAY too far and could have done some serious damage with his super powers, but it just kind of pulls me out of the episode when Buddy’s abandoning of him is clearly the result of the episode only having five minutes left to go. After the breakup, Tyler goes out wandering the streets trying to find a ray of hope that will drag him out from the depths of despair. I wonder if we can fit some unsubtle imagery in here…
Actually he doesn’t even go into the church and just starts wandering the graveyard until he comes across a power line. Figuring that he will end this the way he started it, Tyler climbs atop the pole, starts yelling to the heavens, and then gets electrocuted again. And now, for the twist! Are you ready? After he gets electrocuted, he wakes up in the hospital room where he was initially revived at the beginning of the episode! Wait, what? The twist is that he’s now in Groundhog Day?
He still has his psychic power so it’s not like it was all a dream or something. He just seems to be stuck in a time loop… I guess. Maybe Forest Whitaker can explain it.
“Be careful what you wish for. They say the drives of the human primate are to breath, eat, find shelter, and mate. But what part of the psyche is it that never learns when its had enough? Insurance companies say lightning strikes are acts of God. Maybe he or she has nothing to do with it. Maybe they are just doorways… into the Twilight Zone.”
I mean, I GUESS that’s the moral here as Tyler’s descent into madness is predicated on the power he gets from… The Twilight Zone I guess? Whatever it was that gave him the power, it’s what started him on the downward spiral and led to his own self destruction due to his hubris. My only problem though is that I can’t really pin the ENTIRETY of his downfall on his own selfishness as there are clear side effects to the powers he has been given that are messing with his head and making his life a living hell at times. He’s constantly hearing voices, electricity seems to affect him in odd ways, and he’s probably experiencing all sorts of horrific side effects just from the fact that he was STRUCK BY LIGHTENING!! Aside from the somewhat uninspired moral, how was the rest of the episode? Honestly, there’s no reason this should have been stretched out to a full TV hour (about forty-four minutes) and it feels needlessly flabby in places. Despite the time we get to spend with Shannon, her role doesn’t amount to much more than the object of Tyler’s affections (and the catalyst for his ultimate descent) and she ends up feeling like a plot device. There’s also no reason to have multiple scenes explaining how Tyler was getting so rich when the reason is pretty self-evident after the first time we see him at a bar listening to wall street cronies. When it works, it’s pretty solid (if cheesy) entertainment with Jeremy Piven acting circles around everyone else and mugging like crazy at every opportunity. It’s definitely not the best in the series, but it does set the tone pretty well for what’s to come for this series going forward.
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