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 Allen Kroeker
We’re back with another episode of Night Gallery. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. Oh well! Now this episode we have right here, while being the sixth produced, was ACTUALLY the first one to air on television as opposed to the one hour pilot that got cut in half and pushed back. Did this end up being the best episode for them to have started with, or was this just a mediocre filler episode that inexplicably got to be the first one out the door? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with the perfect middle class white family who are ironically called The Winslows (two parents and two daughters) as they drive up to the gates of the community they just moved into! Right away it’s clear that something is up at Evergreen Estates considering how creepily friendly the gate man is, and the icy stare he gives to the older Winslow daughter (Amber Tamblyn) whose ambivalence towards everything is crystal clear.
Alright, so right off the bat I’m guessing that this is a community that will attempt to turn this troubled teen into a model citizen a la The Stepford Wives, and I’m giving 3 to 1 odds that the parents are in on it. This does seem to be the case as they pull up to their house and we see a gaggle of pasty ass white kids in collared shirts and lame khakis walking by in lock step and avoiding eye contact. Not only that, but the family across the street seems to be crying over a tree or something which I can only assume it’s an impromptu gravestone for one of the poor kids who were brought to this brain-washing hell hole and blew their own brains out from the immense mental trauma.
It gets even worse when my OTHER theory gets confirmed as well because the parents give their daughter lemonade which they FUCKING ROOFIED! WOW! I’ll give this show credit for once again not holding back on the really obvious twist, but also for doing such a great job of getting you invested in the troubled teen’s struggle who I will refer to as… let’s go with Mittens, because they haven’t given her a name yet. Anyway, Mittens wakes up from her highly illegal and despicably immoral drugging to find that her hair has been cut and un-dyed (if that’s a thing) as well as her tattoos being FORCIBLY REMOVED! Not only that, but every single one of her possessions have been taken away and she has those shitty “I wish I was dead” ensembles that the other kids were wearing. Naturally she storms down the stairs to find her parents sitting there with some pedo-ass looking mother fucker named Cliff Fuck Face… I mean Cliff Brooks (Paul Perri), who try to tell her she should feel grateful considering how much her parents have sacrificed to bring her here. You know… like when parents spend a shit load of money to send their SINFUL children to gay conversion camps.
Now so far, everything has been Tell Don’t Show as far as the circumstances for their arrival here which does feel like an intentional choice, though we will need to see how the rest of the episode plays out. We barely get anything about Mittens’s past other than she ALMOST burned a school down (it could have been self-defense!) and we’re told that the parents have sacrificed, but not in what way. If the goal was to make Mittens seems as sympathetic as possible, well mission accomplished. At this point, the parents are irredeemable in my eyes as drugging a kid and taking away the ownership of her own body (i.e. wrecking her skin to get rid of tattoos) is some dark ass Morning in America nightmare shit. Still, considering how quickly I got invested in this story line and how much I absolutely hate the shit out of the parents and the community here, it also means that if they botch the ending, they botch it HARD, so let’s hope they know where to take this. Anyway, Fuck Face isn’t very specific on what the rules are to this place, other than there’s no drugs, gangsta rap, or violent movies (ugh…) and is vaguely threatening about what’s gonna happen to her if she steps out of line. Mittens runs of and is followed by her sister (Chantal Conlin) who is just as pissed as Mittens is considering she has to dress like a she’s on the cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’s Don’t Stand Me Down album as well, and makes it clear that she wants out of this hell hole as much as Mittens does. Mittens assures her sister Jules (oh look! She finally got a name, and it’s the same as the Samuel L Jackson character) that she’s gonna get out of here and come back after she’s set herself up on the outside. That’s probably not gonna work out though because while investigating the place, she runs into Logan (Jesse Moss) who is another troubled teen sent to this cesspit of horror and has been here long enough to know there’s no way out. She introduces herself as Jenna (FINALLY a name!) and learns that Logan has stopped trying to escape and instead tries to make life here as fun as possible under the circumstances by sneaking in weed and whiskey. GOD BLESS THIS MAN! Or teen. Whatever.
They plan to meet up that Saturday during the MANDATORY community picnic (I’m sure one of the required events is goose stepping) and then head to Logan’s secret stash, but the day comes and there’s no Logan to be found. Just creepy kids whose souls and personality have been forcibly removed, and Fuck Face looking extra slimy.
Jenna keeps looking for Logan well into the night and stays perched outside her house as he watches for Logan. Jules finds her out there (AFTER CURFEW) and unfortunately for Jenna she seems to be converting to the way of this horror cult as she just wants to make her parents happy. Oh that’s great! Emotional blackmail! Be exactly what we want you to be or we’ll hate you! I am about ready to reach into the screen and start slapping mo fos! Jules goes inside but Jenna stays out a bit longer which was the right call because Logan finally shows up and is immediately caught by security guards who taze his ass and throw him in the back of a truck to presumable dangle off the side of a building until the noose asphyxiates him. DAMN YOU DRUGS! WE WILL DESTROY YOU IF WE HAVE TO KILL EVERY SINGLE CHILD TO DO IT!!
Jenna, realizing that she’s dealing with a bunch of freaking Nazis is now all alone and has to figure out what the hell is going on which won’t be easy considering how much power this community (and Fuck Face in particular) seem to have here. In fact, Fuck Face comes over the next day to grill her about Logan and to see if she knows where he might have some contraband stashed. Oh, and Fuck Face lies right to her god damn face by saying that Logan “attacked” one of the security guards when we KNOW that he was unarmed and didn’t even go down swinging. Okay, if the plot twist is NOT that they’re in the Matrix and Neo comes in to kill every last adult in this place, I’m going to be SEVERELY disappointed! After the questioning, Jenna gets with Jules and tries to confide in her, but Jules seems to be more concerned about the FEELINGS of her parents. Well… that, and the fact that their parents are APPARENTLY stupid enough to sign a contract that will cause them to “lose everything” if the family gets kicked out of here. How does Jules know this? I have no idea. What does “lose everything” mean? Complete mystery. Presumably if it means they lose every cent they have, well then whose fucking fault is that? Trying to further expose upon the fucked up nature of this shitty place is starting to get repetitive, but putting that kind of responsibility and expectations on two teenagers is just another unconscionable act of terror these supposed parents who “love” their children are guilty of. That night, Jenna goes to the community center in the middle of the suburb and listens in on a meeting of the Schutzstaffel… I mean the Home Owners Association (oh look! Jenna’s parents are there!), who are voting as to whether or not Logan will be forgiven or… permanently dealt with. Needless to say that this collection of murders and cowards vote to kill a person FOR THE GREATER GOOD, and Fuck Face gets to give a shitty speech about how important it is to rid themselves of the bad apples and that he himself let one of his own kids die for the sake of… whatever fucking despicable goal they’re trying to achieve.
Now just to be clear, the show is still being coy about what EXACTLY is going to happen to these kids, but come on. Whatever it is, EVEN IF IT’S NOT DEATH, has got to be something horrible considering that Logan’s parents are crying in their seats. They aren’t putting up much a fight though, but I guess they’ve all been conditioned by now to think of the Greater Good and to overlook murder and shit. While Jenna is watching this witch hunt unfold, she sees Logan being taken to a truck to be sent somewhere. I guess the Community Center doubles as a holding facility while they await the results of the kangaroo court. Jenna tries desperately to chase after the truck and help Logan, but it’s all in vain and she’s spotted by the security police which I guess means she’s committed a crime punishable by death and is going to be hunted down. She didn’t smoke pot, she didn’t drink alcohol, and she didn’t even get laid. She saw something and that means she has to die. FOR THE GREATER GOOD!! Jenna runs back home and tries to get Jules to help her by telling whoever comes by looking for her that she went to the other side of the neighborhood, when she’ll actually be in the park waiting for Jules so they can get out. Sigh… Unfortunately, as much as I had hoped this wouldn’t be the case, Jenna’s ultimate downfall is in trusting her sister to love her over fearing the disapproval of her horrible parents…
And so she gets dragged away by the Gestapo to their van of horrors to be murdered for the sake of this community. Oh wait! They finally show us what’s on the back of the truck! Could this be the twist we’ve all been waiting for!?
That’s it? Okay, granted they DID foreshadow this in the beginning with the people across the street crying over a tree, but… so what? How is this any more horrifying or impactful than if they were just going to the electric chair? Honestly, the only real twist this episode needed was Jules’s betrayal as that really did have horrible consequences. Now it doesn’t detract from anything in here, even if the idea is a bit goofy, but it’s not the gut punch that they really wanted it to be when they revealed this. Anyway, we cut to sometime later (the next day I guess) where the Winslow family is using the fertilizer made out of their own child to plant a new tree in memory of the Jenna who they just murdered in cold blood and barely seem all that concerned with; even Jules who seemed to ACTUALLY like her in the beginning of the episode but now doesn’t seem all that bothered by this. I’m sure her parents are proud at least…
I’ve just… I can’t. Please tell us what your thoughts are on this Mr. Whitaker.
“The Winslows have finally taken back control of their family. But it cost them one teenage daughter. A deal brokered only… in The Twilight Zone.”
THAT’S IT!? THAT’S ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS!? There’s no mention about how striving to have the perfect daughter has turned them into monsters!? How wielding absolute power corrupts absolutely!? UGH!!
Okay. While I personally would have MUCH preferred a happier ending where this whole enterprise is recognized as the deepest level of hell and is summarily destroyed, I get why they went with this ending. It’s powerful and haunting in a way that even some of the best television shows can’t manage, and honestly the ending I wanted would have sucked a lot of that out of the episodes. However, by doing it so well, I now feel like I need a shower and a teddy bear. I don’t like feeling bad after seeing something (I used to be a Law and Order SVU fan until I just couldn’t take the emotional strain anymore), but I can recognize when it’s done well. THAT SAID; I wish they had done a better job with Forest Whitakers closing remarks as it barely even touches on the premise or the deeper themes at play. I’m reminded of the episode The Obsolete Man from the original series (Starring Burgess Meredith) which had a very similar premise about society gone mad, only Rod Serling’s monologue at the ending is much more scathing and really hits home the message that’s being imparted; something this episode unfortunately fails to do. It also has a pretty triumphant ending while this is one is just sad, but whatever. This episode isn’t all that unique as you can point to a hundred other books, movies, television shows, what have you, that used the same premise, and there’s not enough to flesh things out so everything is on a more surface and visceral level rather than all that thoughtful, but damn does it really work. As an allegory, it does it disturbingly close to real life examples that we can point to such as gay conversion therapy centers (still legal in 45 states for minors and 46 states for adults) or the very real danger too many LGBT people have to face by coming out as themselves to their families; especially when they’re still a minor. That’s what this show SHOULD be tackling on a regular basis, the same way the original Twilight Zone challenged societal norms deeply held beliefs that led to injustices in this world. I really do recommend this episode as one of the best so far, even if you’ll probably need a stronger stomach than I to watch it over and over again.
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