Super Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Shades of Guilt)

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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 Perry Lang

You know, it’s kind of funny that Jordan Peele is gonna be doing a new Twilight Zone series considering todays episode is like a really crappy version of Get Out made by SEEMINGLY well-meaning white people who didn’t know what the heck they were doing. Yes, this is gonna be less of a modern classic or even a genuinely good piece of early 2000s fluff; rather, we’re dealing with one of the more dated episodes in the series that fall somewhere between hilariously misguided and utterly cringe worthy. Strap in folks, because things are about to get uncomfortable!

The episode begins with exceeding average white dude Matt McGreevey (Vincent Ventresca) driving home from work in the pouring rain… on the emptiest street imaginable… when all of a sudden a black man (Hill Harper) starts banging on his window begging for help. Matt IMMEDIATELY locks the door and guns the engine to get away from the guy, and in his rear view mirror he sees a bunch of racist (and murderous) assholes beat the dude to death while he just keeps on driving! Oh, but he didn’t get away as clean as he thought, because Forest Whitaker saw his ass drive off like a Jabroni, and I’m sure he’s got a REAL sweet ironic fate waiting for him… IN THE TWILIGHT ZONE!!

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“I’m sure there’s a side to this that I’m not seeing. It’s best not to get involved…” “THEY’RE GONNA KILL ME!!” “That could be metaphorical…” “IT’S NOT!!”

I also find it interesting that the man comes at him from the driver’s side, but when Matt peels off the murders come at him from the other side of the street. Was it one of those situations where the dude managed to give his pursuers the slip before trying to get help? Also, how did Matt NOT see these two coming down the other way considering they’re on this dude within SECONDS of him just barely getting out of arms reach? These are questions, like many more we’ll get this episode such as “who thought this was a good idea?” and “Did they even have a clue how tone oblivious this is?”, that don’t have a particularly good answer like; but I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s check in on poor Matt who’s just feeling so gosh darn awful about this (not enough to have turned around or to call the police) and is RIGHTEOUSLY indignant when his wife (Barbara Tyson) is somewhat callous towards his actions; especially when she assumes he was just some carjacker or was “up to no good”. Uh… the guy CLEARLY got killed a minute after asking for help, so you might want to keep your opinions to yourself, lady. Anyway, Matt lays his troubled head upon his pillow and wakes up the next day feeling awful, and not just emotionally! See, when he got home last night he noticed a giant gash on his forehead (uh oh), and today he’s got bruises all over his body (oh boy), which seem utterly bizarre considering he didn’t even get out of the car last night! WHERE COULD THESE INJURIES HAVE COME FROM!? Oh don’t worry! We’ll get to that and SO much more soon enough, but for now Matt goes about his day until which includes reading the paper and finds the face of the dead man staring back at him. Apparently the mystery man was a college professor named John Woodrell who was found dead in the streets and as far as I can tell there are no leads on whom the killers were. Oh but WE know who’s TRULY responsible, right!? DAMN YOU, MATT! You’re SUCH an asshole!

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What the hell? This dude’s violent murder got pushed down to the bottom of the page by some puff piece about the stock market!?

Matt goes to his friend and fellow white person (Michael Shanks of Stargate fame) who does his best to assuage his White GuiltTM much in the same manner that his wife did. You don’t know who that was, he could have killed you if you let him in the car, and sure, just CASUALLY mention he’s black because… you know! WINK-WINK, NUDGE-NUDGE! Ugh. Surprisingly Matt’s conscious is not yet soothed, but the demands of Capitalism stop for no man, so he goes into the office where he gets an… odd reactions. We know SOMETHING must have happened and that they aren’t reacting to his already established wounds (the camera is refusing to show his which means there’s a surprise coming), but considering what it is when find out a few moments later, I’m pretty sure he’d get more than just a few stares. Turns out this trip to The Twilight Zone makes a hard left turn onto Tone Oblivious Boulevard (in the subdivision of Bad Idea Estates) because this mother fucker is now in blackface.

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“It’s called Re-Vitiligo, and there’s no cure.”

YEESH! So… that’s a thing I guess! I get what we’re going for here but even THEN, this was an ENTIRELY unnecessary way to go about it! We couldn’t have stuck to the injury idea? He had to literally start turning black which the show is treating like some HORRIFYING transformation? We’ll get back to this point in a bit, but what kills me about this scene is the doctor who seemingly has NO interest in the fact that a dude has just turned black in a matter of minutes! What is it with movie and TV doctors who see MIRACULOUS CHANGES IN HUMAN PHYSIOLOGY and just shrug it off!? Tim Allen turns into a jolly fat man overnight (and all the doctor in THAT movie can say is to cut back on fatty foods), the doctor in Beastly doesn’t care that Alex Pettyfer has MAGIC TATTOOS now, and now THIS dude can’t even be bothered to give a flying fudge that his patient has had a drastic change in his skin tone!? Oh, his charts came back normal so I guess it’s all okay. Look, I understand that they HAVE to do this scene in these type of stories, otherwise pedantic jerks like myself will yell at them for not going to a doctor, but that doesn’t mean they have to half-ass it like this! Clearly not getting the kind of help he needs, Matt storms out of the office and rushes back home which seems like a bad idea considering he didn’t even give his wife a heads up, but it turns out to be an even WORSE idea because by the time he goes through the front door his transformation is complete. He’s no longer a white dude in blackface, he’s now an entirely different actor; specifically the guy he left to die in the street! TWILIGHT SHOCK!!

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“What have I become!? WHAT IS WITH MY HAIR!?”

So naturally the wife is all sorts of confused and runs out the door thinking there’s an intruder in her house which is fair enough I guess. I’m not sure how I’D react if a stranger walked right in claiming to be a loved one when they obviously weren’t, but then the neighbor comes out of nowhere brandishing a gun and starts firing when Matt reaches in his pocket to get his ID. I mean… this KIND of works but not in the context that they set up for themselves, and that’s really the problem with the rest of this episode. Matt is on the run with no place to go which means he has to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, and I’ll give the episode credit as it does a decent job of contrasting his expectations as a former white dude with the realities of being black in America. He gets passed up by a cab who picks up the dorkiest looking white boy instead, there’s a police car that slows down as the cops start staring at him despite the fact that he’s just sitting on a bench, and that’s all well and good… but with the framing of this episode as MATT’S IRONIC FATE TO TEACH HIM A VALUABLE LESSON, it feels less like an accurate representation of the troubles black people face and more like a Hell House for squeamish white people. The struggles people face every day shouldn’t really be trivialized as some sort of “cosmic punishment” for being a bad person in a goofy TV show, and there’s just not enough time in here for THE BLACK EXPERIENCE to be given any real substance outside of over the top representations of racism that even the average white person in 2002 would have been able to recognize.

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“To the Mayonnaise and Wonder Bread convention! POST HASTE!!”

It gets even worse when Matt comes up with a Hail Mary plan to get this all fixed (because I guess being black is something that needs to be fixed) as he decides to visit John’s widow to see if she’ll forgive him for letting her husband die. I guess that’s as good a plan as any as he AT LEAST realizes the “ironic fate” aspect of all of this, but the scene is just so poorly done that it robs even more credibility from the seemingly sincere efforts of the cast and crew. Number one, the acting is REALLY odd here. One of John’s relatives played by Blu Mankuma (I think he’s supposed to be an uncle or something?) does such a poor job here of selling the fact that JOHN HAS SEEMINGLY COME BACK FROM THE DEAD; especially after we find out it was he himself that identified the body in the morgue!

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“Oh hey John! It’s so good to see you! What was it like being dead?”

I don’t get it! Why isn’t he either terrified or extremely upset? He’s just so… matter of fact about this; even when Matt starts trying to tell him his story! The Uncle isn’t too keen to let him in the house which is at least SOMETHING he does that makes sense, but Miss Woodrell (Mari Morrow) was apparently standing right outside the door and heard the entire thing. She has one simple question; would Matt have picked up her husband if he was a WHITE MAN? Matt doesn’t really give an answer, but she knows exactly what that means and refuses to give her forgiveness. Okay, see this scene ON ITS OWN wouldn’t be THAT bad even with the oddly sedate performance from Blu Mankuma, but it’s still within the context of White Guy Matt’s No Good Very Bad Day, which means that these two barely even feel like characters. The framing of this story is still entirely Matt’s who is here to learn a lesson from them rather than these two being affected by John’s death and his seemingly subsequent return. It’s a story where a black man’s death is shown as a tragedy due to how much it affects a white guy, and while I don’t think there’s ZERO merit to telling that kind of story (Matt feeling genuinely guilty and taking responsibility would have been interesting), it needs to be balanced in such a way as to not trivialize the ACTUAL tragedy that occurred. Matt walks away from the house not getting what he wants (leaving these two characters behind for the rest of the episode) and ends up walking into the BAD part of town which is when he gets confronted by a gang of skinheads (led by Colin Corrigan) who seem PRETTY eager to chase down and beat to death the first black guy that they come across.

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“we only have two rules here in Racist-burg! Kill minorities and no littering; and I’m all out of cans to pick up!!”

Matt manages to get away and starts running through the rain soaked streets when the episode pulls off its biggest twist yet! He runs up to the nearest car, and inside is White Matt! Apparently we’re back to the night that started it all and everyone is back to their original selves which is a clever bit of editing that they pull of reasonably well, and in this version Matt actually lets John into the car. Well… not at first as he STILL drives off, but he turns around this time after he takes a FEW more kicks to the stomach which I guess is at least SOME improvement! Now that OG Matt and OG John are inside the car, John turns to Matt and asks him why he came back for him. Matt’s response? All he could think was… what if it was him? See!? IT ALL COMES TOGETHER AT THE END!

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“Hey, sorry about driving off at first. I just needed to be SUPER sure that you were actually in danger!”

And that’s about it! All that’s left is Forest Whitaker’s closing words to end the episode on! Proceed, good sir!

“The old saying goes, you don’t know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Matt McGreevey went one better. He got to walk in another man’s skin. A simple lesson in compassion, courtesy… of The Twilight Zone.”

See… I’m not even sure that’s what even happened here. Sure, he DID technically walk in another man’s skin, but the expression isn’t just LOOKING like someone else for a day. He didn’t ACTUALLY live John Woodrell’s life which WOULD have been more interesting to follow as it could have shown both the highs and lows of that man’s day to reality instead of just having Matt go through a checklist of Black Problems like this is some sort of fifties educational film (COME BACK ZINC). I don’t think there was any ill will on display in this episode, but the shallow understanding of the issues they’re talking about as well as the utterly tasteless use of blackface for a corny transformation subplot undermines whatever merits there are in this episode. I’d say it’s at least interesting to see what the writers CLEARLY thought was biting social commentary back in 2002, but this has aged PRETTY dang badly if it was ever considered cutting edge in the first place. I sure hope not, but then again things have changed a heck of a whole lot in the last sixteen years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is depressingly reflective of “progressive entertainment” from that period of time.

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If you like this recap and plan on buying the show, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

The Twilight Zone – The Complete Series

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