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 Winrich Kolbe
We’re back with another episode of The Milquetoast Zone! Now as much as I enjoy this series for all its goofy early 2000s charm, the big problem with this iteration, and perhaps why it doesn’t stick in the public consciousness, is that it feels rather sanitized with most episodes lacking a lot of bite. Unintentionally stumbling into problematic territory? Absurd premises with just as absurd resolutions? Sure, but aside from Azoth and perhaps One Night at Mercy, none of the episodes I’ve covered so far have had a strong point to make or Rod Serling’s righteous fury behind it. That’s about to change however as for the first time in this series we are getting something genuinely dark with an ending that does justice to the original series’ sense of cosmic justice! I’m certainly excited to see it again, so let’s not waste anymore time and dive right in!
Our hero this time around is Vince played by Jake Busey (yes, son of Gary and he does indeed looks distressingly like his father) is… THAT GUY. We all know a THAT GUY. Dude who’s in his late twenties or early thirties who never really grew up, always has a chip on his shoulder, and whose plight MIGHT be sympathetic if he wasn’t such a raging a-hole about everything. Nowadays we see this kind of guy on Reddit and Incel forums, but back before THE INTERNET was what it is today, they just hung around the neighborhood and you always avoided eye contact when they came by. While raging on the phone about his credit card being cut off, Vince gets a visit from two people wearing dorky leather jackets (Kim Hawthorne and Andrew Moxham) and telling him that he’s been chosen for some very vague form of salvation and that there’s still good within him that makes him worthy of a second chance at life. Now we know that in The Twilight Zone there’s more to it than just some hucksters selling happiness in exchange for bank account numbers, but Vince is sadly lacking that knowledge and naturally tells them to get off his yard. They agree to leave but offer him a free gift, and since Vince is not one to pass up such a sweet bargain, he takes it and rushes back inside. The gift turns out to be a DVD with his name printed on it which he decides to put in on a lark and some dude with a bad haircut (Ken Tremblett) and even worse production values reminds Vince of how much his life sucks and how his girlfriend left him, but that there’s hope if he just opens himself up to it.
Now this is already a pretty intriguing premise as a guy who honestly COULD use a bit of guidance in his life is given an opportunity hand delivered to him on a silver platter (or at the very least a cheap DVD), and even if the argument is compelling, is it something he should trust? Is it something that ANY of us should trust if we were in his position? It’s all great stuff and the episode does a fantastic job of building a sense of paranoia and uncertainty, but unfortunately for ME it’s a bit hard to recap all the subtle clues and hints dropped throughout the episode without outright pointing them out which kind of defeats the purpose (if I point out what the TV in the background is saying it kind of gives the game away that it’s an important thing to pay attention to), so I’m just gonna keep it a bit vague here until we get to the end. The majority of the episode is watching Vince go through his day so we can get a better understanding of the guy as the world around him seems to be going sideways with the presence of these weirdos who aren’t just visiting him but hitting up everyone in town. He has a neighbor named Speed (Nick Turturro) who uses a wheelchair and so he brings him food, lotto tickets, and skin magazines on the regular which shows that there might be something salvageable about the guy even if he doesn’t always make great decisions. We see him trying to get work somewhere but the boss can’t help him, so at least he’s trying even if he’s not having any luck. However, when we get to his ex-girlfriend Lea (Claudette Mink), that’s when we get to see even more of his bad side. He drops by where she works, which from her exasperation seems to be a regular occurrence, and they have a conversation that I’m sure they’ve already had a million times but Vince either never remembers or never thinks to actually listen to it. He needs to grow up and make something of himself if he wants to keep being with her, but all he hears is wedding bells and white noise which is only further cements her decision to cut him out of her life. The episode shies VERY far away from making him an outright Bad Guy (abusive, intolerant, etc), but even with this cleaned up version it’s clear that his hell is mostly one of his own making, and landing a few extra jobs or wearing down his ex to go out with him again isn’t gonna fix anything; especially when he gets thrown out of the bar because he won’t stop pestering her.
Now that we’ve got Vince nice and fleshed out, let’s get into the WEIRD stuff that’s going on around him. While he’s going throughout his day, we see these leather clad weirdos talking to people all over town as well as hear news reports of trouble at the UN and some sort of incoming disaster. Vince of course isn’t paying attention to any of that because… well what the heck is HE gonna do about an impending international flare up, but things start to come to ahead once he drags himself back to his home after getting his butt kicked by the bartender. He sees that the weirdos are talking to Speed and they head inside his house which Vince interprets as very bad news and rushes over there. Before he can get through the door though, a blinding light flashes throughout the home and when he gets inside he only sees scorch marks and Speed’s wheelchair.
We’ll get into their… tactics when I do the wrap up, but needless to say that this is still some VERY effective storytelling and builds a lot of tension for what Vince should do next. It’s not easy to suss out considering what Vince has seen so far, and it doesn’t help that when he calls the cops some dude from Homeland Security tells him to keep an eye out if he sees the weirdos again. Fearing the worst, Vince drives back to the bar to try and protect Lea, but when she starts saying how much she loves him it’s clear that something isn’t right. Sure enough, the weirdos have gotten to her to which only puts further temptation on Vince to join them all to whatever “salvation” awaits them. Instead, Vince runs off and gets a gun which… okay I get the paranoia and not wanting to trust people promising your heart’s desires, but they can apparently disappear you with holy magic, so what’s a few rounds of buckshot gonna do? Well I guess in these all is lost situation as the world starts to collapse around us, the only gestures you can plausibly take are empty ones, and so Vince boards up his home to wait out the apocalypse and to shoot anyone who wants to do to him whatever they did to Speed. While looking out the cracks in the boarded up windows, he sees more weirdos and more flashing lights in people’s houses. They’re getting closer and closer to his home and the panic starts to rise. He tries to call the Homeland Security agent to try and get some help, but all he gets is a busy signal. The doorbell rings and someone starts to unlock his door from the outside. One of the weirdos pushes through his barricade and Vince takes aim at him.
Dude crumples like a sack of potatoes and Vince goes outside to see even more people; including Lea and… Speed!?
Yeah, Speed is there too and he no longer needs a wheelchair (we’ll get to that soon enough), and they all look sadly at him. The weirdo gets back up after instantly healing from the bullet and they inform him that they were wrong about him this whole time. He wasn’t worthy of their salvation, and they’ll finally leave him alone once and for all. Lea and Speed say their goodbyes and they all vanish. Vince is alone and all is calm… for three seconds. Alarms start to blare, nukes start to go off in the distance, and Vince is left to die in the fallout.
WOW is that bleak! Oh it gets better once Forest Whitaker tells us the takeaway from all this!
“In a world about to end, Vince Hansen was given a chance for salvation. But leave it to Vince, one of life’s perpetual losers, to make the wrong choice and to wind up just another cinder, on an ash heap somewhere… in the Twilight Zone.”
Jeez, just had to pour salt in the wounds there, didn’t you!? Okay, so let’s talk about how awesome this episode is while also untangling a few of the knots. First and foremost, not a cool move to imply that someone in a wheelchair is saved, cured, chosen, what have you, by no longer having to be in one. Disabilities do not make someone lesser, but stuff like this gives the unfortunate implication that they are, so that’s definitely a mark against this episode. I’m also somewhat troubled by Lea’s turnaround at the end implying that she’s a more “enlightened” version of herself when she falls back in love with Vince as she comes off as not just a completely different character but as some sort of propaganda tool that the weirdos can wield against Vince to try and cajole him into joining their group; so that’s another mark there. Now what I LIKED about this episode is that there’s not really so much of a moral here as it is a cruel twist of fate; a tragedy of sorts where our main character can hardly be blamed for his own fate even if the decisions he makes are well within what we’re presented with as his character. Vince isn’t a great guy. He’s mean, self-centered, and above all lies to himself constantly about his lot in life, so giving into fear and thinking that violence is the best solution is certainly an attitude that many of us see in a lot of people around us and may even struggle with ourselves. However, what pushes this into almost GENIUS territory is everything around him. The episode does a fantastic job of foreshadowing the events to come, and sure some moments here and there are clunky (one doomsayer rather early on spills the beans immediately that the weirdos are aliens) but it’s so effective at building up the setting which is lacking in most other episodes. Not only that, but I love the added element of the Homeland Security agent stoking Vince’s paranoia about what’s going on in order to keep him complacent and scared instead of opening himself up to something that would have been his only escape. It’s kind of a really good parable of where we are right now where so much of the way our government is acting is to stoke the fears and fuel the bigotry of the masses, and it works to a distressing degree which is why a majority of this country is pro-choice yet they can almost effortlessly destroy that fundamental right without any fear of reprisal. Now the one big sore point in all of this is that the weirdos don’t do a great job of explaining themselves or giving Vince a REASON to think they’re anything than manipulators and threats (maybe he’s seen To Serve Man! Did you think of that, weirdos!?), but I can also see that as another relevant parallel to the state of things today. Now I don’t agree with this notion at all, but a lot of people say that the Democrats aren’t doing a great job of unifying their message or reaching out to the other side, but if you wanted to try and make a message that falls somewhere in the middle, a guy who’s life has led him to fear the “other” and no one really doing enough to drag him out of his fearful existence KIND of works, and I’m mostly okay with that interpretation because of the ending which is, as I said, REALLY BLEAK. Like… whether you want to blame one side for keeping him fearful or the other for doing a bad job of reaching him, the final conclusion is that one side was telling the truth and by failing to listen to them, he ends up with the bad ending. I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking this and even without any strained attempts to draw modern parallels, it’s still a FANTASTIC episode and one of the few of this series that’s worthy of standing up there with Rod Serling’s original. I know there are some other really great episodes to get to (I remember that Wayne Knight one being AWESOME), but it’s gonna be tough to top this one with how much it gets right and how timeless it ends up being!
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