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
Directed by Bob Balaban
We’re back with another episode of Now That’s What I Call Twilight Zone! You’re much more digestible and mainstream version of something good that you’ll forget about a heck of a lot faster! Then again, we might just have a standout episode here if you can believe it as we’re talking about that one particular bug bear of internet sad boys; TOXIC MASCULINITY AND ENTITLEMENT!! Yes, even back in 2002 the world thought you were all a bunch of losers. ANYWAY! Does this episode take full advantage of its premise to deliver an interesting take on the subject, or will it refuse to take off the kid gloves and give these ridiculous fools a pass for their behavior? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with Martin (Frank Whaley) being annoyed by the most obnoxious and stereotypical hell beast of a bad wife who is literally screaming at him for being a loser and to feed the kids. It’s like something right out of an MRA handbook as the only thing we get to see is the haggard man while the wife and kids are just voices in the distance with no discernable personality besides spite and venom. Oh, it gets even worse from there! The guy goes to work at a hardware store and his boss a total control freak who feels the need to tear him down for coming three minutes late for work and then when he tries to strike up a “friendly conversation” with a female coworker, she just walks away after an awkward silence. Seriously, give this guy six months and he’ll be found dead in an alley with clown makeup and balloon animals full of anthrax. Fortunately for the rest of us, it looks like THE TWILIGHT ZONE is about to stop his murder spree in its tracks with some twist of ironic fate as he keeps getting pop up ads about this company called Future Trade who wants to give him a one-time offer! Now if it was you or I who got this message, I’d assume it was just another porn site trying to get your credit card details, but I guess Martin is so far down his own self-pitying spiral of misery that he’s willing to give it a chance. Now let’s say that you or I DID go the extra step of visiting this strange company promising to give us the future we wanted, I’m pretty sure we’d turn tail and run when we realize that it’s run by Dean Winters. HOLY CRAP, DEAN WINTERS IS IN THIS!!
How is it that I remember boring stuff like THE POOL GUY, but I have ZERO memory of a freaking Dean Winters episode!? That guy is awesome!! That’s not the only reason I should have remembered this though because there’s actually a lot of great stuff going on in the episode right off the bat; even with its somewhat rocky introduction to Martin. This is another episode where I feel like it was at least SOMEWHAT inspired by a popular movie at the time, and in this case it’s Fight Club which, if you weren’t aware, is one of my least favorite movies of all time. Now I’m SURE people will disagree with me on this and say that I missed the entire point of the darn thing, but at least for me the big problem is that a lot of what it wants to about toxic masculinity and entitlement ends up getting drowned out by the way it ends up glorying it. The avatar of peak masculinity in the movie is the utterly ripped aphorism spouting badass who gets so much of the actual spotlight that when the film comes around to framing him as the villain, it just didn’t really sell for me; especially with the ending which… I guess proved Project Mayhem was a success? I don’t know. In any case, THIS episode which we should be talking about instead manages to have a very similar approach without the endless distractions of masculine and anti-establishment worship getting in the way of it. Martin may not be a sex god or a rock star, but he definitely gets across that sense of being owed something and to its credit it comes off as much more relatable than what Ed Norton or Brad Pitt were rattling on and on about. I mean look, how many of us have jobs we don’t like and lives that feel unfulfilled? I hope I’m not the ONLY one raising my hand there, and the idea of getting out of it to something better… well you can see why it would initially appeal to someone like Martin. The problem is that Martin wants the quick fix because he feels owed such a life, and you can see it throughout the episode with the exaggerated portrayal of his family in the beginning and his childish idea of what a perfect life ultimately is once he gets to Future Trade. He wants to be rich, he wants a big house, and oh yeah he wants a gorgeous wife who cooks and cleans for him. I mean jeez buddy, you want to make yourself President of Earth and have a sexy anime harem too? Well despite the… grandiosity of Martin’s vision, Dean Winters has just what he’s looking for if he’s willing to make the trade. The terms are as follows. He doesn’t get any information about the guy he’s trading with as that information is confidential. If he doesn’t like his new life he can call it off within twenty four hours; after that he’s committed for two years or he can cancel early but with some substantive fee that the episode doesn’t actually explain. I would ASSUME it’s his soul, but to imply that here would turn this into fan fiction even if Dean Winters would make a VERY good Satan!
The only real problem with this episode, one that I alluded to earlier, is that I’m not sure all of its themes are on the same page. The scene of Martin first entering his new LUXURIOUS house is punctuated by him being visibly disappointed by the first woman he sees which is a large black woman, but OH WHAT A TWIST, she’s just the housekeeper and his wife is thin! It’s framed from Martin’s point of view which is why the misdirection reads as it does (i.e. his shallowness), but it still feels rather mean spirited; especially since the housekeeper barely shows up again which means she’s just there for the one joke. In addition to that, Martin’s new wife Francesca (Sofia Milos) is pretty one dimensional and only seems to be there as a plot device and an object for Martin to salivate over; even with the ending which we’ll get to soon enough. In fact, the middle part of this episode where Martin’s life is now PERFECT feels a bit overly indulgent. With something like this you want to do more than just show off the character’s new wealth and their place in the center of the universe because otherwise you could literally get it across in one minute instead of the five it takes here. It’s a minor thing though and we get to the more interesting stuff soon enough when Martin starts to realize that there HAS to be some sort of catch here considering how much he gets compared to how little the guy he traded with got. Dean Winters is obviously tight lipped about what seems to be a very obvious twist of fate on the horizon, so Martin goes to see for himself and sure enough the new guy is ACTUALLY happy with Martin’s family; cooking dinner, being a good dad, and now the wife isn’t screaming at him from across the house! Martin of course can’t see any of this and reaffirms to himself that things are WAY better now which I really like as a scene because it’s a perfect turning point for his character to lead us into the finale. This was his chance to realize what he had given up, and he just dismisses it without a second thought. There’s no turning back now so let’s see what THE TWILIGHT ZONE has in store for him!
Martin heads back to his perfect home and his perfect life (a little bit earlier than Francesca was expecting *hint* *hint* *nudge* *nudge*) but everything seems to be just fine as Martin is finally ready to embrace the life he’s always deserved! That night the two of them are enjoying a nice bottle of brandy and discussing their future when all of a sudden Martin is having trouble keeping up his end of the conversation. In fact, he’s having trouble keeping ANYTHING up as he collapses on the floor. It turns out that the perfect life with the perfect wife was in fact… A LIE! Francesca had put a muscle relaxant in his drink and now she and her side piece are dragging his limp body into the swimming pool to make it look like an accident. Good luck with THAT I guess, but a murder charge down the road is hardly gonna help Martin right now who is gurgling out his last breath as Forest Whitaker gives us the lesson of the episode.
“Next time somebody offers you a deal too good to be true, make sure you read the fine print. Especially when that deal is brokered… in The Twilight Zone.”
Oh hey, he finally said it again! Probably because he got tired of me complaining about it.
I actually really liked this episode quite a bit, and certainly more than Fight Club. Then again, I like almost ANYTHING more than Fight Club, but that’s a heck a pull quote if someone wants to use it. It’s got its issues to be sure and I don’t know if this particular version of this kind of story could last much longer than twenty-two minutes, but for what it is and what show its on, it manages to have quite a bit of nuance and a forward thinking narrative; at least as far as how they portray the main character’s misogyny in an unambiguously negative light. And of course, the most important lesson is that all this posturing machismo and outward hatred is not the anathema of society (aka Project Mayhem) but yet another willing customer. Society, or more specifically Capitalism, may not have made us rock gods and movie stars, but they’ll be more than happy to try and sell it to you once again. Think about what happened in this episode. Some rich jerk ran out all his good will on his own life and used his vast wealth and status to avoid his consequences and pawn them off on some hapless dude who wanted a better life. Well… I SAY some hapless dude, but it’s clear that Martin is far from just a gullible sap and genuinely wanted this fantasy at the expense of his own responsibilities. Two jerks brought together by their mutual antipathy to the world and by a system that favors one over the other. It genuinely feels like something that Rod Serling would write if he was still around and is one of the highlights of this series so far. Plus it has Dean Winters in it, so automatically it gets like fifty bonus points!
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