The Twilight Zone recap: You should smile more
This week’s Twilight Zone offers up a scary little story about men behaving badly that’s both giddily over-the-top and terrifyingly familiar. Let me tell you, friends, Lionel Richie has never sounded more sinister.
We first meet Annie Miller at her new job, where she’s saying yes to everything, including running a placebo trial for a new medicated lip balm, out of fear of being branded difficult. She even agrees to have dinner and watch the Perseid meteor shower with her hotshot co-worker Dylan.
They share an outdoor meal and watch excitedly as the meteors start to fall. Some of the rocks actually crash land nearby, one hitting the town’s water tower and others slamming into the ground. They set off in search of a nearby one, which Dylan plucks out of a hole in the ground. He makes a joke about space germs, but I am legitimately worried about space germs.
He playful keeps it away from Annie as they head back inside for wine. He starts up “Hello” on vinyl, calls her dedication to her job “cute,” and heads straight to first base as they kiss.
When Annie pulls away, he tells her they experienced a magical, cosmic experience, but she’s firm about stopping their encounter. He gets pushy and mean, asking what he did wrong, and Annie does what countless women in this situation have done: She compliments him. She likes him, she’d like to go out again, but right now, she has to go.
He apologizes and politely says good night, but once she’s safely outside, he starts destroying the belongings in his apartment. Then the Narrator appears to warn us of the simmering violence about to boil over…in the Twilight Zone.
Sporting a high-necked blouse and bruises on her arms from the night before, she walks into work, where her boss Phil assigns her to work with Dylan on her projects. She doesn’t protest; after all, Phil explains, it’s just protocol.
After work, Annie assumes warrior pose in yoga class, then watches the men around her getting unusually angry as they drive, honk, slam trunks, grope women. Then she heads to her sister Martha’s birthday party.
Also there is Martha’s husband Mike, their teenage son Cole, Phil, and his wife Olivia. Martha’s excited to receive Annie’s gift of a nine-inch skillet, and she and Mike tell an overlapping story about him asking a Parisian chef for a recipe. Although Martha’s the superior French speaker, he wanted to keep her safe from the dangers of a foreign kitchen. “There’s still some good men out there,” he humble-brags.
But are there, though? Phil ignores Annie’s discomfort when he tells the table that he’s pairing her with Dylan at work, and the next-door neighbor gets all worked up when his nighttime mowing damages a hose, and the water inside comes out red and foul-smelling.
The women then join friends for birthday drinks at a nearby bar, and they notice their usually mild-mannered acquaintance Zeke downing shots of alcohol from a glass with a meteor rock at the bottom. Again, does nobody in this town care about space germs?
Dylan’s there, too, and when Martha jokes about inviting him over, Annie uncomfortably excuses herself to have a smoke. She finds Cole outside, sneaking beer that he and his friend Steve are planning to drink on Steve’s dad’s boat.
Back inside, Zeke, his eyes bulging red, starts a fight that soon consumes every man in the bar. Annie and Martha head for the door, catching the attention of a friend of Dylan’s. Annie ignores his attempts to talk to her, and he angrily berates her.
While Martha chalks all the ugliness up to alcohol, they’re both terrified to realize that the guy hopped on his motorcycle to follow their car. They manage to shake him, and Annie references her bad experience with Dylan the night before. Annie says she gives off a “confusing vibe,” and Martha sympathizes because she, too, went on many bad dates—and some that went way beyond bad. Oh, you think this self-blame and minimization is bad? We’re just getting started.
Annie suggests the meteors are responsible, then laughs at how ridiculous that sounds out loud. And yet when they think the coast is clear and head for Martha’s home, motorcycle guy finds them and follows them into the yard.
They run inside to Mike, who shouts that he’ll handle it and heads outside to fight. It ends with a terrifying cry, followed by silence. Annie, who’s been watching through the window, orders Martha not to let Mike back in the house. He screams at them to open up, and when they hesitate, he slips in through the back door, covered in blood.
He’s jubilant about his victory and picks up a huge knife so they can sing happy birthday and cut the cake. A terrified Martha tries to blow out the candles from across the room, but the veins pop in his face as he orders her to come closer. She keeps as much distance as possible, and he lashes out at her for always interrupting him and for bringing a lunatic to their house, accusing them of “asking for it.” We were all waiting for that little gem, right?
Enraged, he lunges at Annie, forcing Martha to clock him with her still-wrapped frying pan. Good thing Annie didn’t buy her a throw pillow. The women flee the house in search of Cole, but another car, driven by a man, smashes into theirs. Sirens wail in the distance and 911 isn’t answering, so they proceed on foot, past a woman staggering by holding a hank of her own hair.
In town, the men are staging a full-blown orgy of violence and blood and fire, beating and smashing and destroying everyone and everything. Phil, unaffected by the madness, assures them it’s not all men and suggests a hormone/Y-chromosome link until he’s tackled by the enraged men around him.
Martha’s had enough of being a victim and picks up a discarded meteor rock, desperately trying to imbue herself with the same berserker, but it’s no use. She’s unchanged. Then they’re chased away by a man brandishing a large rock on a chain like a makeshift meteor hammer.
They finally arrive at the marina to find that Cole had to lock his friend in the boat after he raged out when Cole said he wasn’t in the mood to make out or drink beer with a meteor rock in it. He tells the women that he doesn’t know what he did to make good-guy Steve so angry.
Then here comes ol’ Dylan, staggering along with the meteor flail and creepily singing “Hello.” Seriously, it’s enough to ruin Lionel Richie for you. “It was magic, Annie. It was cosmic. Why don’t you like me?” he asks, grabbing her and wrapping the chain around her neck.
Cole starts to rage out but manages to back himself from the brink as a helicopter flies overhead and Annie manages to fight Dylan off and push him into the water, where the meteor rock drags him to the bottom.
At a field triage center, scientists take Cole’s blood and declare him unaffected, even though he had a rock in his back pocket all night. Annie suggests that it’s not about disease or immunity, but the meteors acted as a placebo, giving men permission to rage out. Cole agrees that the anger was always inside of him, and he stopped himself from losing control. “I chose to. I just chose to.”
And with that terrifying thought—a town full of men who chose not to exercise control—the trio line up to leave the tent. The male guard checking their IDs looks at Annie’s and tells her she’d be much cuter if she’d smile.
“No,” she spits. And as they leave, the news covers stories about a 20-something male with no apparent motive who killed thirteen people in a mass shooting, and two men arrested for road rage.
The Zone zone
- If everyone was playing rape-culture bingo during this week’s episode, we’d all be winners—er, losers. The blame, the excuses, the dismissal, all of it both familiar and harmful. After all, let’s not forget the statistics: one in three, one in five, one in six. Or the other statistics: 94 percent, 93 percent, 97 percent. Like previous entries from this Twilight Zone reboot, “Not All Men” had plenty to say.
- Solid performances from Taissa Farmiga as Annie, Rhea Seehorn and Martha, and Ike Barinholtz as Mike kept this tense episode humming along. I knew Farmiga and Seehorn could handle dramatics with ease, but who expected Barinholtz to be so damn scary?
- Topical, timely, and terrifying? Yep, we must be in The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone (2019 reboot)