What power do we give inanimate objects, and in return, what power do they have over us?
This week’s foray into the Twilight Zone places that question front and center for Chris O’Dowd’s Jeff Storck, a professor of anthropology who pays his father a visit and discovers him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.
This baffles Jeff, whose father Otis was a happy hippie musician who dodged the draft in Canada with Neil Young and jammed with Billy Joel back in the day, and who definitely didn’t own the beautiful silver pistol with the blue scorpion on its pearl-handled grip that was found at the scene. It also baffles us, the viewers, as we see the word OTIS vanish from a spent bullet casing on the floor.
During a testy interview with a police officer, Jeff absorbs the note his father left: “I love him more than you.” Then the Narrator arrives to tell us that Jeff’s about to embark on his darkest research project yet.
After his father’s waterfront memorial, Jeff goes about the business of sorting through his father’s belongings. In the closet, he finds an open safe with an illuminated, blood-red interior that contains a black heart-shaped box with a bullet clip inside.
He ejects the first one and sees a name engraved on it: JEFF. Startled, he shoves it all back into the safe, and the next day on campus, he hears the name “Jeff” everywhere: Students greeting other students, discussing an acquaintance, calling for a dog.
That night, he eases into his house, only to find his estranged wife Anne holding a gun on him. She lives alone now, see, and the neighborhood’s had a few home invasions. She hands him a package with the pistol in it from the police and suggests he sell it to pay for his own divorce attorney. Reconciliation’s off the table because she’s in love with another man. A man named Jeff.
At his father’s house that night, Jeff takes out the pistol and examines it, almost under a spell, and the next day, he calls a gun dealer. The man’s thrilled to learn that Jeff’s in possession of the mythical Blue Scorpion pistol, made in Cuba in 1952 and coveted by Che Guevara once upon a time. “You don’t find it; it finds you,” he explains, promising Jeff up to $50,000 dollars if he sells it.
Jeff tells the man how much he wants the gun out of his life when the dang things goes off spontaneously, (understandably) scaring the crap out of him. The gun seller advises Jeff to pack it up and ship it to him by carrier—but to poke a hole in the box because legend says the Scorpion’s afraid of the dark. Then the man gives his name: Bob Jeff. Our Jeff is startled by this coincidence and shoves the gun back in its safe.
The next day in his hilariously enormous faculty office—seriously, its sheer massiveness is the least believable part of this episode—he drifts off as a student talks at length about how freaked out she was by her paper topic: animism, the religious belief that there’s a soul in everything, including inanimate objects.
Jeff ignores repeated calls from Mr. Jeff the gun dealer as the student says she’s being driven crazy by the belief that her boots are lonely. In the end, he lets her change her paper topic and ushers her across the football-field-length of his office, only to be greeted by Anne’s attorney, there to work out an amicable divorce agreement.
He warns Jeff that half of his father’s estate belongs to Anne, and promises, “I can make all of your troubles go away.” His name? I’ll give you three guesses.
Mr. Jeff the gun shop owner is desperate by now to get his hands on the Blue Scorpion, promising upwards of $100,000. “If we sell this thing, all our dreams will come true,” he swears.
Jeff copes with it all by smoking up and listening to “Go Ask Alice” on Otis’s vinyl. But inevitably, like the pull of the tide or the slide of the pill down Alice’s throat, he ends up in the bedroom, caressing the Blue Scorpion, checking the clip and racking the slide, before coming out of his trance and putting it back in the safe.
SELL IT, JEFF. SELL IT AND GIVE ANNE HER CUT AND GET IT OUT OF YOUR LIFE, MY DUDE.
Instead, the light in the hallway flicks on by itself, and he returns to the bedroom to find the gun lying in a wedge of light on the bed. And sure, he’s high, but that’s definitely the gun’s Cuban maker standing in the corner, telling him the pistol loves him more than anyone and wants to help end his troubles. In exchange, the Blue Scorpion asks only for light to combat its fear of the dark.
Then the man is gone, but he stays in Jeff’s mind, propelling him to a gun range where he awkwardly tells the employees that he needs to fire one bullet before he sells it. He refuses to let them touch it and rambles about how many Jeffs he’s bumped into recently. “His name’s Jeff,” the female employee says, pointing to her co-worker.
At the range, he nervously feeds the JEFF bullet into the Blue Scorpion. He fires, and…it’s pleasurable. The noise. The weight. The feel. He shrugs off his coat, rolls up his sleeves and picks it up again, adjusting his stance. He fires and fires, tossing his tie over his shoulder, holding it sideways, shooting from behind his back.
It’s fun. It’s freeing. And in the end, he finds one last bullet jammed into the clip, and on it is the name JEFF. “You’d never hurt me,” he whispers to it.
The next day, he strides into his mind-bogglingly huge faculty office and makes room in his desk drawer for a soft blue cloth that he gently sets the Blue Scorpion on. Before he slides the drawer shut, he places a lit flashlight next to it.
Later, at lawyer Jeff’s office, Anne leaves boyfriend Jeff outside and faces our Jeff across the conference table to argue about dividing their assets. Jeff is eerily tranquil, telling them he has a friend who’s going to make his troubles disappear. He reaches into the backpack he’s clutching, and we all brace for the worst, but he only pulls out a notepad.
Still, his behavior in the meeting escalates until security arrives and Jeff grabs his bag and leaves, telling Anne she can have everything but the Blue Scorpion. “I love him more than I ever loved you,” he shouts at her as he leaves.
At his father’s house, he ignores calls from Mr. Jeff begging to buy the gun, which he now cradles in his sleep. He holds it, poses with it, aims it at the man going through the trash outside.
Then he’s sitting in his car outside his old house, watching boyfriend Jeff move around the bedroom with Anne. “You think you love her. But you’ll never know real love,” he mutters.
As he’s looking toward the bedroom window, an intruder smashes the driver’s side window and starts grappling with him. They struggle, and Jeff drops the gun on the dashboard, where it goes off and shoots the assailant dead. Want to take a guess what his name turns out to be?
The police arrive and confirm that the man Jeff shot is the home invasion suspect named Jeff Barrett. On the ground, the name JEFF disappears from the bullet casing, and our Jeff gets the hero’s treatment in the media for stopping a violent criminal. Heck, Anne’s so grateful he protected her and boyfriend Jeff that she made concessions in their divorce agreement. They fondly hug goodbye, and then Jeff sits through a meeting where he’s appointed chair of the Department of Anthropology. (Will he get an even bigger office, I wonder?)
When he gets the Blue Scorpion back from the police, he takes it to the water where he eulogized his father and defiantly tosses it in. He’s free.
Then two boys come strolling down the shoreline with fishing poles. One finds the Blue Scorpion washed ashore, and the other finds a bullet with the name KYLE on it in the sand. And whaddya know, that’s his name.
His friend loads it, and they take turns holding it, pointing it, jostling and playing. The Narrator then tells us that as long as objects are valued more than lives, tragedy will forever be manufactured.
The Zone zone
- Dare we call this a happy ending? Not for home invader Jeff, of course, but the rest of ‘em all seem okay. I am quite worried about young Kyle, though.
- 1015 sighting of the week comes courtesy of the Blue Scorpion’s serial number. Also, I’m not a gun person, but that pistol was be-yoo-ti-ful, no?
- This makes the latest of the Glen Morgan-penned episodes of The Twilight Zone reboot. That man hasn’t lost the magic from his X-Files writer/producer days, and I’m thrilled he’s found another showcase for his twisty, twisted talents.
- The two things I’ve come to expect from each episode of this show are present in “Blue Scorpion,” as well: outstanding performances and gorgeously off-kilter camera work. Here’s hoping O’Dowd’s Jeff was able to hang onto the good life he’d found for himself by the end; it’s certainly more optimistic than most of the other tales we’ve enjoyed this season.