As cappers to the first season of a reboot of a much-loved television classic go, this finale did an admirable job of nodding to episodes gone by and weaving the new stories into the originals.
We open on a writer played by Seth Rogen, muttering about imposter syndrome and wondering if he should open his apocalyptic story with the mushroom cloud. Then the character played by Betty Gabriel comes in to remind him, “The Reapers will be out soon.”
The writer opens the curtains to discover that the world outside is on fire. “That was just a story. It was just a story,” he mutters, and then there’s the Narrator to talk about the artist’s responsibility to bring more to art than entertainment.
And then everything screeches to a halt when Jordan Peele asks for rewrites on his narration.
Yep. As Seth and Betty banter about being annoyed with the interruption, Sophie Gelson (Zazie Beetz) takes notes from Jordan about what he’d like changed. Specifically, he doesn’t like pitting art against entertainment. Sophie reminds him that the whole point of the episode she wrote is the slippery slope from stupid sci-fi to Idiocracy. Jordan doesn’t love this. “I mean, our show is sci-fi, right?”
She, in turn, argues that if the show isn’t saying anything important, like the original episodes did, then they’re just campfire stories. She says when she was a little girl, she always wondered when the show would take them to the real alternate dimension that was the Twilight Zone. Then she grew up and realized the point of the show wasn’t the genre stuff, it was the message.
She says that Rod Serling made art for grownups, which is why he was in every episode—until now, as Jordan points out. Nevertheless, he wants something more about a writer’s existential crisis, so Sophie sets out to craft new narration, deleting her attempts on a laptop adorned with a Rod Serling sticker on the back.
She’s interrupted by a video chat from a woman named Anna, who’s irate that Sophie’s been incommunicado. Then a PA barges in to demand the new narration on cue cards, immediately, and Sophie hustles to write something usable.
But when Jordan reads the words on the cue cards, they’re about Sophie Gelson, who ignores what lurks blurry in the background of her own show. All eyes are on Sophie, who insists she didn’t write this and chalks it up to a prank, maybe for the blooper reel. Jordan suggests that this whole situation would be a good idea for a Twilight Zone episode, in case things hadn’t gotten meta enough for you. Then he tells her to try again. “Your version, not the one by the demon.”
The hassled PA takes Sophie to task for the delay that’s going to cut into lunch and also for the blurry actor who somehow wound up in every take of the library scene in this episode. Sure enough, the footage shows exactly that when Sophie reviews it. In fact, the blurry man’s in more than just this episode; there he is behind Kumail Nanjiani in “The Comedian,” for example.
She goes looking for Jordan and wanders onto the library set, where she’s startled to see one cue card: SOPHIE IS ABOUT TO LEARN. “About to learn what?” she mutters. The lights go out, and she freaks and calls Anna, who suggests she go home to get some sleep. But her call breaks up and the lights flicker to reveal the blurry man again.
Sophie eludes the figure past the yellow office chairs from “Not All Men” and into the grocery store set from “Point of Origin.” She shouts that this isn’t funny anymore, and one of the set shelves spontaneously topples over.
On the bar set of “The Comedian,” she finds a book from the library set with the title Blurryman. She opens it to discover a scribbled sketch of a man that acts like a flipbook, with the figure growing larger and seeming to step off the page. Then the liquor bottles start to fling themselves at her.
She runs onto the street set and trips over some equipment, then limps to a store window, where the staticky TV sets show footage of Blurryman in all of the previous episodes of the reboot, including a shot of herself seeing him in the library.
The screens flick off, and Blurryman is there. “You think it’s funny to scare people?” she asks, advancing on him. But when he moves toward her, she scrambles away, and as he overtakes her, she screams and finds herself alone on the inside set.
Well, not quite alone. She’s accompanied by a disembodied narrator voice, announcing that it’s crazy but it’s happening. She tries to argue, but the voice warns her that she can’t write her way out of this.
Sophie limps to the library set again, but this time it’s destroyed and covered in ash. “This isn’t real,” she whispers, yet Blurryman flings books at her. On a different soundstage, she’s thrilled to discover Seth and the crew on set, but none of them hear or acknowledge her. Blurryman follows, flipping a craft table, and the female narrator commands her to stop because this isn’t a campfire story and she has to see what’s really there, in the shadows.
Sophie plucks up her courage and tells Blurryman. “I’m ready. I’m ready to see.” He takes her back to her childhood, where her father wants her to play outside with the other kids but her mother wants to let her finish watching “Time Enough at Last.”
When she opens her eyes again, she’s holding pages of the new narration, and her limp is gone. Jordan’s happy with the changes, but as she walks away, the female narrator asks, “Did you think it was over?”
The camera circles her, and suddenly she’s in black and white. She steps onto the street set again, where its devastation is rendered in shades of dusty, smoky gray. She returns to the library set, stepping past a pair of broken glasses on the steps (“Time Enough” shoutout!), realizing she’s come to the end of the episode, where the lead character suffers the cruel final twist. She knows the tropes; “it doesn’t matter what I do.”
Blurryman reveals himself to be Rod Serling. “I take it I have your attention. Good. There’s a lot to explain,” he says. When she asks what this place is, he tells her she already knows: It’s where she belongs, and she’s got a lot of work to do. Then he ushers her through a long series of doors and into a whole new dimension.
Rod Serling then provides the final narration of the season, telling us that when Sophie put away childish things, she closed her eyes instead of opening them. It’s not the end of the story, but a new beginning as she enters … the Twilight Zone.
The Zone zone
- Stories within stories within stories! How twisty to set the final episode of the season behind the scenes of the final episode of the season.
- It took three actors to bring Rod Serling to life: one for face, one for body, and one for voice. Sure, the result was a little (okay, more than a little) uncanny valley, but it was also a lovely nod to the show’s roots.
- Why yes, that was Jason Priestly filming the episode that Sophie interrupted.
- What an interesting theme for this episode when so much of Jordan Peele’s work uses genre tropes to deliver incredibly pointed social messages. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a little scare for scaring’s sake, right?
- Would you have enjoyed watching Seth Rogen and Betty Gabriel in a story about a writer whose words come to life? As fun as this meta take was, I bet that would’ve been a blast, too. Glimpses of the show within a show are always tantalizing.
- See you next season when CBS All Access returns to the Zone!