The privilege bubble bursts to reveal an out-of-this-world nightmare in this week’s Twilight Zone that, despite outstanding performances across the board, leaves a handful of interesting narrative strands unexplored.
In a snowy suburban neighborhood, an ice cream truck playing This Land Is Your Land cruises past the posh home of Eve Martin (Ginnifer Goodwin). She’s in the middle of planning a new-parent dinner for all the third-grade parents, complete with a patio bar and rented heaters, all the better to showcase her beautiful house, husband, and kids, possibly in that order.
Her housekeeper Anna (Zabryna Guevara) interrupts as Eve spaces out while staring through a large window at the sky, her eyes reflecting a bright blue light. Anna hesitantly asks if she could use Eve’s address to allow her grandson to register for the area’s charter school.
Eve’s brittle cheerfulness doesn’t crack as she expresses surprise that Anna has a grandchild, then agrees because, after all, Anna’s part of the family. What an act of selfless benevolence, you can almost hear her thinking.
Then jack-booted thugs from IC—er, SCHMICE—arrive to drag Anna away while Eve looks on in horror. Later, over tea, she tells her three pastel-clad friends all about the upsetting incident with HSI (this episode’s actual name for the agency). She nods politely as the women all agree that “these people” knew the risks they’d face when they came to this country. Why, the audacity, asking for health insurance or requesting a form so they can pay taxes. Real Americans try to avoid taxes!
That night, Eve has disturbing dreams of ruined black and white landscapes, then sets about running her household without Anna’s help. This involves cold cereal rather than plantains for breakfast and parking across two spots in the parking garage as she takes her twins grocery shopping.
The girls are familiar with the drill, greeting busker Otto and instructing the flustered Eve how to navigate the checkout line. But when Eve’s credit cards are declined, they leave in a huff to find a note stuck to the SUV, chastising Eve for taking up two spots. (I mean, fair.)
Then black vans screech up to disgorge a handful of HSI agents. They tell Eve that she’s being detained on a matter of national security, and her children will be transported to the facility separately. At this point, the Narrator appears to warn us that Eve got too comfortable with the comfort and safety she’s always enjoyed.
She’s taken to a grim government building teeming with people, where she finds her husband, Bill. They’re ushered into an austere room, where they meet Mr. Allendale (James Frain, born to play a heartless suit-and-glasses bureaucrat). He offers no answers to their questions and warns them, “This isn’t really an attorney thing.”
“This is America. Everything’s an attorney thing,” Bill replies, while Eve wonders if the problem is about her charter school deception for Anna. She offers a donation to any organization of Allendale’s choice, but her children are ushered into the room before the bribery attempts get out of hand. Allendale announces that everyone save Eve is free to go.
She’s fingerprinted and photographed, even flashing the best smile she can muster for the camera, before she’s given a jumpsuit to change into. She’s led past garage guitar-playing Otto, now working as a janitor, and deposited in a large holding cell. She’s surprised to find Anna there, having assumed she’d been deported. But Anna’s done with niceties and upbraids Eve for not knowing anything about the woman who keeps her house and raises her children, including her country of origin. To her credit, Eve apologizes.
Anna then softens and says she and Eve come from the same place. Because of Eve’s willingness to help her grandson, Anna helps her now, showing her a secret door in the bathroom that Eve walks through to find Otto. He takes her to an open room where she meets a woman named Aidia. Otto explains that it’ll sound like Aidia’s speaking English, but actually “only people like us can understand.”
Aidia tells Eve it’s nice to see her again and talks about people who looked up at gray skies and dreamed of blue ones. HSI wants to send them back, but Aidia says they can’t return; this is their home now. She encourages Eve, one of the “young ones,” to remember, and then an alarm sounds, and guards rush in to subdue Aidia and her two lieutenants. “It’s ours, not theirs!” she screams.
When Eve wakes up, she’s strapped to a metal table in a huge hamster wheel, with Allendale on hand to ask questions. Then we cut back and forth between Eve enduring questions and coping with the isolation of her huge, empty cell. (Seriously, how much square footage does this facility cover, why are the rooms so huge and empty, and are such aggressively jumpy searchlights really useful?)
She sleeps, tap dances, does jumping jacks, and makes shadow animals, while in questioning with Allendale, she claims no knowledge of different dimensional realities, the membranes of time/space, or quantum mechanics. Finally, Allendale’s done playing around and straps a mask to her face, explaining that five years ago, a neighboring dimension infiltrated this one, and thirty years before that, a caravan of pilgrims came over, risking everything in the hopes of finding a better future.
The hamster wheel rotates to position Eve upright so they can jam the hugest, scariest cord with needles into her spine to measure her biometric response to stimuli from the neighboring dimension. This, Allendale promises, will reveal her true point of origin.
She screams in pain and wakes up in the hospital, having had a seizure. A kind doctor tells her she tested negative and is free to go, and yeah, friends, I think we all know where this is headed. She runs into the arms of her relieved husband and children, but when she’s alone with Bill, she confesses that the images they showed her—of blasted buildings and scoured land and a young, scared girl—matched her recurring nightmares. Like the sky itself, they exist at the edges of her memory.
Naturally, this is when Bill turns into Allendale, who’s used low-down dirty deceit (and big needles) to confirm Eve’s pilgrim status. Back in her cell, she screams as the memories of herself as a child in her ruined home dimension bombard her. She calls for help, and a voice through the slot in the door tells her that he’ll smuggle her out that night in exchange for money. She’s grateful but insists they also take Anna.
When the time comes, the doctor from her test unlocks the door and orders her to climb into a cart full of bodies, and with great reluctance and courage, she does. He’s stopped by HSI guards who lift the plastic sheet and are only deterred from poking Eve’s very much alive flesh when the doctor warns of a nasty contagion killing the prisoners.
He wheels the cart into the holding cell and tells her and Anna how to escape: through the secret door, then outside with the help of a code (1015!), through a hole he cut in the fence, and into the waiting vehicle.
They follow his plans precisely, but when the time comes for Anna to hop into the waiting ice cream truck, she hesitates. She’s done this before and warns Eve not to trust anybody anymore. Anna runs off into the night, while Eve allows the truck to drop her off at her front door.
She’s finally home, but the greeting she gets is not at all what she wanted. Her daughters cling to Bill, who sends them out of the room so he can tell her, “You should’ve run. You’re not who you are.”
She cries and insists she’s the same wife and mother, and then there’s Allendale with his HSI goons. Eve shouts at him to leave her home, and he shouts back that she should leave his. As she’s dragged away, she sobs and struggles, while the new parents arriving for the dinner watch avidly in their tasteful pastels.
The Zone zone
The premise and real-world parallels make this an interesting entry in the Twilight Zone reboot, but the tantalizing snippets of information dropped throughout the episode left me wanting more: Aidia, Otto, the doctor, the other pilgrims, the other dimension, the dang ice cream truck, even. The story’s ideas never quite gelled, although that didn’t stop Goodwin from delivering an outstanding performance as Eve’s perfect façade chipped and shattered and Guevara unveiled layer upon layer with Anna.
If you, like me, have Kafka-inspired nightmares about the hopelessness of The Trial-like situations, this episode likely got under your skin as effectively as that HUGE SPINE NEEDLE THAT I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT.
As always with this show, the cinematography exquisitely captures the mood and creates gorgeously off-kilter shots. The reflections captured in Goodwin’s expressive eyes were particularly striking.
In conclusion: Worst. GrubHub marketing. ever.
Jordan Peele recommends watching these three classic Twilight Zone episodes
Watch the creepy new trailer for Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot
Jordan Peele’s Us scares up biggest opening weekend for original horror movie