THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Season 2, Episode 1
“Meet in the Middle”
Available on CBS All-Access
Every single one of us, man or woman, has been Phil Hayes. By his own admission, he’s not successful, he’s not some alpha male with a swinging dick…there’s nothing remarkable about him — yet, there’s Hayes, sitting there, sweating over another disaster date, listening to her negotiate over ordering chicken wings and croquettes and other various Tapas. And that’s the least of his issues. The second season of “The Twilight Zone” leads off with “Meet in the Middle”, an insanely dark satirical take on the modern dating scene.
It isn’t until Hayes (Jimmi Simpson of HBO’s “WestWorld”) is interrupted by the enigmatic “Annie Mitchell” (Gillian Jacobs) — but not in the way you’d think. It turns out that Phil can only hear Annie — and can speak with her, in his own head, as if she was sitting across from him. And who wants Tapas when your date has the same superpower that you do?
Pretty soon, Phil and Annie get close. They watch shows on the couch together and talk about their favorite restaurants and even “have sex” by presumably masturbating together while they talk to one another (it’s an admittedly silly scene that, even though it only lasts a few seconds and shows nothing, brings the episode down a letter grade) — but all is not that simple: Phil wants to meet for real. Annie wants no part of it. She’s married and even breaks things off with Phil to the point where he goes back to the very definition of insanity: dating with no hope of successful progression of his personal happiness.
But things take a turn when Annie returns, having changed her mind, seemingly for no reason whatsoever.
To give anything else away at that point would be grounds for justifiable homicide on your part.
Jimmi Simpson, fresh off of “WestWorld”, shines as Phil Hayes, playing the pitiful, yet hopeful, bachelor role to a tee. He’s a loner, insecure, seeing a psychiatrist, and it’s that notion which makes the viewer wonder if the voices in his head are real or just wishful thinking, something which plays well right up until a bold, fearless climax which makes one feel as though they’re finally watching the show Rod Serling created over 60 years ago.
Gillian Jacobs plays Annie with all the snark and character of a wife and mother that’s been through it all and, like Phil, is tired of the monotony of her everyday married life. You don’t see her much in this episode (it’s Simpson’s episode and he carries the bulk of the camera time here) but she’s great at conveying all the necessary emotions one would need to sell the character with just her voice and that’s pretty impressive.
Even with the runtime (which still exceeds 30 minutes, a complaint I and many other reviewers had last year when this variation of the show made its debut), Its the characterizations that make the episode work. Unlike last year, the episode feels tighter. It plays with your emotions. You care about the couple no matter how upset and borderline abusive Phil gets and no matter how wishy-washy Annie comes across. They’re not caricatures like they might have been had this episode aired last season with its “woke” style and attitude (something I do NOT eschew, unlike the more “fragile” elements of the Interwebz) and you can relate and agree with both Phil and Annie as they ride this rollercoaster together.
“Meet in the Middle” is a fantastic way to start the second season of “The Twilight Zone”. It’s solid stuff, if only slightly uneven (it’s weird to go from a “romcom/meet-cute”, ala Spike Jonez’ “Her” and then get hit, face-first, with a bucket of ice water. Even still, it’s a hopeful indicator that this season might be a little more consistent than the last one.
LOST IN THE ZONE
- Welcome to my daily reviews for “The Twilight Zone” on CBS All-Access. Unlike last year, this season’s entire run has been uploaded to binge so I will be bringing you one review per day for the next ten days. I hope you enjoy!
- So…the twist (SWIPE TO SEE IT) is that Annie and Phil set up a real-life meet. They plot to “meet halfway”, meaning, they will travel, via train, to the same station and meet there. On the way, Annie is attacked and abducted by a man who followed her on the train. Her voice goes silent until Phil gets to the station they’re supposed to meet at. It leads Phil to a house in the middle of the nearby woods. Phil mentally asks Annie if the man who abducted her is the man he is looking at (he describes the man) and Annie says it is. Phil physically attacks him and eventually beats him to death with his bare hands. Suddenly, a little girl shows up. It’s the man’s daughter…and Annie is with her. She’s horrified by what Phil has done…to her husband. Phil can’t believe it. What’s more, Annie denies knowing Phil. The cops arrest Phil for murder and Phil becomes convinced that “Annie” was just some voice in his head…until he hears Annie again while in the back of the squad car. She tells Phil that he just did her bidding: killed her husband so that she’s now out of her horrible marriage. She’s free now. And she did it by seducing him and telling Phil what he needed to hear so he’d do anything for her. And, after that, she’s out of Phil’s head for good. That ending stuck with me for a few hours. It’s just clever, given the world we live in today. With social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met. When push comes to shove, and a live meeting is agreed to, would you be able to trust that person?
- The opening narration bit is very cool with a shot of Phil checking out his face in the mirror. It’s shot from behind his head so that, when he moves, we can see the reflection of Jordan Peele giving us the story on tonight’s freaky set-up. It’s very much a Serling-style intro.
- The new series has had this neo-noir, open-spaced feel — yet feels so claustrophobic at times thanks to some great camerawork and editing. This is never more fitting than with the tight shots of Phil, fidgeting during a date or tapping a foot while nervously blathering to his psych. It’s beautiful stuff.
- The pulp sci-fi novel Phil holds up while buying some new clothes is called “Kalokagathia-One”. The meaning of “Kalokagathia” varies depending on where you look but the overall consensus seems to be that everyone has worth and that what’s good is beautiful and vice versa. This would especially be true in Phil’s case, seeing as though he tells Annie that he’s “not special”.
- The ending is just driven home beautifully with a great cover of Frank Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”. The first time he meets Annie after having done his “deed”, the line “You’re just too good to be true” echoes across your speakers. It’s true, SO true in this case.
- EASTER EGGS
- Only one old egg that I noticed this time around: Annie’s broken glasses on the ground are much like Henry Beaman’s in “Time Enough at Last”.
- The commercial playing inside the man’s house near the episode’s climax features a new technology which will be very relevant in the upcoming episode, “Downtime”.