THE TWILIGHT ZONE Review: “A. Traveler”

In which Ana Lily Amirpour delivers Scott's favorite new ZONE episode.

Thus far, CBS All Access' Twilight Zone reboot has yielded a curiously muted response. For a high-visibility reboot of a beloved property executive produced by Jordan Peele, directed by a growing number of talented filmmakers and starring a diverse cast of top-shelf performers, one would expect more chatter around the workplace water cooler. What's worse: what little chatter there is seems divided, with some viewers taking Twilight Zone to task for being either "too similar" or "not similar enough" to Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, and even those praising the reboot have expressed their concerns with the show's pacing (these episodes really don't need to be more than 30 minutes long), swearing (it me) and sometimes clunky endings. 

It's been a rough start, in other words, but I maintain that there's gold to be found in them thar hills. Last week's installment, Ana Lily Amirpour's "A. Traveler", represents my personal highpoint for the reboot thus far. Yes, I've got the same issues with this episode that I had with previous episodes (see above), but the performances and direction in "A. Traveler" are strong enough to make those issues feel more like quibbles. 

The episode takes place on Christmas Eve, in and around a police station in Iglaak, Alaska. The police in this town have a tradition: every year, the Captain (Greg Kinnear, making an absolute meal out of his character's blowhard streak) pardons one person from the jail's holding cells, a show of goodwill meant to end the year on an upbeat, hopeful note. As the episode begins, we learn that Sergeant Yuka Mongoyak (Inuit newcomer Marika Sila) has been tasked with bringing in her ne'er-do-well brother to serve as this year's ceremonial offering. But once they've got him safely in the Iglaak drunk tank, a discovery is made: there's another guy down there in the cells, a mysterious stranger (Steven Yeun) who seems to have appeared out of thin air. 

When pressed for an explanation, this stranger - who's calling himself A. Traveler - reveals that he's something of a YouTube celebrity, the host of a show that finds him undertaking unique experiences for the entertainment of his audience. His latest stunt calls for being pardoned by the Iglaak police Captain on Christmas Eve. Kinnear's narcissistic Captain is delighted by this development, and immediately drops his plans to pardon Mongoyak's brother. He can do that later, and besides: who's gonna turn down the opportunity to appear on a heavily-trafficked web series? The Captain has stars in his eyes.

In classic Twilight Zone fashion, things take a turn from there, and what happens is best left for you to discover. Rest assured, A. Traveler is not who he claims to be, and the people of Iglaak, Alaska are about to find themselves on the frontlines of a very unfortunate situation.

As I mentioned above, the problems I have with this episode are the same problems I had with previous installments, most notably the runtime. But the performances of Kinnear, Sila and Yeun (especially Yeun) are so damn good, I didn't really mind spending this amount of time with them. Yes, there's some narrative wheel-spinning that takes place during the episode's padded second act, and yeah, there's some questionable logic at play in the details of A. Traveler's plan, but none of that really settled in for me until later, when it came down to sit down and write this post. In the moment, this trio of excellent performances (and the assured direction of Amirpour) were more than enough to keep me glued to the screen. I was particularly fond of how Amirpour handled the episode's big reveal, and what she chose not to show us.

The new Twilight Zone has yet to produce an episode we'll later be hailing as a classic, but it has been a tremendous amount of fun, and "A. Traveler" represents the most fun I've had with this reboot thus far. What did you think? Into it? Not so much? How are you feeling about the Zone reboot in general? Sound off in the comments below, and stay tuned for further Twilight Zone coverage as the season continues.