THE TWILIGHT ZONE Review: “Not All Men”

Leigh lucked out in getting to review their favorite episode of the season.

The reboot of The Twilight Zone has had a few problems, to be sure, but the show has been at its best in this iteration when it’s been at its most socially commentative, most notably in its two episodes that directly tackle issues of race. So when I saw the title of this week’s episode, my excitement ramped up. “Not All Men” is such a purposely provocative title, one that reflects the sledgehammer allegory that this season’s best episodes have shown off. And not only does the episode stick the landing, I think it sticks that landing so hard that it’s officially the new benchmark for this rebooted series’ potential.

The episode opens on Annie (Taissa Farmiga) at her desk at work being asked out by her direct superior, Dylan (Luke Kirby), to watch that night’s meteor shower with him. Everything in Annie’s body language says that she doesn’t want to go, but Dylan keeps pushing and she relents. We haven’t even gotten to the supernatural element of this episode, and already we’re being telegraphed the central theme through simple, uncomfortable exploitation of a power dynamic.

When the meteor shower starts, some of those meteors crash land in town, including in Dylan’s backyard. He picks the thing up without even hesitating like an idiot, despite a bunch of red water leaking from the thing, but displays his masculine protectiveness by refusing to let Annie touch it because it might be radioactive or something. Their evening continues and proceeds to a make-out session, but when Annie tries to back away from Dylan’s groping, Dylan becomes… aggressive. He grabs her arm as she tries to get up, gaslights her for assuming his obvious moves meant that he wanted sex, and only barely lets her leave his house. Annie exits with a bruise on her arm and sees him throw a destructive tantrum through his window.

This is a familiar situation for many women, and the way Annie copes with it is just as familiar. At work, she says nothing as her boss pairs her up with Dylan on a company project. She suffers through her sister Martha's (Rhea Seehorn) birthday party without letting the weight of her trauma off her chest, even as she starts to notice that the men at the bar doing shots with bits of meteorite in them are starting to act just as aggro as Dylan had the night before, complete with veined protrusions on their foreheads. It’s only while driving home from the bar that Annie lets slip to Martha that her date with Dylan went so poorly, and the moment they share is perhaps the highlight of the episode. It’s a mutual acknowledgment that this is something that happens regularly that women keep quiet because of internalized shame, but more importantly, it’s an expression of solidarity and support through that shared experience.

That’s probably where it’s best to cut off specific plot points, but it should be obvious by now that the relationship between the meteorites and male aggression only escalates as the episode progresses, and those meteorites are a not-so-subtle externalized metaphor for toxic masculinity. In many ways, the male performances in this episode reminded me a lot of Jason Sudeikis’ turn in Colossal, with Ike Barinholtz’s demented performance as Martha’s husband feeling heavily influenced by the fireworks scene in Nacho Vigalondo’s film. And in that tradition, the ways in which the men act out become more and more ludicrous, breaching almost into self-parody with a sequence scored to opera and a man-juice-drenched dude yelling “Fuck your feelings!” Like Scott, I’m not a huge fan of the profanity in this version of The Twilight Zone, but boy did that line feel earned.

Most of all I just appreciate the attention to detail that director Christina Choe and screenwriter Heather Anne Campbell brought to the story, adapted from Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution.” I love how Annie’s arc is based on the idea that she needs to recognize how meek adherence to social norms isn’t going to help her get what she wants or needs. I love how the story acknowledges that sex-based violence isn’t limited to heteronormative dynamics through Martha’s gay son (Percy Hynes White). I love how the meteorites literally become an expression of physical harm to both the men's victims and to the men themselves. And more than anything, I love how the episode’s final moments do not let the men off the hook for their behavior, as the final twist directly addresses what I feared would be the high-concept plot's greatest weakness.

This is easily my favorite episode this season, and as much as I’m enjoying the show on the whole, these final three episodes have a huge bar to clear. But if The Twilight Zone can keep hitting us with this kind of blunt intensity every week going forward, I’ll be more than happy.