THE TWILIGHT ZONE Review: “The Blue Scorpion”
If you're triggered (SORRY) by the name Jeff, then the latest episode of The Twilight Zone will be a terrifying experience. Otherwise, "The Blue Scorpion" continues the trend of underwhelming episodes in the first season of Jordan Peele's reboot. Save for the occasional highlight, the new iteration of The Twilight Zone has been largely fine, and while next week's installment looks promising, it may be hard for the series to top "Not All Men" (my personal favorite), "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet," and "Replay." Speaking of the latter – "The Blue Scorpion" fails to explore current social issues with the same urgency and terror as that episode did. Chris O'Dowd headlines this installment as Jeff Storck, an anthropology professor who returns home from discussing divorce with his wife (Amy Landecker, forever underused) to find that his father, Otis, has taken his own life with a gun. This is shocking for several reasons, not the least of which is that Jeff's dad was a hippie musician who hated guns. Next to the bed where Jeff finds the body of his father is a bullet with the name "Otis" on it – the name disappears before Jeff can see it. Instead, all that's left to explain this horrific tragedy is a suicide note that simply reads "I loved him more than you." The "him," it turns out, is Otis' gun: An old-fashioned piece with an ivory handle, adorned with a blue scorpion.
In short order, Jeff discovers the heart-shaped box where his father kept the Blue Scorpion along with a bullet engraved with the name "Jeff." After making some calls, Jeff learns that the gun is highly-coveted and infamous among the gun crowd. It's not the kind of gun you buy or receive as a gift; the gun chooses you (like Pokemon). Jeff also learns that the Blue Scorpion doesn't like to be left in the dark, so he begins carrying it around with a tiny flashlight in his pocket. Soon, Jeff feels comforted by the presence of the gun, even – and especially – as he begins encountering other men named Jeff on a daily basis, to the point where it's making him a little, shall we say, gun-crazy. Not helping matters is his wife's insistence on hiring a lawyer for their divorce proceedings (who wants Jeff to liquidate his father's assets) and the fact that she's taken up with another guy named – you guessed it – Jeff.
Written by X-Files vet Glen Morgan (who also wrote this season's "The Traveler"), "The Blue Scorpion" has one too many ideas floating around, resulting in a thematically-confused episode in which the ultimate impact – a pair of little boys find the gun – is diminished. Thankfully, this is The Twilight Zone, so Jordan Peele will inevitably return at episode's end to underline the thesis of this installment, but it – like many of this season's episodes – lacks that classic, final twist of the knife. "The Blue Scorpion" is about a few things at once, but mostly it's about the way people place more value in objects (namely guns) than they do in human lives, as evidenced by Jeff's indescribable attachment to the gun despite his general feelings about them, as well as the bullet with his name on it. The fact is that the "Jeff" bullet could be for any Jeff, and our Jeff's urgent need to fire it off (instead of, say, disposing of it) inevitably leads to tragic consequences. But Jeff is just fine; he's a white guy in America who used his gun "for good." It doesn't matter that a life was taken. The gun did its job. There are some other themes woven (and barely tocuhed on) throughout, including the inherent and messy selfishness of grief and that old "sins of the father" chestnut.
But even the primary angle of "The Blue Scorpion" – guns kill people because that's what they're made to do, my dudes – doesn't resonate as strongly as it could. It calls to mind Joe Hill's "Loaded," from his recent novella collection Strange Weather, which almsot reads like the definitive take on American gun violence. Hill wrote a story that is achingly complex, terrifying, nuanced, and ultimately – horrifically – tragic, all of which is by necessity. There's an urgency to the narrative that's missing in "The Blue Scorpion" because gun violence is an urgent issue. That's not to say that the episode is a total failure, just that it feels half-cocked (again, I AM SORRY), as many of this seasons episodes do.