Review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE Saves Its Best For Last With “Blurryman”
NOTE: This post will contain spoilers for The Twilight Zone's "Blurryman". If I had my druthers, you would not read anything about this episode until seeing it for yourself. If you want a quick, non-spoilery review, please read the headline again and get watching.
Is "Blurryman" the best episode of The Twilight Zone's first season? I'm finding it hard to come up with a better pick. I was a big fan of "The Comedian", the episode that kicked off the reboot, and I also enjoyed "Not All Men" a great deal. But pound for pound, moment for moment, "Blurryman" has to be my favorite. It's not without its faults (hoo, boy, am I conflicted about one element in particular), and I'm not entirely sure it sticks the landing that it's aiming for, but it's a helluva lot of fun to watch - even when it's not totally adding up.
Here's my problem: it's basically impossible to discuss this episode without getting into spoiler territory. I'll do my best to maintain any surprises that don't need to be discussed, but even a basic plot description will ruin the episode's excellent opening for you. Consider this your final warning if any of that matters.
Still here? Alright, cool. "Blurryman" begins with a very stressed-out Seth Rogen sitting in his apartment, futiley attempting to incorporate a number of studio notes into his character's latest screenplay. He knows he'd like to fit a "mushroom cloud" into the script, but whoever he's answering to isn't feeling it, and it appears he'll need to jettison the moment completely...until, inspiration strikes: he'll move the nuclear explosion up to the opening of the screenplay, using it to set up the story that follows. Just as he starts plucking away at the keyboard, his wife (Betty Gabriel) enters, walks him over to the window, and shows him that a nuclear disaster has occurred outside. The camera swerves to the left, and there's Jordan Peele's Narrator, delivering his tenth opening monologue of the season. But this time, things play out differently: Peele stops the take and asks for a rewrite. This opening narration simply isn't working. The writer (Zazie Beetz, who will go on to be this episode's lead character) is summoned to the set, and we're treated to a lengthy back and forth between her and Peele about The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling and what the episode's message actually needs to be.
Yes, for its first season finale, The Twilight Zone goes full Meta.
I'm gonna consider everything that happens after that opening to be super-duper spoilery, so I'll refrain from laying it all out here. Suffice it to say that Sophie's Twilight Zone-loving character has found herself in the Twilight Zone, and that the blurry figure seen haunting the production's soundstage is very determined to speak with her. That conversation happens eventually, but getting there will involve a whole bunch of weirdness.
Where other episodes of the new Twilight Zone felt heavy-handed or painfully obvious, "Blurryman" feels playful and genuinely mysterious. It also feels far more compact, a fact surely owed to its relatively brief 37-minute runtime (for the love of God, Twilight Zone, get rid of the hourlong runtimes between seasons, I'm begging you). It's also legitimately funny, with Peele playing an exaggerated, bloviating version of himself to great effect; with all the justified hoopla surrounding his talents as a writer/director, it's been easy to forget how brilliant he can be onscreen, and this episode serves as a welcome reminder (as if we needed one). I was also a big fan of Beetz in this episode: she sells some truly baffling moments, and conues to be a compelling and welcome screen presence. More of her in everything, please.
I mentioned the episode having issues, and I suppose we should address those, as well. For starters, I'm still not onboard with The Twilight Zone being so F-bomb friendly (I've explained why here, if you'd like to hear more on that). If the series jerked the reins on that element just a bit, I really don't think it'd do anything but improve things. Secondly, there's a very prominent CGI effect in the final moments of this episode that isn't entirely convincing, which is a problem given that it's the moment the episode's been building up to all along. One final gripe: the messaging here's a bit muddy. I'm not certain I fully understood the mechanics of the episode or the resolution it arrives at, but I suspect a second viewing (which I'm very much looking forward to) will clear some of that up for me.
All in all, "Blurryman" is a helluva way to wrap The Twilight Zone's imperfect first season. It does something no other episode of the new Zone has done yet, it keeps viewers on their toes, and it does all of that while still striking a decidedly fun tone, even when it's angling for "scary". Here's hoping that future installments of this series are similarly interested in playing with the formula. Surprises are why we tune into The Twilight Zone to begin with, and "Blurryman" is filled with them.