A Human Face

Episode 7 Season 2 of the 2019 Twilight Zone reboot seeks to explore the effect love has on humans and aliens and categorises this love as a ‘weakness.’ It fails for me as a Twilight Zone episode, spectacularly, and in this review I will seek to understand why.

A Human Face stars just 3 people, Jenna Elfman as the mother Barbara, Christopher Meloni as the father Robert, and Tavi Gevinson as Maggie, the daughter. Sidebar about Christopher Meloni, he fascinates me as an actor because in the same time period as he was playing Detective Elliot Stabler investigating sexualised violence in Law & Order SVU (1999 – 2011) he was also playing a sociopathic rapist Chris Keller in OZ (1998 – 2003). Is there a word for the opposite of typecasting?

Robert and Barbara are packing house for an upcoming move when the radio is heard telling us there is a cosmic flare passing through and it may produce a bit of a light show (YAWN – This trope is overplayed at this point, even within this reboot series). Barbara is looking for Robert to tell him the phone’s not working, and he replies “yeah they shut off the internet”, and she is like “No I mean the phone”, and Robert is like “yeah I know, the phone works via the internet.” Now I did peruse some other reviews of this episode to see if others saw some deep meaning in this episode that I missed, and someone actually believes this exchange to be the underlying meaning of the episode.

I disagree, I believe that exchange was to show Barbara is not as high tech as Robert is. It’s not an underlying meaning of how technology disrupts connectivity, it’s character exposition.

A weird bright light appears and Barbara and Robert follow it down to the basement where they find this;

Hey Pretty Baby come on my pretty Baby

They run upstairs and Barbara inexplicably decides this alien is their dead daughter. Who looks like this;

I’m offended on your behalf Maggie

Let’s see that again. Barbara, the mother, who gave birth and took care of this child for ostensibly 16 years – sees this;

and decides with no indication or implication why – that this is her daughter?

Robert now has the job of explaining that the above is not in fact their dead daughter. This inexplicable turn of events distances myself from this couple and their emotional journey. It’s completely insane. It gets even weirder (and not the good kind of weird) when they decide to return to the basement, see this gelatinous alien morphing and crawling around on the floor and they just sort of, back up a bit.

If there is some pulsating putrid creature from another dimension crawling on my floor, i’m not sticking around for a good look. The alien then assumes the form of their daughter until the claw-face explodes out of the human-like face. This is what scares them enough to retreat upstairs to their bathroom.

Cue the rest of the episode where basically Robert is defining reality – this is an alien tricking us – and Barbara denies reality – this is our daughter. It’s clear that Robert is right. The fact that Barbara is even entertaining this idea doesn’t make sense in the context of grief. Barbara has a brain. Who sees the above alien and misinterprets it due to grief? I have grieved, it’s not foreign to me, it does some crazy stuff to a person. But it doesn’t erase a 5-toothed jelly blob gnawing on some wood in your basement.

What is this? Where am I?

The blob-turned daughter now hangs outside the bathroom, even though it can definitely move through walls and floors, and alternately speaks like its a record on skip or their daughter in distress. Barbara decides to open the door to the blob daughter. Robert resignedly says “Don’t do it” from the back of the bathroom, although he makes no moves to prevent her – and her slow moving hand shot from an odd angle – from opening the door to blob-alien whatsoever.

This brings me to another aspect of this episode I didn’t like. The cinematography. Christopher Meloni who is a brilliant actor is only half-viewable most of the time due to shadows casting over his face.

The episode is filmed with some weird angles that only detract instead of serve the storyline. The cinematography seems to be fancy for the sake of fancy, and not for setting tone or mood.

Yes the camera is behind the stair case – but why?

The couple are now downstairs in the kitchen, Maggie at the dining table, and Barbara wants to feed her some cookies. What? Option A – It’s her dead daughter, come back via alien technology. And Barbara’s first instinct is cookies? Option B – It’s an alien, still….cookies?

The daughter/alien disappears from the dining table to go inspect her old room. At one point blob-daughter is pulling tape out of a cassette while holding it to her ear, suggesting that she can hear it without putting it in a cassette player. Robert goes downstairs to the basement to inspect the leftover goop which then blubbers away. Blob-daughter is reading through the dead daughters diary. Robert once again tries to get Barbara to leave, however Barbara wants to be there for the blob and she doesn’t even care anymore that it’s not their daughter. Robert accuses Barbara of being crazy.

Blob-daughter returns to stand up for her mother, and Robert starts yelling while the blob continues to confront her parents in an emotional torture scene. Look, I get it, parents make mistakes. But to have the dead daughter, who died by suicide, turn around and blame the parents is very hurtful. Blob daughter walks away and leaves Barbara and Robert to pick up their emotional pieces.

Yes please alien, more guilt please!

Maggie mouth-teeth then reappears to explain herself. She is in fact a “biological pacification drone.”

Okayyyy now it’s getting silly. Maggie-blob-daughter explains herself, sort of. She uses big words but then gives the writer an out by saying these words aren’t quite right. Machine – not the right word. Aspect – not quite right either. Her function as an indigenous pacification machine (sort of) is to make herself some kind of thing that the inhabitants of this planet wouldn’t fear. In fact the thing she is using to ‘conquer’ this planet is emotions. So love, honesty, truth, these are the things the writer believes would be our downfall? No. I believe the exact opposite thank you very much. Alex. Rubens.

The exposition by Maggie blob-mouth dead-daughter is lackluster. It’s kind of funny in a way, the story of using emotional connection to conquer humanity is completely devoid of any emotional connection for the viewer. Barbara is fully onboard to go wherever Maggie blob-mouth dead-daughter wants.

Robert tries to remind her once again, this is an alien and is not our daughter. Barbara knows, Barbara says it doesn’t matter. Robert tries to attack a now glowing holographic alien form with a stick. This fails. Robert then tries to explain to Barbara that our weakness as humans is love (disagreed) and Barbara retorts well, then they win.

Finally the holographic alien returns to the form of Maggie, looks Robert in the eyes to tell him she loves him and gives him a warm hug. This emotional manipulation is enough to get the very clear headed Robert onboard, and off they traipse into the outside of their house, hand in hand, now a happy family.

Really Robert? You weak.

Jordan Peele comes back to explain the alien was in fact conquered by humanity? What? And we the viewer are shown a bunch of ‘happy families’ walking hand in hand with children. Or are they blob monsters? I think for me this episode failed because there really was no twist that i’ve come to expect and love from The Twilight Zone. Barbara’s conviction that this alien was her daughter came out of literally nowhere, and continued unabashed even though we all can realise clearly it is an alien.

Imagine being the ghost of the daughter watching this play out? Like first of all, what on earth about a gelatinous blob chewing on wood would remind her of her daughter? Second of all, where is the survival instinct? Why don’t Barbara and Robert have it? And thirdly, it only takes one heartfelt moment and a hug to turn the very clear headed Robert around? Where are they going when they walk out the door? Why won’t they finish packing? What time do the movers arrive? What is Jordan Peele saying when he says the alien was conquered by humans? Does he mean, by Love? Wasn’t that our ‘weakness’?

Who conquered who now?

All in all, this is a forgettable instalment, and I highly recommend Blurryman over this episode.

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