The Twilight Zone continues today with “Replay,” an episode that hearkens back to the original series, delving deep into social commentary while telling a story that could only happen in its storied dimension.
“Replay” begins with Nina (Sanaa Lathan) an African American woman on a road trip to take her son, Dorian (Damson Idris), to college. Dorian is an aspiring filmmaker with big dreams and he pokes fun at his mother’s outdated camcorder she uses to record their trip.
When they stop at a diner for lunch, Nina discovers, purely by chance, that when she hits rewind on the camcorder, time itself reverses. At first, she’s shaken by it as no one else around her seems to notice, but she soon finds ample reason to be thankful for the camera’s mysterious abilities.
After leaving the diner, Nina finds that Dorian has planned a side trip, attempting to visit the uncle he hardly knows and to whom Nina is estranged. She quickly shuts him down, and before a real argument can begin between the two, a police officer suddenly appears behind them, lights flashing to pull them over.
Nina recognizes Officer Lasky (Glenn Fleshler) from the diner, and he fairly oozes menace as he asks pointed questions of Dorian in the driver’s seat. As events escalate, Nine hits the rewind button and finds herself and her son sitting once again in the diner.
Over the course of the episode, Nina and Dorian return time and again to this moment, and Nina tries every way she can think of to avoid Lasky who always seems to loom in the shadows, a menacing hand constantly reaching for them.
What is interesting in the episode is that they take the time, in between run-ins with Lasky who shows up with the flimsiest of trumped-up charges, is that we are given so much background about Nina and Dorian.
We learn why she’s estranged from her family. We learn that Dorian resents the estrangement because it has left him feeling he had no positive black male role models in his life. We learn she will do anything to protect him.
In short, throughout everything going on and her repeated attempts to escape the man hunting them through reset timelines, they become real people. It effectively reverses the narrative we so often see on the news. We aren’t given tidbits after the fact, and there is no victim-blaming here. Instead, we see them, listen to them, know them before and during their confrontations with the police.
Lathan is remarkable as Nina, expressing so much with a look or a simple gesture, never overplaying the moment, and Idris is equally compelling as Dorian. His frustration in each meeting with Lasky is palpable as he tries to understand why he’s being targeted and how exactly he should respond.
Fleshler, meanwhile, is absolutely chilling as Lasky. He’s like a great white shark, always hungry, always hunting for his prey. His attitude and demeanor are self-assured. He knows he is right and that this woman and her son are lawbreakers, and what’s more insidious is the racist attitude he reveals in simple throwaway lines that anyone who has ever had to deal with similar men will recognize.
As Nina runs out of options, she finally relents to her son’s requests and they seek her brother’s help. Ultimately, it’s this move that brings her and her son to safety…for the moment.
As they enter her brother’s home, they see Black Lives Matter posters and other pictures on the wall that point to his activism. They also learn that he has studied and mapped out old tunnels throughout the county. Tunnels that will lead them directly to the outskirts of Dorian’s campus.
In a moment that directly mirrors the Underground Railroad of old, the three travel, undetected, to the campus, or so they thought. As Dorian almost walks through the gates, Lasky show up again.
This time, however, they are not alone. They are surrounded by the community and even when he is joined by four other officers, he is no match for their truth, especially when they all produce their phones and begin recording. It’s a powerful, poignant scene that highlights the importance of community and standing together.
“Walk through those gates, Dorian,” Nina tells her son, and the rest stand guard to insure his safe entry.
At its heart, “Replay” is a quintessential Twilight Zone episode with its finger pointed directly at injustice, bigotry, and inequality.
In season four of the original series, an episode by the name of “He’s Alive” aired in which the spirit of Hitler coaxed a wannabe Nazi on how to become powerful. He, of course, is defeated, but the spirit moves on, restless, seeking another to control.
It’s in the closing narration of the episode where Serling spoke his own beliefs, however.
“Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town,” Serling said. “Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things we keep him alive.”
It was hardly the first time, nor the last, that Serling dealt with racial inequality and bigotry, though in its initial run, he was unable to address anti-black bigotry. Because of this, he would take on anti-Asian sentiments instead, hoping that the message would spread.
Furthermore, he was one of the first to feature an all-black cast in episodes of the series.
Serling was quoted in The Twilight Zone Companion as saying, “Television, like its big sister, the motion picture, has been guilty of the sin of omission” in regards to television’s lack of racial diversity.
Why do I mention all of this?
Because I know there are angry readers out there who will view “Replay” and condemn the show for being too politically charged when The Twilight Zone from its inception spoke on these issues regularly.
Lasky is the embodiment of the voice that Serling spoke of 50 years ago. His efforts to destroy a young man of color simply for being is no different from Serling was condemning himself.
And because these issues are, in many ways, still no better, “Replay” exists and its haunting final scene will stick with viewers long after the credits roll. How many mothers would give anything for a camcorder like Nina’s after all?
The Twilight Zone airs on CBS All Access, and “Replay” is available today.