The Twilight Zone
I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided to stop posting about politics on Facebook. Early in the Trump administration, I shared what I felt to be a self-evidently outrageous story about an undocumented man who’d been deported after living in the U.S. for years and becoming a pillar of his community. I got a few approving likes and comments, but one friend was insistent that, sad as it sounded, he had broken the rules. And for my friend, that was that. Rules are rules and feelings are feelings, and never the twain shall meet, no matter the human cost.
Is there any changing a mind like that? And if so, what does it take? That’s the question that drives “Point of Origin,” which doesn’t find any easy answers. Written by John Griffin and directed by Mathias Herndl (who also handles the cinematography), it’s another episode that works a not-so-subtle science-fiction parallel to a contemporary issue, in the vein of last week’s “Not All Men” and the season-best “Replay” (and of many classic Twilight Zone episodes before them). While it doesn’t quite have the tightness of those episodes, it shares their intensity, thanks in no small part to star Ginnifer Goodwin’s deft performance, opening with her character basking in surety and comfort, almost like a caricature of entitled contentment, then making us watch as she loses it all.
Goodwin plays Eve, a privileged woman with finely honed skills planning parties at her expansive home but only a dim awareness of what goes on within its walls when she’s not around, having subcontracted most of her child-rearing duties to her long-serving housekeeper Anna (Zabryna Guevara). As the episode opens, Anna has a favor to ask: Could her grandson claim Eve’s address as her own in order to attend an exclusive school? Unlike Anna, he was born in the U.S. and is thus a citizen — Eve at least knows her housekeeper is undocumented, even if she can’t remember what country she’s from — so that won’t be a problem. Eve doesn’t hesitate to say “yes,” but it’s at that moment when the authorities come for Anna, hauling her away, everyone assumes, to await deportation.
“Anna’s part of our family,” Eve tells her friends over tea, exaggerating the fight she put up to keep her there but revealing she and her husband have hired a lawyer to track her down. But that’s more than her friends would do. “These people know the risks when they come here,” one of her friends tells her. “It’s unfortunate and everything but it is illegal.” It’s not clear if Eve is swayed by their logic, but she has other troubles anyway. At night she dreams of a blasted, war-torn, otherworldly landscape. And the next day, after fumbling her way through a trip to the grocery store, she and her children find themselves in custody as well.
It’s a Kafkaesque development. This isn’t supposed to happen to Americans who are born here, especially white Americans with some money in their pockets. “At some point we’re going to talk to someone who will tell us the deal and we can explain ourselves and we’re gonna go home,” her husband reassures her. And he’s right, up to a point: Soon he and the children are headed home. Eve, however, has to stay. A stern, black-suited official (James Frain, who plays Sarek on Star Trek: Discovery) seems especially interested in talking to her. But at least she’s reunited with Anna in the holding cell.
“Point of Origin” doesn’t do much to hide its twist, or the metaphor beneath it. Though she doesn’t remember it, Eve wasn’t born here. She’s a being from another dimension who crossed over long ago, brought to our Earth by those seeking a better life. So too, was Anna, making her a refugee two times over, having subsequently fled from Guatemala after making the transition. And now Eve and and Anna are in the same spot. Expressions of sympathy from a comfortable distance won’t work anymore.
The setup might seem a little obvious, especially since Captain Marvel just (much more timidly) explored a similar parallel, but “Point of Origin” makes the details count. Without Anna, Eve can’t even make breakfast for her children, who want plantains like Anna makes for breakfast. Eve doesn’t even know what a plantain is, or even how a grocery store works. Anna isn’t just part of Eve’s family, she’s the reason they’re able to function as a family at all. In Eve’s home, Anna remains deferential, even a bit fearful, of Eve. In custody, she lets the veil drop, reminding Eve how much she’s done for her and her family and how little kindness or interest she’s gotten in return from a woman who doesn’t even know the names of her children.
Here Anna has the advantage of knowing what to expect, and why Eve’s there in the first place. Not that this helps Eve during her intense interrogations with Frain’s character, whose British accent suggests the forces lined up against Eve might have international jurisdiction and who tricks her into dredging up a past she can’t remember. Eventually it becomes apparent that Eve has only one choice if she wants to see her family again: break the law by breaking out, a situation she couldn’t imagine herself being in even a few days before.
That Goodwin never suggests Eve is being transformed by her experience makes her performance especially effective. She begins the episode as a sweet woman blinkered by privilege, and though she takes desperate measures to win her freedom, she still seems to be in shock. Even when making bold moves, Eve seems kind of helpless. That makes the final moments hit like a hammer. Joyous to have made it back home, she’s broken when her family lets her be led away. They’ve been told that this person they’ve known and loved doesn’t belong and there’s no getting around that. The rules are what they are, and if the authorities say she belongs on the other side of a wall, what can you do?
The moment brings the unsubtle but effective episode to a grim end, one that suggests only such an extreme reversal of fortune could change the minds of those who have the luxury of keeping a respectful distance from immigration issues, even when it touches those they feel are “part of our family.” It might even feel like too grim an ending, if it didn’t hit so uncomfortably close to home.
Light and Shadows
• Having Jordan Peele hold an ice cream cone in his outro — inspired by the ice cream truck that bookends the episode and brings Eve back to her house while playing “This Land is Your Land” — is a nice nod to the way Serling would occasionally bring in a prop for his host segments. Peele’s intros and outros have been a highlight of this season so far, even in the weaker episodes. As each week’s setup draws to a close I find myself looking forward to seeing how the episode will incorporate him.
• Matheson Charter School is, of course, a reference to writer and prolific Twilight Zone contributor Richard Matheson.
• The first reference to a popular food delivery service felt a little fishy. By the second, it became obvious that said delivery service has paid to have its name featured in the episode. I guess being depicted as a reliable delivery service even in a world run by shadowy authorities determined to treat aliens as subhuman creatures worthy only of contempt is good for the brand?