Since debuting last year, the CBS All Access revival of The Twilight Zone has smartly recognized that, like the classic show that inspired it, the series can play host to all sorts of stories. Sure, episodes need elements of science fiction or the supernatural and (most of the time) some kind of ironic twist — be it horrifying or gentle — but The Twilight Zone works better as a guiding spirit than a set of rules.
The second season continues to run with that idea via ten episodes that offer something for everyone. As with the first season, not all of them work. Some spend too long stretching an obvious twist to the breaking point, others … well, others feature a killer super-octopus. But, as before, the season works more often than it doesn’t (and even improves on its predecessor’s hit-to-miss ratio). And because the streaming service made all the episodes available at once, viewers have the freedom to hop around for the sort of Twilight Zone episodes they like best. There’s something for everyone and, with that in mind, here’s a guide to what sort of episodes season two offers, and who might enjoy them most.
For Those Who Want to Get Meta:
“You Might Also Like” (Episode 10)
Ostensibly the second-season finale — though that term doesn’t really have meaning for an anthology series that debuts all its episodes simultaneously — this episode both revives one of the original series’ most famous aliens and pushes at the barriers of what a Twilight Zone episode can be. Where the first-season finale, “Blurryman,” broke the fourth wall by bringing the spirit of Rod Serling into the world of the series, “You Might Also Like” nods to the series’ past with an appearance by the Kanamits, the only seemingly altruistic aliens from the original series’ “To Serve Man.” Here they’ve found a different way to infiltrate human culture, though to reveal how — beyond mentioning the episode segues between real ads and fakes ones — would spoil the surprise. Written and directed by Osgood Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter), the first creator to play both roles for this incarnation of The Twilight Zone, it’s a dark satire with mournful undertones, thanks largely to a deft performance from Gretchen Mol as a well-to-do housewife who comes to realize that something’s not quite right in her world.
For Those Who Want to Have Their Hearts Tugged by an Alien Visitation:
“A Human Face” (Episode 7)
There’s an even deeper sense of loss at the center of “A Human Face,” in which Christopher Meloni and Jenna Elfman play parents still mourning the death of their daughter (Tavi Gevinson) as they prepare to move out of the house they shared with her. When a being from an alien dimension shows up and starts to take on their daughter’s appearance and personality, however, they have to decide whether they should treat it as friend or foe. Both the premise and Gevinson’s spooky performance owe a little to Jonathan Glazer’s great 2013 film Under the Skin, but the episode finds different ways to approach the question of what it means to be human. It’s one of two episodes penned by executive producer and host Jordan Peele’s old Key & Peele collaborator Alex Rubens. And while Rubens’s “The Comedian” got the series off to a rocky start last season, he scores two of this year’s highlights, aided here by Christina Choe’s unnerving direction.
For Those Who Are Here for the Twists:
“Among the Untrodden” (Episode 5)
Some Twilight Zone episodes live or die by their central twist. Others, like “A Human Face,” let the cat out of the bag early in the episode in order to explore its implications. Written by Heather Anne Campbell, who penned the first-season highlight “Not All Men,” “Among the Untrodden” looks like it’s going to be the second sort of episode then cleverly morphs into the first in its final scene. Director Tayarisha Poe explored the power struggles of a boarding school with her recent film Selah and the Spades and returns to familiar turf here via the story of a misfit (Sophia Macy, daughter of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy) who helps a popular bully (Abbie Hern) understand her psychic abilities. Maybe. It’s complicated in ways that would spoil its zigzagging surprises.
For Those Who Are Here for the Jordan Peele of It All:
“Downtime” (Episode 2)
In addition to serving as the series’ wry host, Peele pens one of this season’s more memorable episodes. In “Downtime,” Morena Bacarin plays a hotel manager who earns a big promotion just in time to watch everyone freeze around her as a giant orb appears in the sky. An unsettling but ultimately sweet exploration of the nature of identity, it occasionally feels like an idea for a feature film that’s been repurposed as a Twilight Zone installment. That’s not really a complaint, however. Even though its intriguing world raises more questions than the episode can answer, it’s one of the season’s most affecting outings.
For Those Who Want a Supernatural Twist on Toxic Masculinity:
“Try Try” (Episode 9)
Rubens’s other contribution lets Topher Grace and Kylie Bunbury (Pitch) play out a sweet romantic comedy that takes a disturbing turn. Bunbury plays Claudia, a grad student whose museum outing begins with a meet-cute when a stranger named Marc (Grace) saves her from getting hit by a truck, then keeps bumping into her during her visit. While exploring the museum with Marc, Claudia discovers they have a lot in common, from favorite writers to shared childhood experiences. He seems perfect, but after a while Claudia comes to suspect he might be too perfect. The episode works in part because of its insights into male entitlement and its clever construction, which slowly starts to cast shadows over the budding romance, but also because Bunbury and Grace generate tremendous chemistry together — first romantic, then of a different kind.
For Those Who Want to Imagine Playing God:
“A Small Town” (Episode 8)
Damon Wayans Jr. plays a man mourning the death of his wife, the mayor of a small town that’s fallen on hard times since her passing. But could a scale model of the city with magical powers set things right again? Wayans brings some emotional weight to an episode that pays homage to the original series’ more fanciful installments and, also like several original-series episodes, raises some questions about faith in the process.
For Those Who Want to Keep It Basic:
“Meet in the Middle” (Episode 1)
You’ll spot the film noir-inspired twist a mile away in this episode starring Jimmi Simpson as a lonely man who falls in love with a woman with whom he develops an unexpected psychic connection. It’s still nicely played by its two leads, however, even if it drags on a bit too long.
For Those Who Want to See Actors Stretch to the Limit:
“The Who of You” (Episode 3)
Ethan Embry plays a down-on-his-luck actor who decides to rob a bank, then finds he’s inexplicably jumped into the body of the teller behind the counter. Then he keeps jumping, a premise that allows Embry and other guest stars (including Billy Porter and Mel Rodriguez) to play personalities stuck in bodies to which they don’t belong. It’s a fun idea that moves along swiftly (even if it ultimately doesn’t go much of anywhere).
For Those Who Want to See Faustian Bargains and Funny Mustaches: “Ovation” (Episode 4)
“Ovation” (Episode 4)
Jurnee Smollett plays a street busker who gets more than she bargained for when she’s gifted a magical, stardom-granting medallion by a pop superstar named Fiji (Sky Ferreira) shortly before Fiji kills herself by walking into traffic. The rest of the episode takes a long time to reach a pretty obvious destination, though both Thomas Lennon and Paul F. Tompkins sport funny mustaches as, respectively, the host of an American Idol–inspired show and an obnoxious late-night host.
For Those Who Aren’t Chapodiphobes:
“8” (Episode 6)
Joel McHale plays a scientist at a polar outpost who has to match wits with a super-intelligent octopus. If you’ve seen Alien or The Thing, you know what happens next. They can’t all be winners, but the filmmaking team of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Spring) bring some claustrophobic atmosphere to an extremely X-Files-ish Glenn Morgan script, and gorehounds will appreciate some grody effects, including an injury-to-eye scene that would make Lucio Fulci proud.