This The Twilight Zone review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 9
Time loops are awesome. Time loops are usually your favorite episode of any given sci-fi show, or, in the case of Russian Doll, the premise of a great sci-fi show. That said, because of the circular nature of time loops, it’s hard to do something new with time loops. In the penultimate episode of season 2 of the new Twilight Zone, writer Alex Rubens tries—and mostly succeeds—in giving a new edge to a time loop story. In “Try, Try” the Zone presents a spin on the usual time loop premise: What if a bad person was caught in a time loop?
The writing of “Try, Try” is fairly tight and interesting, but you can’t really talk about why this episode works without talking about its two stars, Kylie Bunbury and Topher Grace. The emotional rollercoaster these two actors take us on is why this episode works. The museum setting is good, but you could easily imagine this piece working in a black box theater production without a single prop or set piece. The episode has the quality of theatrical drama, that, like so many of the new Twilight Zones, doesn’t really care if you don’t “get it.” This episode isn’t trying to hold your hand or make you feel good. It’s just interested in the presenting this drama in the most honest way possible.
First off, the fake-out. “Try, Try” initially give you the warm feeling of the more tender moments in Russian Doll: What if there was a low-key rom-com centered on the idea that one guy was caught in a time loop, totally in love with a woman, and trying to be honest with her about the fact he was caught in a time loop? In Groundhog Day, we saw this happen to Bill Murray, and throughout the movie, he went from being a terrible person to a good person who learned to cherish the impermanence of life. “Try, Try” is that, but not from the POV of the Bill Murray character, and in this version, the male asshole doesn’t change or get better, he gets, much, much worse.
When lonely academic Claudia (Bunbury) meets the charming and confident bookworm Marc (Grace) the chemistry will remind you of all your favorite onscreen couples. Claudia, dictating into her the voice memos on her phone even says, “Just met my future husband,” after Marc saves her from getting hit by the bus. Marc is self-aware, interesting and interested. He seems to good to be true, and that’s because, of course, he is. Quickly, as we realize that Marc has relived this day several times and Claudia hasn’t, the episode uses the notion of a time loop to talk about the nature of privacy. Of course, when we get close to someone, we like to tell those people we love our most intimate details. But, even if you had a good feeling about something on the first date, you don’t want to rush things. Claudia’s “future husband” joke is for herself, and very quickly, it turns out to be the biggest jinx of all time. Marc isn’t boyfriend, husband, or long term partner material for anyone, because he’s utterly psychotic. Topher Grace does here what he did so well in the 2010 version of Predators; play the nice guy up until you realize that the nice guy is the worst possible person in the room. According to Marc, he’s lost the ability to really believe that Claudia is “alive” because he’s seen her die before, and he knows everything will just reset. Again, imagine some of the jokey cynicism in Russian Doll, and just channel that into a murderous mansplaining dude intent on getting someone to love him — or else.
But, Claudia isn’t a victim. She’s smart, and has one advantage over Marc: She’s not self-absorbed. When Marc decides that he’s going to try and kill Claudia — basically just for the hell of it — she fights back, catching Marc off guard, but not herself. This twist implies that perhaps Claudia has, also, been stuck in a time loop, and that she was simply biding her time to fight back against Marc. But, that twist gets a little dicey, because Claudia says she took Marc out “on the first try.” We know that Marc has encountered numerous Claudias before this, because we’ve seen the flashbacks, but Claudia retains no memory of those experiences. Or does she?
Earlier in the episode, Claudia leaves her cellphone in an ancient canone in the museum where the entire drama plays out. Presumably, the cellphone records everything. Did this recording carry-over form previous time loops? Marc seems to be able to program his watch with various alarms, reminding him when things occur throughout the day. Does he do that every morning, or do these pieces of information carry-over? The story doesn’t make this explicit, which is either what’s cool about it, or what leaves you longing for a little bit more. On the one hand, Claudia defeats Marc on her own terms, without also gaining the sci-fi superpower of being stuck in a time loop. On the other hand, it seems like she may have helped herself, Philip K. Dick or Star Trek style, but sending information into the next loop. Jordan Peele’s closing narration tells us that she will go forward into a series of tomorrows, but that Marc will not. And yet, we see one Claudia back in a similar loop. Is she aware of what has happened? When it comes to clarity on the rules of the time loop, this episode avoid the Russian Doll approach of actually showing you the parallel dimensions. It favors analogy over explanation, which is actually what makes it so smart, and literally, pack a punch.
But, if you’re looking for some literalism, the episode might make your brain a little frustrated. That’s okay. If you didn’t like the ending the first time, go back and watch the last five minutes again. Trust me.