This Twilight Zone review contains spoilers.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 6
Science fiction that happens underwater almost always become horrifically scary, really fast. Off the top of my head, the only sci-fi premises that aren’t automatically horrifying are the ‘90s show seaQuest, or my three-year-old daughter’s favorite TV Show, Octonauts. Everything else that happens underwater has the potential to be packed with the stuff of nightmares. James Cameron’s The Abyss isn’t called The Lovely Abyss. Great underwater fiction comes with scary sea monsters, at least nine times out of ten.
The sixth episode of season 2 of the new Jordan Peele Twilight Zone is what would happen if the sea monster story was merged with the original Ridley Scott-directed Alien. In other words, you’re terrified, but also kind of rooting for the monster on some level. What makes this episode so interesting, is you think to yourself: “This can’t just be a story about an Octopus trying to kill everyone, right?” Except, that’s exactly what it is.
Written by Glen Morgan, a producer on the new Zone, and veteran of The X-Files, the script for “8,” clocks in at a tight 30-minutes, and will certainly remind even the most casual Twilight Zone fan of something familiar. Part of that is the sneaky way a Rod Serling opening narration is snuck into the prologue.
While a group of underwater researches on a near-future sealab is hanging out, some of them are watching something on TV about sharks. Yes, that’s Rod Serling’s voice, but the crew isn’t watching an old Twilight Zone, it’s the narration Serling recorded for the 1968-1975 American version of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, better known to many of us as The Life Aquatic, only real. Does The Twilight Zone exist in an episode of The Twilight Zone? Thankfully, you don’t have to think about that too long, because pretty soon the plot from Alien takes over and things start to get exciting.
Why is this the plot from Alien? Well, in theory, a guy named Rudd (Joel McHale) is leading a team of researchers who are investigating displaced underwater creatures that have generally been screwed-over by climate change. But it turns out that Rudd, along with crewmember Channing (Nadia Hilker) are not down here to help animals, but instead, to capture a specific type of octopus and harvest it for a pharmaceutical company called Troxell. So yeah, just like the Nostromo was actually sent to pick-up the alien in Alien, these people were actually looking for a murderous octopus.
Turns out this octopus is capable of turning straight-up invisible. In real life, this trait exits in something called the Glass Octopus, but the tentacled monsters in this episode are much bigger and much meaner.
The stakes of this episode are made exceptionally interesting when scientist Ling (Michelle Ang) realizes what her cohorts are up to. Unlike everyone else on this mission, Ling seems to legitimately care about studying underwater life. But, if we’re using the Alien analogy, Ling becomes this story’s Ripley, the one person we think is going to survive, but instead of trying to fight the monster, she’s actually trying to help it.
This makes watching the last ten minutes of the episode wonderful because as the Octopus starts picking-off the surviving members of the crew, you’re mind is actually racing: How is this going to play out? Is everyone going to just get killed? Is Ling just going to become friends with the murder-puses, and we’ll get a closing narration that this is basically what humans deserve?
Nope! Ling is a double-agent, too. She’s also there to harvest the octopus, but not because she works for a pharmaceutical company. Ling is out for some gene-splicing action: She wants the octopus so she can crack its genetic code and make a super-specie of Octo-humans. Essentially, she’s like one of the bad guys from either of the Jurassic World movies. Then again, all the humans here are bad, and all of them want things from the octopus.
But, in the end, just like the raptors can open doors in a Jurassic movie or the aliens keep coming back in Alien, the twist here is that the octopus is in charge. It just wanted to figure out how to resequence its own DNA, so that, pretty soon, land-dwelling octopuses could take over the world.
The ending is a little sudden, and it’s not totally clear how an octopus could genetically engineer itself so quickly. But that’s okay. Call it Deus ex octopus; not the most logical or satisfying ending, but appropriate considering we weren’t ever really sure which tentacle of the plot we were supposed to focus on. Still, up until this moment, the episode was near-perfect.
But once you tell the viewer that land-dwelling octopuses are coming, and then don’t show us said land-dwelling octopuses on land, it feels like a punch — or a tentacle — has been pulled.