‘The Twilight Zone’: ‘Meet in the Middle’ explores the price of human connection
Jimmi Simpson in "Meet in the Middle"

Editor’s note: A review and analysis of Jordan Peele’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ season two episode one. Spoilers ahead.

“What kind of compromise goes into a connection with another human being?” – ‘The Twilight Zone’

Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone has returned and is currently airing all 10 episodes of the second season on the streaming service CBS All Access. The season two premiere episode, Meet in the Middle, is less overt with its politics and viewpoints than many of the stories in season one. It doesn’t draw clear lines in the sand on what the audience should be thinking about. That’s not to say that the episode doesn’t convey messaging, it just isn’t as strongly stated. This makes for a story with interesting appeal but uneven delivery.

Meet in the Middle is written by Emily Chang (The Bold Type) and Sarah Amini (NCIS: Los Angeles), and directed by Mathias Herndl. Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) leads the episode as Phil Hayes, a man who has difficulty connecting with women. Phil’s life takes a turn toward the fantastical when he begins to hear the voice of a woman named Annie in his head. Love (or obsession) grows between Phil and this voice as the audience tries to figure out if Annie is real or a figment of Phil’s imagination.

Phil thinks he may have found the love of his life, but those familiar with the show know that things are never as they seem in The Twilight Zone.

The strongest seller of this episode is Simpson’s portrayal of Phil. He gives layers to a man who could either have new-found powers or is on the brink of insanity. This is important because for most of the episode the audience is watching Simpson give facial expressions to the voiceover conversation taking place between Phil and Annie.

This could grow tiresome after a while, and in some instances it does. Yet, moments when Simpson straddles the line between the innocence of a new love and the desperation of obsession are compelling and never go completely over the top. This is also important because the idea of a man hearing a voice in his head and responding to it aloud in public could be played for complete laughs. This would take away the potential stakes of Phil’s downward spiral. Instead, the eerie foreboding remains even during instances of humor.

The episode does a good job of making viewers conflicted on whether or not Phil is a character to cheer for. The many twists and turns of the episode keep you guessing on what exactly is Phil’s problem. We soon find out that it goes beyond telepathy.

There’s much going on in this episode; it just doesn’t feel like a lot. With so much focus on the question if Annie is a real person or not, viewers may miss some of the other themes being touched upon.

To begin with, Phil is having an existential crisis. He works as a manager in a grocery store and doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in his life. Some of the conversations Phil has with Annie deal with if his life actually has a purpose beyond what he does for a living. He worries that he’s just a nondescript worker who is simply taking up space until he dies. He even laments to his therapist, “Who doesn’t have a little existential dread these days?”

It’s a fruitful topic that can be placed into the context of capitalist society that puts value on labor by exploiting it, but does not value the lives of working people. It’s an all too fleeting moment in the episode.

Another theme is male entitlement. Phil is a picky guy. When we first meet him, he is annoyed that his date’s hair is slightly different from the picture on her dating app profile. Phil isn’t necessarily a nice guy, but not exactly a jerk either. He has a sense of arrogance in the way he relates to women, complaining that he can’t seem to connect to any of them. But it should be clear to the viewer that Phil’s idea of romantic connection centers his wants and needs. It’s not mutual or much of a compromise.

The title of the episode is a play on Phil’s refusal to meet many of the women he dates in the middle, thus leading him onto the dark path of his undoing.

These two major themes in the episode get overshadowed by the pressing question if Phil is going crazy. Even in the final moments of the episode, no definitive answer is given.

We find out that Annie is real, but not exactly who she portrayed herself to be. She has taken advantage of Phil’s obsession with his idea of her and manipulated him into—well, that’s all I’ll say. In this sense the story sticks to the formula of The Twilight Zone by providing a twist, even if in some ways it is predictable.

There’s no way a character like Phil was going to be allowed to be happy in the end. Especially given his treatment of women throughout the episode. But the writers do try to throw the audience off track by providing enough false leads throughout.

The real Annie played on Phil’s sense of entitlement in order to get him to do her bidding. He wanted the “perfect” woman, so she gave him one. He wanted to be a hero with purpose, so she gave him that, too—even if it was all a lie.

The episode ends with the question, “What kind of compromise goes into connecting with another human being?” Phil went to great lengths to connect with his Annie, despite all the red flags warning that he should not.

His sense of entitlement to some epic love story ends in morbid regret. I can’t help but make the connection to the world’s current situation with one too many people putting others at risk during a global pandemic for their own entitlement to human connection and “happiness.” Phil’s story is a lesson that when human connection is centered on the self, and not with empathy for the greater good, it can only end in sorrow.


CONTRIBUTOR

Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson believes that writing and media, in any capacity, should help to reflect the world around us, and be tools to help bring about progressive change. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong belief in people power and strength. She is the Social Media Editor for People's World, along with being a journalist for the award winning publication. She’s a self professed geek and lover of pop culture. Chauncey seeks to make sure topics that affect working class people, peoples of color, and women are constantly in the spotlight and part of the discussion.

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