The Twilight Zone 1.05 recap: The Wunderkind
Following last week’s fourth episode of the series starring Steven Yeun, CBS All Access‘ fifth episode of The Twilight Zone brings John Cho back to the small screen in the episode titled “The Wunderkind,” reimagining the classic episode “It’s a Good Life.” Raff Hanks (Cho) is a down-on-his-luck campaign manager determined to get a kid (Jacob Tremblay) elected as the President of the United States. What could go wrong?
Four More Years
Raff Hanks wakes up in the hospital, restrained to the bed as an unseen orderly (Shawn Ahmed) asks if he knows his name and who the president is. Before Raff answers, the episode goes back to five years earlier during the campaign manager’s attempt to get President Stevens (John Larroquette) re-elected into the White House. Raff celebrates with his partner Maura McGill (Allison Tolman). Raff shows her that he also wrote a book called The Wunderkind, seeking credit for his part in what they think is a successful election.
When the two catch up with the president, however, he is raging because the campaign team called the win too early and he actually lost the re-election as the votes continue to be counted. We move back and forth in time as Raff’s off-screen interrogator tries to gauge the man’s memories. Back in the past, this time two years following the election, Raff is getting drunk in a bar as news reports reveal the new president is essentially on the verge of destroying the country.
The bar patrons watch as news reports an 11-year-old kid, Oliver Foley (Jacob Tremblay), wants to run for president, with his announcement video gaining millions of views. A man at the bar tells Raff he should run the kid’s campaign, that after all of the crap coming out of Washington, he’d vote for him. Jordan Peele introduces the episode, saying that Raff is about to embark on a misguided road to redemption, filled with dark detours.
Back in the present, the orderly tells Raff that he did a great service for the country. Raff says he just saw an angle and took it. He then starts to grimace in pain before the narrative jumps back into the past. Raff has dinner with the Foley family, where he learns that Oliver is tired of all the war and environment stuff, the lies, and that they only get a two-week break at Christmas.
Oliver’s mom, Helen (Kimberley Sustad) speaks privately with Raff saying the whole thing is clearly a joke since Oliver is only 11. Raff says it’s not a joke to him and that Helen’s name would be on the ballot (because of his age) but the kid would be in charge. Oliver’s dad, Joseph (Lane Edwards), expresses his concerns about Raff’s history with drinking. Raff promises he’s a new man. Joseph accuses him of being an opportunist and Raff freely admits it, saying that Oliver has tapped into something very real and is connecting with people.
Raff manages to convince Helen and Joseph by bringing up the fact that win or lose, Oliver will not only have had the experience of a lifetime, but will have made enough money from endorsements, TV deals and book deals to pay for his college and even his sister’s Lily’s (Erica Tremblay) college. Raff will also have his face back on TV; everybody wins.
Filming another video, Oliver offers 10 promises to the American people if he’s elected president: Jobs for everyone, long weekends/longer vacations, less Star Wars movies, better air to breathe (more bikes and less cars), less war, dogs for dog people and cats for cat people, more pancake houses throughout the land, free video games for every American, every month has to have its own holiday, and dessert before dinner.
Two months into Oliver’s campaign, Raff’s former campaign partner Maura shows up in Iowa after one of Oliver’s rallies wanting to get the band back together. Back in the present, the orderly tells Raff that his condition is unstable and they will have to operate. Raff remarks that a stable person “would have seen what was happening.” He saw what he wanted to.
Back to the campaign, Oliver is recording a music video encouraging people to vote for him. Raff and Maura discuss strategy before witnessing Oliver exploding at his parents when they tell him it’s time for his doctor’s appointment. The kid doesn’t want to go because he hates being poked with needles by old doctors, and then yells at his parents that he hates them.
In the meantime, citizens across the country are sharing their support for Oliver, saying he’s not a greasy politician and that it’s time to start fresh and get America back to what makes it so great. The news reports that Oliver is now just six points down in the polls, climbing fast as he has “captured the imagination of the American public.”
During a practice debate, Oliver struggles a bit with answering serious questions about troops in Iraq. Larry (Michael Patrick Denis) who tried to coach him on answers calls this a sh*t show, saying that the kid will only embarrass himself during the first primary debate in one week. Oliver defends that he’s only six points down in Iowa and that his music video has gained 56 million views on YouTube. After firing Larry, Raff reassures Oliver that he’s going to be fine and to just do his thing. Oliver thanks him before giving him a hug.
The debate turns into a disaster, though, as Oliver is unable to answer questions about taxes and so on, becoming nervous and being laughed at. His parents are angry with Raff, saying they trusted him, before pulling Oliver offstage. In the present, the orderly tells Raff that the doctor is on his way. Raff, bleeding and in a lot of pain, yells at him to put his under, to save his life or let him die.
After the debate disaster, Raff is back at the bar drinking. Maura comes in to join Raff and to see how he’s doing. Raff says that he believed in the kid, that he liked what he said and that he was human. Maura says she saw the Foley family and that Oliver wanted her to tell Raff that he doesn’t blame him for what happened. When Raff learns that Homer, Oliver’s dog, is dying of cancer, the temptation to create a carefully-produced vlog is too good of an opportunity for Raff to pass up.
In his video about Homer, Oliver acknowledges that he doesn’t know everything, but that if he’s elected, he’ll surround himself with the smartest and nicest people to help him and promises to give others time to hug their sick pets, too. Oliver ends up winning the Iowa caucus, and then the presidency. President Foley and his family are taken to the White House, where Oliver quickly demands his campaign promises be fulfilled, including that every American should have free video games.
The chief of staff and other adults in the room try to explain to Oliver that Congress probably won’t go for that, especially with the national debt. Oliver says that the companies better give away 270 million games to every American, or he’ll put a surcharge tax of a million dollars a Game Boy and put them out of business in a day. When Raff tries to talk some sense into the new president, Oliver says that he will get other people to get the work done if they won’t.
Oliver has effectively taken over the White House, complete with a child-friendly Oval Office. He demands that a law be put in place for no more old doctors as he refuses to get his physical. Raff tries to speak the chairman, Mitch (Aaron Douglas), who is currently busy putting together a military parade for Lily’s birthday. When Raff brings up that Oliver is acting like the most spoiled kid in history, Mitch says he is loyal to the president of the United States. Oliver’s approval rating is through the roof, and it’s a bad time for Raff to be talking treason. Raff tries to say he’s not talking treason, and Mitch makes it clear he won’t stand for it.
Raff tries to speak with Helen, saying she’s the real president and maybe it’s time for her to intervene. Helen doesn’t agree, saying her child connects with people. Raff speaks with Maura in private, who tells him that he shouldn’t have stayed in the White House and should have turned a blind eye like her. People don’t see what Raff sees because they don’t really care how Oliver acts. She likens it to a phase that will pass and that Raff shouldn’t worry so much, as one of the most famous campaign managers in history.
Back in the present in the hospital, Raff says he tried to do the right thing for once before he starts to crash. In the now recent past, Raff speaks with Oliver as the president plays golf inside of the White House, asking Raff to join. Oliver accuses Raff of being treasonous, and Raff says he’s just worried. Oliver says that Raff was his first real supporter and that it hurts him that he’s not fully backing him. Raff asks what happened to Oliver surrounding himself with the greatest minds to get informed opinions. Oliver says that was Raff’s idea, not his. He also reveals that he pretended Homer was dying to get Raff back on his team.
Raff stands up to Oliver, refusing to fall in line anymore just because the kid is the president. Oliver smiles at Raff before yelling that Raff has a gun, causing Raff to get shot by the secret service. Raff is now known across the country as the man who tried to kill President Foley, the child beloved by so many in America who are saying, “Raff Hanks got what he deserved.”
In the hospital, Raff realizes his surgeon is a kid after President Foley passed the law about there being no old doctors. He screams as the child doctor prepares to cut him open, and the camera pulls back to Peele saying society is a fragile ecosystem: “Razzle and dazzle people with the right lies, and eventually they’ll go blind to the madness right in front of their faces.”
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