The Twilight Zone 1.06 recap: Six Degrees of Freedom
Following last week’s episode of the series starring John Cho, CBS All Access‘ fifth episode of The Twilight Zone challenges the old saying that seeing is believing. DeWanda Wise, Jessica Williams, Jefferson White, Lucinda Dryzek, and Jonathan Whitesell star in the episode, which follows a space crew preparing for the first human flight to Mars and facing a life-altering decision and its consequences.
Failure to Launch?
The episode begins with a briefing of the Bradbury Heavy mission, which details intentions for the first human flight to Mars with hopes of colonizing the solar system due to Earth’s destructive climate change. Flight Commander Alexa Brandt (Wise) and her crew — pilot Casey Donlin (Whitesell), flight engineer Rei Tanaka (Williams), flight surgeon Katie Langford (Dryzek), and mission specialist Jerry Pierson (White) — perform final checks before launch. One of those crew members is TINA, an onboard Transport Information Network Artificial Intelligence unit.
Before launch, the crew cranks up the music and jams out together. The party is cut short when they suddenly hear warning alarms over five long-range missiles launching out of the North Korean peninsula. Los Angeles and Seattle have already been hit, with another missile targeting the Wells Spaceport, leaving the crew to have to figure out whether to launch. If they stay, the ship suffers a direct hit.
Despite misgivings from Rei, the rest of the crew agree to launch. As Launch Control evacuates on the ground, leaving the Bradbury on their own, the crew continues with the mission, launching into space. Jordan Peele introduces the episode saying these five voyagers are traveling within the greatest invention “ever created by the human spirit to escape a catastrophe made possible by the most destructive regions of the human mind.” Will their reality turn to individual madness or a shared nightmare?
Test of Life
Once successfully in space, the crew listens over the radio as reports come in that several nuclear bombs have hit the United States. The crew has another difficult decision to make in light of the horrific news: They can orbit the planet for the rest of their lives and eventually burn up in the atmosphere when their fuel runs out, or continue the mission to Mars.
The commander ultimately decides that they will travel to Mars as intended. Rei says it’s a suicide mission and Katie agrees. Jerry argues that the test of life is, “Can an advanced lifeform make it to another planet before it destroys itself?” Humans on Earth are on the brink, and this mission is designed for them to find a way. Alexa says if they stick to what they believe, what makes them a family, and their goals, they can make it. And if anyone back home is alive and somehow knows they made it, maybe it will give them hope, too.
Again, Rei is against the group but ultimately has to go along with the majority as they move forward. When they successfully navigate out of the Earth’s atmosphere, Rei says they’ll never see a star twinkle again, and that everyone back home, to them, is dead.
Time Drags On
At 211 days until they arrive at their destination, the crew is unable to reach any of their families back home. Alexa commands TINA to stop softphone calls to Earth without her permission, saying the crew needs to find acceptance and move on. Rei is angry, and Katie tells Alexa that stopping communication won’t get Rei to fall back in line.
At 201 days left, the crew is spending their time trying to stay focused by working out, getting some alone time, and trying not to focus too much on their home left behind. At 189 days left until arrival, Jerry patches up some electrical issues on the ship. He then seemingly hallucinates something strange on his handheld device. The next day, the crew are eating together and talking about movies and old plays, such as the War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938.
The lights flicker off before TINA turns them back on. Rei reminds the crew after 30 days ground support is supposed to perform a software update, except there is no more ground support. Tensions rise a bit as the crew continues to talk, leading to the commander excusing herself from the meal.
The Real Nightmare
At 155 days until arrival, Alexa attempts to call her wife, Natalie, but no one answers. Alexa cries silently before a mysterious noise grabs her attention. Upon investigation, she discovers Rei and Casey having sex. Later, Alexa confronts the crew, saying they can’t afford any accidents and they cannot risk any children. Casey says they’ve been careful, but Jerry agrees with the commander and Rei snaps at him.
At 134 days left, Alexa and Katie talk about how they’re halfway there. Alexa asks Katie if she regrets divorcing her husband before the trip. She chose the round-trip ticket to Mars and lost both in the process. Alexa shares her ongoing nightmare of dreaming about home at her parents’ place in San Diego. She dreams of Natalie, the blue sky, the water. She then realizes in the dream that she’s just dreaming and not really there and she doesn’t want to wake up. Their reality is the nightmare. Katie tells her she’s not alone and they’re a family. Alexa tells Katie she’s the mom and Alexa is nothing but a commander of “a slow suicide.”
At 115 days remaining, Rei sends out a Distress Relay Alert to Earth, but to no avail. Suddenly, a distorted voice comes across the radio. A man’s voice says, “On your mark, get set, go.” Casey tries to communicate with the voice, but they soon realize what they’re hearing is a TV show. Jerry explains that television signals have been bouncing around space for 70 years. Katie remarks that “the only evidence there was advanced life on Earth is fake.”
Later, Jerry heads into the bathroom and makes a few notes in his journal. We hit 76 days until arrival, which happens to be Alexa’s birthday. The crew celebrates, and Rei offers a truce to Alexa, knowing they are both feeling down and need each other. With makeshift instruments, Rei and the others serenade the commander with “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & the Papas. As they dance around and sing, Katie suddenly breaks down crying. She tells Alexa she doesn’t want to be the mom.
Jerry announces that he has a gift for the whole crew. Since launch, Jerry has been recording data to test a hypothesis. The engineer believes he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that none of this is real and they are in no danger. The rest of the crew, obviously thinking Jerry has lost it, approach him carefully. Suddenly, TINA sets off an alarm warning of a solar flare.
The crew rushes into action as Jerry continues to say that none of this is real and that it’s just a test. As the lights go out, Jerry pushes that they are all just part of a big experiment. He lashes out, built up rage and believing that they have been getting played for eight months boiling over. Alexa, Casey, and Rei have strapped themselves to the flight deck as Katie tries to talk Jerry. Alexa yells at Katie to leave Jerry behind who refuses to join them on the flight deck. Katie eventually does and buckles herself in.
To prove his point as the rest of the crew remains on the flight deck preparing for the impact of the solar flare, Jerry goes to open the airlock. Alexa closes the door of the flight deck, safely sealing herself and the rest of the crew in. The airlock opens in front of Jerry, who is seemingly consumed by the solar flare as the rest of the crew rides out the impact safely after Casey maneuvers the ship’s heat shield toward the sun.
The crew reaches 67 days until arrival. Katie decides to perform a similar test that Jerry ran, aka, seeing if there’s crystallization on the gasket in the bathroom. Katie reveals crystals on her fingers, saying Jerry was wrong. The crew mourns their fallen friend while Katie tells them that their home is together, as a family, not anywhere else. Alexa says that includes TINA, who starts playing their jam from the beginning of the episode.
Arrival day finally comes and the crew rides out a successful landing sequence. Casey says they should name the place Piersonburg after Jerry, and Rei congratulates the crew. TINA opens up the command module porthole to reveal they have indeed landed on Mars. Alexa says that Jerry died for nothing. They made it.
Unbeknownst to the crew, it is revealed that while the mission itself was not fake, they were being watched by alien lifeforms who are impressed by the success. They say that it took the near-destruction of their planet for the humans to finally make it through the Great Filter and that their curiosity and relationships remained strong. They are also impressed with Jerry, who is alive and now with the aliens, for figuring out they were observing. The aliens say that humans are worthy of salvation and they will make contact with them.
Peele closes out the episode saying the crew of the Bradbury Heavy mission to Mars are about to find out that they couldn’t trust their own eyes. But who or what can we trust if not ourselves?
What did you think of the latest episode of The Twilight Zone? Let us know in the comment section below!