Thursday, April 11, 2019

Flash Review: The Twilight Zone: “Replay” (CBS All-Access)

Sanaa Lathan as Nina Harrison and Damson Idris as her son Dorian

The following contains spoilers.

            “Replay” concerns Nina Harrison, an African-American single mother who escaped a tough upbringing to become a successful lawyer. She is on a road trip to drive her son, Dorian, to his first day of college. While stopping to eat at a roadside diner, Nina inadvertently discovers that her late father’s video camera, which she has been using to record little moments of the trip, can reverse time when the footage is rewound. At first, Nina is frightened and disoriented but quickly learns to use this strange quality to combat Officer Lasky, a hulking white police officer who relentlessly pursues and harasses the mother and son. Each time Nina and Dorian are confronted by Officer Lasky, Nina is forced to rewind time and attempt to escape the psychopathic officer another way. Yet, each successive attempt at evading Lasky only results in a more intense encounter which escalates in violence until Dorian is senselessly shot to death. Nina reverts time to save Dorian’s life and attempts to form a personal connection with Lasky. The single-minded adversary cannot be swayed from his inevitable course of destruction.
            Nina is left with one final option, to visit her estranged brother Neil and ask for help. Neil agrees to help get Dorian to the college through an underground tunnel which leads directly to campus. When they arrive, however, Officer Lasky is waiting. Nina is forced to stop running and make a stand against intolerance and oppression. 

             This intense, topical episode contains some great suspense, an excellent lead performance from Sanaa Lathan, stark social commentary, and some unexpected turns in the narrative. The suspense derives from the clever supernatural element (somewhat reminiscent of Rod Serling’s “A Most Unusual Camera”) as well as from the relentless nature of Officer Lasky (Glenn Fleshler in a menacing performance which evokes his villainous turn in the first season of True Detective). This endurance match between Nina and Officer Lasky gives the episode its tension though the direction of their relationship did not progress the way in which I expected. My expectation was an attempt at redemption of character, perhaps with Nina able to get through to Lasky and force him down a constructive path of self-reflection. The trailer for the episode seemed to suggest this direction. This was not the message the episode ultimately wished to convey. Lasky does not undergo any sort of transformation of character but remains a hate-filled, relentless adversary throughout the course of the episode. Lasky reminded me of such unapologetically villainous characters as Fred Renard (Steve Cochran) in “What You Need,” the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) in “The Obsolete Man,” or Captain Lutze (Oscar Beregi, Jr.) in “Deaths-Head Revisited.”

Nina undergoes a modicum of transformation with her decision to stop running and take a stand but she ultimately remains the same character at the end of her ordeal, if not angrier and more paranoid because of it. The minimally-staged ending with Dorian, now a proud father, leaving the house only to be confronted by police, hits the viewer with an even bleaker outlook for the future. With its overt allusion to The Underground Railroad and its reflection upon the brutal relationship between policing and race in this country, “Replay” may be too bleak for some viewers to find enjoyable. The first three episodes of the new series are very bleak indeed. Maybe it is simply a product of our time but unfortunately there seems to be little room for hope in this Twilight Zone. As much as I love the darker episodes of the series, it is refreshing (and necessary) to occasionally get a “Walking Distance” or “A Passage for Trumpet” to break through the clouds.
“Replay” focuses on the theme of struggle: struggle to escape a hard childhood, struggle to find a good career, and struggle to protect your child. This last is the most potently realized in the episode. The relationship between mother and son is believable and emotionally affecting, due mainly to the performances of Lathan and Damson Idris. There is a terrible inevitability to the Harrisons’ encounters with Officer Lasky and the viewer feels the helplessness of being unable to protect the young man, even with the help of a supernatural camera which can turn back time.
            “Replay” conveys a powerful, affecting, and important message. The American obsession with race and racial characteristics has not only greatly hindered social progress but remains reflected in policing tactics, parenting, and educational opportunities, the issues at the heart of “Replay.” Due to the challenging nature of the episode, “Replay” is going to affect different viewers in different ways. But for those who have been waiting for the sort of social commentary wrapped in a supernatural mystery which made Jordan Peele’s Get Out so memorable, “Replay” is a powerful meditation on oppression, fear, courage, resilience, and the love of a parent for a child. Highly recommended.



Nina Harrison: Sanaa Lathan
Dorian Harrison: Damson Idris
Uncle Neil: Steve Harris
Officer Lasky: Glenn Fleshler
The Narrator: Jordan Peele

Writer: Selwyn Seyfu Hinds
Director: Gerard McMurray
Casting: Sherry Thomas, Sharon Bialy, Russell Scott
Music: Marco Belirami, Brandon Roberts
Editor: Ron Rosen
Production Design: Michael Wylie
Director of Photography: Mathias Herndl
Producer: John Forrest Niss, Whitney Anderson
Supervising Producer: Heather Anne Campbell, Alex Rubens
Co-Executive Producer: Jessica Mecklenburg, Grace Gilroy
Executive Producer: Greg Yaitanes, Glen Morgan, Carolyn Serling, Rick Berg,
            Audrey Chon, Win Rosenfeld, Jordan Peele, Simon Kinberg
Developed By: Simon Kinberg, Jordan Peele, Marco Ramirez

Grateful acknowledgement to The Internet Movie Database (


  1. That was an interesting review. Yours is the first positive review I've seen of this reboot. I doubt I'll see it because I'm not a subscriber.

  2. I'm sorry to hear some folks aren't enjoying the reboot. I do wish it were on the regular CBS channel so everyone could watch. I have heard some people complain about the level of profanity and I can understand that. It often feels forced and out of place. Otherwise, I think it's an exciting time to be a Zone fan and this new series, while certainly not perfect, contains some really interesting aspects. I try to be a glass half full person when it comes to these things. If you're curious I believe you can still watch the premier episode, "The Comedian," for free on YouTube. I imagine the series will make its way to DVD/Blu Ray sometime in the near future.