"Up at the black school here?" That's the not-quite-a-sentence uttered by Officer Lasky to Nina Harrison and her son, Dorian.
It didn't even take that long to figure out that the third episode of Jordan Peele's The Twilight Zone — with new episodes streaming Thursdays on CBS All Access — is going to tackle race. With the first two episodes mostly traditional thrillers , it's not too surprising to find ourselves in the middle of one of the tougher social issues of our time in the third episode, Replay.
Nina (Sanaa Lathan) is driving son Dorian (Damson Idris) to Tennyson University. It's her last outing her with her baby boy, and the duo grabs a bite to eat in a diner. That's when we get our first look at Officer Lasky. (Played by Glenn Fleshler — yes, the serial killer in the first season of HBO's True Detective .) Something bad obviously is going to go down between them all. It's just a matter of time.
Actually, Replay is all about a matter of time. The old-school camcorder (ask your parents, kids) Nina is lugging around — it's her father's old camera, actually — is able to reverse time, which she finds out after Dorian squirts ketchup on his shirt. She hits rewind, and we all go back 30 seconds or so. Dorian is unaware, but Nina knows something isn't right. (Had she never used the rewind button before? I'd like to think it worked fine — before she entered The Twilight Zone.)
Back on the road, with Dorian at the wheel. He'd toyed with the idea of swinging by his uncle's house — Nina's brother Neil — on the way, going so far as to put the house into the GPS. But she quickly puts an end to that idea.
Why, exactly, does she refuse? What's kept her away for so many years?
Dorian and Nina get pulled over as he's driving — and filming her with the camera.
It's obvious that Officer Lasky is giving them a hard time just because he can, but he positively loses it when he realizes the ancient camcorder is recording. A struggle ensues, and the rewind button is hit again.
They go back a few minutes, and Nina groggily realizes what's about to happen and gets Dorian to pull over. And up pulls Officer Lasky, who resumes being an asshole.
(Lasky, for what it's worth, does show a flash of humanity at one point. But it's not explored at all, and he quickly reminds us that it doesn't mean a damn anyway. It may explain his actions, but there's no way it can excuse them.)
Nina's only way out of what's about to happen is to hit the rewind button again, and to try to find another way through things.
The Groundhog Day trope is hardly new, and it's often poorly used. Because you know at some point something is going to work, somehow. But in this case it's used to build the tension and suspense. We don't know that things are going to end well. At least not for certain. While this is The Twilight Zone , which takes a decidedly more positive outlook than, say, Black Mirror , that's not to say that everything will be OK in the end.
And everything isn't necessarily OK in the interim, either. Nina begging the camera — "Please. Take me back. Take me back." — and sense of desperation after it works is a gut punch to anyone who has kids.
Ultimately Nina tells Dorian what's been happening and asks for his help. It's all she has left. (Or at least she explains how things have been happening. She leaves out some things in telling her son.) Dorian believes her immediately, and just as quickly knows what needs to be done.
"Nothing magical about knowing the only way we haven't taken can get us to school."
And that brings us to the home of Uncle Neil (the always excellent Steve Harris), which also is where Nina and her other brothers grew up. They're the only ones left, though. Them and Dorian.
Nina quickly tells Neil about Officer Lasky and the camera. He also immediately believes her and knows just what to do. Or at least what to try.
In the end it's not about avoiding things. It's not about hiding. Replay maybe ends up being a little too on the nose as it comes to its conclusion. The message is obvious, and it's not subtle about it.
And it's also not at all wrong, and unfortunately is a message that absolutely needs to be repeated in 2019.
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