With all the unfortunate things that happen to us on any given day, it’s no wonder so many of us long for an occasional do-over. Selective life mulligans might sound nice in theory, but that kind of power can be dangerous, too. Butterfly effect withstanding, there’s also the fact that in undoing the bad stuff, we lose our ability to learn from mistakes.
Single mother Nina Harrison (Sanaa Lathan, Alien vs. Predator) is experiencing what seems like the worst day of her life. She’s trying to get her son to his first day of college, but what should be a simple and momentous occasion ends up being more challenging than she ever expected.
In the beginning of the third episode of the new Twilight Zone, “Replay,” Nina and her teenage son Dorian (Damson Idris, Snowfall) stop at a roadside diner for some food. The mother pulls out a handheld camcorder to document this milestone in her child’s life. Dorian teases her affinity for analog over digital, but this camera proves to be valuable for the both of them. Meanwhile, a police officer named Lasky (Glenn Fleshler, Hannibal) is sitting nearby, well aware of the Harrisons.
Dorian makes the mistake of bringing up a sore subject for his mother—her estranged family. As host Jordan Peele explains, Nina is “a woman who left her past behind to provide a better future for her son.” Dorian mentions his uncle, Neil, who he’s been keeping in touch with. After a subject change, Dorian spills some ketchup on his shirt. He prompts his mother to record over his faux pas, and she obliges by rewinding the camcorder. All of a sudden, the ketchup stain is gone from Dorian‘s shirt. He didn’t clean it off, though. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Nina and Dorian get back on the road with the son behind the wheel. The incident at the restaurant is chalked up as nothing more than a severe case of déjà vu. That is until the two get pulled over by Officer Lasky, who cites their primary violation was Dorian handling the camcorder while driving. Although it soon becomes clear that the lawman has ulterior motives. Lasky refers to Dorian’s college as the “black school,” and without just cause, he asks if they have any weapons in the car. Lasky then notices the camera is recording and reaches for it. In her haste to turn it off, Nina presses the “REWIND” button again. She’s now back at the moment before she and Dorian are stopped by the cop.
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Overwhelmed by the temporal backpedal, Nina tells her son to pull over. And like clockwork, Lasky swoops in to hassle the two rather than helping. This confrontation leads to the officer drawing his taser before Nina pulls her own trigger. This new shift in time takes them all the way back to the diner, and it gives them a fresh start. Nina has figured out what the camera is capable of, so she takes no chances when doing whatever must be done to keep Dorian safe. Yet at every turn, there stands Officer Lasky, ready to shoot first, then ask questions. Much like the hands of fate, there appears to be no escaping him in The Twilight Zone.
“Replay” evokes memories of two classic episodes from the original Twilight Zone series (“A Kind of a Stopwatch”) as well as the eighties reboot (“A Little Peace and Quiet”). In both stories, characters discover objects that grant them the ability to hinder time. In the case of “A Kind of a Stopwatch,” a man uses the eponymous item for greedy purposes. Whereas in “A Little Peace and Quiet,” the protagonist unearths a pendant that helps ease her stress. Nina Harrison, however, has a camcorder that works differently: it reverses time. The parameters aren’t stated clearly, but it seems that it can only “rewind” events that were recorded with the camera. Never in the episode does Nina try to fast-forward.
The prevailing theme of “Replay” is racism. First-time writer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds tackles this ongoing issue through the filter of The Twilight Zone, a series known for addressing societal ills on top of being forward-thinking. The disquieting presence of Officer Lasky wherever Nina and Dorian go is a reminder of how bigotry on an authoritative level is still well and alive. No matter how Nina approaches Lasky—being obedient, or appealing to him on an emotional level—she can’t win. This mirrors an everlasting situation for many people in real life.
A second topic “Replay” brings up is never forgetting where you come from. Specifically, Nina walked away from her family at a young age so that she could have a different life. In order to have a future now, though, Nina must confront her past. She detours from the standard route and visits her brother and Dorian‘s uncle, Neil (Steve Harris, The First Purge). She explains what’s going on with Lasky and how their late father’s old camera can turn back time. Neil is quick to believe her, and he helps them reach Dorian‘s school by means of an underground passageway. It is there that the three have a standoff with Officer Lasky, who is holding them at gunpoint in front of an audience outside the university’s entrance. Rather than rewinding another time, Nina remembers everything that’s led up to this point. She stands up to her enemy by telling Lasky that her son will go to school, and that he’s the one “who’s really afraid.”
Though the episode has a positive outcome, it also presents a bittersweet ending. We’re treated to a flash-forward where Dorian has a young daughter, and her grandmother is recording them with the same camera. When Nina‘s granddaughter accidentally breaks the device, Dorian tells his panicked mother to “let it go.” His advice is meant to free Nina of a burden—keeping her loved ones safe by recording them at all times in case she ever needs to “rewind”—that has prevented her from living in the present day.
In the end, “Replay” is a hard-hitting episode with an equally uncompromising performance from its lead Sanaa Lathan. Writer Hinds and director Gerard McMurray (The First Purge) highlight flagrant racial injustices without letting their creative collaboration become austere. Not only does this story tap into the heart of why bigotry persists, it’s emphatic in showing us that the most powerful weapon one has is love. After all, Jordan Peele concludes that it “was love, not magic, that kept evil at bay” for Nina Harrison and her family.
Like in the last two episodes, “Replay” has some easter eggs! Did you catch them? Here are just a few:
- Like Justin‘s MP3 player in the previous episode (“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”), Nina‘s camera is made by Whipple.
- The Busy Bee Diner is named after the Busy Bee Cafe, a restaurant that appeared in “Nick of Time” (Season 2, Episode 7).
- Tennyson College may be a reference to Jamie Tennyson in “The Silence” (Season 2, Episode 25).