The Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 2 Summary: Downtime
In episode 2.02 of The Twilight Zone, after a recent promotion to the hotel manager, Michelle (Morena Baccarin) feels on top of the world, but any reason for celebration is short-lived when the nature of her reality is called into question. Colman Domingo and Tony Hale also star in the episode written by Jordan Peele.
After officially receiving her promotion as a hotel manager from her recently retired boss Reggie, who says she chose the right life, Michelle celebrates with the rest of the hotel staff before taking on her new role. That role includes dealing with difficult guests like Desmond and his wife. After reminding Geoffrey of her employee that you need to be extremely reasonable, even with the most irrational clients, Michelle talks to her husband Carl over the phone about how to master his new job as “Miss Manager”.
When Michelle hangs up, however, she feels a sudden headache and her heart starts to pound. When the episode passes, she realizes that everyone around her has stood up and is looking at a unique spot in the sky. When Michelle sees the big sphere hovering over them, she is confused that none of the spectators are running. Instead, they are responding as if the existence of the blinking sphere is completely natural. A woman asks Michelle how long the downtime should be before she too looks at the orb and goes into a trance.
Peele, as our narrator, officially presents the episode: “Michelle Weaver is a woman who has worked all her life to get where she is in the world. Now, when this new chapter begins, it is the world itself that is about to change. She is about to take a break from life as she knows it and book an extended stay here in the Twilight Zone. “
Michelle finds a policeman running home. He explains that the red sphere exists for programmed “maintenance of the world” before falling into a trance. Michelle finds Carl inside his house, apparently well, and tries to explain to him what is going on outside. Suddenly Carl begins to speak with a strong Irish accent, saying that he has completely forgotten the signal programmed for downtime and then tells Michelle that his name is Danny and that he is going out to “wake up”.
When Michelle expresses more confusion in this game, Carl, or Danny, is playing, he realizes that she doesn’t remember who she is. Carl tells Michelle that he will send someone to help her, before he looks at the flashing light and falls into the Inactivity trance. Michelle returns to her home and is followed by two men who claim to be customer service who are there to diagnose the problem. When they realize that she doesn’t know who she is, they ask her to watch a video.
The video introduces Michelle to the Sleepaway package, the newest in identity tourism. Essentially, it is an alternative reality, monitored and controlled by its servers, with people’s brains being used as a computer. The only rule is that you must remain on the character while the character’s avatar lives.
S. Phineas Lowell
Michelle is told that her character is being played by a man named S. Phineas Lowell, who had a heart attack during the game and is now in a coma, which is why Michelle does not remember being Phineas and that she is really an avatar. Customer service representatives say they can do a forced sync, but Michelle demands to know what that means to her, because she is Michelle Weaver, not Lowell.
Ellen, Phineas’ emergency contact (and his wife) enters the room to try to help “wake” Phineas. Ellen demands that customer service leave Michelle alone and says she wants to speak to her privately. Michelle tells Ellen that she won’t be leaving and will wait until the downtime signal ends. Ellen says she understands why Phineas wanted to try Michelle because the avatar is strong, brave, in control and beautiful. Ellen warns that if Phin doesn’t desynchronize before the downtime is over, he will be lost forever.
Ellen kisses Michelle and says she can feel him and believes that her 15-year-old husband, the father of her two children, is simply in prison. Michelle finally gives up, saying she is willing to try and see if they can get Phineas up. At the last second, however, Michelle steps back, while Ellen has already entered downtime.
Michelle tries to hide during the last few minutes of inactivity, while customer service searches for her. A bird sees Michelle in a window and lets out a high-pitched roar that attracts more customer service representatives to Michelle’s location, who is determined to find her in the next five minutes before the end of world maintenance.
On the roof of the hotel, Michelle meets Tom, escalating to priority customer service, who apologizes for the inconvenience. Tom says that when the downtime is over, players will log back in, millions around the world. He tells Michelle that if she wants to stay, she can, she just needs to sign a waiver. Michelle is irritated by the thought of Phineas being swept under the rug, but Tom says his family is taken care of. Michelle decides that she cannot live in the world knowing that it is not real and that Phineas has a real life with the family out there. Tom tells her that Phineas drank a “sleeping pill shake”, causing the heart attack and that, if she leaves, there is nothing to go back to, because Phineas has passed away.
Michelle says she thinks he can feel Phin now; Tom encourages her to play and continue to run the hotel as she wishes. Michelle signs the resignation, while Tom tells her that the only rule is that she needs to stay in character. Michelle no longer understands the point of playing. But, the downtime ends, the sphere disappears and the game starts again. Michelle remains as the hotel manager and welcomes Ellen, who checks in as a guest hoping to stay for a few weeks.
Our narrator ends the episode: “How would you feel if you spent your life turning your dreams into reality, only to discover that reality itself was a dream all the time? You can never know what makes something real, but today Michelle Weaver has found meaning in a synthetic world. And that’s good enough for her, here, in the Twilight Zone.
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