Episode six of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot is titled “Six Degrees of Freedom” is out and we finally got ourselves a space episode. The original series did a couple of great ones so this has me excited! This recap contains spoilers, please proceed with caution!
The episode begins with a briefing video explaining the purpose of the Bradbury Heavy Mission. Earth is on the brink of catastrophe due to human made environmental changes and political unrest. As a result, the first human flight to Mars is commissioned to try and colonize the planet in an attempt to save the race from extinction. We meet the flight crew and get a breakdown of each of their responsibilities while we also meet their Artificial Intelligence, T.I.N.A. The crew includes Flight Commander Alexa Brandt (DeWanda Wise), Pilot Casey Donlin (Jonathan Whitesell), Flight engineer Rei Tanaka (Jessica Williams), Flight Surgeon Katherine Langford (Lucinda Dryzek), and Mission Specialist Jerry Pearson (Jefferson White). As they get ready to launch they ask T.I.N.A. to play a song for them, “Family” by The Interrupters.
Suddenly the crew overhears some sort of commotion on their comms. It turns out that the US has detected a North Korean missile launch that leaves the crew with only minutes to try and achieve lift off, or be obliterated by the several missiles that are incoming. NASA recommends that they abort the mission and clear the area but after a quick debate amongst the crew they ultimately decide to launch and have the controls switched over to them from the command center. Launch control informs the Bradford that they are abandoning the facility and the team will be on their own. They successfully launch the ship and make it safely into space.
OPENING NARRATION: “Five voyagers setting sail to a mysterious red light 35 million miles across an empty sea, soaring 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. Individual madness or shared nightmare? The answer lies in their search for safe harbour, here in the Twilight Zone.”
Now in space, the crew attempts to communicate with NASA command back on Earth, however they only receive an automated emergency alert confirming that the attack was successful and all major US cities were hit. Casey asks if they can retract the porthole to get a visual of Earth, but it’s not possible if the crew is going to proceed to Mars as the mission dictates. Commander Brandt gives a speech about what they had lost even prior to their current situation. She lays out some options and the crew debate whether or not to go to Mars or orbit Earth and attempt to reach survivors.
Jerry begins to explain a scientific theory called The Great Filter to the crew, which hypothesized that life in the universe is incredibly rare and is not only hard to start, but even harder to continue. The supposed test of life is whether or not an advanced life form could make it to another planet before it destroys itself. The theory goes on to explain that most life fails and that is why humans have never encountered an off planet civilization. Brandt then explains that they should continue their mission and anyone left on Earth can look to Mars for hope if the Bradbury succeeds.
The crew begin the stages of setting course to Mars and execute the escape of Earth’s atmosphere perfectly. Tanaka, after finding the crew trying to contact Earth, explains to the crew that everyone on Earth is dead right as the ship loses contact with the planet. The crew is over two hundred days away and it’s shown that Tanaka is continuing to attempt her family back on Earth but has had no luck in doing so. Brandt tells the crew that they need to move on and asks T.I.N.A. to ban all calls to Earth that are requested without her permission. Later we see Jerry working on the ship, soldering circuits for repair. After a successful test, the viewing panel glitches and for a split second he sees a humanoid figure before the panel goes back to it’s diagnosis.
Now back in the galley, Jerry is explaining the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in which Orson Welles produced a drama about a fictional alien invasion that was misjudged by the public as a real event that caused mass hysteria. The crew however is not amused by the story and he shuts up to allow them to enjoy their meal, when suddenly the lights turn off causing the crew to ask T.I.N.A. to turn the lights back on.
Tanaka recalls that T.I.N.A. is supposed to get updates in 30 day intervals from ground support, but there is no ground support to send the updates. Katherine then changes the conversation to avoid conflict between the crew asking if the tomatoes in their food are powdered or real. Jerry jumps onto his point from before explaining that in their reality the tomatoes might taste real but that in his own they are a poor imitation, an observation that further irritates the crew.
Brandt tries calling a loved one back on Earth and begins to cry when she only receives the voicemail. Suddenly she hears a noise behind her that is being repeated and she decides to investigate. Looking through a window into one of the rooms on the ship, Brandt sees that Tanka and Donlin are engaged in intercourse while Tanaka notices her presence.
Afterwards we see Brandt lecturing the two on their decision as the mission is too important to compromise. Donlin apologizes but Brandt interrupts him explaining that they can’t afford any accidental child births on the ship. Jerry agrees and explains that the ships supplies are only set for the current crew and is calculated down to the daily calorie intake they receive, angering Tanaka. Back in the crew quarters Langford informs Brandt that they ship has now reached the halfway point to their destination. She can sense something wrong in her commander and tries to cheer her up by telling Brandt that they are all family and they need the crew needs their mom. Brandt says that Langford is the mom and that she herself is nothing but commander of a slow suicide.
Later Tanaka is once again radioing to Earth in search of any survivors, but Donlin reminds her of the Commanders order of no more transmission to Earth. He tells the crew that he would rather have faith that there are people left alive, and as he does a distorted voice comes over the comms. Donlin rushes back and tries to make contact but the voice continues speaking as if they don’t hear him. Suddenly they hear audio of a TV commercial and Jerry realizes that they must have run into an old TV signal transmission floating through space.
Next we see Jerry washing his hands and awkwardly observing himself in the mirror. He opens some sort of tube and reaches inside and seems disappointed when there is nothing inside of the tube. Jerry then begins writing in a journal apparently recording his observations. We then see the crew celebrating Commander Brandt’s birthday and they begin to sing “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas and The Papas as Brandt is a music lover. During the celebration Langford breaks down and begins to cry as the crew consoles her. Jerry tells the crew that he has been waiting to give not only Brandt a gift but a gift to the whole crew.
He explains that he has been collecting data since launch in order to test a hypothesis that he believes he has proven. Jerry says that none of what has happened to them so far is real, and that they aren’t in any real danger. Suddenly T.I.N.A. gives an alert of an incoming solar flare that would destroy the ship. Commander Brandt starts to give orders and the crew springs into action, Jerry however sits down, continues saying that none of it is real and that they are going through a test.
Jerry’s hypothesis is that the events that have occurred since boarding the ship are the result of an endurance simulation test designed to test crew morale and mental durability on a trip to Mars. Unlike other experiments however they weren’t told about the test in order to get a more true result. Jerry continues to explain his hypothesis as Brandt yells for everyone to secure themselves in their seats inside of the cockpit.
Langford is trying her best to get him to his flight seat as they have roll the ship in order to block the flare but Jerry ignores everyone as he continues his rant saying they are currently in a six degrees of freedom simulator, which is a simulator that can simulate the six different types of motion in space. Langford again tries to persuade him to sit , this time telling him that she believes him but this just sets him off more as he becomes increasingly hostile, revealing what he has seen earlier when fixing the panels.
T.I.N.A. says that the flare will impact in three minutes as all of the crew except for Jerry take their seats. Jerry is yelling about there being no crystallization in the tube he looked into earlier as Brandt gives up on him telling Langford that he’s lost it and she needs to get into her seat. Jerry then says that he will prove his hypothesis and the crew notices that he has gone into one of the airlocks. He punches in the access code to open the airlock and the bright light of the solar flare is shown before cutting back to the crew as they tearfully react.
Later we find out that Jerry was lost to space when the airlock opened as the ship as the crew gets ever closer to Mars. Langford decides to check the tube herself to verify Jerry’s claims but when she does it’s revealed that she does in fact find crystallization. Back in the crew quarters they make light of Jerry’s claims as Donlin mockingly looks around the room as if he is being watched. Langford says that Jerry lost his sense of home and will be floating in space forever and that they need to stick together as they are family.
The crew has finally reached Mars and prepare for the final approach and landing. T.I.N.A. is reading off diagnostics as Brandt commands the crew through their landing procedures. Tanaka counts down their altitude until they finally land. Donlin suggests they name their first settlement Pearsonberg, after Jerry Pearson. The crew still unsure of if they are actually on Mars retract the heat shields from the ships windows to get a look outside. Once open, they see the red planet in all of it’s glory as Brandt says that Jerry died for nothing because they made it to Mars and the mission was real.
We then see the ship and as the camera pans out it gets smaller and smaller until we see a digital glitch revealing we are looking at a screen. The camera continues to pan out and we see several images using futuristic technology to float in the air surrounding a naked man in the center of a large room. We then hear strange noises that turn out to be two beings talking in an otherworldly language.
The conversation is about the humans finally passing through The Great Filter and exceeding expectations, but one of the beings notes that it took the near destruction of their planet for them to do so. The naked man on the floor is revealed to be Jerry, still alive and covered in some sort of slime. One of the beings notes that Jerry was able to remain curious and discover that they were watching. The beings then agree that it was an impressive feat and that humanity is in fact worthy of saving. The aliens then prepare to make contact.
CLOSING NARRATION: It is said that seeing is believing. The crew of the Bradbury heavy mission to Mars might tell you otherwise. They’re about to find out that they couldn’t trust their own eyes. But who or what can we trust if not ourselves? The answer lies somewhere between takeoff and landing in The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone is steaming now on CBS All-Access