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The Twilight Zone: "Six Degrees of Freedom" S1:E6 (Review)

The science fiction anthology The Twilight Zone has returned to television, technically CBS All Access' streaming service. Originally aired in 1959, The Twilight Zone has been revived twice, and this is the third attempt to recreate the magic of the original series. We'll be reviewing the first season.

"Six Degrees of Freedom" is a classic Twilight Zone story, and that's the problem. When you think "Twilight Zone," you think twist endings. However, twist endings are hard to do, partly because it's tough to keep the audience from seeing the ending coming, but also because we've seen so many twist endings before. "Six Degrees" fails on both counts. Twilight Zone has an uphill battle to begin with because we've come to expect twist endings from it, which makes "Six Degrees" even worse.

I'm not going to spoil the ending in this review, but I feel like just giving you the premise might do it already. The episode starts with a crew of five astronauts preparing to launch on the first manned mission to Mars. As the countdown is beginning, they hear from the radio and ground crew that a nuclear war has started. By the time the countdown ends, it seems like most of the world has gone up in flames and the crew faces a grim decision: stay on what could be a doomed Earth or leave on a one-way trip to Mars. They decide to go to Mars. Most of the episode is about that trip which takes weeks, and how the crew deals with the isolation, grief, and pointlessness of their existence.

If that had been the episode, it would have been good. The cast really brought the characters into a dark place and we felt their despair at trying to keep upbeat about an unpleasant mission with the constant nagging sense of "Why are we doing this?" Is it really an achievement to go to Mars if no one is left on Earth to celebrate it? Do they owe it to the human race to complete its final crowning achievement or should they just go home and die with the rest of them? These are powerful and thoughtful questions.

About halfway through, something happens which I won't describe, but it throws things into a new direction. Suffice to say, it's an ending I spent the whole episode thinking would happen and was disappointed to be right. The show didn't even put much effort into hiding the twist (I mean, even the name of the episode gave it away) and it wasn't even that original a twist.

By the end, I had really mixed feelings about the episode. It felt more like Twilight Zone than "The Wunderkind," but less original or interesting. At least "Wunderkind" tried to do something different with the sci-fi anthology format. "Six Degrees" just ended up feeling like a retread of countless other sci-fi stories with That Big Twist.

If "Six Degrees of Freedom" had just done the story straight from the beginning and carried it through to the end, it would have been a deep and haunting episode with powerful performances. Four stars for being kind of bleak and depressing, but still good. The twist ending actually made it less interesting, so we end up at three stars. Good but not great.

Yet we could almost throw in an extra star for including the 2014 ska-punk anthem "Family" by the Interrupters as a critical plot point. I mean, how many movies or TV shows have a group of people in a near or distant future who inexplicably love a song from the 1960s?

What do you think of "Twilight Zone?" Let us know in the comments below!

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