WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Twilight Zone, Episode 3: "A Traveler."
One of the things The Twilight Zone franchise is known for is pushing the boundaries when it comes to social commentary. The different iterations of the series have always found a way to blend sci-fi/horror in with thought-provoking statements reflecting the society we live in.
With the latest episode, "A Traveler," the Jordan Peele-led reboot finds a way to do this once more by updating one of the classic episodes, reminding us of the destructive power of fake news.
This episode updates 1960's "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," written by creator Rod Serling and directed by Ronald Winston. There, aliens manipulated the power on Maple Street in a small American town, causing the townsfolk to turn on each other as they panicked. They accused one another of being aliens, and this led to a full-scale riot by the time power returned, proving to the galactic visitors all they needed to do was create fear in order for animosity and chaos to follow.
The experiment was seen as a success and something they wanted to replicate in other towns to take over the world. The 2003 reboot also tried a similar formula, only this time it was the government manipulating the town to see how they'd react to potential outages due to terrorism.
Ultimately, it's the '60s version that resonates with fans because of how deftly Serling worked in themes of prejudice into the story, sowing seeds of discord and suspicion to tear people apart. In "A Traveler," the reboot follows suit, but this time it riffs off the allegations of Russians interfering in United States politics.
Here, a mysterious stranger appears in a prison cell on Christmas Eve at the Alaskan State Troopers outpost, run by Captain Lane Pendleton (Greg Kinnear). Every year, Pendleton invites the small town for a party and pardons a small crimes prisoner to celebrate cheer and goodwill.
But, to their shock, a mysterious stranger, A. Traveler (Steven Yeun), appears in one of the holding cells. As they interrogate him, they begin to believe he's a government agent, not realizing he's feeding them fake info about being an FBI agent.
The narcissistic Pendleton invites the stranger to the party, hoping to curry his favor. But as he gets cozy with everyone, Traveler starts spreading fake news about the precinct itself, as well as the upstanding, influential citizens, planting the idea the town's been infiltrated by Russian spies.
He creates a state of paranoia by providing "evidence" about contracts, shady deals and Pendleton himself selling out to the Russians, who want the location of a secret control room that connects to the power grid of an important U.S. military base.
Everyone turns on each other, with Pendleton then leaving for the control room to ensure its integrity hasn't been breached, as it would cripple the military base hidden up there. His lead trooper, Yuka (Marika Sila), who was cynical about her boss all along, eventually follows him, but it turns out her skepticism -- and Pendleton's ego-driven need to prove to everyone he's not a Russian sellout -- are shooting the town in the foot.
That's because Traveler's misinformation was all a ruse, meant to push the troopers into revealing the location for his people to seize. By the time the duo realize they've been played, they look overhead to see a bunch of alien ships in the sky. They led the Traveler's army straight to the grid, and the episode ends with Yuka's brother, Jack, eating a piece of pumpkin pie with Traveler, now in his full alien form, back at the precinct, accepting maybe aliens would run the country better than Americans.
It's a huge statement on foreign entities interfering with countries, sinking their teeth into its politics in order to destabilize and establish some sort of control. The aliens are clearly a parallel for the Russians in the U.S. elections, with the fake news mirroring what happened during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a meta moment, you can even see the Traveler's ID showing a California address that matches up with Facebook's corporate headquarters. Clearly, The Twilight Zone wants to illustrate how "aliens" puppeteer countries, exposing secrets and flaws in the absence of a media watchdog, all so they can move in and rule the scraps when the people are done eating each other.
New episodes of The Twilight Zone air every Thursday on CBS All Access.