WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Twilight Zone, Episode 6: "Six Degrees of Freedom."
The Twilight Zone reboot is certainly picking up right where the previous television series left off. We're once again getting cerebral sci-fi stories with sociopolitical statements that truly leave us with existential questions about mankind's true purpose.
Now, while it may not be a straight-up alien invasion like "A Traveler", "Six Degrees of Freedom" takes us into outer space with a nuanced, extraterrestrial-themed twist that certainly reframes the entire perspective of the story and shows how much we don't realize we're all pawns as part of some bigger narrative.
This episode is a survivalist psycho-drama along the lines of Event Horizon, Sunshine and Solaris, focusing on an American space crew gearing up for a launch to Mars. However, as the astronauts are about to depart on their ship, the Bradbury, they get word North Korea just started a global war and the NASA facility is about to be bombed. Seeking to save themselves from nuclear apocalypse, they blast off.
With 180 days left until they reach Mars to colonize, however, the crew has to find a way to work through the torment of knowing what they left behind, wrestling with the thought they could well end up being Earth's last survivors. And so, through music, sex and other distractions, they occupy their minds and recalibrate, with the population of Mars being their new mission. However, as Captain Alexa (DeWanda Wise) thinks they've finally gotten over the disaster and have accepted the inevitable, their chief technician Jerry (Jefferson White) begins to lose his mind, claiming their journey is a conspiracy concocted by NASA.
Jerry's been collecting data secretly on the vessel. Using his engineering skills, he deduces they're not actually heading to Mars -- it's all a simulation. To him, the ship's conditions don't sync up with interstellar travel and he believes this is a test of mental durability and stability. He posits NASA wants to test their minds, pushing them to their limits to see if they'll break under dire circumstances. This actually seems to hold some truth to it, because just as Jerry starts convincing Alexa's crew, there's suddenly a solar flare incoming.
The crew secures themselves, but Jerry, adamant this is a ruse, heads to an airlock and exposes himself to the flare's lethal energies, thinking he'll be taken in by NASA for exposing the fraud. Shockingly, he's burnt to death, disproving his theory and leaving Alexa and company without so much as a body to burn. As the episode winds down, they do successfully land on Mars, regretful Jerry went insane and couldn't be there with them. However, in the final sequence, we come to see Jerry was somewhat correct all along, as the Bradbury was indeed part of a test, only it wasn't monitored by humans, but by an alien species.
The closing scenes shows Jerry in an incubator system, awakening and seeing his friends exploring Mars, all while alien overlords reveal their plans. They were testing the Bradbury to see if humans were truly worth being considered as "the chosen," something the Martians do to all races traversing the galaxy looking for haven. Apparently, they were scrutinizing Earth all along and, when it went to hell, they bet on whether or not Alexa's squad would incur heavy losses in their journey across this Great Filter.
In fact, it's hinted they launched the solar flare at the Bradbury and, when Jerry "died," they were the ones who actually pulled him into their headquarters. It's obscure at the end, though, as theorists further believe Jerry might have be an alien sleeper agent disguised as a humanoid. Suggestions have also been made he may have even been cognizant all along and simply jumped out into the solar flare to send his teammates crazier, as another part of the test for his masters. Ultimately, one thing's for sure, The Twilight Zone loves the idea of aliens toying with humanity, and, once again, they continue to tug at our freedom using their cosmic leash.
New episodes of The Twilight Zone air every Thursday on CBS All Access.