If another episode of the CBS All Access The Twilight Zone‘s sophomore season, “You May Also Like,” was an explicit sequel to a classic Twilight Zone episode (“The Serve Man”), then “Downtime” could be considered a spiritual sequel to “The After Hours.”
This post contains spoilers for The Twilight Zone episode “Downtime.”
That 1960 episode followed a woman who, while attempting to return something to a department store, realizes that she is actually a mannequin. In “Downtime,” written by showrunner Jordan Peele, Morena Baccarin plays Michelle, a woman with a seemingly great life and a great job managing a hotel. It’s only when everybody around her freezes, as part of some mysterious “downtime,” that she learns the truth. She’s actually just an avatar in a Second Life-style game. And the real-world player controlling her is a man who fell into a coma.
“The themes of the show, in general, are often very much about reality and who we are,” Baccarin tells SYFY WIRE, agreeing that the two episodes have similar vibes. “I think that’s what drew me to the episode to begin with is this idea that we have all these things that we check in a box that gives us our identity, but then what if all of that is ripped out from under you? What are we? Especially right now, it’s incredibly relevant and interesting to think about.”
Baccarin spoke with SYFY WIRE about technically playing two characters at once, mundane fantasies, and happy endings.
Can you describe a little bit about your character — or is it more accurate to say characters, because there is kind of a duality thing going on.
Right. I would say my character in the reality we are seeing on the episode, is very together, driven, ambitious, and really thrives on success and on being apt — being really, really good at her job, nailing it every day. And she is in a nice loving relationship. Life seems quite perfect.
The other personality was an older man. He is playing this game where he gets to play this successful career woman. So, I would assume that, in his life, he probably isn’t as physically able to run around and do what she’s doing and. It’s just very fascinating to try to imagine the person that would want to be that person in a game.
One of the big questions that drives the episode is whether or not there’s any of the real person left inside of Michelle. How do you approach that as an actor?
Well, where we got was when she — he if you want to him that — saw his wife, Ellen. That’s where I started to try to play with moments of familiarity and recognition. Not necessarily knowing exactly who she was, but feeling at home with her and feeling comfortable with her and enjoying the time with her. In the end, I think they are going to see each other again.
It was also a very interesting dynamic. It was very confusing playing the part because I really did not want to make it about a gender identity or a sexual identity. It was just a connection between humans. When Ellen kisses Michelle, it’s not like a homoerotic fantasy. It’s two people who love each other connecting internally through this bizarro world that they’re in.
Why do you think the idea of playing a game, like the one in the episode, where the premise is just that you’re living the life of some other fairly ordinary person, is exciting?
I honestly have no idea because it’s so specific and intricate. Like, you are doing a job — but I guess that was his fantasy, right? Being really good at his job.
I think my alternate reality would be sitting on a beach in Mexico. Not sure about a hotel. That’s really busy and there’s a lot to do.
Do you think this episode has a happy ending? I couldn’t quite make up my mind about how to feel when the credits rolled.
Yeah. I think that’s kind of the point. I think it depends on what your goal is, you know?
It’s devastating for Michelle to come to terms and realize that she is not a person that she herself does not exist outside of this guy who created her. It’s almost like a mini-death. But at the same time, she gets to continue on. That’s the part for me that gets a little fuzzy. How is she existing? I guess through his subconscious, his coma, I don’t know.
It’s bittersweet. It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s a little unresolved maybe on purpose because life isn’t neat.
Season 2 of The Twilight Zone is now streaming on CBS All Access.