‘The Twilight Zone’: “Not All Men” and the horrors of toxic masculinity

Originally published at People’s World

Editor’s note: A review and analysis of Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” episode seven. Spoilers ahead.

“There’s still some good men in the world, so remember that.” – The Twilight Zone

Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone is currently airing weekly on the streaming service CBS All Access. After a foray into the literal cosmos in the episode “Six Degrees of Freedom,” we now return to small town USA. Yet, all is not as it seems, as a meteorite might be having dangerous effects on all the men…well, not all men. Episode seven, titled “Not All Men,” uses overt horror to explore the dangers of toxic masculinity, rape culture, and male chauvinism. It’s an in-your-face, unapologetically violent episode, where the monster turns out not to be a deadly creature from outer space, but instead men who are enabled by a system that fosters their toxic behavior.

The episode stars Taissa Farmiga (The Nun), Ike Barinholtz (Blockers), Luke Kirby (Little Woods), Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul), and Percy Hynes White (The Gifted). It is directed by Christina Coe (Welcome to the DPRK) and written by Heather Anne Campbell. Farmiga stars as Annie, a young woman who often goes along to get along in life and work, that suddenly finds herself in the midst of what appears to be a deadly epidemic hitting her small town of Newbury after a meteor shower. It seems that fragments of the meteorites have gotten into the water and are turning the men into rage-filled homicidal maniacs. Annie and her sister are now in a fight for their lives as they try to survive the night and figure out why only the men are being affected by the strange red rock from outer space.

The episode does well in mixing very plausible situations with the fantastical rage outbreak that overtakes the town of Newbury. Annie leads a simple life as a worker at a medical research company trying to make her way up the corporate ladder among men who often think they know more about her job than she does. She’s dedicated to her craft and often tries to be accommodating in order to be seen as a team player. After a not so pleasant date with the company’s new star employee Dylan (Luke Kirby), where he became aggressive with her after she rebuffed his sexual advances, Annie is left feeling confused and on edge.

This could be seen as a moment that many women experience, but it also happens to be the night of the fateful meteor shower when everything in Newbury changed. In processing why Dylan grew so angry and aggressive on their date, along with seeing other men growing hostile and violent seemingly out of nowhere, Annie concludes that it must be the red meteoroids affecting the men of the town.

Except, it’s not actually.

The relevant and poignant twist in this episode is that although the meteorites inject the men with extreme rage and aggression, they are not completely just victims of this outbreak. All the men have a choice. It turns out that they can opt to fight off the rage if they want, but many do not. Many give into the rage, or seemingly use it as an excuse to ignore common decency and boundaries, thus plunging the town into chaos. The rocks are placebos for the not so undercover aggression and toxic behaviors many of the men already had hints of.

This is one of the few episodes of this season so far where the one-hour length of the story feels justified, as things move quickly. The episode starts out like a romance and quickly turns into a horror story. Farmiga gives Annie a subtle strength that slowly shows through with every deadly encounter with a crazed man in the episode. And although there is no definitive conclusion to the outbreak, aside from the fact that all the men have a choice to give into the rage or fight it, there is a satisfying conclusion to Annie’s character arc, as she makes a clear decision to no longer smile in the face of male aggression and chauvinism.

One major theme in the episode is the insidious nature of rape culture in our society—rape culture being the environment and ways in which society normalize and trivialize sexual assault and abuse. After her date with Dylan, Annie is left confused over why he became aggressive and has to unpack her feelings over being nearly assaulted. Annie even tries to finds ways to excuse Dylan’s behavior, as she places the blame on herself by saying that perhaps she was giving him “mixed signals” on what she wanted. These instances of victim blaming and avoidance are common occurrences in a society that places the burden of sexual assault and harassment on survivors instead of perpetrators.

The second major theme, and showcased as perhaps the most deadly, is the dangerous nature of toxic masculinity and what happens when it is unleashed. The episode does not shy away from the harsh language and violence that the infected men display. Women are repeatedly called “b*tch” by the men, chastised for their choices, and attacked. Shootings occur, people die, and often the men give short speeches beforehand trying to somehow justify their anger.

This justification of violence and terror is also not special to The Twilight Zone, as the story feels symbolic of the very real instances of domestic terror witnessed in our own reality when toxic masculinity runs rampant. From mass shootings to domestic violence, the news is often riddled with instances of men giving into rage that attacks others for the wrongs they think society has done against them.

The episode never explains why the rock only affects men, but it does make plain that all men, in any society, have a choice on whether or not to give into an environment that encourages them to lack empathy or regard for the boundaries of women and others. The title is a play on the often used phrase employed to rebuff arguments regarding toxic masculinity and male chauvinism: “Well, not all men are that way.” And while that may be true, as it is true that “not all” white people are racist, or “not all” police officers engage in police brutality, the fact remains that statistics and patterns exist showing there are systemic issues that enable repeated injustice.

As Peele narrates the end of the episode, that the outbreak was not a “material disease but rather a plague of the conscience. One that gave permission to ignore decency, consent, and fear.” I would argue that the episode puts forth the idea that toxic masculinity and male chauvinism can not be passively dealt with, but must be actively resisted, just as the men had to actively fight the rage. I would also conclude that this idea is absolutely right, and this episode is worth watching.

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