Annie Miller (Taisa Farmiga) is a promising young newbie in a lab office. We see her tackling new projects with zeal, despite a lack of self-confidence. She’s invited by coworker Dylan (Luke Kirby) for lobsters, drinks and watching the Perseid meteor shower from his backyard later that evening. She semi-reluctantly accepts.
The date is going nicely, as the two enjoy drinks and small talk, when one of the observed meteors crashes very close by. Running out into nearby woods to meet it, Dylan sees the small meteor embedded in red goo (shades of 1958’s “The Blob”), which he foolishly dips his hands into of course. They bring the rock back to his living room, as Dylan begins to act strangely afterward, teetering dangerously close to date rape. Fending off his advances, Annie makes an excuse to leave, turning back to see Dylan smashing his turntable in rage over her absence. She flees.
The next day she talks with her older sister Martha (“Breaking Bad”’s Rhea Seehorn), as she and her husband Mike (Ike Barinholtz) host some friends from Annie’s office at dinner. The dinner is somewhat tense, and Martha senses her younger sibling’s discomfort at her boss’ innocent suggestion of pairing her with Dylan. She later tells Martha what happened, as well as her ‘crazy’ theory that the meteors might have been responsible for Dylan’s behavior.
After a night out with their girlfriends, the two sisters witness ‘men behaving badly’ at a bar as the men at the bar take turns chugging booze laced with red liquid from the meteors. A massive bar brawl ensues. Fearing for their safety, they make a hasty retreat, only to witness more men fighting openly in the streets.
A crazed motorcyclist coworker from Annie’s office follows the two sisters back to Martha’s place. The two flee inside the house, where Mike volunteers to ‘take care’ of the motorcyclist, whom he beats to a bloody pulp in an orgy of violence. Annie is convinced that the meteors are causing the men to go insane as the entire town is in the grip of a XY-chromosome pandemic.
Later on, we see Martha’s teenage son Cole (Percy Hines White and his lover Steve (Agape Mngomezulu) making out. Steve is under the influence of the meteors, which manifests as sexual aggression in his case. Cole flees the scene, and despite his proximity to the meteors, he is not affected by the rampant male madness sweeping the town (right out of George Romero’s “The Crazies” as well as many other ‘madness epidemic’ movies of late).
Later, in a military quarantine facility run by mainly female army medics and personnel, they learn that the meteors only seem to activate tendencies that were already present, and that it can be resisted. When a male sergeant asks Annie for her ID, he makes a sexist comment about how she should “smile more often.” Annie asserts herself with a firm “No!” as she grabs her ID.
Jordan Peele closes out with his narration.
Analysis/Summing It Up.
Written by Heather Anne Cole (writer of last week’s “Six Degrees Of Freedom”) and directed by Christina Choe, “Not All Men” feels very much like a classic George Romero film (“The Crazies” comes to mind) with shades of “Thelma and Louise” and just a bit of 1958’s “The Blob”. While the story of an epidemic of violence is not at all original (the recent “Bird Box” is yet another example), this one is differentiated by the quality of its execution and exceptional performances.
Despite its derivative story, “Not All Men” is one of the better offerings of this otherwise disappointing freshman season, as it tackles subjects that long deserved the focus of the Twilight Zone; the rise of toxic masculinity (“locker room talk” as our own president calls it), and the too-long ignored topic of rape culture… two subjects certainly worth taking a look at through the unique lens of science fiction.
There is an interesting montage early on in the episode (before the madness takes hold) which shows the world through Annie’s perspective… with men honking their horns at her in her car, giving her lascivious stares, mansplaining, or otherwise acting completely boorish with no fear of reprimand or reprisal. This is the everyday reality of being a woman, and the episode (written and directed by women) really brings that perspective to the table in a way that a male-crafted piece might not have accomplished. Subtle, and very effective.
This episode also reminded me of a survey I once read on social media where women were asked about what they would do if all men had an 8 pm curfew…one of the most heartbreaking answers I read was a simple one… go for a late evening walk. The notion of women fearing male violence or assault every single day is NOT science fiction, sadly.
The hope in “Not All Men” comes in the form of Annie’s 15 year old nephew, Cole, who is revealed to be unlike the others; not because he is gay, but because he chooses not to give into the madness sweeping all of the other men in the town (including his boyfriend). Through Cole we learn that it can be fought… it can be resisted. That resistance to bad male behavior is a message that really needs echoing, especially in this dangerous time when a would-be date rapist gets a seat on the US Supreme Court, or an admitted sexually assaulting candidate becomes…well, president.
Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of “Bates Motel” star Vera Farmiga) is excellent as the meek Annie, who comes to find herself and gain confidence in her instincts. I also enjoyed her pairing with the seemingly more confident older sister Martha played by “Better Call Saul”’s Rhea Seehorn (“Better Call Saul” is one of my favorite series right now, and Rhea Seehorn’s ‘Kim Wexler’ has much to do with that).
Older Martha’s confidence lapses, while her kid sister’s emerges. It’s a subtle flip on the assumption that experience automatically trumps inexperience. Annie takes charge, and Taissa Farmiga makes the character’s ascension completely believable.
Despite the failures of such offerings as “Wunderkind” or “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet ”, “Not All Men” is an example of the promise of this new Twilight Zone.
Some images courtesy: SpoilerTV.com and CBS All Access.