THE TWILIGHT ZONE RECAP: “WUNDERKIND”

John Cho and Jacob Tremblay

As a series, The Twilight Zone has a rich history of political satire. While these episodes might not make the favorite lists for fans, they do serve Serling’s ultimate goal of allowing the audience to observe, digest, and analyze the important issues of the day while also being entertained.
“Wunderkind ” is the fifth episode of the series revival, and follows Raff Hanks (John Cho), a talented and cocky political consultant who is basking in the glow of what appears to his greatest triumph: the reelection of President Stevens (hilariously played by John Larroquette) who is apparently the “most unpopular president in American History”. Hanks is having a conversation with his co-worker Maura about how his data and polling have sealed the deal, and reveals a copy of his soon to be released memoir, entitled Wunderkind.Unfortunately, the data and polling numbers are wrong and Stevens loses the election in a disastrous fashion, which sends Raff into an alcoholic depression. Two years later, people are dissatisfied with the new President. Raff is a pathetic mess drinking in a bar where he sees a story about Oliver Foley (Jacob Tremblay), an 11-year old Youtube sensation “campaigning” for president through a series of videos. The bar patrons are amused and enchanted by the kid’s assertions but don’t take him seriously. Raff has a lightbulb moment.
Seeking social redemption and career revival, Raff visits Oliver’s family and convinces them to let him run, with his mother as the nominal candidate. Oliver’s father sees Raff as an opportunist and Raff agrees with him. But he also stresses his point: people love Oliver. He loves video games, his dog,  and people being nice to one another. He’s tired of “war stuff”. He wants everyone to get along. What’s the worst that could happen?
Raff is off to the races and rejoined by his old teammate Maura. Oliver records a choreographed music video with Bieber vibes that goes viral and creates a groundswell of support, but crashes and burns when he is trounced in a debate by his adult opponents. He’s also rude and temperamental with his parents about a doctor’s appointment. Apparently he has a serious aversion to doctors. 
Raff is briefly fired and then returns when he spins a video Oliver records about his dog dying of cancer into campaign gold. Oliver, filled with the innate innocence and goodness of a child, wins the election. He then promptly becomes a monster. What could go wrong, right?
This episode is a clear, satirical jab at American politics, with the 2016 election of real estate mogul and reality tv host Donald Trump being the obvious focal point. The mood swings and sways between humorous notes and foreshadowing, and the ultimate twist at the end is solid. Raff is introduced to the audience in the opening from what appears to be a hospital bed, and the story we see in the episode are his memories of what led him here. Remember Oliver’s aversion to doctors? Once he’s President he passes a law that prevents adults from practicing medicine. After Oliver sets Raff up to be shot for treason (for essentially being the only adult person to stand up to him) he’s then operated on by a child. The last we hear of him are his screams before Jordan Peele does his Serling bit to close the episode.
While the story is clever and well paced, the irony is that the weight of the message can honestly escape the audience here. An 11-year old kid with no understanding of politics becomes president. Once elected, he brings with him his attitude, mood swings, and insecurities, all backed by the power of his station. He abuses his staff and parents, and expects absolute loyalty. He wears a power tie and suit, and has a head of blond hair. His first act as President is free video games for every American. 
Is this an episode of television, or simply a smudged mirror? A meme was circulated (and still circulates) weeks after the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s a simple black and white photo of Trump sitting in the Oval Office. Off to his left stands Rod Serling, cigarette in hand, as if he’s preparing to introduce us to a new tale. Except Serling didn’t write that episode, because it was real life. 
“Wunderkind” is an interesting ride, but in a way it isn’t nearly as potent as that meme. We’ve been living in a Twilight Zone tale every day since the last election, so this particular episode doesn’t pack the punch it would if this was all simply make believe. But it’s direct reflection of real life does leave an eerie, uncomfortable feeling as the credits roll. 

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