The Twilight Zone episode 6, “Six Degrees of Freedom", uses a space mission premise to raise larger questions about the cosmos. As Earth destroys itself, five astronauts attempt to successfully land on Mars in order to colonize the planet. At times, “Six Degrees of Freedom” feels like a bait-and-switch episode, but it ultimately reaches a profound conclusion about salvation and what’s known as “The Great Filter.”
“Six Degrees of Freedom” stars DeWanda Wise, Jessica Williams, Jonathan Whitesell, Lucinda Dryzek, and Jefferson White. For most of The Twilight Zone episode, the crew members bond while affirming their missions beliefs and reflecting upon the past. Two people are caught having sex, which leads Wise’s Alexa Brandt to face some existential questions; however, the priority is indeed maintaining order. As “Six Degrees of Freedom” reaches its climax, and the astronauts come face-to-face with the Great Unknown, they must choose to believe in a higher power, even if it negates the facts proposed by one of their own.
The inciting incident in The Twilight Zone's “Six Degrees of Freedom” transpires during a birthday party. As the crew dances to “California Dreamin',” White's Jerry reveals that he’s been collecting data samples for 105 days, and he believes the Bradbury Heavy mission is actually some type of simulation. “None of this is real,” he says, “It’s just a test.” Naturally, Jerry’s fellow astronauts are caught off guard by the theory, and they panic as warning sounds drown out their collective voices. Jerry hopes to prove his theory by opening a shuttle gasket while whispering “six degrees of freedom.”
Jerry sees nothing but fire, and his apparent death transitions to a morose “California Dreamin'” montage. Jerry's paranoia and ego parallels real-life problems, though the character's intentions don't seem to be malicious or purely self-serving. The problem, however, is that Jerry puts everyone else in jeopardy. By this point, “Six Degrees of Freedom” emphasizes the crew’s distrust amongst one another, along with their camaraderie while pursuing a shared goal.
Through Jerry’s character arc, “Six Degrees of Freedom” allows for a side commentary on communication and data processing. The astronauts renew their bond and receive confirmation that Jerry was, in fact, wrong about his simulation theory, evidenced by crystallization data. With the mission moving forward, and thus the human race, the latest Twilight Zone episode uses nostalgic character dialogue to once again tease that “Six Degrees of Freedom” is actually about simulation testing, all the while using The Interrupters’ 2014 song “Family” to underline the crew’s state of mind. And so, the astronauts land safely on Mars and realize that they they made it through The Great Filter. So, what now?
“Six Degrees of Freedom” ends by revealing that Jerry didn’t die “for nothing." In fact, he’s about to be reunited with his crew members, but not necessarily in the after-life. Extraterrestrials transported Jerry to their home base, wherever that may be, upon realizing that he was cognizant of some type of test, which turns out to be an experiment to determine whether the human race is worthy of salvation, something possibly influenced by the iconic sci-fi film, The Day The Earth Stood Still. The aliens decide that, yes, humans are worth saving, even if they manage to destroy planet Earth. As a whole, “Six Degrees of Freedom” addresses themes of salvation, existentialism, and the Platonic concept that humans have a natural desire to find their other half, even if means crossing over through The Great Filter.