From 1995 – 2002, we were treated to something unique. The Outer Limits was a brilliant science fiction show. Probably the best of its kind. Look at the introduction for yourself. The viewer was told that they were watching something that was being presented to them by powerful, unknown beings. The narrator presented what the viewer was about to see, giving it context. While the show ended, the narrator spoke to the viewer again, giving the moral of the story… teaching the viewer something important about the human condition.
It’s difficult to truly encapsulate the show as the episodes had so much variety to it. It ranged from a futuristic war where humanity was losing through experiments on human genetics that went horribly wrong. The show focused on one character, normally a white human male, who was caught in a strange and unexpected situation. The guy would learn more about the situation, somehow not truly understand what was going on until the last scene. It was then that the hero was able to either save the day knowing how all the pieces fit or was overwhelmed by the reality of the situation and loses (sometimes dies, sometimes brainwashed, sometimes worse).
The show focused heavily on interpersonal relationships. There was very little action taking place, even when the episodes focused on intergalactic war. It was always about how people interacted, how the relationships changed as more was revealed of the situation, and how the resolution altered the way that relationship was understood. Because of that, special effects were kept to a minimum. Make up and computer graphics were used sparingly, only when the scene absolutely called for it. It gave the effects a lot more impact when it happened. The music blended seamlessly into the episodes, so much so that you won’t notice it until the scenes were deathly silent.
To explain the genius of the show, I want to talk about my favorite episode. It’s called “The Human Factor” and it was the second to last episode of the series. It starred Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris from Star Trek Voyager). McNeill played Commander Ellis Ward. Earth was overpopulated and McNeill was off to colonize Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. The ship’s android assistant, Link, was convinced that humanity was flawed and this was only an attempt to expand power. More damning, Link argued that once the colony was set up, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) deterrent would be removed and humanity would end up launching a nuclear war that would wipe out the entire race. Link activated the ship’s self-destruct sequence to stop the mission. Fortunately, McNeill saved the day and deactivated Link. It was then that McNeill learned the U.S. launched a preemptive nuclear strike against their enemies. The retaliation led to the death of nearly the entire human race, including McNeill’s wife and daughter. McNeill saw that humanity was untrustworthy and reactivated Link and set a self-destruct sequence.
Before that episode, I never imagined space colonization as something bad before. But after it, I can’t help but wonder if it would make our leaders that much more careless. Would there be any reason for them to hold back on nuclear weapons or biological weapons if there was a way for them to escape the destruction? Do our leaders use their power irresponsibly with the threat of annihilation being the only thing holding them back?
Honestly, this episode is why I am really apprehensive about colonizing Mars, the Moon, or any other location. That one episode changed my entire outlook on space travel and challenged the way I see the way our government acts. How many shows can we honestly say can challenge our beliefs in that way? For me, not many. I’m glad to have found it.
If you have a chance, see if you can sit back and watch an episode. Heck, here’s the link on Hulu. Watch it for yourself. See if it’s something you want to get into. I highly recommend it. Who knows? You might just like it too.