My memories of The Outer Limits have always been very positive with maybe one exception: The Hundred Days of the Dragon, but rewatching The Man with the Power, it makes me question what was going on in my head. Sure, not as much as what Donald Pleasence has going on in his, but something was up with my memory, make no mistake. Dr. No, or Dr. Loomis… no, wait… yes, that’s it: Harold Finley is a very timid little fellow who has a chip installed in his brain (a link gate…) ultimately to teach us not to mess with forces we don’t understand. It’s a common lesson in SF. But usually the lesson is made by seeing good things destroyed by man’s inability to understand what he’s doing. Jerome Ross gives us a story that fails monstrously to get that point across.
Why is it a failure? Typically, man experiments and makes a monster who destroys all that we love (think of Victor Frankenstein as a perfect example – he creates a monster that kills and ultimately destroys his life). But writer Jerome Ross shows right from the opening of the episode that the people who fall victim to Finley’s abilities are all utter jerks! And let’s be honest, if we could create a tool that would get rid of all the jerks, we’d have a much happier world! God might be annoyed at us messing with his kitchen, but hey, a world without jerks is a nice idea. That’s not a monster! And that certainly didn’t warrant Harold’s finale!
It starts with the guys cutting down the tree who won’t get out of the road, instead forcing Finley to drive 12 miles out of his way. Then his boss is an utter jerk too, calling Finley at 11:30 at night to yell at him, but when Finley asks if he can come over to talk, he’s reprimanded that it’s 11:30 at night… well, who told you to call the man at that hour, dolt!?! Harold’s wife is also a monster who considers her husband a failure and all that happens to her is a sprained ankle. She deserved so much worse! So the ability to help the scientists, fulfill his dream, and get rid of jerks… I say, bring it on!! Harold Finley for President! (It could be much worse!)
There are moments when Harold reminds me of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, he’s a man on the edge of snapping, but rightfully so – he has all good ideas and is largely a gentle man. I love when he tells his astronaut friend that astronauts make up for the “kick in the teeth” that is life. But in the end, we have an attempt to remake The Forbidden Planet and not coming within 12 parsecs of that classic. The ID monster that Finley releases is hardly a monster and I’d be happy to have it ‘round for dinner. By contrast, the same kind of creatures from The Forbidden Planet would be dangerous to have anywhere near my home! If you want to see this done right, watch that movie instead. And hey, it has Leslie Neilson in a non-comedic role! Worth every minute.
The episode is sinfully slow, has very little dialogue and when it does, it makes you want to hit everyone in the story, and relies heavily on music to build tension. It also uses a weird cloud to represent the threat which only works if you’ve lived through a massive storm. Otherwise it looks like a very bad job of superimposing a storm over a room. It’s even hurt by its own pre-credit sequence when the scene ends up not being a prelude but a clip from further into the episode. Well, this Id creature was not the bad guy it was depicted as. I just wish it helped get rid of this episode before it was ever produced. One less weak episode in an otherwise amazing series… I could get behind that! ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Yes there is. It’s far too big and the picture is far too clear, so I can see the wires holding up that very large block of polystyrene. However, that’s as close as this series has got so far to a failed special effect. On the other hand, the killer cloud is very impressive, somehow superimposed seamlessly over the picture. I have no idea how they managed to do that so effectively in 1963. Twenty years later Doctor Who was still struggling to do anything like that.
For the second week in a row we have scientists tinkering with the human body in order to aid the future of humanity, but instead of deliberately scaring people they are turning a human brain into a power source, channelling more of those invisible waves they were obviously so excited about in the 60s (picking up a theme from the first episode). The lucky pioneer sporting his post-operative scar and a flashing light embedded in his brain is Harold J. Finley, an everyman with dreams of glory. His intentions are honourable: he just wants to make something of his life and be part of a project that will really make a difference. A life of failing to pursue ambitions hangs over him just as surely as the killer cloud he conjures up, but he is far from being a glory hunter. Look how willing he is to allow a younger man to follow in his footsteps and get the implant as well, so that an astronaut can have the same power. He just wants to be a part of something big, to have lived a life of some significance, and only tries to stop the operation when he realises the consequences. It’s nothing to do with jealousy; he’s trying to save the man’s life.
Jealousy surrounds him though. It took me a while to realise it, because for most of the episode it seems like Dean Radcliffe is simply acting in the best interests of his college, stomping all over Harold’s ambitions because of the problem with replacing him mid-semester. And then he has a rant to his wife:
“The man’s a nobody… precisely the kind that gets all the undeserved breaks.”
At last the green-eyed monster emerges, and Harold’s cloud comes to zap him. But the biggest monster in this episode is Vera Finley. She is incredibly cruel to her husband, bossing him around, putting him down all the time, being rude to his friends, belittling him and his ambitions. In one magnificent speech, Harold sums her up perfectly:
“You want me to stay a worm don’t you… Some women take their husband’s hands and say together we’ll climb to the stars, but not you. Never you.”
I was waiting with eager anticipation for the cloud to come along and turn her into ash. Even when she apologised and admitted to being a terrible wife because she hated him, she was only trying to save her own skin. Those words were hollow. She was the real monster in this episode.
But Harold, who could have been helped to climb to the stars, was instead driven to kill with his mind. He never did become a monster, though. His subconscious was the killer, and as soon as he realised what was happening he ended it all. In the end he was the quiet hero he always aspired to be. The episode left me in awe of the acting abilities of Donald Pleasence. I always knew he was a good actor; everyone knows that name. But the way he delivered his lines clearly communicated that Harold was repressing his emotions and that there was a hidden danger inside him, and the skill of that performance was remarkable.
As for Vera the Monster, Harold’s killer cloud never did put her out of her misery. Maybe her survival is even more of a cruel punishment in the end. She has to live out the rest of her life knowing that she could have lifted her husband to the stars, and instead she ground him under her feet like a worm. And now she’ll have to get her lazy butt down to the supermarket and return her own damn bottles.
We now return control of your computer, until the next time we visit the outer limits of the Junkyard… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: The Sixth Finger