I found The Mice interesting for the wrong reasons: I felt like we were prepped for this one over the last two stories. Tourist Attractions also features Henry Silva, and The Zanti Misfits posits what to do with the criminals of our planet… as does this. So the placement is odd if nothing else. The episode has the feeling of pregnancy: we know something is going to happen, and we know it’s going to happen soon… but we just don’t know exactly when! (This was a popular tactic of Alfred Hitchcock’s.)
Henry Silva plays Chino Rivera, a criminal serving a life sentence for murder. He is given an offer: be a guinea pig for the Enterprise’s Transporter and if the test is successful, his parole board might consider reducing his sentence. (Ok, I’m kidding about the Enterprise but bear in mind, this episode aired two years before Star Trek and features a teleportation experiment that would become the foundation for how the transporter worked in Roddenberry’s classic series.) Mind you, all of this is told to him the night before the experiment, so he doesn’t have much time to decide. The Chromoites will send one of their people to earth in exchange for Rivera; a sort of intergalactic exchange program. But humans are nothing if not deceitful; we decide to send a criminal because we don’t want to risk anyone important. Chino is far more likable than a murderer should be, but we are given reason for that: Chino murdered a man who was doing something bad to his sister and he warned the man to stop, multiple times. At no point does Chino come off as a bad guy and had I been on the jury, he wouldn’t be in prison. He showed no remorse for what he did for the simple reason that he had warned his victim. But in the eyes of the law, he is a criminal, a monster. Interestingly, the Chromoite may be one too. Even though we are told by their people that he is a scientist, he shows all the behaviors of a criminal and commits far more wanton acts of murder than Chino.
This episode does have some things going for it. Silva is great. He’s flippancy is really enjoyable, he’s very relatable, and he has a few great lines. “Everybody looks like a monster to somebody,” says the man who is branded a convict for protecting his sister. “I guess there’s nowhere to go but up,” he says when he realizes he’s going through with the teleportation after all. But my favorite was his foreshadowing story about food when he was a kid, talking to his mom:
“One day I was real hungry. I was just a kid. So I yelled into the old lady, ‘hey, go buy me something to eat’. She says ‘there’s no money. I bought lots with the money.’ I said, ‘lots a’ what?’ ‘Lots in the cemetery. 6 of ‘em, for the 12 kids, like bunk beds.’”
The creature itself is so strange and wonderful looking that I applauded that non-human form even if the legs are a bit too human and the arms can’t allow for any movement at all. Watching it try to climb through the window was both funny and pathetic and lost any sense of horror that should have been there, yet the strangeness of it all was still glorious! It was unique enough and strange enough that I think the creators did a magnificent job with it. Watching it eat was disturbing too. For all Silva’s screen presence, Diana Sands who plays Julia Harrison was the character I liked the most. She’s intelligent, insightful and compassionate. Her conversation with her scientific peer puts her head and shoulders above him and somehow, he’s in charge. (60’s TV, I guess!) Her awareness of the humanity of what is happening made her a standout character and she’s the one who pieces things together, realizing the Chromoites have lied to humanity. It’s interesting that this episode is made up entirely of men, barring her, and she towers over them all in just her few brief scenes.
But the episode also has things wrong with it. The first is by far the most frustrating: why on Earth or Chromo did we have to have these damned previews to open the episode. The Chromoite is so strange looking that the reveal during the teleportation scene would have been so far superior to the opening sneak peek. Why didn’t the networks have a little faith? (I blame The Man with the Power!) I thought the idea of forcefield windows was ridiculous; why not just have the window locked? Then we don’t have to accept bouncy invisible barriers that clearly let wind in. There was also that painful zoom-in, zoom-out with Silva about to teleport that just goes on forever. Someone in the network was determined to give the public a seizure! Lastly, what was the deal with beaming the Chromoite to Earth and then basically telling him to take a walk? Why wouldn’t anyone try talking to him or try to learn from him? The humans seemed to take it that they had this ridiculously over the top blob of strange on their hands and the best thing to do was to let it wander the grounds and eat pond scum. What was it doing and why was it a problem?
It turns out the Chromoites are hungry and desperate to find a food source, and for a change, these aliens are not looking to eat us! In attacking us, rather than asking, they did like Chino’s mom did: they “bought lots.” They are doomed to die because they didn’t just ask for help. The episode ends with a sorrowful moment reminiscent of Peter Davison’s final line in Doctor Who’s Warriors of the Deep (”There should have been another way.”) That ending always bothered me and I could see this having a similarly depressing effect on me had I picked up on it when I was younger: “You should have asked.” After a beat, Kelly reiterates the sentiment: “All you had to do was ask!” People know pain and when we turn to others for help, we are more likely to get that help than if we use deceit and trickery. But for me, the lesson fails because the humans were being no less deceitful with their exchange program, so they are taking the moral high ground that has not been earned, even if there is truth to the words. You get more with honey, right? Unfortunately for the Chromoites, they may have learned that lesson the hard way. ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Well there must be. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why it would show me an alien doing Agadoo dance moves. Seriously, keep an eye on what he’s doing with his hands all the time. I presume the actor in the costume realised that he couldn’t actually stretch his arms out at all, so decided to at least do something interesting with his hands. As alien threats go, he’s an unusual one. I was trying to figure out what all those different bits on him are. It’s pretty obvious where the mouth is, and those lips actually open and close, which was quite impressive, but if that’s the mouth then what’s the hole on the other side for? Maybe that’s where he gets his balls to throw in the lake. He wasn’t carrying them when he arrived.
It’s dough. And I’m sure in one shot around the 40 minute mark his mouth swapped over to the other side of his… er… face. Maybe the whole top of the costume was on sideways or something. Other than that I thought the Agadoo monster was quite an effective one, although it’s hard to get away from the impression of a man in a costume with these kinds of things. In close-up it worked well, but in long shot the skinny legs were rather comical.
Returning after a break of just one week is our General Mercurio from Tourist Attraction, Henry Silva. Once again he plays a character with a dangerous glint in his eyes, but other than that he is very different. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this actor in anything else (or at least if I have I don’t remember him), because he’s brilliant. Silva single-handedly brought this episode to life. It wasn’t a particularly groundbreaking story so it needed a character like him. He was helped by some great writing which elevated him beyond a clichéd convict, particularly the scene with Dr “Kelly” Kellander where he was asking to be treated as a human not a laboratory mouse, and also the revelation of why he committed his crime:
“That man I knew. I knew what he was like, and I knew what he was doing to my sister.”
In that moment I found myself rooting for the guy to escape. Silva did a great job of portraying Chino as a caged animal, always looking for a way to find his freedom.
For the second week in a row we had a story about planet hopping convicts, although this time we were trying to send one of ours. I couldn’t quite understand the thinking behind it, and in the end had to conclude that it probably didn’t make a great deal of sense. Why send Chino? I get that it would probably be difficult to find a volunteer for the experiment, but surely sending him as basically our first contact with aliens was a crazy idea? Who’s to say he wouldn’t just try to kill everything in sight when he gets there? The consequences of that were never explored, and instead the focus was on the alien visitor and his ball-throwing/dough-eating antics.
“They told us they live through photosynthesis. They lied, Kelly.”
A bit of an odd plan this one. Apparently the Chromoites were looking for somewhere to produce their dough, and sent a scientist to have a go at using one of our lakes. So if it worked (which it appeared to), what next? Somehow take over the planet single-handedly and seed the planet sufficiently to feed his people? As invasion plans go, I’ve seen better ones. This being The Outer Limits, we had to have a moral to the story:
“All you had to do was to ask.”
Really, is that all they had to do? Would the human race really hand over a sufficiently large area of our planet to be seeded with some alien dough stuff that could potentially destroy most of our ecosystem, in order to feed the entire population of a distant alien planet?
“You should have asked.” Sure, why not. Maybe the point was instead about our tendency to judge too quickly:
“Everybody looks like a monster to somebody.”
Ultimately there were no monsters in this story. The Chromoite might have been a funny looking Agadoo alien throwing his balls in the water, but in the end he was just a scientist trying to find a way to feed his people. And Chino was just a man who wanted to protect his sister, and wanted to be free.
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: Controlled Experiment