Well, if nothing more, I have to credit the writers of the Outer Limits for creativity; maybe not in their titles, but in their ideas. It’s not that ZZZZZ is that great an episode, but the idea is certainly unique. Plus, if nothing more, we didn’t get a preview of what was coming with the opening this time; we got a prologue. That was novel. I’d like to see this trend continue.
Right, well the opening shows a bee that transforms into a woman, fully dressed and, as we learn right after the opening credits, fully aware of the English language. These are some bees; do I get to call them spelling bees? Sorry. At least Regina’s understanding of English gets explained by the local entomologist, Ben; he has been working on translating English to Bee.
Regina is fascinating and aptly named; her name means queen. It’s definitely the way they film Joanna Frank’s eyes that nails it, but she’s got a seductive quality that is unrivaled throughout the series. Unlike last weeks Don’t Open Till Doomsday, Frank is mesmerizing in all the right ways. The story makes it a point to emphasize her beauty and alluring qualities that even has Ben telling her to wear a “starched uniform”. I couldn’t help but laugh at how many times they overlay the image of a bee on her as if to remind the short-attention spanned viewers that she’s not human. (In retrospect, this actually is probably a smart move, because this was among the more adult episodes of the series and some viewers would probably forget the plot…) I also loved when she tells Ben his wife is disintegrating; he explains that it’s not the case, and her simple “oh” is actually surprisingly funny.
Ben’s wife, Francesca, is relatable. Yes, she makes some wild leaps about Ben smiling at Regina the way he would have smiled at his own daughter, had she lived to be Regina’s age (which actually just creepifies the potential love interest) but upon what she bases this, I have no idea. Imagine being accused of something you might do in another life?! But she also recognizes something frightening about Regina. She makes the point of talking about how we fear small creatures because “you can’t look into their eyes” to know what they are thinking. (My cat isn’t that small, but I have no idea what he’s thinking either, and I’m not afraid of him!) The truth is, I think it has to do with how many of them there can be. I don’t know, but I don’t need to in order to enjoy this story.
Ben starts to piece it together when his doctor tells him that Regina is “as close to a complete mutant” as he’s ever seen. Ben is also the reason I didn’t like the episode. His comment about marriage is antiquated: it “happens only once…or at least it should”. Granted this was written long ago but it implies one cannot find happiness again. And by this point in the story, he’s raging at Regina for not understanding his grief even though it was evident he started to understand what she was. He can tell that she’s something else. By listening to the tape of her speaking to the other bees and her entire lack of human understanding, he can’t dispute that she is some form of creature. So what does he do? Same as any human: drives her off the balcony to her death. I was discouraged, to say the least. (Mind you, my first theater experience as a child was the 1976 King Kong, and my parents tell me I was a wreck when he died too. Also ironically, he too falls to his death.)
The story is played in a way that these creatures want to take over our world. That’s to make them “the enemy”. Fair enough, but it’s not the story I wanted. I wanted the two species to coexist; to begin to understand one another. Bees, unlike those eight-legged freaks of my nightmares, are not the enemy and we need to coexist with them. Like, for real – we need to! Not to mention, I’d do nearly anything to meet a creature that thinks it has to hide in human form. (I just experienced a similar feeling watching a recent episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, season 1 – at the time of writing this. I had the same feeling watching that too.)
So I was not impressed by the episode, but I love the creativity behind the show. Sure, I’d have loved it more if Ben could have tried to understand her, maybe he could have taken time to grieve and then find a bond with this strange woman, but I guess it just wasn’t to bee. ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Maybe not, but it did leave me bitterly disappointed in the first few seconds of this episode. I heard that unmistakable sound: “wawawawawawawa”… surely not… the return of the ZZZZZanti? Alas, it was not to be. Instead, it was just a reused sound effect, and the cause was far more prosaic: the buzz of a bee. On the other hand, the bee did turn into Joanna Frank, so it wasn’t all disappointment.
Philip Abbott plays Ben Fields, yet another meddling scientist, who has found a way to heighten the intelligence of bees. He has also created a magic box that allows him to communicate with them, like some kind of a Dr Beelittle. If you are struggling to accept that bit of magical 60s science, then the next bit will really blow your mind, because the super intelligent bees have found a way to turn their queen into a human (ish) called Regina (anyone with basic schoolboy Latin or anyone who has ever been curious about what the Queen’s ER initials stand for will get that reference). That’s a bit of a leap from heightened communication skills to morphing into a full size humanoid who can fully interact.
Not only can Regina interact, she is an expert at it. That’s some industrial strength flirting, right off the bat. She inveigles herself into Ben’s life, becoming his assistant.
“I understand I’m to live in.”
She is remarkably clever at manipulating the situation, raising the spectre of Ben and his wife Francesca’s failure to have children. Each piece of information she learns is utilised.
“Was this room originally the nursery? It must be devastating to know your husband wants children.”
For somebody who was a bee the day before, Regina sure knows how to flirt as well. It’s a fabulous performance from Joanna Frank. Whenever she is talking to Ben she holds his gaze with an unflinching stare.
Things escalate when Francesca sees Regina out licking flowers in the moonlight, and returning to her true form. What could have been a very silly scene is instead quite beautiful and beguiling, with Regina’s joy at the nature around her in the moonlit garden. Once Francesca becomes a barrier to Regina hooking up with Ben, Regina of course has to do something about that, and Francesca pays the ultimate price for that old horror movie mistake of running in the wrong direction. I’m no expert, but I think running inside might have been a more effective way to escape from a swarm of bees than running out of the house.
This episode pushes things quite far into territory that I would imagine the censors in the 60s might not have liked much. Regina makes it clear that she wants to mate with Ben. She only wants his love when she finds out that it is the means by which she might get to bed him. It’s a mesmerisingly seductive performance. But in the end, love wins out over lust. The contrast between Regina’s seduction and Francesca and Ben’s comfortable, gentle love is the key to why this episode works so well. It shows the power and strength of a long term, loving relationship. Regina might be able to stir things up a bit, but she never manages to break the bond between Ben and Francesca, even after she has killed one of them. She can’t break through that barrier of love. Ben’s not a drone.
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 Invisibles