The Outer Limits: The Special One

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalI nearly fell off the couch when I realized this episode didn’t have a preview of what’s to come. Just one episode ago, I skipped the spoiling effect without checking. Now I wonder if that was a mistake. (I checked; it was the right call!) But it means I’ll have to be careful with each subsequent episode! This offers a genuine prelude: Mr. Zeno has to move his operation across country because someone found out what he was up to. So he moves to the east coast and he has some nefarious plans in mind for young Kenny Benjamin!

This episode is broken down into some very clear acts.  Act 1: we meet Kenny and his family; nice parents with a gifted boy.  Zeno is here to train Kenny because he shows incredible promise.  Act 2: Kenny’s dad, Roy, starts to suspect that things are not as they seem.  Then Roy sees Zeno walk through a wall and vanish into thin air.  Act 3: Roy goes for help.  Zeno realizes what he’s up to and makes the audience aware that he’s going to do something about it.  Act 4: Roy barges into Kenny’s room to put a stop to things but Zeno is going to use mind control to cause Roy to throw himself out the window to his death, as he did to the man in the prologue.  And then Kenny takes the title of the episode to prove he really is The Special One.  It’s a very well defined structure and it plays out very smoothly.

I had almost no memory of the episode which made it feel very fresh but times have changed and what might have been innocuous in 1964 is a different kettle of fish in the early 2020s.  Finding a man in your kid’s room in the middle of the night would not have a father sneaking around to see what the man was up to.  A frying pan to the head on the other hand… Even the fact that the parents send Zeno to Kenny’s room to study feels wrong by today’s standards.  Amazingly what bothered me more was this: Roy knows Zeno is something other than human and never really tries to learn what is actually going on!  He accuses, but never says “tell me what you’re up to”.  I kept thinking if I were in that position, I would be trying to understand what they were planning; not out of anger or hostility, but if an alien chose my kid to talk to, I’d want to know why.  I admit, I’ve wanted to encounter aliens all my life so if one showed up at my door, I think even an invasion plan would get an open-minded listen!  “So, you want to invade because your planet is out of space… well, I have a spare room…”  I mean, they were planning to invade, so Roy isn’t wrong to be upset with Zeno but I just want us to actually be friendly to aliens once in a while.  It’s so common that all aliens are out to get us and we need to defeat them.  I can’t help but think we need more drama where they are actually just explorers like the Andromedan from The Galaxy Being.

Another thing that is getting under my skin with these episodes is the … I used this word loosely… music.  It’s not so much music as a note that gets louder and louder and louder and louder and louder and louder and louder and louder and louder… you get my point!   It just keeps going up until you feel like the protagonist from Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart!  “Just stop the beating of that hideous old note!”   I shouldn’t complain too much.  Like the tail end of this episode, it’s very much a product of its time.  The episode ends with a very “Leave it to Beaver” moment shifting gears from sci-fi to primetime comedy with Kenny realizing that saving the world is hard work and he’s actually kinda tired.  He tells his mom and dad to get some rest because they’re looking knackered too.  (Dude, you may be smart but if you just thwarted an alien invasion, no one is dozing off any time soon!)

The Control Voice offers us a really great quote to end the episode: “the mold of a man stems from the mind of a child.”  If there is one major takeaway in this story, it’s something a good friend and former manager once told me: we are not raising children; we are raising adults.  It’s one of the most important realizations a parent can make.  Our children need to be taught from young what it is to be an adult because that’s how they will grow and get by in the future.  It doesn’t mean at 5 they need to start working, but the lessons we teach a child in their youth will help define who they are as adults.  The mold of a man does indeed start during childhood.  Kenny is off to a good start.  Hopefully there are a lot more Kennys in the world.   Our future may still be in good hands!    ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

But why am I being drawn towards the remote control? No, I don’t want to change the channel! Wait, I can’t stop myself… no, not the Shopping Channel! Nooooooo!

The mind control we see at the beginning of The Special One is far more sinister than that. In fact, it’s one of the nastiest and most shocking pre-credits sequences of the whole series, and for once it’s not just a scene borrowed from later in the episode. Once you’ve seen that, you’ve already seen the best bit of the episode, and that’s not a criticism of what follows. It’s just a measure of the impact that amazing sequence has. Unfortunately there is also a problem with it. A quick googling shows that writer Oliver Crawford delivered an under-running script, and Joseph Stefano wrote this extra pre-credits sequence to bring the episode up to the running time. Stefano is a brilliant writer and this sequence is amazing, but it also destroys much of what Crawford was doing with his episode, gradually building up the threat levels and maintaining the mystery surrounding Zeno and his abilities for most of the episode. Imagine what a shocking moment the near-death of Roy would have been if we hadn’t seen the same thing happening to somebody else. It still works well, but we have been expecting it to happen for the whole episode, so it is undermined to a certain extent.

That’s not too high a price to pay, and the whole episode is gripping entertainment, despite being a bit of a slow burn. Richard Ney is great as the smooth-talking and sinister Zeno, and the special effect when he arrives in a bolt of lightening is a class above anything we’ve seen in recent weeks. The Outer Limits continues to surprise me with special effects that I would have assumed were impossible for the 1960s. Kenny walking through a wall falls into the same category. Nicely done.

“Zeno 6 arrived safely, ready to penetrate subject two.”

Eww. There were some very nasty overtones to this, which on balance I think (and hope) might have been accidental…

“Why don’t you take Mr Zeno up to your room.”

Why don’t you not do that. Were people really that unaware of danger in the 60s?

“Let me show you this.”

And then he gets his gills out. MacDonald Carey does a solid job as Roy, but he did leave me in despair of his parenting abilities. It takes ages before he actually goes to see the proper authorities, and asks the question:

“At no time have you ever sent anyone out to tutor my son?”

It might have been an idea to ask that a while ago, before he allowed his son to be groomed by a stranger in his own bedroom. I also had a lot of problems with the resolution to the episode. In fact, the whole final sequence was only a qualified success. Firstly we have Zeno trying to kill Roy, which is completely baffling because he quite clearly lives in a two-storey house, and yet his window shows the view from a high-rise apartment. Then we had Kenny coming good, and the revelation that he had been just playing along until he could figure out how to use the machine against Zeno was brilliant, but the sequence with the torn up bits of paper flying around just went on forever, in interminable slow motion. After Zeno falls down the stairs, with wobbly bannisters presumably installed by the same shoddy workmen who supplied the apartment block of Mike and Laura last week, Kenny just lets Zeno go. Young Mr Smug is going to make it “impossible for beings like him to ever set foot on Earth again”. How is he going to do that? By handing his machine over to the government and they’ll see to it that the technology is distributed around the world. Ah, easy as that, eh? Like they’re going to take any notice of an irritating teenager with an apparently insane father. And even if the government would believe Kenny, he’s likely to be dead before morning. Zeno only needs to fly back in on another bolt of lightning and kill the whole family while they sleep, long before they can go and have a cosy chat with the “government”.

Sadly, we have to assume that’s exactly what happened. Kenny’s discoveries never saw the light of day. We’re still waiting for 7 of those 125 elements.

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: A Feasibility Study

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Outer Limits and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Outer Limits: The Special One

  1. scifimike70 says:

    This episode can certainly have its message about how being a Special One may not always be such a blessing. The theme of someone being targeted by sinister forces for their gifts has been common in the history of SF. Reflecting on this OL episode can make us understand the realism from a most basic perspective. Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    History has repeatedly shown that children with such promising potential, for the expectations and demands upon them by schools, society or whatever, are at risk for losing chances for a normal life which is also quite often dramatized in SF. Cal and Angelina in Manifest are now facing the tolls of all their great responsibilities. So when a powerfully gifted child is suddenly thrust into the role of having to save the world, it’s enough to mature children into questioning what can be normal these days. With the studies of Indigo Children today, some might seem wiser in seeing the better side of a world with such gifted children. Namely with adults who are genuinely caring enough to support these children and make them realize the truest blessings of specialness for all humanity to share.

    Liked by 1 person

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