Magnificent recovery! For a few episodes, I had been wondering why I loved this series as a kid. There were simply too many in a row that we predictable and dated. A Feasibility Study brings back the awe and mystery that the Control Voice is always promising! First of all, it captured my imagination when I was younger and held me captivated again now in my adulthood. My friends and I often refer to “mind candy”; this is what we mean! Production-wise, the use of music is superior to that increasing note we’ve had so much of lately. This episode offers us some very slow, deliberate and above all, eerie music to ramp up the tension. Fog, sounds on the telephone, shadowy figures, robed characters slowly walking in the mist… all these things are used to outstanding effect. Best of all, it exemplifies what was amazing about old television; it creates all of this without the need of blood, gore, vulgarity, nudity, violence. All the things we’ve come to rely so heavily on in horror and science fiction, this episode avoids completely and ends up with a far greater success than most modern stories of a similar vein. But that’s not all! There’s another thing used to great effect in this story: community.
I get ahead of myself on the episodes I really enjoy and this one has me raving before I’ve even reviewed the plot. In a nutshell, beings from the faraway world of Luminos are nearly completely immobile, so they send out ships to scoop up entire neighborhoods to determine how feasible it would be to use the local inhabitants as slave labor. The town is collected up in the night; by morning we are introduced to Ralph and Rhea Cashman. Ralph tells his wife she shouldn’t eat pretzels for breakfast while he drinks what appears to be amaretto. Next door, Dr. Simon Holm and his wife Andrea are splitting up because he wants her to be at home and she wants to be allowed to go out and live life. The people of Midgard Drive are flawed characters, but they are about as human as they come! When Ralph attempts to drive out of the 6 square blocks that have been used in the study, he is met with a thick gas that chokes him. A warped hand lands on his windshield so he jumps out of his car and finds himself on ground no longer made of concrete, but some muddy substance. Ralph is the first to be infected. Getting home he sees his wife and utters the simple words, “We’re not on earth.” His voice is slowed down and distorted, as he is becoming physically as well… and then he’s taken away in a beam of light. Simon is the one to learn more about the plans of these creatures. He is allowed to go back to the community where he begins spreading the news: if the inhabitants of Luminos are able to use this group as slave labor, they will abduct the rest of mankind.
Like most great science fiction, there are ideas here that need to be explored. The Luminos creatures tell Simon that they are all but immobile and their brains are constantly active. Simon brings up a good point: he says he can’t conceive of minds that could be so intelligent but resort to slave labor. Would beings of such intelligence ever really resort to slavery? One hopes not, but in a universe possibly teeming with life… it’s depressingly possible, I guess. But I have to ask, why wouldn’t they be more inclined to look for help to overcome their disease? Back in the home, Andrea tells her husband that marriage has to be an understanding, not captivity. One wonders how many people of the time struggled with this idea; one wonders how many still do! Speaking of Andrea, one idea that I’m not sure of is when she’s put in the glass tube to be sterilized: why did they change her out of her clothes and into a nightie especially if they didn’t want to touch her? (I wasn’t sure if I liked Andrea, but after this moment she was positively radiant! Sorry…!) But then comes the most important aspect of the story: Simon realizes that what makes us human is the ability to choose and sometimes choosing the path for the greater good is the most important choice we can make. In the church, during the town meeting, he asks if someone will take his hand; he’s asking if the whole town will accept death to save the rest of mankind. I think this is a brave choice and very unconventional: most episodes end with a positive resolution for the characters. This one felt very much like a Twilight Zone episode, leaving us feeling bleak and sad for our protectors. But was it really the right choice? I think the producers made a critical mistake in the filming of the episode. When Simon asks the church congregation to hold hands, there is a woman with a newborn baby in her arms. I find it difficult to believe they all would clasp hands, but nearly impossible to imagine a mother doing it. And it’s not that it was necessarily the wrong choice, but as I said above, wouldn’t a better solution be to work together to find a cure and save both groups?
I don’t know how I feel about the solution. Part of me applauds the audacity of it. Part of me rebels against the depressing end and losing potential allies in the cosmos. That conflict has me question how I should feel about this episode. But one thing it did better than so many is it made me wonder. And that wonder is what keeps me going and loving science fiction. I adore the “what if” and this story provides me one to sink my teeth into. If nothing else, that makes this episode a magnificent piece of television history. If this was a feasibility study to determine if we truly experienced the awe and mystery that the series offered, I’d call it a successful study indeed. ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
That’s lucky, because it’s not very nice weather for going out today. It’s awfully foggy. Never mind. I’ll just open a window anyway. Cough, cough, cough. Shall I close it again? Cough, cough, cough. Nah, I’ve got a handkerchief. Let’s leave it open.
That’s the bizarre decision that Ralph seems to be making in our pre-credits bit of borrowed footage from later in the episode. He opens his car windows, starts choking, and puts a handkerchief to is mouth instead of closing the window again straight away. Now which is going to keep out more of the toxic fumes, a handkerchief or a window? What follows is a great moment though, with monsters emerging from the fog, and perfect music to accompany the scene.
Strange things are happening in Ralph’s neighbourhood, and that’s because a spaceship that looks suspiciously like a shuttlecock has stolen several blocks of an American town, which I thought was a great spin on the usual alien abduction story. The Outer Limits is often at its best when it is playing with the idea of physical spaces not being what they appear to be, and here the edges of the stolen suburb give way to one of the most frightening landscapes we have seen, complete with rocky aliens who blend in to their surroundings. The contrast is jarring and scary.
The writer this week is Joseph Stefano, a name which I had never heard before The Outer Limits, but now makes me smile when I see it in the opening credits because it pretty much guarantees an entertaining episode. What he does so well this week, apart from building up the atmosphere brilliantly, is to give us an episode that is thematically very consistent. The main characters are married couple Simon and Andrea, who are just about to divorce. Simon has tried to lay down his rules and they are pretty nasty. Andrea has ambitions, things she wants to achieve before they have children, but Simon has other ideas:
“I need you here, always, at home.”
Yuck. So Andrea equates marriage with slavery, and that’s exactly the fate that awaits the whole human race if the Luminoids’ experiment is a success. The only thing that disappointed me about the linked theme is that Stefano felt the need to write a scene that sterilises Andrea, almost as if he was trying to make the point that her decision to put off having children was a foolish one. It had an air of “ha ha, you didn’t want kids yet… now you can’t have them at all”, which was really, really nasty, and entirely redundant to the plot. Let’s face it, none of these people are going to be having children anyway, once they’ve turned into rocks. Well, probably not. Let’s not go there.
The plight of the Luminoids was shocking, and very well thought through. They are free to wander around until adulthood, and then they end up immobile. They attempt to place a positive spin on that, because they can put all their energies into thought, but really it’s a horrendous fate, and we have aliens here with clear motivations and it’s easy to understand why people suffering in that way could end up compromising on their morality.
“Nothing is so modifiable as morality.”
I’m not sure if it was supposed to be some kind of a metaphor for getting older, with the carefree young, and the adults boasting about the wisdom of their years, but either way it was a fascinating story. The ending was both uplifting and tragic, with the humans deciding to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the human race, and seeing that happen in a church gave the scene a powerful sense of spirituality conquering adversity, with the vicar refusing to turn away a diseased man, and becoming the first to take a neighbour by the hand after the four main characters. And note who else was there: a mother carrying a baby, as if it wasn’t already heartbreaking enough to watch. I wonder if a random sample of humans would really behave in such a brave manner. Probably best not to thing too much about that one.
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: Production and Decay of Strange Particles