When The Outer Limits was being released on VHS back in the day, the last one I bought was Expanding Human. I’d been a fan of the concept of duality for a good portion of my childhood, having watched countless versions of Jekyll and Hyde (or Doctor Who’s Planet of Evil) and the description on the back of the VHS really sounded like a perfect episode to wrap up the series. (I know it wasn’t the last one, but they were not released in any logical order!) Sadly, I found it hugely disappointing at the time. Expanding Human should have been called Expanding 45 minutes… I didn’t think it would end. But time changes you and as you watch things with adult eyes, sometimes you pick up on things you missed as a kid. Alas, maybe not enough in some cases…
In some ways, this episode is not a great example of The Outer Limits in that almost the entire first half is a murder mystery. I mean, we know the killer is one of two people but that’s common for TV shows, especially when you only have a short time to get to know the cast. 45 minutes is hardly enough time to build a story and there isn’t that many people introduced that could be the killer, so we don’t have to make any vast leaps. But where it does identify as an Outer Limits episode is that it’s once again about the dangers of science. That’s the common thread through most of the series and one wonders if the writers were Luddites! Roy is our Dr. Jekyll, breaking into a lab to get more of the chemicals that he needs to transform into Mr. Hyde because he enjoys being more powerful than other people. Where the episode fails for me is that the idea of an enhanced human should lead to greater thought, kindness. This isn’t so much “expanding human” but rather “contracting human”. Remember when David McCullum was advanced to the hyper-being in The Sixth Finger? That’s what I expect of expanding human consciousness. Maybe this is a first step… I don’t know. I typically like it when a science fiction concept leads to the betterment of mankind, not a dark path full of death and destruction.
I also appreciated the concept of what we see in everyday life not being what is real; sort of that simulation stuff that I enjoy. It’s referenced then glazed over, but it gives us a moment to think on it. But there are other things that just made me laugh, and I don’t mean in a good way. Jimmy Doohan (Star Trek’s Scotty) plays Detective Branch who simply puts a hand to his chest and tells people he has a search warrant, and they believe him! He didn’t need any telepathy to make them do what he wanted, just a well-placed hand. He could be the episode’s poster child for not using drugs! The evidence provided from a series of newspaper articles is laughably funny, linking together random articles to tell a story that connects to the headline! Talk about a conspiracy theorists dream! And when Roy uses his shoulder-grip-of-doom (a trademark move, based on how many times he employs it) and throws Scotty to the floor, Scotty’s phaser… I mean gun… is visible, but when Roy picks Scotty up, he reaches into the detective’s pocket to get the gun out. I think Scotty might have been faking… (I’m givin’ it all I’ve got!) Speaking of that throw… I’ve seen enough action movies to know, being tossed on the ground doesn’t knock a person out cold. You have to hit them with a 2×4 or a wrench and even that might not do it… People of the 60’s were made of glass!
It takes a full 25 minutes to get the revelation that Roy is, in fact, the bad guy. As I said, not a leap. His Hyde-persona is not particularly impressive, with exaggerated cheekbones to denote his strange transformation but he does look physically stronger. The episode doesn’t so much resolve but rather it ends and that was a bit of a letdown too. You can almost sense that the writer realized there was too much to do in 45 minutes so Roy just drops to the ground as gunshot wounds start to take effect. Frankly, it didn’t have many avenues open to it at that point. It’s a condensed version of the Jekyll/Hyde tale and a fairly mundane one at that. It was a disappointment to my younger self that this was where I ended the series. I’m very glad that as an adult, I can follow these in order and still have plenty of good episodes to work my way through before the end. And hopefully, somewhere in that mix, science can be used for good! ML
The view from across the pond:
If, like me, you have a habit of falling asleep in front of the television, then this will be an ideal episode to watch. It’s perfectly possible to watch the first five minutes and the last five minutes, and nothing in between, without missing any of the story. I have never seen such a thin plot stretched over fifty minutes.
I am almost tempted to say this is a clever allegory about the dangers of drug taking, but it’s not really. It’s just a lame homage to Jekyll and Hyde. To be an anti-drugs morality tale it would need to actually follow through with that, but instead of expanding Clinton’s mind in a dangerous or harmful way, the drugs bring about physical changes and a hunger for power. This is far from being the interesting examination of accelerated evolution that we saw in The Sixth Finger. Instead it’s half devolution and half Incredible Hulk. The drugged up version of Clinton doesn’t even have the visual impact of the Hulk or most representations of Mr Hyde. Instead he looks half-Cardassian.
The problem with all this is that writer Francis Cockrell is trying to do two things at once, and doing neither of them well. Are these mind-altering drugs, or are they body-building drugs? Merging the two ideas doesn’t really work here, especially as there is no explanation as to how the drugs make Clinton go all Cardassian and then change back when they wear off. You might argue that’s just a Jekyll and Hyde thing, but in a story that appears to be trying to do something more in terms of a drug-taking allegory, that just won’t wash. It’s not enough to just borrow an idea from a classic novel and make your own version of it as part of another show. That’s only going to work if you use it as a springboard to saying something new. It’s all very lazy, and the absence of any other ideas makes this an excruciatingly wordy and slow episode.
Ironically, after 45 minutes of tedium, the ending is incredibly rushed. It was set up nicely for a big showdown at the end. Clinton turned into a drugs peddler, trying to get Peter to join him in his cause.
“Well now Peter, if you’ll just toss this off…”
… but Peter isn’t keen on tossing it off with Clinton, and here’s where Cockrell actually had an idea and then bizarrely sidestepped it. Cardassian/Clinton makes the assumption that Cardassian/Peter will join his cause, simply because he has tossed it off, but Clinton has just spent some considerable time being a complete jerk, so I was all ready for the worm to turn. A fight between Cardassian/Clinton and Cardassian/Peter would have wrapped the episode up very nicely, and would have actually had an important point to make: enhancing our bodies isn’t necessarily a path to superiority, and people aren’t all going to agree just because they’ve evolved into something more advanced. This could have been a nice counter to the scores of sci-fi episodes that show hive-minded super-powered monsters. And then the drugs wear off and Clinton dies from his gunshot wounds. It’s an incredibly abrupt ending and a waste of a good story idea, leaving us thinking, “is that it?”
Expanding Human should have expanded the minds of the viewers, but in the end it has nothing much to say about anything at all. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Demon with a Glass Hand