The only two-part story in the entire run of The Outer Limits and it feels like an actual movie. The Inheritors was the one episode I wasn’t really looking forward to because I was a bit put off by sitting through a two-parter so soon after watching Wolf 359, an episode I found nearly unwatchable. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the episode didn’t just have momentum, but a damned good story as well. I was surprised when the first episode ended; how did the better part of an hour go by already?
It’s always nice when expectations are defied in a positive way. I mean, I hate when I go into something expecting greatness but finding rubbish, but I don’t just mean in quality; I also mean in storytelling. When we watch science-fiction, especially SF that often comingles with horror, you can’t help but feel a certain outcome is inevitable. And episode 1 is all about building up the tension but it fails in ending where it should have. It’s hardly noticeable but there was a better ending to launch us into the second half.
Episode one features four members of the army, each of whom has suffered a head wound during a war. Each has had to have a piece of shrapnel removed from his head. And each has developed a second set of brainwaves from the injury resulting in a heightened IQ and mind control abilities. “Freaks under the skull.” It seems there is an intelligence controlling them and Adam Ballard (Robert Duvall) has to figure out what it’s all about. Lt. Minn, played by Star Trek’s Garth of Izar, Steven Ihnat, seems to be the brain behind the operation. Each member of the party has specific skills: a biochemist, a metallurgist, a physicist and a financial wizard. Minn invests money earning nearly $400,000 in a short time, then sharing that with each of the others. Together, they seem to be making a spaceship but we don’t know why.
This is the only area I would say the first part failed: it should have ended with the realization that these people were stealing children. Too much of episode 2 feels like padding, but there was little that could have been done to prevent that. Part one is packed and doesn’t let up so I see no way for this to have been edited. There probably is a way, but I didn’t pick up on it at the time. Still, I think it works best to view this story as one whole. Once we know the children are the targets, that adds a layer of tension, but there are ample clues to let us know things are not all bad. “What do you want with children?” Yes, the control voice misleads us at the end of part one referring to “the Devil’s Puppeteer” but you have to look at all the evidence. Hadley takes over the mind of a man who is trying to double-cross him and offers him the choice of doing the right thing or shooting himself in the head. That might sound evil, but he does give the man a choice and it’s a very simple one; it’s more an admonition to keep his word. Conover has doubts, even going into a church to pray, asking for help and forgiveness. And Minn himself cries over his actions.
If there’s one area the story fails is that the intelligence behind the operation should have been telling the four people what their objective was; since it’s a good one, why wouldn’t that be shared early on to avoid all the trouble? Sure I agree, kidnapping is a bad thing but when put into perspective… The actual mission is to bring the broken children to a world where they can live normal, healthy lives. That does defy convention for this sort of story, and I applaud it. Yet I have to say it still feels a bit wrong. Duvall points out, before he is shown the truth, that its reminiscent of “candy or a ride in a car” and that is still a bit uncomfortable. Yes, we get to see the results of their plans: a blind girl is able to see and the crippled boy can walk and the mute can speak… the offer is legit and that’s a lovely thing. “…giving hope to the hopeless.” It’s always very refreshing to me when the aliens are the good guys. (I can’t help but think that’s more likely than the alternative.) But that doesn’t change the fact that there is still a “creepster” factor. “I want to go wherever you go…” I’m glad the resolution is not left to the imagination and we get to see the children doing well. I think the episode might have had a slightly different feel if that was not the case. As it was, it still manages to be disturbing as four adult men go with the children at the end. I think if this were remade today, we’d have a mix of people going together.
Nevertheless, this holds up as another excellent example of what The Outer Limits had to offer. And it’s Robert Duvall’s second story. He may not have the epic classics like Robert Culp, but he’s 2 for 2 in top rated second-tier episodes, and that’s saying something! His The Chameleon is one I absolutely adored. Maybe he only took the scripts where the aliens show us a better way to live. Or maybe it’s less impressive and just about having a lead actor whose real name is Robert. What do I know? ML
The view from across the pond:
This is the only Outer Limits two-parter, and it certainly justifies the double length story. It’s a sprawling, epic game of cat and mouse, with the mice always two steps ahead of the cat. The mice in question are four soldiers who have been taken over by aliens. It’s a more complex possession than we often get in sci-fi, and that’s cleverly illustrated by the presence of two brainwaves. The human personality hasn’t been overwritten, but the four of them are compelled to carry out a task and are not privy to the end goal. They are gifted with IQs over 200, to allow them to do what they need to achieve. The extent to which their own personalities remain in place is made clear at the end of the second episode, when they have such severe doubts about what they are doing that they consider suicide to stop the project from going ahead.
The trigger for those doubts is the sight of children being kidnapped. This is a story that doesn’t pull its punches, and enters some dark territory. When Ballard says “it used to be candy, or a ride in a car”, we know exactly what he is suggesting, and earlier in the episode when Minerva is getting ready to run away with Minns she says, “yes Lieutenant, oh yes, Lieutenant”, in a way that suggests she has a crush on him. It’s disturbing stuff, and Minns crying as he drives Minerva away in the car is a very powerful moment. The instinct to protect children is of course what finally causes the four men to mutiny against the aliens in their minds, until they are given an explanation.
The reason for the kidnappings is bittersweet. The aliens back home have wiped themselves out, but their planet can still be a gift to humans because of its healing properties. They want to give that gift to some disabled children. We see the results of that healing power when the kids go into the spaceship, and are healed, because the spaceship shares the same properties as the alien planet. This raises one of several uncomfortable questions about all this. We are told that the children will revert back to their disabilities if they leave the spaceship, but if the aliens are capable of building a spaceship that mimics their planet’s healing powers, why can’t they build institutions on Earth for people to live in and be healed instead? That way, more than just a small handful of children could be helped, and wouldn’t have to be taken away from their home planet. The only disadvantage to that would of course be that they would not be able to explore the outside world, although the aliens’ ability to create invisible forcefields would tend to suggest that the properties of the capsule could be extended in a way that doesn’t require a physical barrier. More importantly, they wouldn’t be removed from their families. There is an effort on the part of the writers to show these kids as alone and unloved, which troublingly equates disability with parental abandonment, but for the sake of realism they can only go so far with that, and Johnny in particular is clearly being kidnapped from his distraught mother. If nothing else, why wasn’t she given the option of travelling with her son? There are adults going along for the trip, but she isn’t one of them. Instead the four soldiers presumably remain under alien control. What of their families, their loved ones?
So this is a very messy solution to a problem, and that doesn’t quite ring true with the idea of such an enlightened race of aliens, who are keen to achieve their mission in peace (although Hadley does point out that he was ready to kill if necessary). The schmaltzy sight of the kids being healed masks the problematic nature of what is happening, and I’m not sure to what extent the writers were expecting the viewers to conclude that the aliens are doing the right thing or not.
I’ve spent a long time talking about the story, but haven’t mentioned the actors yet, so I just want to say how brilliant the four actors playing the possessed soldiers all are, particularly Ivan Dixon as Conover and Steve Ihnat as Minns. I found Robert Duvall oddly wooden and emotionless as Ballard most of the time. An honourable mention is needed for all the child actors especially Kim Hector as Johnny and Suzanne Cupito as Minerva, neither of whom had easy roles to perform.
The story left me unsure what to think about the whole thing. I think the writers had something important to say about valuing all human life, learning to “help each other” and trying not to “always believe the worst”, but I’m not sure they got their message across in quite the way they wanted to. As soon as they raised the spectre of child kidnapping they were into some tricky territory to say the least. But this was a brave attempt at dealing with the complexity of a benign invasion, and that places the episodes among the upper echelons of 60s sci-fi. It does what all good sci-fi should do. It makes us think. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Keeper of the Purple Twilight