A weird thing happened to me today. I worked on my write up for a Twilight Zone episode, then finished prepping a pre-written post for a Doctor Who audio story called The Twilight Kingdom. Finally done with writing for the blog, I sat down to watch an Outer Limits episode. When Keeper of the Purple Twilight came on, I wondered about the likelihood of that word showing up three times in one night. (Thankfully, I had no hankering to watch Twilight next! Twinkly vampires indeed!) Did it count that I sat down to watch this at 7pm… just about the twilight hour? Ok… perhaps it means nothing after all!
Keeper of the Purple Twilight is another of those “be careful what you wish for” episodes. Eric is building a power source but can’t figure out two things. Along comes Ikar and offers the solution, but he first has to take Eric’s emotions away. It’s a bit tedious with a lot of filler to basically tell us that emotions are not logical but they give life meaning. In the grand scheme, it’s a positive message that is interspersed with a lot of fainting and picnics. It left me a bit fidgety, picking up my phone repeatedly while Ikar went back and forth visiting Janet and experiencing his first love. But the idea behind the episode is a strong one.
First off, I have to say the Control Voice always impressed me growing up, but this might have the strongest opening and closing messages to date. “There is no limit to the extension of the curious mind…” That’s a great truth. When people put their minds to learning, there’s no limit how far it can go. An open mind is worth its weight in gold, I tell you. The episode ends similarly: “The curious mind cannot be chained…” Really great message. I also like the idea that we are not an “ordered society” but that variety is the spice of life. We are not ants, as Ikar learns. Ants scurry about doing their work, but without emotion. Humans “work on impulse, not logic”. It’s true! We are an illogical species but our lives have meaning. Maybe that meaning is simply to bring up a child in a loving environment. Maybe it’s to build a disintegration gun. But our purpose is often found in the joy of attaining something. Sometimes that’s wealth, sometimes knowledge, sometimes just knowing you completed a job, but Ikar just sees things through the lens of his own people. Once he picks up our emotions, his people want to kill him. He breaks away from his own kind. And this is where I question the episode…
Like Star Trek, with the Federation, it implies our way is better. Those races that see things differently… those dudes are the enemy. I mean, duh, am I right? But you know what we don’t do? We don’t go on an ant-hunting spree. Barring when they get into our homes, I don’t think there are any group of humans who actively seek out ants to kill them. We accept that they go about their lives doing their own things. We don’t try to change them by preaching to them, and they don’t come to our doors with brochures on why ant hill life beats houses. One isn’t “better” than the other; they are just the right lives for the right races. When we have an episode where an alien takes on human emotions and turns from his own kind, we really have a writer saying that our way is better. It says that the noble thing was turning on his own people. I don’t see it that way. I see it that he became infected, like a disease that jumps species, it infected a creature that was not meant to be like us. I’m not saying I wanted them to win, I’m saying I wanted them to be entitled to being who they were. (And what an awesomely alien looking race they were too, with those strange mouths and fantastically long hands!) No, I don’t agree with Ikar on the value of a uniform society or the sexist comment that “women have but one function: to produce children”, but that’s because I’m evaluating against the rules of humanity. Ikar was not human! Perhaps his society is different enough that he should be allowed to have his belief. But that sounds like I’m sympathizing with an enemy that wanted to destroy us. Not quite. I believe he was willing to destroy us because we were little more than ants.
Maybe we deserve to be destroyed, considering how we are always so sure our way is best. But then, there was Janet. Maybe if we could all be like Janet, a woman whose home is invaded by an alien and she has the decency to ask for her robe and if it’s ok to get out of bed without freaking out. She treats the invader with kindness! Maybe its her commendable attitude that, in the end, saves us. Maybe it wasn’t that Ikar was overcome with love, but maybe he realized we were not all ants. Some of us could see beyond the fear of that which is different and that’s why he turns on his own people. Not because he was no longer one of them, but because he realized we were more than disposable pests to be stomped. Janet proved that women serve more than the purpose of child bearing; she may have single handedly saved humanity. There are those amongst us that serve as examples; templates for us all to learn from. And through those people, those with an open mind, we may yet deserve to touch the stars. ML
The view from across the pond:
Last week we had a benevolent alien invasion and a complex, meandering story, so Keeper of the Purple Twilight feels like a strange backwards step into the realms of a traditional invasion. Like Styre from Doctor Who’s The Sontaran Experiment, Ikar is gathering intelligence prior to an invasion. Also like Style, Ikar doesn’t possess much of his own intelligence. Aliens who don’t understand human emotions have been done to death in sci-fi, and I have to keep reminding myself about when this series was made, so a cliché wasn’t necessarily a cliché at the time, but it’s one thing not to have experienced love and hate, and quite another not to understand the meaning of the words. Writers of these emotionless alien stories never seem to get the fact that it’s perfectly possible to be familiar with the meaning of a word, without having experienced it in person.
However, Ikar feels that he wants to find out for himself what these emotion things are, and strikes a deal with Eric, who is a textbook stoooopid genius scientist. A deal is struck. Eric gets the missing formulae to make his weapons of mass destruction (and is somehow naïve enough to think his discovery won’t be used for that purpose), and Ikar gets… well, he gets Eric’s wife.
The episode functions as a validation of human emotions, with the alternative shown as metaphorically akin to a colony of ants: efficient but soulless. When Ikar is asked what his people live for, one of the things he says is “accomplishment”, and that illustrates where all these emotionless alien stories break down. Accomplishment is a goal driven by emotions, so it doesn’t work. Somebody who doesn’t have the emotions to care about anything isn’t going to care about accomplishment. It reminds me of Spock’s logic in Star Trek. He tends to talk the good talk, but a lot of the time his logic is illogical. The only realistic portrayal of a truly emotionless society I have seen is probably the Cybermen, whose motivation is nothing more than the instinct of all living creatures to survive, so if Ikar had said “survival” instead of “accomplishment” we might have had a concept that works.
Having said that, there were some aspects of his society that interested me. A lack of emotions and focus on accomplishment has led them to segregate people according to a skill set. The point that was repeatedly emphasised was the sexism inherent in that idea, because women on Ikar’s planet are considered useless for anything except having children. Again, that doesn’t quite work as an illustration of an emotionless society, because clearly the females are going to possess other useful skills, so oppressing them is about males holding onto power to the detriment of society as a whole, and it requires emotions to desire that power. A much better idea is the difference between Ikar and the soldiers, and that comes across in the excellent designs of the alien masks. Segregation would lead to interbreeding and there has clearly here been evolution in different directions. Ikar has a large head to house his super brain, and the soldiers have one job, to fight, so they are thick set with small heads. I thought the aliens were very cleverly designed because they are obviously the same species but look very different just by changing the shape of the head. Interestingly, this is a society that has figured out that soldiers need little in the way of brainpower to do their jobs, so they are all pin-headed grunts. That’s quite a statement for the writers to make.
I’ve had to dig deep to find anything to analyse here, because for the most part Keeper of the Purple Twilight is just a silly portrayal of an alien who is feeling emotions for the first time. Sadly that sums up the difference between the two seasons of The Outer Limits. The first series was constantly striving to do something thought-provoking, whether it succeeded or not, but the second series has veered oddly between inventiveness and lazy B-movie stuff. When it has been good it has been really good, but there have been too many episodes lacking in any ambition. With a handful of episodes remaining (and not even a Gwyllm handful), I’m hoping we’ll at least end on a high note. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: The Duplicate Man