The Outer Limits: The Premonition

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalI had a premonition that The Premonition was going to be a lame duck episode and was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually very good.  While it’s again about an experiment that goes wrong, a common theme in the series, it doesn’t play like a negative look at science.  Instead, it creates a situation where a husband and wife seem to fall out of sync with time for one purpose: to save their daughter.  That’s refreshing.  I was just recently talking about Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone and what a bleak place that seems to be.  The Outer Limits, at least this once, offers us a really pleasant experience for a family, even if it was a bit scary for them.  In the end, they take the entire ordeal as nothing more than a premonition, and I can live with the poetic nature of that outlook.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have to pick some nits but they are few and far between.  Like when Jim crashes his ship, he happens to land right near where his wife crashed.  Not only is that highly unlikely, but I’d say that if not for convenient gravity, the aircraft would have plowed into Linda’s car.  The late 1800’s seemed to be all about brandy being a great restorative when nerves are frayed, but Jim has a simpler method at hand; in fact, at hand is exactly the answer – a quick smack to his wife’s face is all that’s needed to calm her down.  (I imagine they don’t pack brandy on test flights.  But they do allow for cigarettes!)  And when Linda leaves Janie in the Air Force nursery (I had no idea they even had those…) it’s basically a cage for children.  I was surprised to see that it initially looked like a long hallway, but when Linda walks out and we see it from the side, it’s exactly a zoo cage!  At least Janie can open the door and wander the high security base at will, while her minder goes in search of chocolate and strawberries!  “Don’t worry, Mrs. Darcy.  Janie will be nice and sugared up when you get back (or flattened by a truck because I’m not going to actually watch the children!)”

But we can almost take that as sign of a divine presence in this story.  Linda and Jim should, by all accounts, be dead; or at the very least Jim should be!  Jim was flying at Mach 6 when he blacked out and Linda crashed her car while watching the event unfold.  Instead, they are knocked out of time and have a limited time to figure out what happened and how to resync with time.   (How Jim does the math is utterly perplexing to me, but I didn’t let that stop my enjoyment!)  They learn that their daughter is riding a tricycle into the path of a rolling vehicle.  They need to somehow save her then get back to their rightful places to merge with real-time again.  It’s actually a rather beautiful episode in that regard.  The actors who had to remain perfectly frozen do an incredible job whenever a static image isn’t used.  The way the direction takes the story, nothing can be moved that was not part of Jim and Linda at the time of their crash.  Frankly, I’d love to see this recreated today; same plot, some positive outcome, but with today’s special effects!

Speaking of direction, there’s a distinctly Lynchian feel to this episode.  The strange man, (grandfather of Basil Exposition, I’m certain), has no place in the story other than to give Jim and Linda clues on how to get out but his presence is freakishly alarming in all the best ways.  The fact that he’s afraid of fire is even more like something from a David Lynch movie.  Lynch can make a streetlight look threatening, and even if you feel (as I do) that his reboot of Twin Peaks was claptrap, it’s got some glorious freaky imagery throughout.  The out-of-sync man ends up not really being a threat at all but man is he creepy!  (And what was his plan, exactly?  To replace Jim meant that when the plane crashes, he’d suddenly be the pilot??  Best not to think about it!)    Frankly, I don’t know that he was really needed to get Jim to the right point anyway.  Jim seems to figure things out on his own.  I initially took it as a bad sign that his plane’s call numbers were 66671, but the fact that the whole story centers around him saving his daughter, I’d say the presence was a far more beneficent one!

This also felt a lot like a finale to me.  It goes out on a positive note with a really good story.  The control voice opens and closes with a references to a Gordian Knot, a problem so complex but one we can ultimately solve.  That’s the sort of positive message about mankind that I really enjoy.  In both speeches, the voice also refers to “the outer limits” of our experience.  I think this would have been a great finale to the series.  While I know there is one more, I’m tempted to look upon that one much like some of the anime Roger has introduced me to: I will take it as an OVA episode!  Purely my own choice but I’d like to imagine this as the last of the actual series.  It’s not that I think this is the best the series has to offer, but I do think it makes for a really nice ending to a series that had some magnificent highs, and unfortunately, some pretty tedious lows.  This ends on a high note: a child is saved and two people find a way to unravel a gordian knot that defied any of their experiences proving mankind’s indomitable nature.  What more could you ask for?    ML

The view from across the pond:

The start of this episode had me slightly confused because I wasn’t sure what these people were trying to accomplish. The best I could gather was that they wanted to try going very fast in a plane. Presumably pilot Jim Darcy goes too fast, because he and his wife end up frozen in time. I’m not even sure “frozen in time” is the right term, because nothing actually stops, but for every second that passes in the real world, they exist for about an hour. Everything therefore appears to be frozen, although it is in reality moving very slowly indeed.

This is a great idea for a sci-fi episode as it stands, but it’s made even more interesting by Jim and Linda travelling slightly into their own futures, so they can see themselves. It reminded me of the fabulous first episode of Doctor Who’s The Space Museum. The illusion of time being stopped is accomplished mainly with freeze frames, which of course never look quite right because it’s like looking at a photograph. It would probably have worked a bit better on older televisions. Modern screens are unforgiving. For scenes where Jim and Linda need to interact with frozen time more fully, the other actors just have to stand very still, and I have to say they do a lot better than most of the times I’ve seen this attempted. Planet of the Apes springs to mind as an example of what happens when this really goes wrong, with its wobbly museum exhibits. But despite being a valiant effort from everyone involved, the problem is always that the slightest movement spoils the illusion, and there is some wobbliness going on at times. You kind of end up concentrating so much on whether the actors are moving that you forget to concentrate on the story.

So the practical side of this is a qualified success, and probably the best that could be achieved at the time, but how about the story? Right at the start, the narrator mentions the Gordian Knot, which was about solving a complex problem in a simple way. The problem facing Jim is that his daughter is going to get crushed by a runaway truck when time goes back to normal, but he can’t be there to stop it unless he wants to be stuck in limbo forever. He can’t move any of the objects because they are frozen physically in time.

I have many issues with this. Let’s start with the manner in which Jim finds out about limbo. I thought the limbo being was very creepy, but the guy’s a right idiot, isn’t he. He exists in the episode only to provide a scary monster and an info-dump, but if he wants to take Jim’s place and escape from limbo himself, why would he volunteer all that information? If he hadn’t told Jim then he might not have figured it out for himself, so the limbo man harms his own cause. I had to think hard about his fear of fire, which made no rational sense until you realise that when these few seconds end he goes back to his “endless existence” of “eternal nothing”. That’s bad enough, without experiencing it in flames. What a thought.

Problem number 2: the whole inability to move things issue. I guess it’s handy that every door was left wide open for Jim. Do they normally do that at military bases? It would have been better if Jim and Linda were faced with at least one closed door and had to climb in a window or something. It still wouldn’t make much sense, but at least it would have emphasised their difficulties and been a much better use of the running time than all that running back and forth between the base and the crash site, which is clearly just padding. But my first thought was that the car and the plane aren’t frozen, so maybe they could do something with those, or with bits of them, and it was then frustrating to wait until the idea eventually popped into Jim’s head at the end of the episode.

Problem number 3 makes my head hurt. If Jim and Linda have to be in their future positions to avoid getting stuck in limbo, then why isn’t the seatbelt stuck in limbo and therefore unable to do its job? He’s moved it from where it’s meant to be. Best not to think too hard about that.

Anyway, we get a nice happy ending with the cute kid getting saved, and we can only hope that the world’s worst childminder ended up losing her job. She appears to be keeping the children in a cage, for heaven’s sake, and the next we see of her she’s chasing after a little girl who is heading for the path of a truck. I think I would have at least written “idiot” across her face in marker pen before time unfroze. The guy in charge of the truck needs to be fired as well, or at least have “idiot” written on his face too. The moral of the story? Be very careful who you employ, and always carry a marker pen in your pocket.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: The Probe

About Roger Pocock

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

1 Response to The Outer Limits: The Premonition

  1. scifimike70 says:

    OL’s The Premonition and The Twilight Zone’s Elegy are two great examples from the 60s for how people can remain quite motionless for a sci-fi anthology episode. The limbo being was most haunting for this one and Kay Kuter was very effective in the role.

    Dewey Martin (The Thing From Another World) and Mary Murphy make a very exciting team as Jim and Linda. Their race against time with the notable spin on the term to save their daughter, as methodically written, acted and directed as it was, was proof that the OL could still have good stories while nearing its end.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

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