Well, I called it. I am very disappointed that the last episode of The Outer Limits was The Probe. Conceptually it’s a good story, but in execution, it’s painfully tedious. The main characters spend the episode questioning everything, ultimately to ask the very question we’ve asked time and again in this series: will visitors from the stars be compassionate and humane. I’m not saying this episode doesn’t have a place in the 48 stories, but it’s a damned shame that the last two episodes hadn’t been reversed. If they were, we would have had with a marvelous message about humanity to wrap up the series. Instead, we get an hour of “what would happen if” as the plot and people going back and forth over a largely empty and uninspiring set.
In fairness, this story features one heck of an opening. Before the opening credits, a plane in a hurricane starts to lose control and fall from the sky. The post credits shows survivors in a life raft that get scooped up into a strange, dull place, seemingly made of plastic. They have an equally strange bedfellow in the form of a marvelously weird looking creature that moves around by crawling and is capable of reproducing itself. But the problem with the episode is just how much time is spent speculating. I mean, my good friends and I often spend hours talking about ideas like this, but we’re not selling that as if we’re doing any good storytelling. To tell that story, you need to make it interesting or at the very least, have strong characters. The Probe is made more tedious by the main character, Jeff, the man who guesses the audience through all the needed exposition. I mean, I did like his supposition that the blob-like creature couldn’t have built the structure they find themselves in because it does not have the right level of dexterity but every other observation is just speculation designed to tell the audience what was going on. That’s not how you make a story interesting. It just made me want to punch Jeff. Even at the end, we see the probe self-destruct, and Jeff is there to tell us what happened and why, which is utterly nonsensical. How the devil can he say why it blew up. And it was such a weird explosion, are we even sure it did blow up? Jeff really derailed my enjoyment of the final episode.
On top of that, this must have been a weird episode to film. The cast is soaked a few times, first when they crash into the ocean before being scooped up, then later when they are put into test tubes. That latter half alone says a lot! Also, I was reminded of two other episodes while watching this. There’s a bit of A Feasibility Study with the humans under the proverbial microscope in a mist, which was done far more effectively in the previous episode. Sometimes it’s best not to even try to catch lightning twice! (Or mist, for that matter!) I was also reminded of Don’t Open till Doomsday with the blobby creature and being isolated in a strange place. At least this ends in a more positive way than that episode did.
I grew up as a fan of The Outer Limits and I maintain it is a classic, but this series really went the range from amazing episodes to tedious claptrap. Those previews in season one were abysmal but thankfully season two improved on things by getting rid of them. The Control Voice will always have a place in my heart and I’ll enjoy traveling to the Outer Limits of our imagination when the opportunity arises but perhaps the best way to honor that spirit of adventure is to travel to our next destination in the Junkyard. ML
The view from across the pond:
“Stand by. We’re going into the hurricane.” These are not the words you want to hear when you’re flying in a plane. Jeff and his crew (he seems to be in charge, although he’s not the pilot) are forced to ditch into the sea, in what they think is the eye of the hurricane. It’s a strange eye, because it’s made of plastic.
“Plane gone, the ocean gone, the world gone, where are we?”
What appears to be a straightforward alien abduction story is given a scarier twist here by never seeing the abductors. When there are captors, at least the captives can try to communicate, but that’s very difficult here because Jeff and co are trapped inside some scientific equipment, the subject of experimentation, and have nobody to plead with. The enemy is anonymous, and their experiments are very frightening, particularly Dex getting frozen, and a laser cutting a section away from the life raft. It feels like a helpless, dangerous situation.
Despite taking ages to reach the conclusion that they’re “inside of something”, Jeff and friends start leaping to conclusions based on not much at all.
“It’s coding information right now.”
It’s a funny shaped box with flashing lights. He might as well conclude it’s a bit of a lighthouse. You might notice I’m having to refer to Jeff’s companions in this episode as “and friends” or “and crew”, and that’s because there is basically no characterisation here. I don’t think The Outer Limits has ever offered us such roughly-sketched characters. They never feel like real people. The one occasion we learn something about anyone it’s a clumsy info-dump to explain Amanda’s background in recognising alphabets.
Things liven up when the Horta turns up. OK, it’s supposed to be a giant microbe here, but it’s the same costume, even with the same actor inside, and it looks just as rubbish here as it did in Star Trek. But there are slim pickings here in terms of entertainment, so at least the sight of a giant piece of poop humping a raft is something different. Alarmingly, that surely must have been intentional, because it reproduces immediately after doing the deed, and is then treated to a cold shower.
There is a good idea lurking under the surface of this episode, but the execution of the idea is dreadful, and that has sadly been a running theme of the second season of The Outer Limits. You could almost subtitle the series The Missed Opportunities. There have been some great episodes, so it’s such a shame to end up with a limp effort like this. But the worst possible thing happened. The people making it knew the series was cancelled before they made this episode. It looks like a phoned-in effort from all concerned. The best thing I can say about it is that it does at least end the series with OL’s most important theme: benevolent aliens.
In my dreams, The Outer Limits ends very differently, with a big, exciting finale episode. It’s called Revenge of the Zanti, or something like that. But that’s how I choose to remember TOL, as a series that brought us probably my favourite ever sci-fi monster, plus dozens of other exciting creations, and a huge amount of thought-provoking ideas. Even when the episodes were weak, there was normally something to make us think. As the end credits roll, we are promised more “next week at the same time”, but alas it was not to be, until the series was revived in 1995. We’ll let that be a story for another day. There had better be Zanti… RP