The Outer Limits was the Twilight Zone without the unbelievable talent of Rod Serling. Unfortunately, that’s like the 90s Bulls without Jordan. It’s awesome, but it’s still missing that one little extra kick to put it on top. However, it also managed to get the great Harlan “my bibliography is huge and influential but you still don’t know my f*cking name” Ellison to write an episode or two, and that was enough to close the gap.
This episode begins with the narration: “Through all the legends of ancient peoples — Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Semitic — runs the saga of the Eternal Man, the one who never dies, called by various names in various times, but historically known as Gilgamesh, the man who has never tasted death … the hero who strides through the centuries …”
Our protagonist is Trent (Robert Culp), an amnesiac man who has a clear plastic hand that contains a supercomputer. That hand is also missing 3 fingers, and the computer refuses to tell him anything about who he is or why he has a missing hand until he gets the fingers back from the aliens chasing him known as the Kyben. Trent is stuck in a sealed office building with his only ally being a woman who got caught in the building with him, Consuela (Arlene Martel), who slowly becomes his love interest.
Throughout the episode, as Trent manages to avoid and ambush the Kyben, Trent is told that the Kyben are actually from 1000 years in the future, having taken over the Earth, but found one day that all the humans disappeared, having set off a “radioactive plague” that’s killing the Kyben. Trent, however, remained until he got sent back in time. To find out what happened to the humans and if there’s a way to cure the plague killing them, the Kyben took his missing fingers and followed him back. Eventually, Trent sends all the Kyben back to the future, and destroys the time portal. After putting his fingers back in place, the computer reveals the truth to him: He’s an android, and all of the DNA of every surviving human, as well as the method for bringing them back, has been stored in him. The humans did indeed poison the earth against the Kyben, and then left Trent to wait 200 years for the radiation to leave before bringing them back. Finding out that he’s not really human, his love interest runs away horrified. Trent sadly realizes that, with the time portal broken, he now has to wait 1200 years, rather than just 200, completely alone.
The ending narration really nails it: “Like the Eternal Man of Babylonian legend, like Gilgamesh, one thousand plus two hundred years stretches before Trent. Without love. Without friendship. Alone; neither man nor machine, Waiting. Waiting for the day he will be called to free the humans who gave him mobility. Movement, but not life.”
Unlike many episodes, this one doesn’t contemplate what Trent’s place in the world is, or what it could be, as a sentient being. It doesn’t contemplate whether or not he can avert the invasion in 1000 years, or whether that’s even possible. It just focuses on what it’s like to be completely alone in the world, forever the outsider for something you can’t control. It’s an existential nightmare earned by a guy who we watched be the hero for the episode, and Robert Culp manages to sell every aspect of it perfectly. If this episode doesn’t hit you in your heart, you might be an android.
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