Friday, February 21, 2014

In Search of Happy Endings On The Outer Limits

By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco

You're supposed to laugh at Phoebe on 'Friends' when you realize she can't handle a TV show without a happy ending. They're watching 'Old Yeller' and she mentions growing up being sent off to bed because it was late but told it ends with Old Yeller having puppies. Then there's a gunshot and Phoebe yells "What kind of SICK DOGGIE SNUFF FILM are you watching?" I can't imagine they let her watch the end of 'The Outer Limits.' But as an adult, did she ever sit up late and watch it for herself? The endings can be harder than 'Old Yeller.'

 So it's a bad night if I'm still awake this late. It's been so hard trying to be someone who works during the day when I seem to get stuck with the night jobs. I even look for school early in the morning now. But I was too sick to be trying to keep up with a 6 week class in the winter session so I dropped it, leaving me losing that ability to get to sleep because I don't really get up by 6am. 11pm, approaching midnight, it just seems appropriate to find 'The Outer Limits' on TV.

But I've seen this one. The show failed as a first run, lasting just 1 1/2 seasons for a total of 49 episodes. In the mid 1960's it was a throwback to the 50's science fiction that was more horror than wonder, more anxiety than true fear. Such movies as 'The Thing' and 'Them' depicted the scary unknown which, if you took a good look, maybe you could deal with it afterall if you just calm down. Once you got over your 100 mile stare at what you'd never seen before. But they just kept tapping into that sense of dread. The horror movie part of science fiction eventually went back to traditional horror movies, leaving science fiction to get back to the wonder of it all with '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'Star Wars.' With 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and 'Lost in Space' on the air and 'Star Trek' trying a second pilot episode, 'The Outer Limits' was making the anxious discovery that it was a story out of time, just as so many of its' episodes depicted for the protagonist.

I've got a bit of anxiety of my own going lately, I'm not exactly comfortable with the idea of having no reason to get up in the morning. Waiting for things to change so I can do something about it. And the dang AT&T dsl doesn't work well, so I watch the TV while I'm waiting for SOMETHING to load and distract me from yet another episode of someone depressingly unable to do anything about their situation. Maybe I shouldn't be watching this right now. I don't think there's an episode I could relate to with a happy ending.

So this guy has brought home an illegal alien. Actually it's more like that guy in real life who had the camel without a permit which recently escaped and attacked people. This was an exotic creature from another planet that he could study and feel self important for having. Until, like the camel, it escaped. Suddenly he's confronted by his own mortality, if this thing is traced back to him, especially if it hurts someone first. . . .

 . . . .Yeah, I guess I'm reminded I gotta be careful what I post on the internet messageboard while I watch this, right? His dilemma seems far more interesting than mine. But in true 'Outer Limits' fashion, he's more caught up in the angst than in the panic of the moment, meaning more worry than action. In search of a hero, he finds himself, right?

Actually, a duplicate. The episode is called 'The Duplicate Man.' So the doc can whip another you, wholesale. Except that too requires a permit. But even if he took time to get one, it'll come up what this duplicate is for. So, on the sly, there's another illegal brought in to hunt down the original illegal alien. Horror is about the metaphor for what troubles you. Say an episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' depicts a cheerleader who turns out to be a witch. You say 'Aren't they all?' It's not real life, but then, yes it is.

If the aliens put one of themselves among us in human form, he's much like the Russian spy at the time. The comfort is supposed to come from seeing him assimilate and choose to be one of us. But this is 'The Outer Limits,' he won't be buying a minivan for his wife to drive the kids to soccer. Evil will have a much bigger say in the outcome than in most television. This at a time of great anxiety over how the Communists might take away our way of life.

So they didn't have the 80-100 episodes that are normally considered enough to make the show a 'Success' and for it to go into Strip Syndication, airing 5 days a week once the production run has ended. Yet somehow there is occasionally a failed show that might find its' way to a weekend run. I think I remember that I grew up with the show running about 4pm Saturday afternoon on Channel 11 here in Los Angeles. This being before FOX took over the channel for their new FOX Network. Back then EVERYTHING on that channel was old. This gave me the chance to see this program whose theme could best be 'Life's tough, then you DIE!'

If you watch 'The Outer Limits' you see such things as a meek man who doesn't seem to be inheriting the Earth, it he did there'd be plenty of bullies around to take it from him. Suddenly he discovers he's become 'The Man with the Power,' he's already caused the deaths of so many of his tormentors. Now he's condemned to a life where not only will nothing ever be better but he can no longer indulge himself in anger at those who treat him unfairly. Wouldn't revenge prove an irresistable temptation to even the best of us?

Do you start to get the idea why this show couldn't hold a big audience? Normally people want to see a hero confront their fears for them, defeating them in the end. In 'The Twilight Zone' of the same era a truly bad person would be laid low by an evil which seemed of their own creation, while the deserving would be an innocent victim that could find salvation. The way people want to see real life, if only they could. Yeah, most of television is a bad influence on kids, it makes them think there are happy endings. But one show gives it to you a little TOO straight.

In 'The Outer Limits,' how many times have they turned a normal human being into an alien or other creature, only to have him be more sympathetic to them than to his own people, before he dies/leaves with them/cannot be fully changed back. If you get changed into one of those creatures, you don't JUST die alone, you have your wife and kids there to watch helplessly. While the indifferent who caused this insist 'It couldn't be helped.' The 'Zanti Misfits' are sent to a misunderstanding Earth who think they are greeting scientists and philosophers but find themselves killing the visitors in self defense, only to learn these are the evil criminals of a world who can't bring themselves to execute them, so they are thankful to the Earthlings for using their talent for execution to handle the matter. It doesn't seem so good to be the talented one, does it? At that it just seems to keep resembling real life too much. Maybe not the best thing to watch while everything just seems to keep going wrong.

So this episode goes on to depict that the man who has been duplicated goes indifferently back to his life and of course his wife. The Duplicate comes to life with little sense of identity, but understands it needs to kill the creature. A creature which taunts him with the knowledge he's not real, to be discarded after the job is finished. "You're a shadow. A temporary. . . ." Only the duplicate is no more effective than the original man, the creature escapes. The Duplicate assimilates memories slowly, struggling with knowing what to do next as it gains an identity.

And I wonder how much of this episode I've actually seen before. It's funny how short reruns were, compared to the original show. Primetime commercials were limited back then and the story itself would wind up running about 48 minutes. Afternoon reruns had no such restriction, so some 3-6 minutes might have been cut by the time I was getting to watch this old show. What had I missed?

But this time I was seeing the full confrontation between the Original Man and the Duplicate. This after the Duplicate had shown up to talk to the wife as his memories reawakened. A nice change for the wife, who was of course tired of the indifference. In the midst of all the detachment and stress, these guys on this show have such wonderful wives. Wouldn't that make it all easier. The Duplicate thinks it could live the Originals life better, saying it doesn't have to repeat the mistakes of the original. But the Original says that would mean the Original could change the past, which he can't. And the Original seems to decide he could allow himself to be killed as the Duplicate kills the creature, leaving his wife with the happier version of himself.

Darn, do I really need to keep watching this? Could a duplicate of me fix my career? The Original and the Duplicate go to hunt the creature, one indeed rushes to the creature and is killed, as the other shoots and kills the creature. As this is happening, the wife receives a call from the Doc who created the Duplicate, who had forgot to mention that the Duplicate will die at Midnight.

So do I really need to keep watching this 'Sick Duplicate Snuff Film?' The Survivor returns to the wife, asking if it's too late for them. I well know what comes next. He says the creature and the other are dead. The wife doesn't know which one this is as she says the Duplicate will die at Midnight, moments away. Just as it was while I was watching this.

I could tell you that the Survivor would slump into a chair, the wife would turn away from him defeated as it seemed to grow darker, as the clock would strike midnight we look at a long shot of him looking sick and limp. Fade to black as the emotionless Control Voice says:

"In all the universe, can there be creatures more strange than the species called Man? He creates and destroys; he fumbles and makes mistakes. But the thing which distinguishes him is his ability to learn from his mistakes."

Funny thing to say. Now that he's dead, you want to ask him 'Learn anything?'

But indeed, a funny thing happened. I saw something I'd never seen before. It's past midnight. According to any Hollywood script, when they say Midnight, they mean Midnight. The Duplicate is dead. But the Survivor in the chair suddenly speaks, catching me so by surprise I didn't catch what he said but I THINK it was "As he was coming to life he was dying." And the disbelieving wife is rushing to him.

Did some editor make an editorial comment of his own as he shortened the episode? Dark as the show normally was, did he just have to take out this suggestion of a happy ending being possible to make it even darker? Are there any other episodes that weren't as dreary as they made me believe? Is there something I could ask for?

Maybe a happier ending for 'Demon with a Glass Hand.' Where the man who can't remember why these guys are chasing him, or why he has an electronic hand with fingers missing. He only knows his desperate need to save mankind and the hand says there's more information stored in the missing fingers he needs to get back from the bad guys. Somehow I could relate better to an ending where he isn't doomed to wait a seeming eternity, alone, for his chance to save humanity that he needs so badly. Could there be a easier ending for him than being left to wait?

But with that it's past midnight here, the show is over. I'd not be finding a better ending for me this time. . . .

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