The Outer Limits: The Galaxy Being

An amateur inventor manages to contact a being from another planet, and things do not go well.

"The Galaxy Being" isn't one of my favorite episodes of The Outer Limits, but for a pilot, it's impressive. The lead actor is an Academy Award winner, the effects are memorable, the theme is progressive and the science fiction details are only mildly dated today. Although the plot is a common one for science fiction: xenophobia, and resistance to progress.

The strongest part of the episode was the way the scientist and the alien, Alan and the Galaxy Being, found a way to communicate using mathematics and Alan's computer, and that the two found common ground in their driving curiosity and inquisitiveness. Cliff Robertson gave a solid performance as a stereotypical curious scientist, seeming a bit too unemotional, much like the Galaxy Being (which I'll bet was a deliberate acting choice). He obviously cared about the Galaxy Being, who came across as a better "person" than Alan. On the Galaxy Being's planet, war was forbidden, which was why it was against the rules for the Being to contact Alan; the Being told Alan that it would be destroyed if its actions were discovered. In the end, after unintentionally causing death and destruction, the Galaxy Being destroyed the radio tower in a show of strength to make the humans think about the danger out there in the universe (a little message theft from The Day the Earth Stood Still), and then sacrificed itself, although it confusingly said that it would continue to exist:

Alan: "Where you are, do you have death?"
Galaxy Being: "Repeat?"
Alan: "We have end of being. We stop moving, stop breathing, no thoughts, nothing. We call it death."
Galaxy Being: "Death is property of carbon cycle in three dimension. No death in our dimension. Electromagnetic waves go on to infinity."

A little later:

Galaxy Being: "Infinity is God, God infinity. All the same."

Human beings don't come off well in this episode. Actually, they suck. While it's understandable that they would run from something that scary-looking whose very presence caused lightning flashes, a high-pitched electronic whining and radiation burns, it's just too bad that the police and the military show up and simply start shooting. When Alan's wife Carol was wounded, of course, the Galaxy Being managed to heal her by cauterizing her wound. Message received.

Yes, it was the early sixties, which were more like the fifties, and the portrayal of Alan's wife Carol was typical of the time. Although she had a job at the family-owned radio station, Carol just didn't understand why Alan was searching for the secrets of the universe when he should have been more concerned about paying the bills on time and getting dressed for their big night out. Later, she fainted when she first saw the Galaxy Being, and then she got hysterical as soon as she woke up. The most interesting thing about Carol was her strongly negative reaction to the sounds and appearance of Alan's experiment, and how she described it:

Carol: "It's cold. It sounds like sleet and snow and it looks like electricity frozen."



She also said that Alan had been in "cold storage" too long. Yes, it's the classic stereotypical gender roles, men are intellectual and women emotional. I guess that means that the Galaxy Being had to be male, since it was cold and unemotional like Alan.

Times have changed and of course this 55-year-old episode is dated, but there was one specific scene I found unbelievable: when the Galaxy Being told the chastened populace to go home, they dutifully turned around and went. Can you tell me of anyone who would turn around and leave a place when they just saw an actual real live alien?

And worst of all: I mean, come on. When you are lucky enough to achieve first contact, you don't ask the alien to wait around while you go out to dinner, even if the mayor is giving you an award. If you absolutely have to go somewhere and it's a matter of life and death, you ask the alien to call you back later. Right?

Science fiction details, effects and photography

A couple of things I really liked were that the Galaxy Being's name was untranslatable, that their physiology was based on a nitrogen cycle instead of a carbon cycle (is that even possible?), and the discussions Alan and the Being had about death, war and religion.


The Galaxy Being itself, The Outer Limits' first "monster," was one of their best: the glowy photographic negative appearance, the gloves that made it appear that it had three fingers on each hand (television aliens with five-fingered human hands always bothered me because it seemed unrealistic), the lack of a nose and mouth that the Galaxy Being referred to as "holes in the face." Yes, we can see at the neck that the suit had more than one piece, but it was still cool.

And the three dimensional television receiver Alan created looked like a big aquarium, which made a lot of sense, like Robert A. Heinlein's "stereo tanks." The area where they filmed was lovely, too. It was supposed to be a small Southern California town, but it reminded me of Mulholland Drive.

Bits

— One of the most famous things about The Outer Limits is the credit sequence where the Control Voice says, "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission." I always liked it because it was cool, but there was also a little message in there about popular media and how it can influence and control what we think.

— I've always loved the music that plays during the end credits. It's soaring, eerie, and probably overly dramatic, but unforgettable. It stays in my head for days after I've seen an episode.

— This episode was written and directed by series creator Leslie Stevens.

A good start. Three out of four testimonial dinners,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Programming note: The Outer Limits is going to be a rainy day project for me, so I'm not committing to finishing it soon. But I've finished nearly every show I've started. FWIW.

Larry Cataldo said...

Thank you, Billie, for taking the time to give the opening episode the once over twice. Some great observations, and I so agree with the frustration of the wife being more worried about a dinner and award than her husband's frantic pleas to let him tend to his work at a critical moment. The idea of the scientist, artist, eccentric, not being supported by their partner rings very loudly for some of us. A stereotypical woman then? Stereotypes pervade. She was real then, and there are more like her now. Not a criticism as much as an observation of human nature. She had her agenda, he had his.
Please keep them coming. I will be reading.
-Larry Cataldo

Billie Doux said...

Thank you so much, Larry. And I will definitely be writing. :)

David Jones said...

Well, I think you're way too easy on this episode, which I just watched again for the first time in decades. I can forgive the ludicrous science and the logic flaws. The idea that a paper star map written from the POV of the Earth would have any relevance to a being from another galaxy is pretty dumb. Why does this being have a complete English vocabulary--except for the words death, nose and mouth? None of it makes any sense.

But okay, we have to get past that stuff to get the story rolling. But what is the story? Cliff Robertson goes to his testimonial dinner (what exactly is he being honored for, anyway?) and so the substitute broadcaster turns up the transmitter power and brings the Galaxy Being into our dimension. Fair enough.

And then the Galaxy Being strolls around town causing (for some reason) a lot of wind wherever he walks and irradiating people who either shoot at him or run. Finally, the military are called in. They shoot a woman (again, for some inexplicable reason) and then the Galaxy Being heals her (setting the mold for aliens from Starman to E.T. to. . . every misunderstood alien since) before delivering a lecture about contemplating the universe to a bunch of bystanders. Then he goes back to Andromeda or wherever he came from. Apparently, the radio transmitter wasn't necessary at all!

Prior to that, it seems that about 10 minutes were taken up by Cliff Robertson feeding coins into a payphone and listening to busy signals or reporting that the line is dead--this despite having expressed a strong desire to get back to the radio station minutes earlier. Why he didn't just drive back there as soon as he realized someone has been monkeying with the transmitter's power levels, I don't know.

About half of this episode just seems like stalling.

I realize that special effects and budgets were severely limited during the early sixties. But that's no excuse for such weak writing and a drama in which characters behave so inconsistently and have such poorly developed goals.

Neither Cliff Robertson nor the Galaxy Being really seem to be trying to do anything during this episode. The only character with a consistent goal is the wife, attempting to get some sort of emotional response from Cliff Robertson. There's the beginning of a theme, there, but it seems completely unrelated to the very few significant events in the main storyline. And that B story, which seems like a perfect opportunity to wrap up the episode, is just dropped. Instead we get some speech by the series narrator about having to try to understand one another and forces beyond our understanding.

The voice-over narration of the Outer Limits often indicated that they were trying for some kind of profound message. But when you look at the actual plotline, so often it's just a monster appears, the military are called in, and the monster gets shot.

Slapping some poetic narration on top of that doesn't make it profound.

Billie Doux said...

David Jones, all good points. By today's standards, this episode does have massive flaws. I think it's somewhat cool and progressive when you think of it in relation to what else was airing in the early sixties, though.