The Outer Limits: The Man Who Was Never Born

"Beauty is always on the edge of being lost."

A historian from the future tries to change the fate of the earth, and things do not go well.

"The Man Who Was Never Born" is considered to be one of the best episodes of The Outer Limits and it's a time travel episode to boot. I didn't remember it from my childhood, and was really looking forward to it. So disappointing! It had all of the elements necessary for an outstanding story, but it just didn't hit the mark for me.

And yet, when I started writing about it, I realized that I had a lot to say. While there were many classical call backs, there were also a surprising number of pop culture references to movies and television shows that had yet to be created when this episode aired. I can only conclude that "The Man Who Was Never Born" was way ahead of its time.

Let's start with the classical and fairy tale elements, which were mostly Beauty and the Beast with a touch of Frankenstein. The spoiler-opener featured a beautiful woman in a sundress (Shirley Knight) picnicking alone by a lake in the sunshine, stalked by a hideous Quasimodo-like monster watching her from behind a tree. She held a tiny frog in her hand but didn't kiss it, because that would have been too obvious. Of course, the monster behind the tree was the hero of our story, the courageous Andro, who had crossed time to save the world, and he and that beautiful woman were meant for each other.

Andro was played, in makeup and out, by Academy Award winner Martin Landau, an actor certainly talented enough to project the existence of Andro's deformities even when he wasn't actually covered with them. Yet, I thought Andro came across as way too melodramatic, an interesting choice by the actor and the director. Andro didn't converse; he threw literary-like lines at the other characters as if they were supposed to catch them. I didn't like the way he spoke but I suppose it was in character, since Andro wasn't accustomed to conversing with people after a lifetime spent only with books.

I also couldn't quite swallow that, on the day she was planning to marry Bertram, Noelle instantly fell in love with Andro, in that old-fashioned way that made "falling in love" seem like a random disease that you couldn't help but catch. She loved him even more when she saw what he really looked like, too. Women fall in love with monsters in fairy tales.


But The Outer Limits is science fiction, and interestingly, "The Man Who Was Never Born" is very much a precursor of two of my favorite sci-fi classics: James Cameron's movie Terminator, and the original Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever." In the opening sequence when Andro was telling Reardon the astronaut what happened to the world, Andro said, "Noelle, they called his mother. Noelle. A woman who issued destruction for all future Christmases." Geez, like it was her fault. Paging Sarah Connor. And in "City," everyone on earth was wiped out of existence because McCoy went back in time and his actions affected one particular woman's life; Kirk and Spock had to follow him back in time and erase what he did.

The time travel creepiness is definitely what works best about "The Man Who Was Never Born." The title refers to Andro, of course, and to Bertram Cabot Junior, both of whom were erased from existence. When Andro and Noelle escaped the present in Reardon's space ship and went through the time warp to the future, Andro vanished because he never existed and Noelle was left alone. A stark image, not easy to forget.


This ending left me with so many unsettling thoughts. What will happen to Noelle? Will she die in that ship? If she manages to land (Andro did, so we can assume it's not terribly difficult), what will she find in 2148? Did she and Andro manage to stop the destruction of the earth's people? Will the future be a beautiful place populated by happy humans, or would there be a Planet of the Apes type message that humans were inevitably destined to destroy the earth?

And what happened to Reardon, the blondly handsome astronaut? He seemed to accept Andro's story readily, and immediately hit on the famous "Let's go back in time and kill Hitler" scenario. But why did he disappear when he and Andro went back through the time warp to the present? Reardon was returning to his own time, so it doesn't make sense to me. (And hey, if Noelle managed to go back to the present, would she vanish, too?)

It also makes no sense that Andro went directly to the exact time and place in the present that he needed to go. In "The City on the Edge of Forever," Kirk and Spock also went directly to the time and place in the past that they needed to go, but it was explained. Plus, Andro told Reardon that he knew absolutely every detail there was to know about Cabot -- and then he didn't know who Noelle was.

And the effects were terrible. Yes, it was 1963, but Reardon's space ship looked like a toy dangling from a wire, and the waves that indicated that Andro was using hypnotic suggestion were clumsy. Although I'll readily acknowledge that the photography was exceptional. My favorite visual was when Bertram was running through the woods, with Noelle's wedding veil in his hand streaming out behind him.

I also liked the futuristic library that looked a lot like the one in "All Our Yesterdays." (I can't help making comparisons and references to original Star Trek. It's the sixties show I know the best. Plus I'm willing to bet Roddenberry was inspired by The Outer Limits.)


And Andro's mask/makeup was impressive for 1963, I'll readily admit. The way he used hypnotic suggestion to make everyone see him as normal was an excellent plot device, since a guy who looked like the Elephant Man wearing a burlap sack might have looked out of place at Mrs. McCluskey's boardinghouse.

I also really liked how Andro paid his first week's rent with invisible bills. A small detail, but delightful.

Bits:

— Points for making the end of humanity biological instead of the result of nuclear war. Although if there were no nukes, why was the 2148 landscape destroyed?

— I kept wondering why no one addressed the possibility that Noelle was already pregnant with Bertram Junior? Because it was 1963? Or because Bertram Senior had been away in the service, meaning he wouldn't have been the father?

— Andro was defined by his love of books. Noelle always had a book in her hands. Another nice detail.

— Reardon had a gun. Why would he have a gun with him in a space ship? And may I add that it's really sad that so many of these Outer Limits episodes feature guys running around with guns, trying to solve everything with violence.

— Martin Landau seemed to be going for a British accent, but it sort of drifted in and out.

— Since I keep talking about original Trek, Karl Held, who played Reardon, was in "The Return of the Archons."

Quotes:

Andro: "The noble Hamlet. Anna Karenina putting on her gloves on a snowy evening. Gatsby in white flannels. Moby Dick. And Mark Twain's whole meandering Mississippi."
Reardon: "Melville. 'Hope proves a man deathless.'"
Andro: "There is no hope here."

Andro: "When a woman brushes her hair, she imitates the motion of the stars."
Wow.

Andro: "It'll probably be beautiful."
Noelle: "The future usually is."

How would you rate this episode? How many time warps out of four?

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

4 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

I just have to thank you for the picture of the young Martin Landau.

Billie Doux said...

He was gorgeous, wasn't he? And such a terrific actor.

percysowner said...

I saw this when it was first shown and it has stuck with me. I can't disagree with your criticisms, but at the time, this was a pretty impressive episode, maybe because, as you noted, things that are now cliches were new back then.

The insta-love was a bit out of left field, but IIR, it was one of those 1960 cliches that has now fallen out of favor. It's more part of having all your episodes be stand alones as opposed to the current day serialized way of storytelling. I can't count how many heroes of TV shows fell in love at first sight, married or became engaged and then had the woman in question die, all within the space of 45+ minutes. Romance was pretty fast back in the day, at least if the characters weren't regulars on the series.

Yeah, special effects on OL were really limited, although there is one in an upcoming episode that scared the HELL out of me. I can still remember it after all these years, much like I still remember this episode.

I'm really glad you are looking at the Outer Limits. It never got the acclaim of Twilight Zone, but it did have some great episodes, IMHO.

academic_drifter said...

This ending left me with so many unsettling thoughts. What will happen to Noelle? Will she die in that ship? If she manages to land (Andro did, so we can assume it's not terribly difficult), what will she find in 2148? Did she and Andro manage to stop the destruction of the earth's people? Will the future be a beautiful place populated by happy humans, or would there be a Planet of the Apes type message that humans were inevitably destined to destroy the earth?

According to David Schow's The Outer Limits Companion (which I read many years ago), there was an epilogue (I can't remember if they filmed it or if it was just scripted) where Noelle landed and met a young couple driving by in their car. I think it works better the way they left it.