The Outer Limits: The Human Factor

A doctor attempts to treat a mentally ill soldier by merging minds with him, and things do not go well.

This episode had a real problem deciding what it was. I thought at first they were going for an "isolation in the frozen wastes" monster horror story, like The Thing (which was initially published as a short story in the thirties, by the way). And then, when the solders were carrying in a nuke that looked a lot like a coffin, I thought, hey, Cold War paranoia, always a good time. And then there was the brain-swapping, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the episode. Honestly, I was amused and oddly delighted when "The Human Factor" ultimately turned out to be a love story.

So here's the set-up. Major Brothers (Harry Guardino) went off his rocker when he abandoned one of his soldiers, Private Gordon, in an ice crevasse. Guilt caused Brothers to lose his mind and start hallucinating the unfortunate Gordon as a frozen, floating alien monster (this episode's "bear"). Obsessed with blowing up the Hekla Isthmus in order to make his mental monster go away, the irrational Brothers was taken to Dr. Hamilton, also on base, for treatment.

Dr. Hamilton (Gary Merrill) had just created a mind-meld device and tested it on his willing assistant, Ingrid (Sally Kellerman), and it worked – although the results were awkward, since Hamilton discovered through the meld that Ingrid was in love with him, and he had to admit to her that he didn't love her back. (Hamilton is clearly one of those emotionally cold Outer Limits scientists that we've already seen several times.) But Ingrid wasn't a fifties caricature like Alan's wife Carol in "The Galaxy Being," or an outright stupid but beautiful love interest like Gwyllim's girlfriend Cathy in "The Sixth Finger." In fact, Ingrid turned out to be the hero of the episode.

Hamilton decided that the mind-meld device was the way to understand Brothers, but when an earthquake hit during the procedure, Hamilton and Brothers switched bodies, and Hamilton wound up in lockdown while Brothers did his level best to use the coffin-like nuke to blow up the base. (Or the isthmus. Whatever.) At this point, I was thinking, hey, not one but two Star Trek references: the Vulcan mind meld, of course, and the terrible "Turnabout Intruder," where Kirk's body was stolen by his psychotic ex-girlfriend.

Ingrid's initial mind meld with Hamilton was, of course, set up for later, when she recognized Hamilton trapped in Brothers' body, stole the keys and released him from lockdown. Brothers ended up shooting his own body in an attempt to stop Hamilton, and Ingrid managed to set up the mind-meld machine and swap their minds before Brothers died of the gunshot wound he gave himself. (It's very confusing trying to describe the action in a body swap episode, by the way.)

Let me pause here to say how much I loved the actual mind-meld device. The brain caps were so clumsily made that Kellerman had a terrible time getting them on the guys at the climax of the episode, but I loved the graphics of the brains with the superimposed wavy lines coming together, and the use of the Outer Limits squiggle thingy. Delightful.



At this point, I was saying to myself that if Hamilton survived this, he should give Ingrid anything she damn well wanted, including his love, because she was one in a million. I was amused and pleased when that was exactly what happened.

For Ingrid, love wasn't an unreasoning disease that she caught at random. She fell in love with Hamilton because of his brilliance, his goodness, his need to help others. The two of them had a meeting of the minds Рin this case, literally. It must have been a deliberate choice to cast a younger, handsomer man as Brothers, another way of making their point about love being more than pretty people attracted to each others' prettiness. I'm going to ignore the well worn clich̩ of a young woman falling in love with her much older boss, because I liked the basic idea of what they were going for here.

I also liked the acknowledgement at the end that machines can be used for good or ill, but it was the "human factor" that counted. Hamilton was trying to help Brothers, after all. In the end, Hamilton and Ingrid saved everyone on the base. Good job.

Bits and quotes:

— Ivan Dixon, probably best known for the sitcom Hogan's Heroes, had an interesting supporting role as an officer that mostly spouted very Trekian technobabble about the bomb.


— Was Hamilton a medical doctor or a psychiatrist? Did they ever say?

— I liked that Ingrid asked Hamilton if he had learned what death was, since Brothers died when the two of them were still connected. Sadly, no.

— Brothers loved sunflower seeds (shades of Fox Mulder), and that turned out to be one of the ways Ingrid figured out the body swap.

— I don't usually notice wardrobe, but Sally Kellerman's blouse was obviously way too tight over her chest. No one in wardrobe had a safety pin? Or, better, a blouse that would fit her?

— My obligatory Star Trek casting reference: Sally Kellerman also starred in the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but is probably most famous for her role as Hot Lips in the original movie M*A*S*H, which I recently rewatched and found terribly sexist, especially in its portrayal of her character.

— My obligatory other Outer Limits roles note: Sally Kellerman was also in "The Bellero Shield," Ivan Dixon in the two-parter, "The Inheritors," and James Sikking, the orderly, was also in "Cold Hands, Warm Heart."

Hamilton: "How did you know it was my mind in Brothers' body?"
Ingrid: "I thought you knew. It's your mind that attracts me most."

Maybe not a great episode, but it definitely had its moments. Two out of four bags of salted sunflower seeds,

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sally Kellerman was fantastic in this ep as she was in The Bellaro Shield (which she OWNED). Looking back at her in B&W it's a wonder she did not become a huge movie star (rather than just a working actor type movie star). :-)

I would have accepted her as a captain on Star Trek instead of the mutant lady crewperson.

Liked this ep anyway.