The Outer Limits: It Crawled Out of the Woodwork

"We are slaves to a problem of grotesque proportions."

A monster made of pure energy explodes out of a vacuum cleaner, and things do not go well.

This episode had to overcome an absolutely ridiculous opener: it was a dark and stormy night, and a gum-chewing cleaning lady in an office building was trying to do her freaking job vacuuming up a dust bunny on the floor (which was tile and not even carpet, by the way) when the fluff somehow exploded out of her vacuum and became a killer cloud of pure energy. It was impossible not to be amused. My late kitty Fox was terrified by vacuum cleaners; maybe it would have scared him.

There was a serious point to the story, though. 1963 wasn't all that long after World War II, and the energy monster was an obvious and even outright stated metaphor for the Bomb. There was even a picture of a mushroom cloud behind Dr. Bloch's desk. Not to mention that Bloch, who had a German accent, was clearly the villain of the piece, recruiting scientists without families to solve Norco's "grotesque" problem, letting the energy monster scare them to death, and then reviving and keeping them alive with Frankenstein-ish pacemakers. Scientific curiosity had again become an obsession and scientists were again depicted as cold and unemotional, a consistent theme in The Outer Limits. This time, the mad scientists were even actual zombies.


For me, the biggest problem with this episode was that there was no lead character. Whose story was this?

We think it's going to be physicist Dr. Stuart Peters, who took a brand new job and discovered that he had made a bad career choice. But then he died twice relatively early in the episode; the second time, permanently. (That bathtub electrocution was a surprise and a real shocker, pun intended.)

At that point, I thought the lead was Stuart's brother Jory, the most interesting character in the episode. Jory apologized for being neurotic and explained that it was because he saw his parents die in a boating accident when he was eight, which was why he was unusually dependent on his much older brother. Did Stuart really hint that Jory should have died with his parents? That was a whole lot of dramatic set-up with no follow-through.

Not to mention that Jory acquired an instant girlfriend. The night they arrived, Jory called a total stranger on the phone, Miss Gaby Christian (Barbara Luna), told her he'd gotten her number from a friend, asked her out, and stayed out all night. That seemed to imply that Gaby was a hooker, except that later it sounded like she was the star of a television show. And then she inexplicably stopped by the motel and inserted herself into the situation with Stuart as if one night out together had made them a couple.


The weirdest thing was that Jory kept fondling a small stuffed bunny. Was that supposed to indicate that he was childish? It felt like Jory was being set up as the dependent little brother who would come of age by defeating the monster, but no. And Jory certainly didn't look 20. (I checked IMDb; the actor, Scott Marlowe, was over 30 at the time.)

Perhaps it should have been Professor Stephanie Linden's story, but it wasn't. Already zombified when the story began, she was clearly conflicted and seemed to be fighting to regain her humanity. She followed Bloch's orders and killed Stuart by locking him in the breezeway to "The Pit," but later couldn't follow through with killing Detective Siroleo (a young Ed Asner) who arrived in the middle of the episode and carried the episode through to the end.

So maybe there was no main human protagonist. Maybe it was the energy monster's story. I actually loved the energy monster effects. It had a human-like silhouette and blinked from one position to another, screeching and roaring as it went and reminding me of the Smoke Monster on Lost. I also thought the empty breezeway between the lab and the "Pit" was very cool-looking. As always, the photography in this show is something special.



But again, I was confused about why the energy monster always seemed to be getting out of the Pit. If so, why was its escape and rampage in the final sequence so dire that Detective Siroleo was ready to call out the National Guard? Early in the episode and at the motel, Jory told Gaby that he never napped but he had smelled something "deadly sweet" that made him nap against his will, strongly implying that the monster had stopped by. That didn't make sense to me.

Bits:

— Loved the title. Plus we actually got an opener instead of a scene from the episode before the credits. Much better.

— The guard at the front gate passed a note on a matchbook to the Peters brothers that said, "Don't come back. Norco doomed!" And of course, they went back. When you get a message like that, really, you should take it seriously.

— Stuart and Jory were from Kingston (Pennsylvania? New York? Jamaica?) and had arrived in L.A. that very day. The two of them living in a motel throughout was awkward, especially with Jory's new girlfriend in the mix. It might have flowed better if they already lived in the area.

— The pacemaker looked much like the controls outside of the energy thing's prison that were labeled "Lab" and "Pit."

— Detective Siroleo said that dead Stuart's scar tissue was "as fresh as tomorrow morning's milk." That was weirdly poetic and inappropriate.

— This episode's sixties sexism: Dr. Bloch told Stuart that rules don't seem strict when they come from the lips of a beautiful woman, referring to Stuart's new colleague Professor Linden. And a soon-to-be-dead security guard told Jory to go dancing with Gaby because she had nice legs.

— What on earth was the "Norco Energy Research Commission" in the first place? What did they do there? It sounded vaguely governmental but it clearly wasn't.

— Lots of other Outer Limits credits: Scott Marlowe (Jory) was also in "The Forms of Things Unknown," Kent Smith (Dr. Bloch) was also in "The Children of Spider County," Ted de Corsia (Sentry) was also in "The Inheritors," and Joan Camden (Linden) was also in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon."

— Two Star Trek mentions: Barbara Luna (Gaby) was in one of my favorite episodes of original Star Trek, "Mirror, Mirror." And Michael Forest (Stuart) was the god Apollo wearing gold lamé in one of my least favorite episodes, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" I spent ten minutes going through Forest's incredibly long list of credits on IMDb that included a ton of anime voice work – and you know what's great? He's still working. Very cool, Mr. Forest.

Quotes:

Stu: (to Jory) "You treat everything like a magazine in a doctor's office."
An interesting character description.

Detective: "Is he insane?"
Linden: "I wish he were. The insane are forgivable."

Detective: (on the phone, calling for help) "No, I don't know what to suggest. Tanks?"

How to rate this episode? It was certainly watchable but it was also uneven, not that well written, and difficult to take seriously. Maybe two out of four dust bunnies?

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

1 comment:

Greg Clockmaster said...

Credit should be given to the writer of this episode for having a cleaning woman inadvertently creating a self-sustaining plasma energy blob. She must have survived the experience as Dr. Bloch describes her testimony as to how it was created. So what happened to her? Was she able to just go home and tell her friends and family, or did Dr. Bloch make her yet another zombie with a pacemaker?