Outer Limits – Final Exam (06/26/98)

Seth Todtman has awkwardly shown up to take the doctoral exam.  Dean Irwin reminds him that the failed out of the program.  Seth replies, “Define program.  Define fail.”  If this had been filmed more recently, I would just assume he literally did not know the meaning of the words and was showing up to collect his Participation Doctorate.

Sadly this is not an axe-free zone as he has one to grind.  He closes the classroom doors and pulls out a gun.  So the gun-free zone thing doesn’t work any better than the axe-free zone.  Seth fires a shot in the air in reckless disregard for the students on the 2nd floor.  He condescendingly unveils a cold fusion device, which everyone said was impossible.  If 5 people of his choosing are not brought to him within 3 hours to be executed, he will annihilate 5 million with his cold fusion bomb.  He delivers his list of people to hostage negotiator James Martin.  The list reads:

  • Prof. Claud Wylie
  • Prof. Hanson
  • Mr. Walker
  • Ms. Owens [1]
  • Ms. Carstairs

OK, maybe the first two are known on campus, but the rest are pretty vague.  Could we get a first name maybe?  You know, since we are going to be executing them.  An address or phone number?  Even the T-800 didn’t have to kill every Connor in the phonebook.

Seth tells Martin he has a 50 megaton cold fusion bomb capable of destroying the city.  Then he asks an unexpected and pretty great question, “Tell me one thing.  Define how you can possibly believe me.” [2]  Martin tells Seth he takes him very seriously.  Seth replies, “Then you need to have your head examined because no one has ever come close to building such a device!”  Martin, quite reasonably, asks why — if he has invented cold fusion — he doesn’t just cash in.  There are some interesting turns in their dialogue, but frankly, both of them are so insufferable that it is hard to care.

Seth sends a sample device out for them to observe.  The first thing they observe is that it “doesn’t produce any significant radiation.”  But then Martin says cold fusion actually produces very little radiation — so why bring it up?  And earlier, they suspected Seth just sprayed some radiation-in-a-can on the device to make it appear like cold fusion.  So which is it, does cold fusion produce radiation or not?  They chopper the device out of the city.  When the timer hits zero, it does produce a huge blast, killing the observers.

The 5 people from the list are brought in.  One of them is a long-haired whiner in a black suit with a black t-shirt.  Pop quiz: Is that Mr. Walker or one of the Professors?  Martin tries to talk Seth into letting him in the classroom.  He says 500 people were killed in the blast.  Wait, they took it to a remote are in the mountains — was there a Jamboree going on?  Seth agrees, but demands that the first hostage be killed.  As the timer reaches 1 hour, Martin enters the classroom.

There are two interesting debates going on.  Should the government execute five civilians to avoid Seth’s bomb detonating?  But, at the same time, the army has men burrowing under the classroom to detonate a smaller bomb that will incinerate the cold fusion bomb.  Is it murder to pro-actively kill a few bystanders to avoid the larger calamity?

The stakes are a little diminished because I just don’t care about these people.  Martin was first introduced having an argument with his wife.  There could be no reason for that other than him having a revelation at the end about what is really important in life.  Also, his clothes seem to be oddly ill-fitting.  No big deal, but Outer Limits has had costuming issues before.  Seth is just an annoying, whiny dweeb.  Costuming-wise, they appropriately gave him rimless glasses, frequently an indicator of repellent personalities.  So they might fit the character, but wow did I not care about him.  Finally, the man in black, Professor Wylie . . . any dude over the age of zero wearing a blazer over a t-shirt is not a man to be taken seriously, much less if decked out all in black. [3]  He is understandably panicked at being the first guy to be sacrificed, but his suit and hair would have made him my first candidate also.  On the plus side, this will probably be the first positive contribution this academic chowder-head has made to society.

I have to hand it to them.  An soldier — in fabulous camo — Ryan Chapelles [4] the guy in short order.  For a few seconds, I did care as they were yelling at each other.

Yada yada . . . towards the end, Seth is making more sense than the hostage negotiator.  Martin tries to convince Seth that cold fusion can be un-discovered.  He suggests materials can be restricted and education steered away from the critical physics.  Right.  Then some other stuff happens.

In the last scene, we see a student at a different school scribbling notes about cold fusion.  His professor has a respectable sweater vest and bow tie, so maybe the kid has a chance.  No, wait, the kid is wearing a hoodie.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Does the current edition of Clue have a Ms. Scarlett rather than Miss?
  • [2] Do TV writers not speak English?  He means explain, not define.  Of course, I’m no better — it isn’t a question.
  • [3] OK, Martin is also wearing a blazer over a t-shirt, but at least they are different colors.
  • [4] I opted for the Lego version.  There just ain’t nothing funny about the real clip.
  • Todtman is German for dead man.
  • Best line:  “Are you sure you got your degree from a regular college, or one of those night schools where experience counts?”

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