33-year old Ryan Unger is hitting the engineering books trying to figure out why he is one of the few humans who cannot suck on the titular Stream. 15-year old Nazi Mark helpfully reminds him that it is not a hardware limitation, he is defective. Mark orders him to get rid of shelves of books that are taking up space. This society has a networked stream that can wirelessly send and receive data directly into the brain, but the Kindle is still in beta, I guess.
Ryan sees Cheryl accessing the Stream and tries to strike up a conversation. It is clear he is regarded as less than a man because he does not spend his life online. So Outer Limits is not exactly Nostradamus on that point.
There is an excellent exchange where Ryan asks Cheryl if she has read Ulysses by James Joyce. She downloads it into her memory in five seconds and sincerely asks, “Is there something you didn’t understand?” Kudos! The trite reading would have been condescension, but they put a refreshing spin on it.
Ryan’s step-father Stanley helpfully tells us, “The Stream gives us instantaneous access to every fact and idea ever recorded.” Cheryl finds Ryan in the basement reading. She tells him, the other 99% look at a page and it is translated and dumped into their memory. She doesn’t even understand the concept of looking at words and reading.
That night, Stanley flips out. He obsessively counts the number of hairs on his head, which would have been far easier for me. He then frantically starts on his arm. He collapses in a quivering heap but Ryan can’t call for help because he can’t call 911 with his brain. Turns out, Stanley has contracted a computer virus.
Stanley goes into surgery because apparently these big-shots can’t fix the virus remotely. During the operation, a nurse gets the virus and chaos ensues. Stanley has a cerebral hemorrhage as random data floods into it, such as dates, numbers and how to spell hemorrhage. The virus causes an insatiable, obsessive curiosity in people — it’s the V’ger Virus.
As other people become infected, Ryan realizes that the stream must be shut down. When he starts whacking Stream routers with a baseball bat, Mark calls him the r-word (this episode is so old, the r-word was retarded, not racist).
As more and more people fall victim to the virus, Ryan decides the Stream must be stopped. It really kind of feels like wish fulfillment for him, but his point is valid. He finds a book with instructions on how to shut down the Stream and tricks Cheryl into scanning it. This causes the program to upload to the stream and be executed.
The Stream stops and the citizens are a helpless bunch of illiterate dopes. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. As in Idiocracy, an average dude is now the smartest guy on the planet. He is seen teaching Cheryl and a little kid the alphabet using a chalkboard. On a planet of billions, this does not seem to be the most efficient way to educate the masses.
One of my favorite episodes. It feels ahead of its time even if it wasn’t. I was consistently surprised at the writing and dialogue. Sadly, this is David Shore’s only script for the series.
Any rating I give it (baud rate, kbps, mbps, etc) will just become outdated, so let’s just say it’s some good shit.
-  The same year this episode aired, Internet Explorer 4.0 was released, so it isn’t as prescient as it might seem.
- This episode aired a few months before the similar Gattaca was released.
- In what is surely a slip-up and still humiliating to the producers 20 years later, one of Ryan’s books is Freedom to Choose by Milton Friedman. [UPDATE] Friedman’s book was Free to Choose — I should have known better.