Outer Limits – The Awakening (03/14/97)

Dr. Molstad is showing a journalist [1] around his clinic where he studies people who have no emotions.  A little girl is licked by a puppy and doesn’t want to wash up.  A little boy is treated to a concert by a piccolo-playing clown and isn’t screaming in terror.  Molstad says they have Alexithymia, which is an actual condition.

Joan Harrison [2] interrupts to show them a hostage situation on TV.  Beth Carter, one of Molstad’s patients, is being used as a human shield by a robber.  SWAT saves the taxpayers the cost of a trial.  Beth Carter is led away not just emotionless, but completely devoid of any reaction or interest in her endangerment, the man’s life or if he got blood on her sweater.  She doesn’t give a damn that the criminal died, so in this case her stoicism is appropriate.

Back at the clinic, Molstad tells Beth he has a huge potential break-through in her therapy.  And by therapy, he means implanting an emotion chip in her brain because he has seen how that always worked out well for Data on Star Trek TNG.  He tells her she is the perfect test case for the implant.  Well, yeah — what is she going to do, say she’s scared to have the operation?  Perfect!  He assures her this test could help millions of sufferers.

As they observe, Beth eats lunch and watches TV after the operation. There seems to be no change at all. Then Molstad sees her eyeing the TV remote.  “She wants to change the channel.  She’s bored with it, dissatisfied.”  I feel her pain.  He is ecstatic as she changes the channel. “She expressed a desire!”

Three months later, Joan takes Beth into her home.  They work on her hair, her wardrobe and have some chamomile tea.  Soon she is back at work.  After her first day, she excitedly rushes home to tell Joan about it.  Joan is not there, however, and Beth begins hearing noises and voices.  She faints, but comes around in time to go with Joan to their cute neighbor Kevin’s boat.

She later hears the voices again.  This time, however, something grabs her hand and she finds Joan’s cat dead on the doorstep.  As she is fleeing the apartment, she sees a giant green alien in the living room.

Molstad says the emotion chip is a failure.  Considering Beth’s emotional reaction to that assessment, he is either right or wrong and I firmly stand by that conclusion.  That night Kevin cooks her dinner and pours her wine.  As they start to get more horizontal, she again sees the aliens and they drag her away to their spaceship for a different kind of probe.  Or maybe the same kind.[3]

When she reports this, Molstad is adamant that the experiment is a failure. As he is calling the 24-brain surgeon to give her a Rosemary Kennedy, she flees the clinic.  She runs back to Joan’s apartment which is the first place they would look, but where else does she have?  She sees Joan’s cat is still alive.  Then she sees Kevin’s apartment is just a storage closet (and BTW, she apparently teleports into the room without him seeing her).  After Kevin leaves, she checks out his typical bachelor pad . . . no furniture, junk everywhere, pizza boxes, alien costumes, brightly lit mock-UFO interior.

Kevin and Joan come back and Beth sees them smooching.  She over-hears them discussing how they were gaslighting her because they had developed a rival emotion chip that could be worth billions.  She grabs the operating table from the UFO and rams Kevin and Beth right out the window.  It is laughable that the table was fast enough and had the mass to push two adults to their death.  On the other hand, it was satisfying and pretty awesomely shot.  Beth’s reaction is no reaction.

Molstad diagnoses her as returning to her previous state, so she escapes any punishment.  In his office, he tells her that the chip is dormant and will do no harm.  She goes back to Joan’s place because when you kill someone, you get to live in their apartment.

The ending is as much a construct as the fake UFO set.  Beth is alone in Joan’s apartment stroking Joan’s cat with that same blank expression.  Then she slowly gives us a big smile.  OK, maybe she faked the relapse to avoid punishment.  But why was she keeping up the ruse alone with cat?  And by faking, she has cost Molstad — who actually was a good guy — his chance at fame and fortune.  Oh, and those millions of Alexithymia sufferers Molstad mentioned?  Yeah, they shouldn’t get too excited about a cure any time soon . . . even if they could. [4]

The episode started losing me as it got a little sappy.  Also, Beth in her emotionless state was unconvincing.  However, she was perfectly fine after getting the chip.  It was also interesting to see a young Curtis Manning from 24 as Kevin.  Not a great outing, but this show seems to have a natural floor — it can never be any worse than just OK.

Tomorrow: Science Fiction Theatre, which I also think can never get any worse.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The actress has an almost Garrett Morris level of ability to find just the wrong inflection in any sentence.
  • [2] LA Law’s Michelle Green in a role that just screams for Teryl Rothery.
  • [2] Khaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!
  • [3] Er, he actually kind of admits to date-raping her and Joan is mostly OK with it.
  • [4] After news of this ruse hits, the rival chip maker will be crippled by fines and lawsuits.  Who am I kidding?  They will pay a fine equal to 1% of their Net Income, no one will go to jail, and a few Senators will have new swimming pools.
  • Half the same plot and 9/10ths the same title as Awakenings.

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