Outer Limits – Trial by Fire (S2E9)

oltrialbyfire41A little out of order here as Hulu has suddenly decided to put Season 2 behind the pay-wall.  The Canadian-release DVD set is on order — that is how much I hate Hulu.  You can’t have commercials and charge a fee — pick one.

Luckily, this episode is on YouTube.  Even more luckily, this is one of the few episodes of Outer Limits that I recall seeing, and it is one of the best episodes of any TV series that I have ever seen.

On the night of his inauguration, President Halsey and his wife are diverted from the standard parties with fat-cat executives, slimy lobbyists and sycophantic journalists.  His limo ducks into a building which has a bunker for just such a “situation.”

NORAD has detected an object entering the solar system at about half the speed of light heading toward Earth.  It is not known what the object is, but it will be here in 30 minutes.

oltrialbyfire49Halsey assumes command, but is clearly out of his element.  This doesn’t stop him from being smug and condescending to the limited crew on hand.  If they speak in technical terms, he snaps at them to “speak English.” If they speak in simple terms, he snaps, “don’t patronize me.”  Further confirming his dickishness, he says pat-ronize rather than pate-ronize.

On hand to help is scientist Janet Preston, who looks amazingly like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.  She says it is not a comet because it is moving too fast.  The president, accurately portrayed with a politician’s arrogance says “I’d rather know what it is than what it isn’t.”

The president berates the staff for not knowing where the object will hit, but they explain that it doesn’t matter — this is pretty much lights-out for the world.

In the first of several intelligent twists, the object hits the moon rather than the Earth.  But then it is determined that the object was merely launched from a larger ship.  Was this a demonstration of power?  Hillary, er Mrs. Halsey, the insufferable new First Lady, gives her precisely $.02 worth, then the ideas and conjectures start flowing.  And there are real ideas.  Aside from Preston tritely commenting that “this is a damn testosterone festival,” this isn’t like anything you usually see on TV.

oltrialbyfire55There is constant reassessment of the threat as new information comes in.  There is the dilemma of whether to use nuclear weapons (naturally the president and his wife are horrified that we possess the weapons that might save us).  There are the reactions of the Russians and Chinese to both our weapons and to the alien threat to consider.

All the while, there is Hillary inserting herself into the planning, and the president who came into this situation as a dove, but is learning that sometimes force is necessary.

The pace is speedy, the cast is uniformly excellent.  There is a lot going on here, and it all works.

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