Outer Limits – Music of the Spheres (05/09/97)

College student Devon Taylor is listening to space.  He thinks he can detect a pattern coming from Sirius. [1]  His professor finally tells him to go home, but he grabs the tape to listen to later.  When his younger sister Joyce overhears the tape, she is able to clearly hear the pattern.  In fact, she puts on a set of head-phones and snoozes all night with it playing.

Her father finds her in the morning.  He immediately assumes she is on the drugs.  To be fair, her pulse is racing and she is acting weird.  And he should know the symptoms because is has two doctorates — the one of his character, and being played by Dr. Johnny Fever.  Before he can tell her to just say no, she grabs the tape and runs out the door to school.

Joyce gets everyone at school listening to the groovy space music.  Devon insists that there is a message embedded in it, which is likely since it sounds suspiciously like the transmission sent in Contact.  He goes looking for Joyce at a rave where the music makes everyone look like they’re playing that game Riker brought onto the Enterprise; you remember, the one that induced orgasms . . . c’mon, you know you want to click it.

Devon sees that the euphoric teens are addicted to the music like crack.  He is a little over the demographic so is able to resist its charms.  It also has the side-effect of causing metallic scales on the kids’ skin.  He goes to the booth where the DJ has the easiest job in the world — one tape, on a loop.  When Devon grabs the tape, the people stop their orgasmic, slack-jawed moaning and scream in pain like when I accidentally hit the Firefox back-button to my sister’s Facebook page at an inopportune time.

Joyce and the other teenagers are taken to the hospital.  All of them are getting the same metallic plating on their skin even though soap and water would take care of most of it. Devon looks in Joyce’s eye with one of those lighted doctor doohickeys and says, “Her iris is changing.”  No, Mr. Know-It-All, her pupil is changing, not her iris. Seriously, does anyone in TV finish the sixth grade?

After Devon sends the tape to a friend in Japan, he is responsible for a global outbreak. The Feds show up and confiscate his stereo, oscilloscope and nudie magazines.  The enigmatically-named Dr. Riddle is called from the CDC, but she is no match for the 20 year old Devon.  She confirms that the disease is spread by a signal that is like music to teenagers and random noise to adults . . . just like _____________ . [2]  It also instills an intense desire to share with others, thus explaining Bernie Sanders’ success. Oh, and it comes from space.

The CDC decides the best course of action is to play the signal in reverse.  In addition to confirming Paul is dead, this also kills Joyce.  Thank God Devon is there to turn the original tape up to eleven and revive her.

Devon further concludes that the changes are a gift from aliens.  Our sun is about to shift to a blue dwarf.  Only those who have evolved the metallic skin will survive. The CDC agrees and the government starts broadcasting the signal, finally using that goofy Emergency Broadcast System, and on PBS, although they wisely schedule it during Downton Abbey so someone will actually be watching.

All the kids on Earth are soon covered with a gold shell making them look like small Oscar statues, which will drive Roman Polanski crazy.  Adults are able to get a treatment which will give them the same metallic shell. For reasons not well explained, Joyce & Devon’s father opts out.

I always like a mystery that has to be solved.  And the magnitude of the story — human evolution & sun shift — certainly lend gravitas to the story.  Add in a little star-power (no pun intended), and a few minutes of padding don’t seem too big a price to pay.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The pattern is to cancel every 3 months before the welcome-back offer expires. I ain’t paying full price for radio, man!  Actually, I saw later that they were saying Certus, not Sirius.  That isn’t a thing, so I have no idea what they were going for.
  • [2] Mad-Libs time.  [Name some dreadful young people’s music].
  • Devon is played by Joshua Jackson who would go on to play a similar brainiac on Fringe.  Surprisingly, he is great here as a 20-year old know-it-all and less annoying than the know-it-all he played as an adult.
  • Joyce is played by Kirsten Dunst, three years after Interview with the Vampire and three years before the greatest movie in the history of cinema.
  • Title Analysis: About as perfect as you can get.
  • Music of the Spears.
  • Music of the Sneers.
  • Music of the Shears.

Outer Limits – Dead Man’s Switch (04/04/97)

Now this is how you start an episode!  A helicopter comes in low over a snowy landscape, approaching a small government (?) installation. Just like The Thing, only better — no one is shooting at a dog.[3]

The helicopter lands and two men go through a blast door which houses an elevator.  As they go down, Lt. Ben Conklin remarks on how deep the bunker is.  General Eiger is surprised at first, but says, “That’s right; I keep forgetting you are a last-minute replacement for Samuelson.”  So we are to believe that Ben is trusted with the fate of the planet, in a project managed by the general, where Ben is the sole US employee . . . and the general can’t be troubled to keep the names of his army-of-one straight?  I didn’t need the (?) above — it’s a government installation alright.

The elevator stops at 11,000 feet, paradoxically the site of a Strategic Air Command [1] control room. Eiger tells him the elevator doors will be welded shut, but that he will have food and air to last a year.  He shows Ben the reason for this project — photos taken of an alien armada heading toward earth.  It has not yet been determined whether they are hostile or friendly.  There is a distinct Trial by Fire vibe, and that is a good start.

Eiger tells Ben, “This bunker is a doomsday device, able to annihilate the entire planet.” There is a red button which is the titular dead man’s switch.  If Ben fails to press the button after an alarm, the world will be destroyed.  His food and air will run out after a year.  If he has not been relieved by that time, he will die, the button will not be pushed, and the earth will be destroyed to save it from the aliens.

Some time later, Eiger contacts Ben by video phone and has him test the equipment.  There is a retinal scanner and palm print analyzer so that none of the other zero people welded into the top-secret, 2-mile deep bunker at the South Pole will try to destroy the earth.  But better safe than sorry — however, it might have been a morale-builder to assign him a code name more optimistic than DeadMan1.  Even more depressing, the scanner says, “Authorized: Dead Man” confirming his likely fate and not even getting his code name right.

Day 1

On monitors, Ben sees the four other people sharing his job.  Donald in South Africa, Gwen in Australia, Hong in Asia, and over on the Spice Channel, Katya the hot commie.[2]  After their first hellos, a loud alarm blares telling them they have 30 seconds to respond.  Ben hits the button first and the earth is saved.

Day 12

They discover that all have spent time in isolation which prepared them for this task. Donald was a political prisoner, Ben and Katya were in missile silos, and Hong has been alone mostly because he’s an asshole.[4]  Gwen is more of a watcher than a do-er.

Eiger comes on their monitors.  Earth has begun communicating with the aliens.  They say they are on a scientific expedition, but Eiger believes the large ships are full of colonists.  I’m surprised the producers didn’t emphasize this by having the American member of this project be Native American.  But then they would have had to cast a Native American, and how often does that happen?

Day 70

Nothing important happened today.

Day 102

Ben has a very good dream, then a very bad dream, but both were pretty great.

The alarm sounds again.  Katya is busy on a treadmill and wearing a black sports bra so can’t be troubled to save the world (but is making it a better place).  Donald and Gwen are off-line.  Hong gets to his button first, but it doesn’t stop the alarm.  Ben is able to stop it.  USA!  USA! Hong opens the control panel to see if he can repair his button, and his monitor goes out.

Day 134

After a month, Hong comes back on line and Eiger checks in.  The aliens have passed Mars.

Day 229-304

The aliens have arrived.  Unfortunately, the lowest-bid contractors got there first.  Hong overloads his bunker by using a short-wave radio.  The ventilation system goes haywire and he dies.  Donald freezes to death in Africa.  The aliens break into Gwen’s bunker and kill her.

Day 367

After Katya dies, Ben and I have no reason to go on.  The alarm sounds.  With his life support systems failing, his team dead, rescue overdue and no contact from Eiger, he does not push the button.  At the last second, Eiger comes on the monitor, and Ben pushes the button.  Eiger says humanity took staggering losses, but has prevailed.  He was incommunicado because “the leadership was in hiding” which sounds about right. But all is not as it seems — there is a nice wrap-up that I won’t spoil.

The suspense was not as relentless as Trial by Fire.  Here there were several scenes of a long distance romance between Ben and Katya to break the tension.  Unfortunately, some of this was just padding to reach 45 minutes for syndication.  However, there was a great 35 minute episode here, and that’s good enough.

I rate it 8.5 Cloverfield Lane.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The seal says it is the United Nations Strategic Air Command, not United States.
  • [2] This might actually be her role.  Gwen is a clinical psychologist, Hong is an electrical engineer, and Donald is a priest.  Katya is a soldier, but has no unique skills other than full, luscious lips and a smokin’ body.  But then, Ben has no special skills either; well, I guess Gwen and the priest need some eye-candy too.
  • [3] IMDb trivia says this “appears to be stock footage from The Thing”.  Thanks for nailing that down.  To their credit, they did update “MacReady . . . appears to be Jerry Garcia” to “MacReady . . . Kurt Russell.”
  • [4] Hong and the misanthropic jerk in Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium . . . Asians seem to have a type in TZ.
  • At one point, Katya says 5,000 Rubles = $1 US Dollar.  It is worth $86 now, so I’m dubious about that figure in 1997.
  • Couldn’t work it in above, but:  Dude living underground, put there by a dubious authority figure, told to have no communication with the outside world, a slave to a deafening alarm system on a timer, being observed by other stations, pushing a button to save the world.  There’s a real Desmond vibe here.

Outer Limits – Double Helix (03/28/97)

Well, we start off with a laugh as Dr. Martin Nodel walks in wearing what appears to be David Byrne’s big suit in charcoal gray.  I can imagine maybe the shoulders were a little padded in 1980s style, but the sleeves end mid-palm, so there was apparently a problem in wardrobe.

He asks his students if they consider themselves Darwinians [1].  There is a priest present among the students wearing his black suit and collar.  I’m not sure why he’s there; you might as well have a fireman sitting there. [2]  Nodel is researching junk DNA which he thinks could contain messages from God.  Others think it might be leftovers from evolutionary dead-ends such as gills or tails, which makes sense.  Nodel thinks it is there for future evolution which makes no sense.  I am on team-evolution, but it is not known for acting pro-actively as my back can attest.  To prove his theory, he has come up with a way to activate that DNA.

He has done the testing and I haven’t, so maybe he’s right.  He uncloaks an aquarium which contains a big fish with less space than those bowls used to torture beta-fish.  To the shock of the students, the bass lowers four legs and climbs on to a bit of dirt so that it now has less room than those pens used to torture veal.  I must say it was pretty effective, although not as much as if it had started singing Take Me to the River.  And Nodel had just the suit to join in.

Nodel has self-diagnosed himself with the markers of Wilson’s Disease, which I believe is known more colloquially as Soccer Balls.  Nodel injects himself.

He begins team-building stunts with his class.  He has the guys form a circle around a circle of the girls.  The girls then do a trust fall where they tip over backwards and trust the guys not to grab their boobs.  They then do the experiment where six of them lift a classmate using just their fingers, and are really trusting of the guys.  Nodel tells them they are going to be working in close quarters and will have to abandon all modesty.  He reminds them that they had already committed to having not had any surgery or bodily alterations.  The dude with the dopey pierced ears doesn’t seem to understand the question.  Oh yeah, then the professor says they all need to get naked.

They protest, but he insists he needs to examine them for birthmarks, scars and tattoos. Unsurprisingly, earring guy has a problem with this and bails.  The remaining students strip.  He notes one of the girls has a small tattoo, but upon closer examination, he decides it is tolerable.  He detects an appendectomy scar on another girl and boots her out because she is not a whole person as humans naturally evolved. He found no defects on any of the guys, so maybe he wasn’t checking them out as closely.

At home that night Nodel, worries that he is left with only 6 subjects when he needs eight. He suddenly cringes in pain.  He takes off his shirt and we see his horribly deformed back.  He realizes that the scars are actually a map.

The next day, he tells the students they are officially part of his research project.  He gives them a list of supplies to bring with them the next day.  I hope clean clothes are on the list because they all seem to be wearing the same clothes as yesterday.  WTH was the wardrobe department doing during this episode?

He is still two bodies short.  Fortuitously, his estranged son drops by with his strange girlfriend.  Nodel drives them out to the designated meeting place.  As they are exploring the area, they are surrounded by soldiers.

The soldiers lead the group to an underground facility housing a mysterious object.  Like Admiral Yamamoto, it has stayed in the same position since WWII.  Even digging out the ground below it will not cause it to fall.  The army figures it is 60 million years old. The object is too hard for them to even take a sample.  Nodel sees a triangular indentation on the object.  He pulls his glove off to reveal a similar triangular deformity on his palm.  The weird part is that the marking on the object has the point at the top.  When Noel presses his palm to it, his scar has the point at the bottom.  It should have been like a USB connection where he has to reverse it three times to get it to go in.

A blue light shoots out and raises Nodel like Jesus with his arms outstretched.  He speaks in the voice of the aliens.  They spread their their genetic material across the universe like a hotel bedspread to assure the continuation of their race. The object is a vessel to take the group back “home” so the aliens can see how we growed up. NASA can’t keep track of its moon rocks and home movies for 40 years [3], and they’re expecting these aliens to have a welcoming committee after 65 million?

Like Roy Neary, with no regard for their safety, they board the ship and leave behind family, friends and student loans without a thought.

Pretty straightforward, but dang if it didn’t reel me in like it always does.

Post-Post:

  • [1] It is kind of Jesus-fishy that Darwin had a name so ripe for turning into a noun.  Wallacerians would never have taken off.  See also, Alexander Graham Bell.
  • [2] Of course, he is there for shots of him grimacing as Nodel talks about evolution. It is just strange that he appears with the students, and not with the administrators that come in later.
  • [3] Or so they would have us believe.

Outer Limits – New Lease (03/21/97)

Oscar Reynolds collapsed on the tennis court committing not only a foot fault but an asphalt.  I guess he had picked up a few bucks when still alive by selling his body to medical science.  Ergo, 12 hours later his frozen corpse is being delivered to a lab.  The doctors run him through the microwave and are able to bring him back to life.

He is understandably skeptical, but finally accepts that he is back from the dead.  Unfortunately, the doctors tell him that he will die again in a couple of days.  They just haven’t worked out all the bugs yet.  In an unusual departure for Outer Limits, this miraculous scientific breakthrough is made by two guys working in a dark lab rather than one guy working alone in a dark lab.

After 13 hours, Dr. McCamber is ready to pull the plug.  Dr. Houghton correctly points out there is no plug — the guy is alive.  McCamber counters out that the life he has was forced on him.  Well, welcome to the club, pal!

Oscar just wants to die.  When Houghton points out that Oscar will go down in history, Oscar busts him for being more concerned about his own reputation.  When Oscar has a seizure, McCamber implores him to just let the guy go.  Oscar does indeed die despite Houghton’s efforts.

Houghton is mugged in the parking lot.  After a struggle, he is shot. McCamber wastes no time dragging his dead ass back into the lab where he can be resurrected. When he awakens, his first thought is that he will soon re-die like Oscar did. McCamber drives him home where he hopes he can make up for years of neglect.  The next day, instead of buying millions of dollars of life insurance, he takes his wife and daughter to the park.  They then go out for a nice lunch.  Out the window, Houghton sees the man that killed him.

That night he tracks the man down and kills him although I never understood that sort of brutal vengeance.  Kneecaps . . . shoot him in the kneecaps!  Because everyone dies thinking they didn’t spend enough time at the office, he goes back to the lab that night. McCamber tells him the previous revivals all failed because they were working on frozen stiffs.  Houghton was fresh dead so he is actually recovering.  So, good call on skipping the insurance premiums; not so much on murdering a man in front of witnesses.

He has a loving reunion with his wife for about two minutes.  In an ending more like the 1960s Twilight Zone, the police show up and haul Houghton away.  They tell him he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

It was a good story with a great premise mostly supported by the usual Outer Limits quality production.  It felt like a little bit of a slog at times, though.  The most interesting thing was seeing Stephen Lang much younger than he was in Avatar and much, much younger than he was in Don’t Breathe.

Post-Post:

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.