Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Expanding Human" (10/10/1964)




“Expanding Human”
Season 2, Episode 4 (36 overall)
Originally aired 10/10/1964


Fifty years ago tonight, The Outer Limits offered up a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of drug abuse… beating Nancy Reagan to the punch by almost twenty years.


At an unnamed university in Nevada, where experiments are being conducted with conscious-expanding drugs, a night watchman interrupts a brutish man who has broken into the lab… and winds up dead for his trouble. The killer makes off with several vials of various chemicals. The next day, the police investigation is compounded by another death: Dr. Henry Akada, an instructor at the university and a participant in the CE drug research, has been found dead. But Akada is not dead---- he’s merely under the influence of a powerful cocktail of drugs that has allowed him to slow down his vitals as to be more or less imperceptible.

Hart Bellaire, the program’s major funding source, threatens to pull out in light of the recent controversies and also ends up dead, murdered by the same ogre that's terrorizing the campus. The killer is actually the alter ego of Dr. Clinton, the head of the research project, who has inadvertently turned himself into a Jekyll and Hyde by taking the CE drugs. His mind enhanced and his physique augmented, he has delusions of grandeur and plans to create an army of CE-altered cohorts to take over the world.


He forces his colleague, Dr. Wayne, to imbibe the same CE cocktail that he’s been using and, while they wait for the drugs to take effect, police investigator Branch arrives for some routine questioning about the recent murders. He sees Clinton in his CE-enhanced form and plugs him a few times… to no apparent avail. Using Wayne and Branch as human shields, he makes his way to his car… but the CE drugs wear off, and he bleeds to death on the pavement.

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RANDOMONIUM



It’s hard to believe in this prescription drug-addled modern age that, only fifty years ago, the average person wasn’t on five (or more) different medications delicately balanced to optimize his or her quality of life. Drugs were generally prescribed on a short-term basis to treat specific ailments, and illicit drug use--- while it certainly existed--- occurred a safe distance from suburban white America (or so it was thought at the time). The idea of consciousness-expanding drugs certainly wasn’t new in 1964: the mescaline trip famously documented by Aldous Huxley in 1954’s The Doors of Perception had certainly garnered attention, and LSD was poised to become the drug of choice for America’s disenfranchised youth; however, it’s safe to say that, at that particular moment in time, there hadn’t been a prevalent expanding of consciousness in our great nation, so “Expanding Human” may have value as a historical document of our society mere moments before it became numbed and pill-happy.



Hey kids, remember the innovative direction in past Outer Limits episodes like “Don’t Open Till Doomsday,” “The Forms of Things Unknown” and “O.B.I.T.”? Those were all helmed by the brilliant Gerd Oswald (brilliant and prolific: he directed a whopping 14 episodes, far more than any other director). Remember that trippy panoramic shot of the unconscious folks in “Second Chance,” or the surreal, Gothic gauziness of “The Guests”? Those were lensed by Kenneth Peach (who shot a whopping 25 episodes, fully half of the entire series!). Both of these guys were capable of genius-level work… so why the hell does “Expanding Human” look so plaintive, so completely drab and forgettable, so uninspired and lifeless? Offhand, I’d say it’s because they were handed a script that left little opportunity for visual flourish and clever staging. Yes, they could’ve certainly done more (I probably would’ve tried a canted-angled disorienting noirish approach myself, just to make it interesting to look at it), but I imagine they phoned it in out of protest. It’s a shame…. even a pretty episode with a thin script is still pretty. And this is a story about consciousness-expanding drugs! Some kooky, psychedelic visuals to emphasize the transition from plain ol’ consciousness to awe-inspiring expanded consciousness would’ve been absolutely appropriate.

The aforementioned script is an original by Francis Cockrell. Cockrell was also responsible for 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is impressive until you realize that all 18 of them were adaptations of existing short stories; this means that he was really adept at reconfiguring existing material, but perhaps not quite as adept at crafting original stories. In fact, much of his IMDB page consists of teleplays versus original scripts (he, did, however, write four original scripts for TV’s Batman in 1966, which is kinda cool, and he did write the original story that was the basis of the 1944 film noir Dark Waters). Cockrell did turn in a second Outer Limits teleplay, which went unproduced due to the show’s early cancellation (which, not surprisingly, was an adaptation of an existing short story: “The Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley*).

Despite the episode’s title, it’s apparent that The CE Trip™ doesn’t really expand Clinton’s consciousness at all; rather, it taps into his baser, less evolved desire for power and willingness to commit crime (up to and including cold-blooded and remorseless murder), which is hardly advanced or expansive (“Contracting Sub-human” may have been a more apropos title). But then again, there’s the idea that humans can only access around 10% of the brain’s total capacity (which is nothing more than a myth, albeit a persistent one; the recent Scarlett Johansson vehicle Lucy is based on it), so maybe that’s Cockrell’s angle: maybe the mind of man is chemically shackled for a reason, and maybe it’s that restriction that allows for things like compassion and kindness.

Clinton’s CE-Inspired World Takeover Extravaganza™ has what might be a fatal flaw: he endows Wayne with the same CE-fueled abilities he has, on the baseless presumption that Wayne will join him on his nefarious quest for power. If Clinton’s intellect has indeed been expanded, it seems like he’d at least consider the possibility that he may very well be creating a powerful opponent instead of a partner. He even observes that Wayne is inherently more intelligent and in better physical condition than he is, so maybe The CE Higher-than-high High™ is actually suppressing his common sense. In fact, Wayne’s a pretty buff motherfucker (as we see in the final scene when he’s sporting a tight polo shirt), so he might be able to take CE Clinton down without any CE tag-team help at all.

And that might be my biggest gripe with the episode: we never get the joyous payoff of any physical showdown at all. The setup is most certainly there: CE-Clinton forces Wayne to imbibe the CE Mojito™, so it’s only natural that we assume that CE-Wayne will shock and awe CE-Clinton by kicking his ass instead of joining his World Dom cause. This is a fair assumption, especially since we’ve just watched CE-Clinton assholishly bully and demean Wayne for an entire act. We wait with bated breath for Wayne to start tripping hard; we lick our lips barbarically as we anticipate the CE-juiced mano-a-mano that we’ve earned for sitting through three acts. Oh yeah, it’s gonna be epic, watching two chemically-boosted Kaiju-like brutes duking it out on Sunset Boulevard.


Nope. Here’s what does happen: CE-Clinton takes a few bullets, the drug wears off, and he collapses en route to the getaway car. And… that’s it. That’s the end. Pissed? You should be. Fans of the 70’s Incredible Hulk series may recall the two-part episode “The First,” in which David Banner encounters a man who, like him, periodically transmogrifies into a scary beast thanks to exposure to gamma radiation. After watching the big guy toss around woefully weak bad guys for five years, you just knew that he’d eventually cross paths with a foe of equal power. And it was glorious, by God. That’s what should have happened here.

Do any of those computer panels look familiar…?

I understand the concept of consciousness expansion, but why exactly would it cause facial skeletal distortions (or any physical changes at all, for that matter)? Cockrell never even hints at an explanation, leaving us to wonder what the actual hell is going on. It’s clearly supposed to indicate a Jekyll and Hyde-type of effect, but I would’ve appreciated at least a passing acknowledgment that licking The CE Toad™ will make you look like either an alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation or a victim of Proteus Syndrome.



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So hey, what’s with that weird chin-cupping death-grip move Clinton uses on the night watchman in the prologue? We assume that it’s some heretofore-unknown method of neck-breaking, but soon learn that the guy was in fact merely suffocated. So Clinton used some sort of superhuman hand motion to suck all the oxygen out of the poor bastard’s lungs, then? Pardon my French, but ce qui la baise? I’m reminded of Master Pai Mei’s “five-point palm heart-exploding technique” from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), which is equally ludicrous… but there, it’s kinda supposed to be. What’s the excuse here?




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Speaking of the night watchman, I’m detecting a Red Shirt phenomenon in full bloom on The Outer Limits. Remember the night watchman in “Second Chance”? Dead. The security guard(s) in “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”? Dead. The army personnel in “The Zanti Misfits,” many of whom were really just glorified security guards? Dead, dead, dead. Conspiracy? Perhaps.



Clinton in his CE-Enhanced form looks a helluva lot like actor Brian Thompson, who routinely terrorized FBI agents Mulder and Scully as the shape-shifting alien bounty hunter on TV's The X-Files. However, to my knowledge, Thompson wasn't CE-enhanced... he just looked like that. Or did he...? I dunno... the truth is out there.

Professor Akada stands wild-eyed and proud as season two’s version of Chino Rivera (from season one’s “The Mice”), and Aki Aleong turns in a pretty effective Henry Silva impersonation in the role. He’s only in the episode for a few minutes, but he’s engaging and magnetic enough to be memorable despite being buried under 52 minutes of dour, gloomy muck.



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NIP AND TUCK

A modified opening title sequence accompanies “Expanding Human,” gutting it even further (it was first shortened five weeks into season one). This new version removes the bit about controlling the horizontal and the vertical, and runs a brisk 28 seconds (down from 45; the original version ran a full minute and 6 seconds). This revision represents the final alteration, the version that will open the remaining episodes of the series, and here it is in full motion:

video

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AURAL PLEASURE


“Expanding Human” introduces us to one of Harry Lubin’s best music cues for the series: “Hostile Space” is heard when we first witness Clinton undergo the CE transformation in act two. It’ll be used again to even greater effect in “The Invisible Enemy” in a few weeks. We also get “Hostile Galaxy” again, and we’ll get it several more times throughout the season. Other cues heard this week include:



Dark and Scary
Hostile Galaxy
Shock Happening I
Paranormal
Desolate Lands
Mission of Discovery

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Dr. Roy Clinton (and his CE-enhanced alter ego) is played by Skip Homeier, who has a fairly impressive list of genre credits to his name: he appeared three times on Science Fiction Theatre (“Death at 2:00 AM,” “The Other Side of the Moon,” and “Living Lights”), twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Momentum” and “The Motive”), twice on Star Trek (“Patterns of Force” and “The Way to Eden”), and once on Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond (“The Bride Possessed”).


Keith Andes (Dr. Peter Wayne) has another Outer Limits connection in addition to his work here: he turned in an impressive three appearances on TV’s I Spy (“A Room with a Rack,” “Laya,” and “Now You See Her, Now You Don’t”), a series which starred TOL leading man Robert Culp (who, incidentally, will star in next week’s “Demon with a Glass Hand”). Andes also appeared on Star Trek (“The Apple”) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (“Buck’s Duel to the Death”), a series whose regular cast included TOL alums Tim O’Connor and Michael Ansara.


Detective Lieutenant Branch is played by James Doohan in his only Outer Limits excursion. Doohan popped up in several of the TV shows we frequently connect to in these pages, including The Twilight Zone (“Valley of the Shadow”), The Fugitive (“Masquerade” and “Middle of a Heat Wave”), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Shark Affair” and “The Bridge of Lions Affair: Part 1”). But really, he won’t be remembered for any of those (or his many other) roles. He’ll always be Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the engineer who kept The Enterprise’s engines purring through countless adventures on the original Star Trek, the subsequent animated series, and seven feature films. I do count myself a Simon Pegg fan, but his Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Trek films pales in comparison.




Vaughn Taylor (Dean Flint) returns for his second Outer Limits appearance (he was one of the frozen-in-timers in season one’s “The Guests”). Taylor’s notable genre connections include five Twilight Zones (“Time Enough at Last,” “Still Valley,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “The Incredible World of Horace Ford,” and “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”), four Fugitives (“Fatso,” “Runner in the Dark,” “Three Cheers for Little Boy Blue” and “Joshua’s Kingdom”), and one Invaders (the pilot episode “Beachhead”). Interesting note on that last credit--- Dominic Frontiere provided the majority of the music for The Invaders, and the cue underlining Taylor's appearance is from his score for season one's "The Man Who Was Never Born."



Lee Morrow is played by Peter Duryea, who other genre gigs include appearances on I Spy (“Tag, You’re It”), Star Trek (“The Cage”), and The Fugitive (“Man in a Chariot”). He’s the son of legendary noir baddie Dan Duryea, notorious slapper of women in 1945’s Scarlet Street, 1949’s Criss Cross, 1949’s Too Late for Tears, and others.




Aki Aleong (Dr. Henry Akada) is the episode’s only bright spot, and he’s a familiar face to boot: he played Dr. Sui-Lin, the semi-creepy scientist who demonstrates the skin-plasticizing serum for the Chinese top brass, in season one’s “The Hundred Days of the Dragon.” Like Andes and Duryea, he appeared on I Spy (“Danny was a Million Laughs”); he also enjoyed a recurring role as Mr. Chiang on TV’s V in the 80's.
Aleong with TOL alum Martin Landau.

Coroner Leland is played by Jason Wingreen in his third and final TOL appearance (he played a Helosian operative in “O.B.I.T.” and took a fatal dive from a high building in “The Special One”). He has another tangential Outer Limits connection, which I feel a bit remiss for not mentioning during our previous encounters with him: he co-starred with TOL alum Carroll O’Connor in All in the Family and its sequel series Archie Bunker’s Place. Wingreen has lots of other genre credits, which we’ve covered in his previous episodes.


If Robert Doyle (here playing Mark Lake) looks familiar, it’s because we last saw covered in coal dust and playing a miniature accordion in season one’s “The Sixth Finger.” Doyle’s other genre credits include appearances on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Minus-X Affair,” which also featured TOL alum Theodore Marcuse), The Fugitive “(Come Watch Me Die,” “Landscape with Running Figures: Part 2,” and “Run the Man Down”) and The Invaders (“The Innocent," which also guest-starred TOL alum Ed Asner).


Shirley O’Hara plays a receptionist here; she was much more accomplished as Dr. Soldini in season one’s “The Human Factor.” Daystar Productions first utilized her services on their pre-TOL series Stoney Burke (“Sidewinder”). Other genre appearances of note include The Twilight Zone (“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” and “On Thursday We Leave For Home”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Pearl Necklace” and “The Silk Petticoat”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Death of a Cop,” in which she co-starred with TOL alums John Marley,  Rex Holman and Read Morgan), and The Fugitive (“Shadow of the Swan”). A bit later on, she played a waitress in Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971).




Detective Sergeant Alger is played by Troy Melton in his only TOL outing. Melton’s other genre work includes appearances on The Twilight Zone (“Showdown with Rance McGrew”), The Invaders “(Summit Meeting: Part II” and “The Organization”), and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (“Bad Medicine”)



And finally, Barbara Wilkin appears in a couple of scenes as Susan Wayne. Her acting career only lasted nine years, and the only other genre credit on her limited résumé is the low-budget The Flesh Eaters (also in 1964), where her impressive bosom probably should've received its own screen credit. Yes, before you ask, she's absolutely, positively a TOL Babe.


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HOME VIDEO RELEASES



MGM/UA wasn’t in a big hurry to release “Expanding Human” to the home video market (and honestly, why would they be?), so it was among the final episodes to hit VHS in 1991. For its inclusion in Columbia House’s mail-order collection, it shared tape space with “Behold Eck!” (now there’s a double-feature you’d need some chemical enhancement to endure). And no, before you ask, it never showed up on LaserDisc.


Hey, if Oswald and Peach can phone it in this week, then by God so can I. The next two paragraphs first appeared in my spotlight of “O.B.I.T.” back in November of last year, tweaked just a bit to work here.


The second season of The Outer Limits has seen three distinct DVD releases and, no matter which one you get, you’ll find “Expanding Human.” The downside here is that every digital release has employed the failure-prone DVD-18 format (dual-layered and double-sided). Those beautifully-designed VHS tapes you've got in a box in your garage might just last longer.


If you’re too lazy to load up the DVD (I’ve certainly been guilty of this from time to time), it can be streamed for free thanks to Hulu. They’ve got the entire series, so if you want to endure an ass-numbing Outer Limits marathon in front of your computer, that option is happily available to you. However, if you’d like to do the same in front of your TV, DVD is your only option since the series isn’t available on Hulu Plus (unless you’ve got an internet-connected computer hooked up to your TV, that is).

If you’re a Blu-ray nut like me, and you want to enjoy “Expanding Human” in pristine high definition… well, you’re shit outta luck, partner. The Outer Limits appears destined to remain stuck at a resolution of 720x480.

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

It appears Dimensional Designs intended at one point to immortalize CE-Clinton in model kit form. Their site lists a “Dr. Roy Clinton CE-Altered Ego” 1/8-scale resin kit, sculpted by Marc Mascot & Danny Soracco, with an assigned serial number of DD/OL/EH-39. However, like the listings for Mr. Zeno and the Grippians, there’s no picture, no price, and no way to order. So I dunno, it kinda sounds like it doesn’t really exist.

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THE WRAP-UP

“Expanding Human” isn’t quite the worst Outer Limits episode ever, but it’s not far off. It’s just so…. blah. The core idea is somewhat promising, and the performances are fine, but it’s wasted on a paper-thin, extremely predictable Jekyll and Hyde-wannabe script with uninspired direction and cinematography. You’d think a story about consciousness expanding would have loftier goals, but alas. Just Say No, indeed.






* Sheckley’s story (alas, not Cockrell’s adaptation) was finally produced as an episode of Stephen Hawking’s Masters of Science Fiction in 2007, and featured voicework by TOL alum Sally Kellerman.


7 comments:

  1. Another fine mess you've gotten us into, Craig. Oh, very appropriate to post this at 4:20....My Consciousness Has Been Raised! I don't even remember this from my childhood; is it possible I blocked it out? I'm still recovering from the "Cold Hands, Warm Eck!" comedy doublefeature. At least I look forward to the "Soldier with a Glass Hand" coming up next week. Excellent entry as always Craig. Thank you.

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  2. Entertaining review as always, Chris, especially considering the uninspiring subject matter. One correction, though:

    "This revision represents the final alteration, the version that will open the remaining episodes of the series..."

    ...except for "The Invisible Enemy", which still has the 45 second version used in Season 2's first three episodes.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, but there aren't any further alterations. I actually address this in my spotlight for "The Invisible Enemy" (yes, it's already written), so here's a free preview:

      “The Invisible Enemy” is anomalous in that it features the longer opening sequence from the beginning of the season (which was superseded by a shorter opening, starting with “Expanding Human” a few weeks back). The episode fell very early in the production schedule, so presumably it was in the can before ABC mandated that the opening be shortened. The rest of the season will feature the truncated opening.


      Oh, and it's CRAIG, not Chris.

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    2. So my correction needed a correction. I'm both embarrassed and grateful. Thanks, Craig! I look forward to the rest of your second season reviews.

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  3. There's not much to like about "Expanding Human" and to me, it's hands down the worst Outer Limits episode of them all.

    The best moment of "Expanding Human" is a break-in at a university lab, when an intruder rips a huge door off of its hinges and kills an unsuspecting security guard. It's a well shot scene at the beginning of the episode but unfortunately it's all downhill from there. For the rest of the episode, we are forced to listen to never ending conversations and interrogations along with numerous chemical cocktail mixing sessions.

    Skip Homeier does an okay job as the pumped up Dr. Roy Winston, but he's only marginally effective as the super human. Your mind is more likely to implode than be expanded by Season Two's "Expanding Human".

    Your review was immeasurably more entertaining.

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  4. As the rare French speaking OL Fan who actually regularly comments on the OL Facebook page (where I learned about your fantastic and VERY FUNNY blog), I must say that I have NEVER heard the French expression "Ce qui la baise" ! :) Am I right in supposing that you wrote WTF in Google translate and that's what it gave you in French ?? LOL ! Actually in Quebec French What the Fu** (WTF) would translate as : "Kossé ça Tabarnak ??!!" :) Au revoir mon ami !

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