Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Episode Spotlight: "The Probe" (1/16/1965)



“The Probe”
Season 2, Episode 17 (49 overall)
Originally aired 1/16/1965


This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

                               --- T.S. Eliot (The Hollow Men)



Fifty years ago tonight, The Outer Limits unspooled its final “great adventure” for the loyal fans that were still tuning in after the Brady regime had scraped away most of the show’s brilliant first-season luster with a crowbar. It opened on a cargo plane, flying through some scary-looking storm clouds, carrying Amanda Frank to her wedding in Tokyo... but that pesky Ma Nature just ain’t having it. Coberly, the pilot, attempts to avoid certain disaster by flying into the eye of the hurricane... and everyone promptly blacks out. They wake up in the plane’s inflatable life raft in a swirl of fog, but quickly discover that they aren’t floating in the ocean: they’re inside a large structure with plastic flooring.


Strange mists and beams of energy are directed toward the raft, one of which nearly freezes Navigator Dexter to death. Coberly, Amanda and Jefferson Rome (the group’s de facto leader), set out to explore while Dexter stays behind to warm up and radio for help. A bulbous, slithering blob appears out of nowhere and appears to swallow him. Rome launches into some serious scattershot and baseless theorize and determines that they’re trapped inside a gigantic microscope of alien origin, an automated interstellar probe roaming the galaxy for research purposes. They too encounter the bloblike creature, which Rome figures is a mutated microbe that’s somehow immune to the probe’s super-hygienic design. The probe’s internal mechanisms douse the trio with a chemical repellent that protects them from the microbe’s advances, at which point it occurs to them to try to communicate with the alien scientists who are likely monitoring the probe from afar.


Amanda pleads with the unseen aliens to set them free before the probe leaves Earth for its next destination (which the group has determined to be Venus, thanks to a convenient map incorporated into the probe’s machinery). All seems lost when suddenly the group finds themselves outside the probe, adrift in their raft, with help on the way to pick them up. Flying back to civilization, they see the probe rise upward into the sky---- and promptly explode. They surmise that the aliens destroyed it to prevent the microbe from infesting Earth, and deduce that, some day, the aliens will return.

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RANDOMONIUM


“The Probe,” which was both the final Outer Limits episode produced and the final to air, was written by Seeleg Lester from a story idea by Sam Neuman. In the director’s chair was Felix Feist (director of 1953’s Donovan’s Brain, which The Outer Limits kinda blatantly ripped off for “The Brain of Colonel Barham” two weeks ago). Feist directed a few film noirs (1947’s The Devil Thumbs a Ride, 1949’s The Threat, and The Man Who Cheated Himself in 1950) and, after his work here, would direct six episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea before passing away in 1965.

The director of photography duties were split between Kenneth Peach and Fred Koenekamp (I’m not sure why; perhaps Peach was already gone when pickups and/or re-shoots were required). Koenekamp served on a whopping 90 episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (a series which starred TOL alum David McCallum), two episodes of Mission: Impossible (a series which starred TOL alum Martin Landau), and the pilot episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey in 1982 (which didn’t feature any TOL vets, but it’s a show that I enjoyed the hell out of). His theatrical cinematography credits include genre releases like The Swarm (1977), the original Amityville Horror (1979), and (deep breath) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension (1984).

The show’s cancellation had already been announced when production on this final episode started, so it’s hard to imagine Brady and Company breaking a sweat trying to achieve anything remarkable. And… yeah, it shows. There’s so little here to grab onto in terms of story or character development that the entire affair just feels vacuous and pointless. Every character is flat and indistinct; we aren’t given an ounce of information about any of them. We know that Amanda is about to get married, and that the crew is flying her to Tokyo to meet her fiancĂ©, but that gives us no insight into her connection to them, or who she is, or what she does for a living, or why she’s getting married in Tokyo, or how the crew knows her to begin with, or where they took off from. We do learn about halfway in that she majored in ancient languages in college, but that fact ultimately has no bearing on anything. Now, I’m not the type who necessarily requires three-dimensional lifelike characters to enjoy a good story… if that’s what it is: a good story. This ain’t, primarily due to the lack of focus in the story or, more to the point, the lack of story in general. It’s basically four people inexplicably stuck in a strange location with virtually no help from anyone (unlike the Darcys last week, this group doesn’t even have a Limbo Being to sashay in to drop clues), who eventually figure out their situation and somehow survive/escape it. The episode is somewhat reminiscent of The Twilight Zone’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” and not just because the two share similar themes: the giant half-circle set piece donation barrel used in that episode, which reappeared as the space craft’s fuselage in “The Inheritors, Part II,” is on hand here as part of the oversized interior of the probe.


So we’re facing a dearth of believable characters and a lack of story. What’s left? Might there be some other aspect of the production that can provide a least a modicum of relief for the viewer, rendering the experience at least semi-bearable? I’m happy to report that there is: the visuals. The sets and effects are the best thing about the episode, a surprising achievement given the lack of money and time invested. The probe set ---- essentially three connected rooms--- is spacious and enormous, lending an impressive sense of scale (and an automatic boost to the production value). There’s a curious lack of close-ups throughout most of the episode; everything is shot medium or long, which contributes to the illusion that our heroes are in a large environment (this may or may not have been intentional; it’s entirely possible that there wasn’t enough time to get sufficient coverage). There’s a nice surreal quality to the imagery, starting with the (quite effective) reveal that the lift raft is sitting on a hard floor instead of floating in the ocean. It’s just plain eerie to watch the various gasses and mists moving toward the characters slowly and purposefully, as if alive and sentient (remember Finley’s energy cloud in “The Man with the Power” and the Energy Being in “It Crawled out of the Woodwork”?). The glass tubes that envelope the characters to “inoculate” them against the Microbial Menace™ are glorious from a pulp sci-fi standpoint, and hearken back to season one’s “A Feasibility Study.”

Question: is Jeff the captain of the cargo plane’s crew? He assumes the leadership role, despite the fact he's only the radio operator. Coberly is the pilot, but he clearly defers to Jeff in all respects. And Amanda is a passenger, yet she pours coffee for the crew and hands out life vests as if she’s a stewardess. I dunno, maybe she's working off the price of the flight...? The guys refer to her as "babe" and "honey," so she may be doing more than just flight-attendanting.

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Mikie, the series’ final alien antagonist, is embarrassingly ridiculous. It’s not as bad as last week’s Limbo Being, but it’s not far off. It’s hysterically awful, but it does work as comedy relief in an otherwise dour and humorless story (I chuckle every time I see it, so it definitely succeeds on that level). It’s an oversized microbe, an organism too simple for facial features, but I swear to god it’s got a goddamned face. There’s one shot where it turns toward the camera and damn it all, it’s got eyes, or little holes that look like eyes. I hate to say it, but the damned thing is kinda cute. It takes on an almost canine demeanor, toothlessly menacing our heroes like a skittish and tentative dog lacking any formal guard training. When the globular critter divides and multiplies, its diminutive offspring (let’s call it Mini-Mikie™) possesses a wiggling phalange of sorts that could easily be interpreted as a wagging tail. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, when it shimmies its way up onto the life raft, it engages in some decidedly doglike behavior… yeah, that’s right, it totally humps that thing.

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Woof, baby, woof.


So the mysterious alien race is presumably benevolent, since they safely return our heroes and then destroy their probe to prevent Mikie the Malevolent Microbe™ from infecting Earth… why, then, do they destruct the probe in our atmosphere, where its remnants will fall into our ocean and very possibly lead to the very catastrophe they’re striving to avert? They may not be as intelligent (or as benevolent) as they appear.


I received a rather humorous e-mail from my friend David J. Schow,* author of The Outer Limits Companion (or, if you’re me, The Holy Bible), the other day. He happens to own all 49 Outer Limits episodes on 16mm film, many (if not all) containing the commercials shown during the original broadcasts (!). In honor of “The Probe” turning 50, he dug his print out and---- well, I’ll just hand him the mic and let him tell the tale himself:

I swear I was gonna do you a solid.  Watch "The Probe."  Send images and a list of the commercials that were broadcast thereof, the consumer items The Outer Limits was "brought to you by" on this particular swan-song week.

Threaded it up.  That print probably hasn't projected for 15 years at least.

And the drive wheel inside the projector goes sproooooinggg!

And I dismantle the thing but cannot ascertain the nature of the malfunction (other than by saying, "Projector broke.")

Minutes before I had unreeled a commercial mailed to me by a friend -- supposedly an Outer Limits spot but it turned out to be a trailer for a Sherlock Holmes movie.  All was well.

Yes, "The Probe" was so awful that my projector refused to show it.

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DEJA VIEW


Mikie the Microbial Horndog™ would resurface, in modified form with a splashy paint job, as the tunneling Horta creature in Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark” in 1968.  But this isn’t just a case of a reused costume or prop: Janos Prohaska, the man inside the microbe, climbed back in to play the Horta, giving us one last Outer Limits-Star Trek connection before we amble off into the sunset.

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AURAL PLEASURE


“The Probe” affords us one final dip into the deep pool that is Harry Lubin’s library of stock music. Selections swimming their way to the top this week include "Hostile Space," which appears multiple times throughout the episode, along with "Imminent Ambush" and "Dark and Scary." There are others, to be sure, but... yeah, I'm done trying to identify these goddamned cues.


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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Mark Richman (Jefferson Rome) has a long list of sci-fi/fantasy/horror TV credits, and is a Daystar Productions vet to boot: he starred in season one’s “The Borderland” after a guest appearance on Stoney Burke (“The Journey,” that series’ final episode) the year before. You’ll find him on The Twilight Zone (“The Fear”), The Fugitive (“Ballad for a Ghost” and “The Last Oasis”), The Invaders (“The Leeches” and “Inquisition”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Man with a Problem” and “The Cure”), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Seven Wonders of the World, Parts I and II”), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (“the Monster’s Web” and “Secret of the Deep”). In my lifetime (1969 onward), he appeared on Mission: Impossible (“Gitano,” “My Friend, My Enemy” and “Underground”), Galactica 1980 (“The Night the Cylons Landed, Parts I and II”), The Incredible Hulk (“Triangle”), and Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Neutral Zone”). You may also recognize him from the comedy masterpiece Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989).



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Peggy Ann Garner (Amanda Frank) ain’t no slouch in the genre connections department. She popped up on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Victim Four”), Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“Tonight at 12:17”) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Project Strigas Affair," which also guest-starred TOL alum William Shatner). She can also be found in the Fox film noirs Daisy Kenyon (1947) and Black Widow (1954) and, even further back, played Young Jane alongside a young Elizabeth Taylor in the opening scenes of 1943’s Jane Eyre (also from Fox).



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William Boyett (Co-Pilot Beeman, that poor sumbitch) holds the sole Robert Culp connection this week (he appeared in “The Tiger” on I Spy). Boyett’s other genre credits of note include appearances on The Invaders (“Summit Meeting, Part I”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Silent Witness”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The Dividing Wall” and “Beast in View”), Mission: Impossible (“Leona,” which also guest-starred Dewey Martin from last week’s “The Premonition”), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Secret Sceptre Afffair” and “The Man from THRUSH Affair”), The Incredible Hulk (“Veteran”), Circle of Fear (“The Ghost of Potter’s Field”), Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories (“Alamo Jobe”), and Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Big Goodbye” and “Time’s Arrow, Part II”). On the big screen, he played an unnamed crewman in 1956’s Forbidden Planet.


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Wriggling around on the floor under a thick layer of silver latex as Mikie the Microbe is Janos Prohaska, who also inhabited the elaborate Thetan costume in “The Architects of Fear” and played Darwin the chimpanzee in “The Sixth Finger.” As previously mentioned, Prohaska would don the Mikie costume again in Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark,” which was one of a total four Treks he’d appear in (he also brought to life the Mugato in “A Private Little War,” Yarnek the Living Boulder in “The Savage Curtain,” and both the Anthropoid Ape and the Humanoid Bird--- which was the Empyrian costume from TOL’s “Second Chance”--- for “The Cage”). He also played Heloise, a female chimp, in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes.




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Ron Hayes (Pilot “Cobe” Coberly) has a pretty paltry selection of genre credits outside of The Outer Limits: a single stint on The Invaders (“Valley of the Shadow": below left) and two on The Bionic Woman (“The Jailing of Jaime” and “Sister Jaime”). William Stevens (Navigator Dexter), meanwhile, doesn’t have any genre credits outside of The Outer Limits, but he does hold the unique honor of appearing in both the very first--- and very last--- episodes (he played a police officer in “The Galaxy Being”; below right).


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HOME VIDEO RELEASES


“The Probe” was released on VHS in 1991, one of the remaining dozen episodes that hadn’t been released up to that point. But retail wasn’t the only game in town: Columbia House offered the series in a mail-order “Collector’s Edition” subscription series, which offered two episodes per tape (“The Probe” was paired with its predecessor, last week’s “The Premonition”).



MGM released the episodes on VHS in groups of three, ignoring both the original broadcast schedule and production order (they focused on the more iconic episodes early on, which I guess makes sense from a fiscal standpoint). This approached carried over into the LaserDisc releases, which collected eight random episodes in each volume (volumes three and four contain six episodes each, however). How random, you ask? “The Probe,” certainly not one of the show’s better efforts, was included in the second set, ahead of classics like “The Sixth Finger” (volume three) and “O.B.I.T.” (volume four). I know, it boggles the mind.


The arrival of the DVD format, which quickly made both VHS and LaserDisc obsolete, fixed this randomness with full season sets in 2002 (season one) and 2003 (season two). Suddenly it was possible to own the entire series and only sacrifice three inches on one’s video shelf (as opposed to the four feet a complete set of the VHS tapes required; half that if you went the Columbia House route). How could you not love MGM? Here’s how: they subsequently released the exact same discs two more times in different packaging (in 2007 and 2008) without once remastering the episodes or producing a single supplement (documentary, commentary track, etc.); worse, they still haven’t brought the series into the high definition realm.


But this is the Digital Age now, so who wants to hassle with physical media at all? Throw your VHS tapes and DVDs into a landfill, kids, because you can stream the entire series from the Holy and Benevolent Cloud that hovers invisibly overhead, keeping our entertainment heritage safe forever (or until the internet collapses). All 49 episodes are available on Hulu Plus, which costs $7.99 per month (despite this paragraph’s heavy sarcasm, it's actually a really great deal).

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

Dimensional Designs has released resin model kits for most of the monsters and aliens that inhabit The Outer Limits, and their website does list a Mikie Microbe Monster (gawd, the three M’s!) kit, sculpted by Danny Soracco in the 1/8 scale (DD/OL/MM-37); however, there’s no price listed and no option for ordering. So maybe it was planned but scrapped….? I dunno.


The closest you can get to owning your own Mikie would be to pick up Diamond Select’s action figure diorama commemorating Star Trek’s “Devil in the Dark,” which includes a Mr. Spock action figure and the Horta. Pick up a can of silver spray paint and you’re all set. Or you can endeavor to make your own… like I did. That’s right, bugs and ghouls, it’s time for one last Project Limited, Ltd.!

So I could’ve taken a couple of different paths with this one. My first impulse was to twist a bunch of silver balloons together, since Mikie is somewhat puffy looking. But I felt compelled to sculpt, to squish my fingers in something cold and sticky and, y'now, create. But I was also mindful that every one of these projects invariably ends up in the garbage, so I wanted something that would, y’now, reduce my carbon footprint or whatever. Teresa was watching one of the endless cooking competitions on the Food Network in the background as I mused, which inspired me to make an edible Mikie, which would minimize waste (other than the time I’d be wasting, but I clearly have a lot of that on my hands). It was decided. I dug a pound of ground beef out of the freezer and went to work.

Turns out Mikie’s quite tasty with a slatherin’ of barbecue sauce.

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THE WRAP-UP

Here we are: the end of the line. Final episodes are rarely satisfying (exceptions include Breaking Bad’s “Felina” and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “All Good Things…,” both of which are excellent; don’t even get me started on that bullshit Lost finale). The Outer Limits certainly deserved a great sendoff, but it just wasn’t meant to be (some will argue that the show actually died with the departure of Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano at the end of the season one, a point of view that I can't argue with, even though I don't really share it). “The Probe” does have its moments (well, maybe one or two)… and lots of cool visuals… and that damned Mikie is almost charming, but… there’s just nothing here to latch onto or care about. Fifty-one years and six months ago, The Outer Limits took control of television sets across America and, fifty years ago tonight, relinquished it one last time with nothing more than a feeble blip.



Friday, January 9, 2015

Episode Spotlight: "The Premonition" (1/09/1965)



“The Premonition”
Season 2, Episode 16 (48 overall)
Originally aired 1/09/1965


Fifty years ago tonight, The Outer Limits was facing cancellation. It's probably appropriate that this, its penultimate offering, would dwell on the nature of time.... since the show's time was just about up.


Ace Air Force pilot Jim Darcy is in the cockpit of an experimental X-15, testing the limits of speed and maneuverability. He reaches Mach Six and breaks not the only the sound barrier but the time barrier, the resultant shock wave of which forces him into a  crash-landing. Once on the ground, he’s shocked to discover that everything appears to be frozen--- not “frozen” in the ice-encrusted kid-friendly Disney sense, but “frozen” as in rock-solid and immovable… people included.


He’s also shocked to discover his wife, Linda, who has wrecked her car near the crash site. She isn’t frozen in time, which leads him to speculate that she was caught in the shock wave and carried along with him to… where, exactly? They return to Jim’s base, where everything and everyone is frozen… including their daughter, Janie, who they find right in the path of a delivery truck, which is rolling straight toward her thanks to an errant driver who forgot to engage the parking brake.


Comparing the X-15’s chronometer against the one in the base’s control room, Jim deduces that the couple were displaced in time and thrust several seconds into the future. Time isn’t actually frozen---- it’s just moving extremely slowly, and will eventually catch up with them. They encounter an iridescent man (the “Limbo Being”) who explains that he, like them, was once displaced in time; however, because he missed the moment of time's re-synchronization, he is eternally trapped in nothingness. The Darcys must be in their respective places--- Jim in the X-15’s cockpit, Linda in her car--- at the precise moment time corrects itself or they’ll face a similar fate.




Finally! That MacGyver prequel everyone's been clamoring for.
This unfortunately means that neither of them will be anywhere near Janie to prevent what will almost certainly be a fatal accident. Jim cuts the seat-belts out of Linda’s car (which, like his downed X-15, isn’t frozen in time) and rigs a makeshift emergency brake of sorts that will hopefully, when time resumes its normal pace, stop the truck and save Janie. They assume their places just as time catches up with them.



Jim ditches the X-15 into the sand, and Linda crashes into the boulder. Both are unhurt but have no memory of their experience. An intangible feeling--- a “premonition”--- sends them rushing back to the base, where they find Janie unharmed.






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RANDOMONIUM

“The Premonition” began as “Gordian Knot,” a story treatment by Ib Melchior, who wrote “Water Tank Rescue” and “Voice of Infinity” for TV’s Men into Space, plus the screenplays for 1959’s The Angry Red Planet (which he also directed)  and 1964’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars (a film directed by Outer Limits six-timer Byron Haskin). Said treatment was expanded into teleplay form by Samuel Roeca, who would go on to write several episodes of Mission: Impossible and serve as story editor on the third and final season of Land of the Lost (which was an awesome show if you were a kid when it originally aired, which I was… those Sleestaks were fucking cool).


Gerd Oswald, who helmed more Outer Limits episodes than anyone else (a whopping fourteen), is back for one more ride in the director’s saddle. I wish I could say his final offering was on par with his earlier brilliance… but it most certainly isn’t. There’s really not much here: lots of Air Force stock footage, lots of running around, and a lot of freeze frames depicting frozen time… nothing impressive. However, I do like the scene with the Darcys walking through the control room, weaving in and out of frozen folks (which are actually actors standing still; there's a really nice overhead shot of this tableau in act three), so I guess that’s a good staging effort. The crashed X-15 mockup looks good, but that’s more of a set design success than a directorial one. There’s definitely some production value added by shooting on location at a real Air Force base at Paramount Studios, which looks enough like a military base to fool your average TV-watching idiot (like me; thanks as always to David J. Schow for correcting me), and Director of Photography Kenneth Peach captures it all ably with minimal flourish… except for some extreme close-ups of William Bramley’s mouth during the countdown, which is a bit off-putting.


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It feels like a good five or ten minutes of screen time is used up just showing the Darcys running back and forth repeatedly from the crash site to the base and back again. It doesn’t help that the same few camera angles are used each time (I assume all these sequences were shot together, so Dewey Martin and Mary Murphy--- or maybe their stunt doubles--- must’ve been hot, tired and a bit pissed by the end of the day). Since I have so much time on my hands (ha! Get it?), I threw together a super cut of all the repetitive shots for your amusement (or irritation):

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Okay, so it wasn’t quite five or ten minutes. Sure seems like it, though. Y’now, Linda’s car didn’t look totaled by any means. Shouldn't they have at least tried to start it before spending all that time and energy running back and forth? And how far is it from the crash site to the base? I’m assuming it’s at least a couple miles.


“The Premonition” feels a lot like one of the hour-long fourth season Twilight Zone episodes due to the glaring amount of padding and repetitiveness. It never quite gets boring, but it never really moves at a sufficiently brisk pace, either. Unfortunately, the long silences gave me a chance to start mulling things over and picking things apart. If time is frozen, or at least moving in extreme slow motion, how are the Darcys able to breathe? Wouldn't the air be solid as well? Nothing can be moved in this rigid, motionless environment, so I guess it’s lucky for the Darcys that virtually every door on the base was left wide open so that they can go wherever they please (which seems pretty unlikely for a military installation). And how the hell did that lady ever get the babysitting job? She leaves the kids alone and unsupervised immediately after Linda drops Janie off with her, which directly leads to Janie’s dire predicament. And then... hoo boy... there’s that Limbo Being fucker.

The Limbo Being is, hands down, the single stupidest “creature” in the entire series run. It’s not even monstrous… it’s just a guy painted silver behind a blur filter (at least that’s what it looks like; I have no idea how the so-called “effect” was actually achieved). He has some kind of weird aura around him that separates him from the rest of the limbo environment.... too much, actually. We never see him interact with the Darcys, which makes me wonder what a shot would look like with all three of them in it... is the aura just some kind of cloud that follows him around? He’s wearing a snazzy blazer, so at least he looks presentable. And for some unfathomable reason that has no bearing on anything, he shares Frankenstein’s Monster’s deathly fear of fire.  Why? I couldn’t tell you.

I get that he’s a “prisoner in time,” and that he got that way through similar circumstances (Darcy’s X-15 is presumably the fastest plane ever built, so I’m not sure how this sad sumbitch ever managed to go that fast, but whatever), but that doesn’t explain why he’s at the Air Force base at the exact time that the Darcys have their time-out-of-whack experience. Did his time barrier violation event happen there too? Or or did he walk there from… I dunno, wherever? I guess it’s possible that existing outside of normal time has some spatial advantages (instantaneous teleportation, maybe), but the fact that he can’t get past a fucking flare or pass through solid walls suggests otherwise (however, since every door on the base is open, I guess he could just exit the building another way, right?). And he’s clearly articulate, so why does he make those creepy boogeyman sounds when he first appears? He’s a clumsy, ill-conceived convenience, placed in the Darcys’ path for the sole purpose of telling them (and us) exactly what is happening and how they can escape (which seems counterproductive, since being so open with them dramatically reduces his odds of horning in on their escape to facilitate his own), but his presence only serves to detract from the story. He does, however, give a damn-near poetic (and admittedly well-delivered) summation of his wretched existence:

LIMBO BEING:
If you miss your chance to return, one-millionth
of a second behind time, time will pass you by, and
leave you where I am now, in forever now. Black, motionless
void. No light, no sun, no stars, no time. Eternal nothing.
No hunger, no thirst. Only endless existence.
And the worst of it? You can’t die!


Speaking of The Twilight Zone, they tackled the “frozen time” idea with “A Kind of a Stopwatch (right),” a pretty dismal entry starring the normally-delightful Richard Erdman as an obnoxious dweeb who ends up with a magical stopwatch that… well, you know. Rod Serling and Company also gave us “Elegy” and “Still Valley,” neither of which deal expressly with frozen time, but do feature large groups of frozen people. The 80’s revival series (unofficially known as The New Twilight Zone) mined the idea twice: “A Little Peace and Quiet (below left)” is essentially a pointless remake of the aforementioned “A Kind of a Stopwatch,” while the clever “A Matter of Minutes (below right)” depicts a couple getting stuck in a limbo state between two moments in time and witnessing crews of workers constructing the minute to follow.


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Check this out: after Jim climbs out of his X-15, he doesn’t notice Linda’s crashed car nearby until he hears her moaning behind the wheel. But here’s the thing: her car is directly in his line of sight two or three times before this moment. The most obvious example can be found at time stamp 11:41, which is supposed to be Jim reacting to the sight of the frozen coyote chasing the jackrabbit, but if you pay attention to the angles and spatial geometry and whatnot, he's actually looking directly at her at this moment, which becomes apparent once you see where exactly her car is. Nitpicking? Yeah, maybe a little. This is what y'all pay me for.



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As much as I like Dewey Martin, his Jim Darcy comes off as a bit of a dick when you examine his interactions with his family. After he rigs the seat-belts in the runaway truck, he takes a quick look at his daughter and says, simply and emotionlessly, “All we have now is hope.” A few minutes later, when Linda gives him a last “I love you” before time catches up with them, he doesn’t bother to return the sentiment. After time re-synchronizes and he climbs out of his wrecked X-15, he makes sure somebody puts the fire out before he even bothers to see if Linda survived her car crash. And, most egregiously, he provides The Outer Limits with its first and only count of spousal battery when he “takes charge” of Linda’s hysteria by straight up smacking her across the face (talk about putting the "palm" in "Palmville"). There are a few women throughout the series' run that had it coming (I'm looking at you, Vera Finley), but I think Linda's reaction is perfectly acceptable (I'm pretty sure all of us--- male or female--- would lose our shit if everything stopped moving). And don't forget that, just moments before, she was in a car accident and hit her head... so she may very well have a minor concussion. Macho prick.

Being Top Gun means you can look directly into the camera without doing a retake.

I love the subtle homo-eroticism on display during Jim’s test flight. The pilot flying behind him jovially remarks that he's “looking real good from back here,” to which Jim replies, “I'm glad you're enjoying the view.” I can just picture these two engaging in some spirited grab-ass in the locker room, and I’m pretty sure this brief exchange inspired 1986's Top Gun, a film positively drenched in sweat, hair gel and ironic machismo.


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AURAL PLEASURE

“The Premonition,” like all second season efforts, is scored by Harry Lubin, drawing from his vast library of pre-recorded music (much of it came from his previous stint on One Step Beyond). This week’s assortment includes a few of the more familiar pieces we’ve been enjoying all season, among them: "Dark and Scary," "Dreamy Lullaby," "Haunted Mansion," "Hidey Hole," "Footsteps of the Killer 1" and "Destitute."

“Hidey Hole” is a quick little vibe flourish which, while initially effective for reinforcing the strangeness of the frozen people the Darcys encounter, quickly becomes tiresome because it’s used, oh I dunno, about fifty or so times throughout the episode. I considered watching it again for the express purpose of getting an exact count, but I came to my senses just in time (ha! See what I did there?).

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

I know Dewey Martin (Jim Darcy) from his portrayal of a thirsty--- and murderous--- astronaut in the Twilight Zone episode “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.” Genre fans may remember him as Crew Chief Bob in 1951’s The Thing from Another World, or as Mike Apollo (fitting name, given his other genre work) in "Leona" on Mission: Impossible. He also enjoys a coveted Robert Culp connection thanks to his appearance on I Spy (“One of Our Bombs Is Missing”).





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Mary Murphy (Linda Darcy) shares in the Robert Culp connection glory, as she too appeared on I Spy (“Any Place I Hang Myself Is Home”). Other notable genre roles include stints on The Fugitive (“Nicest Fella You’d Ever Want to Meet”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“A Secret Life”) and Circle of Fear (“Creatures of the Canyon”). She also appeared in the 1951 George Pal film When Worlds Collide, the cast of which also included Peter Hansen from last week’s “The Brain of Colonel Barham. TOL Babe? Most definitely. Yum.



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Other than The Twilight Zone, William Bramley (General “Baldy” Baldwin) hits all our usual genre connections. He appeared on Star Trek (“Bread and Circuses”), The Fugitive (“The 2130” and “A Clean and Quiet Town”), The Invaders (“Nightmare”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Test”), and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The Tender Poisoner” and “Return of Verge Likens”).





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Kay Kuter (the unfortunate Limbo Being) has lots of genre television credits outside of The Outer Limits, but they didn’t occur until the late 80’s and beyond. You’ll find him in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Nth Degree”), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (“The Storyteller”), the 80’s Twilight Zone revival series (“Grace Note”), V: The Series (“The Overlord”), The X-files (“The Calusari”), and the short-lived Brimstone (“Mourning After”). On the big screen, he enjoyed an uncredited bit part as a priest in 1956’s The Mole People and, later, appeared in 1984’s The Last Starfighter and 1989’s Warlock.


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Li’l Emma Tyson (Janie Darcy) only has one other genre credit of note: she appeared in “The Trap” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. (however, because the series isn't available in even semi-decent quality, I'm using a Green Acres screen cap below... and before you get bitchy, let me just point out that the star of Green Acres, Eddie Albert, also starred in "Cry of Silence" earlier this season; so it's at least an approximate connection). Dorothy Green, here credited as “Matron” (which we’d call a child care provider today), also appeared on Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“Rose’s Last Summer”) and the pilot movie that launched The Six Million Dollar Man. On the big screen, she can be found in the 1954 Giant-Ants-on-the-Rampage opus Them!, the noir classic The Big Heat (1953) and the decidedly non-classic Help Me… I’m Possessed (1976). Finally, Christopher Riordan (Frozen Soldier) is the only TOL vet in the cast this week (he played “Young Doctor” in season one’s “The Chameleon,” plus he’ll back next week as “Young Scientist”). Three Outer Limits episodes is impressive, but he topped that number on The Fugitive with a total of four: “Man in a Chariot,” “Ballad for a Ghost,” “Brass Ring” and “The Old Man Picked a Lemon.” Two years later, he’d play another Young Scientist on the big screen in 1966’s Fantastic Voyage.









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HOME VIDEO RELEASES


MGM’s home video releases of Outer Limits episodes initially followed the series’ production order… for the first three episodes. After that, they pulled at random from both seasons (though they did focus on the more familiar, generally superior episodes early on). When they dumped the final dozen episodes onto the market in 1991, the red-headed stepchildren that comprised the latter half of the second season--- a group which includes “The Premonition”--- finally saw the light of day.

The VHS series in its entirety is a beautiful collection, and most of the covers therein quite adeptly capture the spirit of their respective episodes quite well (and are gorgeous to behold). And then there's this boring "effort," which probably took all of five minutes to throw together. Yawn. Jim looks like he's falling asleep there... which, now that I think about it, is probably totally appropriate for the episode. Ahem.Here are the two shots from the episode used:



In Columbia House’s mail-order exclusive Collector’s Edition series, the episode was paired with next week’s “The Probe.”



“The Premonition” was not among the lucky 28 episodes chosen for LaserDisc release; however, it was present and accounted for when the series hit DVD in 2002 (season one) and 2003 (season two). I guess this isn’t really a special honor, since all 49 were right there with it. Anyhoo--- in 2007, MGM released the series again, this time splitting it up into three volumes (two for season one, one for the abbreviated season two). In 2008, they bundled those three volumes together for a so-called “45th Anniversary Collection.” In a diabolical act of contempt for their customer base--- or extreme laziness--- they used the identical discs from the original ’02 and ’03 releases, which means no matter which ones you buy, you’re gonna get the same shitty DVD-18s (double-sided discs) that nobody uses anymore because they’re delicate and prone to failure. The same DVD-18s were foisted upon the Australian market as well, but at least the folks down under were treated to some neat packaging variations (thanks to David J. Schow for these).


 Across the pond in the UK, MGM released season sets basically identical to the original US sets… except that they used single-sided discs. This injustice continues to boil my blood and steam my clam (don’t ask).


I assume most of you already own the DVDs, but if you don’t… well, I can’t really recommend that you buy them at this point, unless you can get them really cheap (and even then I would avoid used copies like the plague, given the tendency of DVD-18s to fail over time). If you’re a Hulu Plus subscriber (at $7.99 a month, why wouldn’t you be?), you’re already covered: as of two weeks ago, the entire series is available for PC, TV and mobile streaming.

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

Dimensional Designs has created high-quality model kits of nearly every Outer Limits monster and alien imaginable… but there are a few omissions. The Limbo Being is one, but you might get a different impression if you visit their website: they have a listing for a Limbo Being (actually, their name for him is "Limbo Man"; DD/OL/LM-41), sculpted by Sean Samson and Danny Soracco in the usual 1/8-scale size… however, there’s no picture of it, no box art, and no option for ordering. It was clearly planned at some point, but does it exist? I couldn’t tell you. Should it exist? Probably not.

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THE WRAP-UP

“The Premonition” is ultimately frustrating because there’s a great idea at its center, but it’s muted considerably by a muddy, repetitive narrative and an underwhelming, superfluous supernatural being. It’s certainly not terrible, but it’s nothing close to what it could have--- should have--- been. But The Outer Limits was limping toward its network-imposed finish line at this point, so I suppose it’s a minor miracle that it turned out as good as it did.




Woah, I just thought of something: what if the spacious, ponderous narrative is in fact intentionally slow and repetitive, a Christopher Nolan-esque construct designed to convey the desolate emptiness of timelessness? If so, this just might be smartest, most subversive offering of the Brady regime. Okay, probably not. But what if…?