What’s This Episode About?
An alien race comes to earth, promising peace and sharing technology. A linguist and his team set out to translate the alien’s language, using a book whose title they deduce is “To Serve Man.”
“To Serve Man”
Season 3Episode 24
Directed by Richard L. Bare
Opening Narration – (Micheal Chambers): “This is the way nightmares begin – or, perhaps, end. Very simple, direct, unadorned. Incredible, and yet so terribly real, that even while they’re happening we live with them, and digest them, and assimilate them. And if it’s twelve o’clock noon, that’s what you preoccupy yourself with. You don’t think about twelve o’clock noon on the next day or the day after that. But that’s what we should have been thinking about – tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We were preoccupied with hands on a clock – when we should have been checking off a calendar.”
In this Season 3 stunner, written by Rod Serling (The Night Gallery) and based on a short story by Damon Knight (Captain Video), Lloyd Bochner plays Michael Chambers, an encryption expert. Hired to decipher both a language and book left by the visiting alien race known as the Kanamits, Chambers becomes wrapped up in a dangerous game of riddles, deceit and alien manipulations. The Kanamits, who just pop up on earth one day exclaiming that they have come in peace and intend to assist earthlings usher in a “new era” and with our hunger, over-population and medical troubles, appear very sincere in their intentions. They say they are indeed benevolent and will help our issues and problems disappear.
In regular Serling fashion, the entire and brief running time consists of great characters, exciting story arcs and a of course, the final amazing “twist.” “To Serve Man’ is quality classic television from start to finish and the episode stands out because of the great mood, dread and surprise that Serling and director Bare infuse into the story. It is a cautionary science fiction tale that is clever and full of expression and metaphor. The episode reflects the many topical issues of the day, while being a sort of distant cousin to Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Issues ranging from political (The inability and standstill the Kanamits impose upon the UN is quite effective) to biological to the almost religious are all on unique display. Even the entrance of the Kanamit (Played by Richard Kiel) to the UN, which is done in shadow and silouette, is amazing to behold here. It harkens to more sublime types of horror and menace done so well in the 30’s and 40’s.
Meanwhile, Chambers and his staff, which includes Susan Cummings (McHale’s Navy) as Patty, work on translating the book and language of the Kanamits. Therefore, as they gain our trust, the Kanamits extend their hospitality and begin to shuttle earthlings back to their home planet to have vacations and visits to prompt better relations and to share our cultures. In one important scene, a line of travellers are seen and heard expressing naïve excitement as they wait their turn in boarding the Kanamit spacecraft (which is a left over prop from “Forbidden Planet”). Scenes like this and of Chambers and Patty trying to figure out why this “book” (which the Kanamits casually leave behind at the UN) are well staged and help to build suspense as Chambers further expresses doubt and suspicion.
That bring us to the dramatic end that is an unexpected bombshell forever cementing this episode in the annals of important television moments. It happens as Chambers makes his way to boarding the Kanamit space ship and when Patty frantically arrives, she tries to force herself around the Kanamit guards to announce to Chambers what the book “To Serve Man” really means. And it is not good. Not good at all. The line that Patty delivers has become iconic. Bochner, who starred briefly in “The Naked Gun 2 ½ as a bad guy even utters the fantastic punchline in a reverential crowd panicking scene as a nod to the classic episode. Even “The Simpsons” and the animated film “Madagascar” have winked in the direction of this highly revered episode.
All in all, “To Serve Man” is a excellently made episode that is chilling, important and wonderfully realized in both style, execution and photography. It has much to say and within the confines of the small sci fi parable which it is conveying, the episode is quite larger than life and remains moody and mysterious. One of Serling’s shining moments and a very timely and relevant story that remains a must see for fans of classic television or of Serling’s work. Plus, you can’t beat that damn, ending. Highly recommended!
Closing Narration – Rod Serling: The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man. The cycle of going from dust to dessert. The metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare from The Twilight Zone.