The Outer Limits

Season 2 Episode 9

Trial by Fire

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Mar 01, 1996 on Showtime

Episode Fan Reviews (3)

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  • Question of humanity's true nature.

    Trial By Fire has always been a highlight of season two for me, back when it originally aired as well as with subsequent viewings as it's story is immediately gripping and it's subject matter embodies the essence of what the Outer Limits is. Secret government bunkers, a threat from an unknown and alien source, threat and use of weapons of mass destruction and the recognition that the decisions made by the characters in the story will have final and extreme reaching (even world ending) consequences all provide this story with the force to reach the viewer and keep this episode in the realm in which the show is most comfortable and written for.

    One of the biggest issues or themes tackled in this one is the question of humanity's true essence or nature and how being true or untrue to that nature can lead to our salvation or our doom as a species. Is it the case that humanity is at it's core a violent, unreasoning, survival at any cost based species or is it the case that at our core we truly are a empathetic, altruistic, reasoning, welcoming form of being? This episode posits that we are the latter in times of relative calm, in dealings with what we understand and with the goal of society creation in mind but we are the former when we are presented with fierce and unknown threats, new ambiguity, dealings with superior beings and in our pressured decision making. In this case we are dealing with a country (USA) that has created a constitution and form of government that strives to be inclusive and welcoming to all, is based on understanding and patience towards others and values the new that different people, cultures (and projecting further) species could bring to it. When the U.S. president and his staff are faced with the events in the story though, we see actions and decisions that are motivated by barely restrained hysteria, fear, exclusionary, violent and survival at any cost considerations. We are given moments throughout the story where our species tries to act with the restrain, logic and a welcoming air it likes to project, but in the end and lying below the surface throughout, is what can only be called our true selfish, violent and unreasoning selves, that shine through and come out on top. Although this whole debate is nothing entirely new in TV (especially in sci-fi television and dealings with other worlds) the journey is just as powerful as the ending it leads to in this episode and it speaks volumes to this episode that you can walk away from it truly regretting how the characters acted.

    As a final note, it would have been quite interesting if the writers had tackled the question of our nature from the other side of the coin; namely having the characters and story unfold in a more altruistic, reasoning and peaceful way throughout the course of the episode and in the decisions that are made. If in fact the aliens were at heart hostile and we acted in accordance to a more peaceful true nature, would our destruction still have followed? Would this destruction (through sticking to peaceful ideals) be less of an evil or loss than destruction that follows through adherence to a true nature that is of a viler nature and a nature we should have striven to overcome?