A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
Well, as I promised a year or three ago, I wanted to do a review of the original Outer Limits“Demon With A Glass Hand.” So here it is.

It’s interesting to compare Outer Limits to Twilight Zone. Both ended in 1964, although Zone started three years earlier than Limits since it ran five seasons while Limits ran two seasons. So both shows are of the same period. They’re both anthologies. They both have opening and closing narrations. They both ran an hour for at least one season.

Outer Limits is more “pure” science fiction. Even the most Gothic episodes are framed with at least the trappings of s.f. Serling dabbled in the s.f. field, but it wasn’t really his forte. Also, Outer Limits is more of a horror series. Especially in the first season, it was all about extra-dimensional energy beings and hideous mutants and mind-controlling aliens and human transformed into mindless zombie-like creatures. People died in painful and horrible ways.

Limits also had the disadvantage of being produced by two totally different teams. The first season had Joseph Stefano and Leslie Stevens. Stefano was by all accounts, including his own, venting much of his therapy sessions in his writing at the time. As such, a lot of his work has a fevered dream-like quality. It’s like every Stefano episode was “Perchance to Dream.” Stefano episodes like “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” and “The Guests” are fraught with Freudian images.

A literal "one-eyed monster." Nope, nothing phallic about this one.

Stefano and Stevens weren’t necessarily great character writers like Serling. But they definitely had stories to tell, and they were doing a lot more “s.f. as allegory” stuff. Episodes like “O.B.I.T.” (government surveillance) “Nightmare” (war games), and “The Zanti Misfits” (state executions) were among the strongest. But they didn’t create as many memorable characters as Serling did.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Serling was a humanist. He and the writers he gathered believed that ultimately human nature would win out. Not every episode had a happy ending, but generally if the characters “lost” it was through no fault of their own. And usually it was the bad people that met bad ends. With Stefano and Stevens, a lot of their episodes are... well, downers. Even when the humans win, they don’t. Good people die, bad people live.

In “The Zanti Misfits,” the humans beat the Zanti only to discover the whole thing was a ruse to get the humans to kill the Zanti prisoners because humanity makes great executioners. In “The Man Who Was Never Born,” the future is saved but the person saving it is wiped out of existence and his doomed girlfriend is left in a temporal void. In “The Architects of Fear,” a scientist is deliberately mutated into an alien but then gets shot and killed through bad luck. In “A Feasibility Study,” the residents of six city blocks sacrifice their lives to keep humanity safe.

If it isn’t humans dying, it’s the aliens who come into contact with the humans. “The Galaxy Being”, "The Bellero Shield”, and “The Chameleon” all feature innocent aliens that ultimately are defenseless against the worst traits in humanity.

All of this went down the toilet in the second season when Stefano and Stevens quit rather than work for a show that host network ABC seemed intent on burying. Ben Brady took over, and while he brought in more s.f. writers, the budget was drastically cut and Brady and his team didn’t know much about science fiction. A lot of episodes featured people talking at each other. And in both seasons, the show had an unfortunate tendency to do bad s.f. along with the good. Meteor showers, moonwalks, and monsters (“bears”) tossed in because the network wanted a monster in every episode didn’t help. If CBS had demanded that Serling toss a monster into every episode of Zone, it’d be a far different show.

But the second season did produce a few quality episodes. “Soldier”, “Wolf 359”, and “The Inheritors” are good. And that brings us to “Demon With a Glass Hand.”


S.F. writer Harlan Ellison, who was an Internet troll before they invented the Internet, was brought in when the season two producers wanted to have more established s.f. writers. He had already done one episode, “Soldier”, which is perhaps best known these days for being the episode that got James Cameron sued for supposedly using it as the basis for The Terminator.

They had Ellison come back to do a second script, and he came up with the story of a mysterious man named Trent being hunted across the country by aliens. Budgetary concerns forced them to narrow it down to one setting: the Bradbury Building (of Blade Runner fame) in LA. They cut a lot of Ellison’s characters, and he complained. But then again, Ellison always complains. Overall, he was happy with how “Demon” turned out.

“Demon “ works because of two things. The first is Ellison’s script, the second is actor Robert Culp as Trent. Culp is an actor who seems to throw himself into anything he does. He has been in a lot of series TV, including I Spy back in the 60s. But he seemed to thrive on anthology shows. He played three different murderers in the original Columbo, and one more when it was revived. Culp was in The Ray Bradbury Theater. And he played three different characters in three different episodes of Outer Limits.

Previously Culp had played scientists in two first-season episodes of Limits. You wouldn’t confuse either of his characters with the other, and you wouldn’t confuse them with Trent in “Demon.” Culp plays the enigmatic Trent as a hunting cat. He’s the Michael Biehn Terminator, basically: he doesn’t look imposing, but he’ll rip through anything that gets in his way.

And Trent does a lot of ripping in “Demon.” What’s the plot? Trent is a man with no memory of who he is. Agents of an alien race called the Kyben are hunting him in modern-day LA. Trent has a glass hand with three missing fingers, and the Kyben want the hand. They have the fingers, and Trent wants the fingers. And that’s the plot. Not the basic plot, but pretty much the whole plot until the twist ending.

I was born ten days ago. A full-grown man, born ten days ago. I woke on a street of this city. I don't know who I am, or where I've been, or where I'm going. Someone wiped my memories clean. And they tracked me down and tried to kill me. Why? Who are you? I ran. I managed to escape them the first time. And the hand, my hand, told me what to do.

The Kyben lure Trent to the Bradbury Building, seal the building in a force field, and try to capture Trent. The aliens are “anchored” to the present with medallions, so if Trent rips the medallions off, they disappear in what looks like a particularly painful process. Each side ambushes the others as they move up and down the building in a vertical chase sequence. In one scene, a Kyben drops a glass finger down a mail chute and then takes an elevator down to get it. Trent has to race down the stairs to beat the elevator, culminating in a one-story jump to make it in time.

Along the way, there are hints that something more is going on. As Trent acquires and attaches the fingers to the hand, he discovers that it’s a computer and it knows more than he does. But it will need all five fingers to tell him everything. Eventually, Trent and the audience learn that he’s from a thousand years in the future. The Kyben bombarded Earth from far out, apparently wiping out humanity. However, when they landed on Earth, they discovered that every single person (or corpse) except Trent had disappeared. Then Trent fled through the Kyben time travel device to 1964 and knows where humanity is hiding, so the Kyben want him. Trent doesn’t know, so he needs the fully-assembled hand to tell him.

Along the way, Trent befriends a cleaning lady, Consuelo Biros (Arlene Martel, T’Pring on Star Trek), who is trapped in the building with him.

Ultimately, Trent defeats the Kyben and reassembles the glass hand. And... he discovers that he’s an android. Humanity--70 billion people--has been digitalized and stored on a wire in his chest, so he’s carrying them with him. Trent’s programmed job is to survive and then emerge from hiding 200 years after the humans unleashed a plague to wipe out the Kyben invaders, and release humanity to live once more. Consuelo, who has been slowly falling in love with Trent, realizes that he’s an android and walks away. Leaving Trent to wait around, immortal, until the time is right to release humanity.

So like I said, the hero wins but it’s still a downer of an episode. Zone didn’t own the market on twist endings. Limits had other twist endings, but “Demon”’s is probably the most powerful. Trent isn’t Human Trent: he’s Android Trent. He has human emotions, but he has the immortal dilemma that he’s going to have to hang around for 1200 years keeping humanity safe and not getting too close to anyone.

If this sounds like it has potential for a sequel, that’s what J. Michael Straczynski thought. When he and Ellison were working together on Babylon 5, Straczynski wanted to do a sequel with Trent ending up on B5 with the Kyben still chasing him.

The only real fault with the episode is that the Kyben look kinda goofy. They have rubber caps and black eye makeup. The second-season Limits budget cutbacks strike again. Then again, they do a lot of leaping and jumping. And there are a lot of them, when typically there was only one feature monster per Limits episode. So if you want a squad of aliens, the makeup job was probably as good as they can get.

It also makes the Kyben a bit more human-looking, which works since there's a veiled message about terrorists and fanaticism in the episode:

Call it what you like. I'm not afraid to die.
Really? Then why are you whispering? You Kyben were always super patriots, especially when you bombed Earth from ten miles out. How does your patriotism sit with burning women and children alive?

“Demon” is an episode that holds up well today. The science fiction elements which often dated the show aren’t present, or so vague that they don’t impact on the show very much. Culp’s performance as a ruthless killer and a troubled amnesiac man is superb. And the last bit where he realizes that he’s an android and plays that part is brief, but showcases Culp’s talents as he plays almost an entirely different character than he has for the last 49 minutes.

If you like action, “Demon” has plenty of it. If you like s.f., “Demon” has that. And if you want to watch an exploration of what it means to be human, “Demon” has that, too. Ellison and director Byron Haskin (the original War of the Worlds movie) seamlessly blend all three.

But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong. If you remember it, or get a chance to watch it (it’s on Hulu and DVD, and various retro channels have it in rotation), what do you think?
Comments (5)
Jul 02, 2016
I think it's a fine episode.

I knew Outer Limits could be bleak at times, but I didn't know there was such a big production difference between seasons 1 and 2.
Jul 02, 2016
But yeah, it's hard to notice when you compare first-season episodes to "Demon," because "Demon is so damned good.

And the retro channels typically show them in order, so it's a gradual process. You're comparing an episode to what you saw the previous week from the same season.

But watch an episode like "The Man Who Was Never Born," "O'B.I.T.", "Corpus Earthling", "Nightmare" or "Don't Open Till Doomsday." And then watch an episode like "Cold Hands, Warm Heart", "Expanding Human", "The Brain of Colonel Barnham", or "The Probe." There's a difference... ;)

Jul 06, 2016
I love the Outer Limits...Demon is so good and is my favorite in the series along with The Man who Was Never Born and The Borderland.....
Jul 02, 2016
Check out The Outer Limit Companion sometime if you can find it. It describes the whole thing in a lot of detail.

Basically ABC tries to bury the show against Jackie Gleason in the second season. In part because they weren't happy with Stefano. He left when he saw the writing on the wall, Stevens left with him, and Ben Brady (Perry Mason) got put in charge. To his credit, Brady was the one who wanted to bring in writers like Ellison and Jerry Sohl. But ABC also cut the budget substantially. It may have helped an episode like "Demon," confining it to the Bradbury. But it hurt a lot of other episodes that season. "The Premonition" and "The Probe" are probably the worst two, budget-wise.

Brady, because of his Perry Mason background, was also big on "talking heads" episodes. which is why so many of the second-season episodes revolve around investigations, courtrooms ("I, Robot"), and two people talking to each other.
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