A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
As I've noted and review before, the second season of the original Outer Limits isn't that great. The budget was cut, the original creators had left the building, and the show runner was a guy whose preferred mode of storytelling was reporters and lawyers and police detectives investigating the going-ons second-hand.

Still, if one thing made up for all the dross, it was... "Demon With a Glass Hand".

But "The Inheritors" is a close contender for not only best of the season, but best of the series. It's a bit more relatable than Joseph Stefano's gothic stuff or Leslie Stevens weird-ass science fantasies. It uses producer and showrunner Ben Brady's tried-and-true investigative shtick, but Robert Duvall as investigating "Department of Science" agent Adam Ballard is just interesting enough on his own to make the investigation interesting as well. Plus it's an investigation that ultimately fails. As the author of The Outer Limits Companion notes, the closer Ballard gets to the four men, the further away he ends up. He keeps having setbacks, unlike most second-season OL episodes where the investigator just finds out things which lead to the eventual denouement.

One pities the poor viewer back in 1964. A few weeks before, they aired "The Invisible Enemy". If you had to pick two same-season episodes of Outer Limits that were further apart than "The Inheritors" and "The Invisible Enemy"... well, good luck with that.

Speaking of the four men, let's recap what's going on. We start with Lt. Minns in (presumably) Vietnam, doing some forward observing. He gets shot and goes down, of what we discover is a head wound. Minns is flown to the U.S. and operated on as Ballard looks on, and the surgeon discovers that Minns has a second brain pattern in his head... and it's different from his first one. Ruh-roh!

We then cut to the narrative convenience of Ballard telling his boss the Secretary of Science that Minns is the fourth of four men who had a similar injury, a similar miraculous recovery, and a similar second brain pattern. Two of the three other men have disappeared, and the third one just walked out even when he was under guard. All four men gained genius-level IQs.

Ballard has an enigmatic conversation with Minns, who is studying finance theorems and says that he's never heard of the other three men: Conover, Renardo, and Hadley. Minns has a hypnotic gaze and mentally commands the nurse and MP to let him go. Ballard thinks that the four men pose a threat (to the U.S., presumably) and tries to hunt them down. The bullets each man was shot with are made of an unknown metal with a honeycomb structure that contains RNA. Meanwhile, Minns has invested in futures and miraculously made $400,000, and sends the money to the other three men in Wichita, Tokyo, and Stockholm.

Hadley is in Wichita working on exotic gasses. He's played by Dee Pollock, an actor who I don't recognize but looks a little like Michael Landon. When the real estate broker Larkin demands more cash from Hadley to buy the factory where Hadley is working, Hadley uses his hypnotic gaze to force Larkin to choose whether to shoot himself or sell at the original price. It's kinda weird since it doesn't seem to be much of a choice. Not surprisingly, Larkin sells at the original price.

After a trip to Vietnam to get a sample of the ore, Ballard goes to Stockholm where Conover (Ivan Dixon) is having workers at a shop manufacture a new super-light/super-strong alloy. Leon Askin is the shop superintendent and talks about how Conover is nice enough but seems possessed. Meanwhile, Conover has "sensed" that Ballard is at the shop, and goes to a church instead where he prays to God as to whether God is giving him the strange visions and gifts.

Ballard then goes to Tokyo where Renardo (James Frawley) is working on an anti-gravity drive. Renardo gives a speech about how he feels like a pawn and whatever he and the others need for the "project" is just there, whether it's knowledge or the money from Minns. When Ballard tries to take him in, Renardo hits Ballard with a hypno-whammy and Ballard finds himself in Indianapolis two weeks later with no memory of what happened.

Minns is played by Steve Ihnat, an actor who I've always found intriguing. He typically played bad guys, including his one Star Trek appearance. He was a lot better than would be indicated by his portrayal of Garth of Izar in "Whom Gods Destroy". I'll always remember him as Stefan Miklos in Mission: Impossible's "The Mind of Stefan Miklos". "The Inheritors" gives him a deeper character than the ones he usually played. Like John Vivyan, Ihnat never quite made the big time and he sadly passed away in 1972 at the age of 37.

Part 1 of "The Inheritors"--Outer Limits' only two-part episode--ends with Ballard and Agent Ray Harris of the "Federal Bureau of Security" finding and closing in on Minns' apartment. Part 2 starts with Ballard finding a piece of paper with some notes in Minns' desk. Ballard and his team are ready for Minns' hypnotic powers, but now Minns' has an impenetrable invisible force field so he walks out after a vague conversation with Ballard.

Hadley is off in the Amazon looking for a rare herb, so Conover and Renardo come to the U.S. and start working on the project at Hadley's factory. Renardo reveals that he's created the force field and sent a model to Minns. There's some interesting dialogue between the two. Renardo doesn't quite come across as a racist, but he not entirely thrilled that he and Conover are now "brothers". Or at least he's sarcastic about it. I like actor James Frawley as Renardo here. He admits that he doesn't like authority figures, which might be why he seems to enjoy seeing Ballard get thwarted so much and seems to take great pride in stopping the government agents so often. But is also not big on being controlled by an alien influence. Frawley later became a major TV producer and director, and you've got to admire a man who created one of my favorite shows, Vengeance Unlimited. Okay, maybe you don't, but I do.

And one of my favorite TV quotes is still "Women: Can't live with them, can't fit more than three in your trunk." *shrug* You had to be there.

Meanwhile, we see a lot of Minns going around collecting children. One never leaves his home, one is an orphaned deaf-mute, one is blind. Ballard is, as usually the case, two steps behind Minns and couldn't do anything about him even if he caught up to him because of the force field.

Eventually Ballard tracks everyone to the Wichita factory. Renardo has force fielded the place so no one can get in, and he and the other two are building a spaceship. The three men have their own opinions about being driven by the compulsion in their head, which they say repeatedly that they have no control over. Minns picks up five children, drives through the roadblocks using the force field, and arrives at the factory. He leads the kids into the spaceship, Renardo and the others rebel, and Minns finally explains, telling them and Ballard that they need to take the children away. The meteor was sent by a dying alien race--rendered sterile--so that they could bring children back to their planet. The planet's atmosphere cures all humans ills (??), so the handicapped children (the one who can't leave the house has a fatal blood disease) are all cured but will revert if they leave the ship's atmosphere.

Minns lets Ballard and Harris aboard the ship, and they see that the children are cured. When they go back outside, Minns tells the three others that they can go as well, and he'll go with them. Ballard agrees, and... that's it.

"The Inheritors" does a good job of working with the reduced budget. The first part has Ballard supposedly globetrotting to Vietnam, Stockholm, and Tokyo. It's studio backlots and sets, but it's a nice effect that gives the episode a less insular feel. Ken Peach, who did a lot of work on previous episodes, is Director of Photography on "The Inheritors" as well. Renaldo's Tokyo lab looks a bit like the lab in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon". Conover's scene in the church is barely lit and there's a lot of focus on the candle that he's lighting as he prays.

Other than a levitating space engine, there aren't any special effects. So there's no weird-ass cartoon force fields or negative aliens or Vaseline smeared on the camera lenses to distract the audience. There's no "bear"; the shortcut term for "Guy in rubber suit there to show that the show is science fiction." Another reason why it's relatable. It's just humans possessed by an alien force, which is arguably scarier than some guy dressed as a jellyfish.

Part 2 is a bit more pedestrian, but even it has some nice touches. I like the rain storm that is going on as Ballard and Harris brief Ballard's boss and helpfully recap a lot of Part 1 for the viewers' benefit.

Robert Duvall isn't as good here as he is in "The Chameleon". Mostly because they don't give his character Ballard much to do. He's the guy who keeps failing, and has to stand by and be helpless, which probably isn't the most exciting role in the world. Ballard comes across as more of a Javert type than anything. He's almost paranoid at times, and I like Minns' comments to him about having faith and wondering how he gets by in the world when he's so suspicious of everything.

As I've already noted, I like Frawley and Ihnat. Pollock doesn't get a lot to do as Hadley. Ivan Dixon is another of those actors who is usually thought of for one role (Kinchloe on Hogan's Heroes) but had a much more diverse acting portfolio. Dixon's performance in The Twilight Zone's "The Big Tall Wish" as Bolie is particularly good, but Dixon was a reliable actor in a lot of parts in the 60s.

There are lots of other minor HITG actors who pop up. Dabbs Greer as the crooked real estate agent, Leon Askin as the shop superintendent where Conover had the alloy made, and William Wintersole as the professor who gets to rattle off most of the initial technobabble are all good. James Shigeta appears briefly and perhaps unnecessarily, and is another HITG throughout his career because whenever they need an Asian actor (even though Shigeta was born in Hawaii), there he was.

There are some flaws in the episode, of course. The science is a bit wonky, and you wonder exactly how long that alien race has been dead. I always imagine the soldiers and the kids getting to the planet and discovering that it's been rendered uninhabitable over a million years. And everyone just accepts that Minns is telling the truth. What if the mysterious aliens are actually the Luminoids from "A Feasibility Study", taking another stab at getting some slaves?

The fact that four American soldiers all got shot in the head with bullets made from metal from the same meteorite crash site is awfully convenient. And you wonder what the first three soldiers were doing before Minns got his bullet and sent them the money they needed. They say that months have gone by between the various incidents. The fact that the atmosphere near-instantly cures human ails is really convenient.

And they mostly ignore the fact that at least two of the five kids have parents. Johnny Subiron, the kid with the blood disease, has an on-screen mother. Ballard not only approves Johnny going off to another planet without asking her, but presumably doesn't even give her time to say goodbye to her son. Sure, she'd probably give the thumbs up to letting them take her son away rather than him dying in a year. But at least let the widowed Mrs. Subiron say goodbye to her only child.

We never find up with the blind girl, Minerva Gordon, since we only see her in a hospital bed. She's blind, not ill, folks. They do say that one boy is an orphan in and out of foster homes. The other two kids are just background props. Who knows what their story is?

I do like the ending. It's a bit schmaltzy, but it never quite descends to the pathos that Rod Serling could shovel on. It's also one of the few "happy ending" Outer Limits episodes that I remember. Not every episode ended with death and disaster. The disembodied brain was defeated, the couple escaped the phallus monster, the energy creature got locked back up in its pit. But the episodes almost never ended on what you'd call a high note. Even the comedy "Controlled Experiment" ends with the suggestion that the two Martians have doomed Earth down the road. Duvall's "The Chameleon" is another one that ends on a high note. But usually the episodes ended with some people dead, and the survivors left to look around a littered landscape.

Which is another interesting part about "The Inheritors". No one dies (except one non-speaking Vietnamese soldier that Shigeta's character kills in part 1), and several times they point out that the four "possessed" soldiers haven't broken any laws, come across as nice guys to everyone except the anal-retentive Ballard, and did everything they did under their own names and out in the open. You don't expect a comedy like "Controlled Experiment" to feature deaths, but most OL episodes had someone dying, even if it was a random redshirt-type guard at the beginning to demonstrate that the "bear" was a monster.

So if you're checking out Outer Limits and can only see the second season, watch "Demon" and "inheritors". They're definitely the best of the bunch. And both of them stand proudly with the best of the first season.

But that's my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (2)
Feb 07, 2018
My old college roommate and I used to crack up at the spectacle of the black-suited government agents firing machine guns into the forcefield. I imagine "Behold! Ecck" might conceivably be more different from any other season two Outer Limits episode than "The Inheritors" and "The Unseen Enemy."

For years, James Frawley was a HITG for me. I didn't even realize he was the director whose name I'd seen on a number of Columbo until the last or two. Would this episode have been any better if the writers hadn't felt the need to make up so many agencies and cabinet-level departments? Or maybe have Ballard work for the same agency that John Milford did in "Children of Spider County"?
Feb 08, 2018
"Invisible" Enemy.

Haven't seen "Behold Ecck" yet, not sure that I want to. I've pretty much reached the end of my string of OL episodes that I want to see and haven't. And there's a couple I watched relatively recently ("Nightmare", "Fun and Games") that I'm not sure I want to rewatch again so soon.
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