The Outer Limits: S1E04 “The Man with the Power

A college professor becomes the key figure in a top secret experiment. He receives an implant in his brain that gives him telekinetic control over the untapped energy reserves in space. This rolling cloud of electricity can destroy anything he thinks about in a moment.

“The Man with the Power” is a less focused episode of The Outer Limits. The idea is clear enough. The professor can control and destroy things with his mind. It’s just not as specific in its intentions as the other episodes in the series so far. The practical application of these experiments is projected to end the need for taxes altogether through some combination of gravity, asteroid, and energy control from space. How that works is never made clear.

It’s tell, don’t show science fiction. So much of the episode is spent explaining what exactly is happening that a plot doesn’t really develop. There are threads here and there. The professor is unhappy in his job. The government is threatening to shut down the super-secret experiments. Somehow these space telekinetic powers could revolutionize the world.

The special effects are seamless for the time. The large rolling cloud effect is particularly impressive. It’s an ominous vision of destruction. When the professor becomes frustrated enough with being told “no,” he steps away and concentrates. The cloud replaces him, unnoticed by the people he is targeting until it is too late to stop them.

The monster in the episode is the professor himself, the only visual tell being a small scar on his forehead. He is described as meek and mild in the narration. This implant in his brain allows him to change that, becoming the most powerful and unstoppable person on earth without raising a finger. The scientists understand the potential of these powers, but no one else in the professor’s life even cares to listen long enough to learn what he can do. No one will ever be able to say “no” to him again.

There’s a passivity to the story that undercuts its own tension. As powerful as the professor is with his new abilities, he is not fully in control of them. He is still quiet, unassuming, and unable to claim what he truly wants in life. He does take no for an answer all the time. The power controls itself when he represses his true thoughts and feelings, so he is unable to fully control the power. He is a passive villain and an inactive hero. That combination requires a whole lot of nuance to truly build suspense and there just isn’t enough time in the episode to explore the real conflict in a meaningful way.

“The Man with the Power” is the first episode of The Outer Limits focused more on character than on story. It’s not boring or poorly made. The issue is intention. The theme and the plot are scattered, shifting from scene to scene. It doesn’t help that there was a boon of this kind of story in the 1970s and 80s that had the resources and running time to truly set up and run with this kind of narrative. At the time, it was likely quite startling to see this kind of story told onscreen. Now, it feels like early experimentation with a soon-to-be sci-fi staple.

Up next: S1E05 “The Sixth Finger.” The Outer Limits is streaming for free on The Roku Channel.