The planet Ebon has attacked Earth. A united force of soldiers from all around the world is trying to fight back, but troop after troop are captured by the alien species. They must pass an interview with an interrogator to receive access to basic human needs or medical attention. These interrogations are a form of psychological warfare, preying on the greatest insecurities of the soldiers.
“The Nightmare” is a horror story in a sci-fi setting. This story is meant to scare you. It’s an aggressive episode playing with the perception of reality.
For the creatures of Ebon, it is not enough to bring up past trauma to gain control; they recreate it. The soldiers see visions of people who are no longer there, forcing them to confront their secrets out in the open. One soldier sees a vision of his mother, begging him to speak after the Ebonites steal his voice. Another is reminded of the crimes he was forced to commit as a child living in Germany during World War II.
The soldiers of Earth hypothesize what is actually going on. They discuss strategies other countries have used when detaining prisoners of war. Together, they try to strategize how best to deal with their interrogations. They’ve been trained to deal with physical, not psychological, torture.
“The Nightmare” is all about misplaced expectations. The opening narration sets up a story about a passive Earth being attacked by the Ebon without warning. Every nation in the world united without question to send their best soldiers into a war where they know nothing about the enemy. The troop members in the story all come from different countries, willing to overlook any differences from recent history to save Earth.
The slightest differences become massive rifts as their captivity goes on. Even we, the viewers, don’t get to see all the interviews. Separation leads to distrust as each soldier claims they said nothing, but each soldier faces a very different style of interrogation. All they know for sure is they are prisoners of war and the Ebonites can control how they perceive the five senses.
The Outer Limits was not afraid to be extremely critical of politics, society, and war. “The Nightmare” hints at a few different recent military events, but focuses most of their critique on the Korean War. The threat of discussing the failings of that war is enough to stop any discussion or fight among the soldiers. Every action taken by anyone in this new intergalactic conflict is tethered back to the Korean War, including attempts to disguise the true repercussions of their actions far from the eyes of the world.
content warning: this episode discusses anti-Semitic policies in Germany before and during WWII; also, mental wellness
Up Next: S1E11 “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork.” The Outer Limits is no longer streaming on the Roku Channel. The episodes can be purchased on Amazon.