The Outer Limits: S1E15 “The Mice”

An inmate sentenced to life in prison agrees to be the first human test subject for an experiment in teleportation. He will be broken up into individual particles and launched across the universe. If the experiment succeeds, he’ll be returned to earth to continue his prison sentence. Chino is quick to call out the uncaring conditions of the experiment and his role as a lab mouse with no chance of freedom.

“The Mice” is a theatrical episode of The Outer Limits. The screenplay has dialogue like a stageplay, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in science fiction. A conceptual story can handle more stylized dialogue if it has a strong enough concept to support it.

The mouse metaphor is fitting for the story. Chino is part of the third phase of teleporter testing, after inanimate objects and actual mice. The scientists are permitted to choose a volunteer from prisons, as actual “important” members of society are too high risk. Chino refers to himself as a mouse as a way to disarm the scientists and get them to reveal any actual details of the experiment to him.

This metaphor is important to the plot on every level. Chino is trapped in the facility, a maze of hallways and testing rooms, with failsafes in place to make sure he can never escape. There is one way out, and that’s the teleporter. If he fails to participate, he gets locked up back in his cage in prison; if he succeeds, he still gets returned to his cage. The scientists tell him to act with compassion towards humanity, but struggle to treat him as anything other than a lab animal.

The monster of the week is the Kromoite, the alien species participating in the teleportation exchange. This blob-like creature has claws like a crab and walks on two legs. Its purpose is to look as strange as possible. This creates a new, more interesting subject for the scientists to observe and a genuine source of fear and doubt for Chino. The two species agree to send “unimportant” subjects before actual business could be done. Both planets want an even exchange. The Kromoite sent to earth cannot communicate directly, though itsinitial attack on the lab and scientists suggest it is just as dangerous as Chino.

This style of highly theatrical text only works if the actors onscreen can make it feel real. This cast soars with this script. Henry Silva is compelling and threatening as Chino. Diana Sands is the voice of reason and compassion as Dr. Harrison, the woman tasked with making sure Chino is physically and mentally capable of participating in the experiment. Michael Higgins’ Dr. Kellander is a perfect foil to Chino, matching his action and arguments line for line with the same energy. The trio fight for power in the lab with logic and the results are captivating.

The connecting thread between the principal cast is the unspoken fear of failure. No one wants to be wrong about the experiment, the partnership with the planet Kromo, or the decision to send a person at all. Each character is confident that their approach is correct, but none fully trust the others to reach their version of an optimal result in the experiment.

“The Mice” is a fascinating story of metaphor as substance in science fiction. The story extends far beyond this initial concept in a rewarding series of twists. Its brooding theatricality stands out in a series already defined by a willingness to tackle serious social, ethical, and political issues through the lens of the monster.

Up next: S1E16 “Controlled Experiment.”