a woman stares at a large flower, from The Outer Limits episode Zzzzz

The Outer Limits: S1E18 “Zzzzz”

A young woman wakes up in a garden. She approaches a professor about an assistant position in his laboratory. The professor’s wife is immediately suspicious, as the advertisement for the job hasn’t even been posted in the newspaper yet. The young woman claims to have overheard the ad being placed and walks right into her new job of researching bee behavior and communication.

There is an entire sub-genre of killer bee films in horror and science fiction. This is a fascination with the rare but possible scenario where an insect from a different part of the world has the potential to make someone sick or even die. These killer bee (and other insect) stories make it into the news sometimes, creating panic. Shorty after, a screenwriter or production studio tends to go “but what if?” and makes their own killer bee film.

“Zzzzz” takes a different spin on this. Instead of a bee causing trouble by winding up in a different location, this bee finds a way to become a human being. The young woman wills herself into being a human after escaping the research lab. She is obsessed with order, structure, and exacting rules.

The transformation sequence is not the greatest monster of the week execution on The Outer Limits. Blurry footage of a live bee and the actress playing its human version flash back and forth onscreen until the human side wins. It sets up the concept, but doesn’t look great. It’s more successful later on when a closeup of the face in shadow is overlaid with a closeup of a bee. The shifting iris in the eye is quite catching. I have to wonder if the initial transformation couldn’t have happened in the same way.

It’s eventually revealed that the transformed bee is actually the queen. Her goal is not destruction but procreation. She believes the way to save and expand her colony is to begin mating with humans to have more power in the world.

This shifts “Zzzzz” into more typical alien invasion territory. It’s a strange concept for a sci-fi story, but one that can thrive in an anthology format. New stories each week centered around a common title or theme can allow more unusual stories to get produced. If something as weird as “Zzzzz” doesn’t grab the same audience attention, another story comes right along to pull the audience back in. It’s only when a show pushes too far away from audience expectations that the overall anthology series begins to suffer.

This is the greatest strength and weakness of the anthology form. Just because “Zzzzz” didn’t work for me doesn’t mean that other viewers don’t love the story. There are, I’m sure, viewers who think “Don’t Open Until Doomsday” is too far off from what they expect of The Outer Limits to really enjoy, as well. The endless possibility of an anthology series without recurring characters banks on people willing to take a chance on stories they might not usually want to experience.

For me, “Zzzzz” is just a bit too silly. There’s an entire sequence where the young woman bounces around a garden, hugging giant flowering bushes and even starting to lick one of the buds. Even the research into translating bee communication is goofy. The bees are screaming about an intruder like them but in a different body until the young woman uses the mic and starts giving them commands as the queen bee. It feels like everything is played a bit too serious for what the episode actually is. These actors are performing like it’s a prestige drama while delivering dialogue about humans transforming into bees and back again.

Up next: S1E19 “The Invisibles”