Four of the most brilliant men working for the government disappear on the same day. They are connected by coincidence. All four were born in the same county, year, and month. They were all born two months prematurely, their fathers all disappeared shortly after birth, and they all have the same middle name: Eros. This is also the same name of a planet somewhere near the Orion constellation. A fifth man with the same background is still around, but his decision to never leave Spider County makes him harder to find.
“The Children of Spider County” is an interesting idea for a sci-fi story. The 51 minute running time of The Outer Limits episodes doesn’t leave a lot of room for exposition. The description above is the opening scene. One government agent monologues all these facts while being questioned by another. There is so much story packed into this episode that it routinely spins its wheels while explaining the next big hunk of information you need to know.
The actual plot is all about the fifth man. Ethan is an outcast in his town. His advanced intelligence made him an easy target for bullying throughout his whole life. Where the other four children of Spider County excelled in mathematics and sciences, Ethan excelled in telepathy. He is now accused of murdering a much more beloved member of the community. The only evidence for the crime is circumstantial, and the only person who believes his innocence is his girlfriend Anna, a woman everyone wants to keep away from Ethan.
Ethan is broken out of the cop car by a strange creature. He has bulging eyes and gnarled limbs. He can make anything disappear in a flash of light and has telekinetic powers. In his human form, he says he is Ethan’s father. The government agents in the beginning of the episode believe abduction is the cause of the disappearance, and Ethan’s father might be the source.
The monster of the week is not the best creation of the series. It looks like a rubber Halloween costume. I’ll give The Outer Limits credit for consistently realizing when their creature costumes don’t work. They disguised rough edges and awkward proportions with editing tricks and camera angles to show off just enough of the monster to keep the story moving. It’s particularly obvious in “The Children of Spider County” because this story could be told without ever breaking the human disguise of the monster. The format of the first season demands a physical monster onscreen, so we’re left with whatever that thing is supposed to be.
This episode is a three act story told in a prologue and two acts. The first two scenes, showing the start of the investigation and Ethan’s interrogation in prison, would be the beginning and end of a first act with more time. The second act would be the escape and reveal of the father’s true powers, and the third act would be the final confrontations and resolution. Instead, half the story is spent building exposition in between chase scenes. It’s a lot of information to take in all at once and doesn’t leave much time for character development.
“The Children of Spider County” feels like it could be a great sci-fi novel, with room to layer in exposition and learn more about how the different characters actually relate to each other. Instead, it’s a curious little sci-fi story of coincidence by design and worlds colliding.
Up Next: S1E22 “Specimen: Unknown.”