Guests on an amusement park ride get launched into space. An alien has been sent to Earth to turn a simulated ride to outer space into a real one for seven unsuspecting humans.
Not a lot happens in “Second Chance.” There is an interesting concept in the episode, but there just isn’t a lot to latch onto.
These people are chosen to leave Earth because they have no opportunity if they stay behind. The two amusement park employees are the most interesting characters, but they’re hardly the focus of the story. The others are an unhappy couple in a loveless marriage and three teenagers avoiding a celebratory luncheon for the championship football team. They’re all so dissatisfied with their lives that they’re not even having fun at an amusement park.
Instead of developing the characters and showing a clear reason for why fleeing the planet could be a good choice, the episode focuses on the mechanics of the ship and the rubber-faced alien. The monster of the week looks good, but the amount of prosthetics to reconfigure the anatomy of his face hides any expression. He drives too much of the story with his dialogue to not be able to emote beyond the costume. Even being able to connect to the alien would make a huge difference to the story.
Sometimes, in an anthology series, a great story idea is ruined by the format of the show. I can imagine a world where this story with this approach could’ve been an excellent 30 minute episode of The Twilight Zone. That series had quite a few episodes with a large ensemble cast thrown into an impossible scenario. Filling 22 minutes with a concept-driven story is reasonable; doing the same in 52 minutes can be a struggle if the characters aren’t given a chance to grow and change.
I did more reading on this episode since it feels so off for the format of The Outer Limits. “Second Chance” marks a turning point in the series. This is an adapted screenplay from an original screen story by Sonya Roberts. She wrote a dark comedy about people willingly going on this outer space expedition thinking it’s all make believe, even the constant threats of death from a menacing alien. Her story focused on character development and relationships so you had more to invest in from the start. All of that was thrown out by screenwriter Lou Morheim, who had been instructed by ABC to write a simpler story focused on the monster. Roberts was so put off by the new screenplay she chose to be credited under a pseudonym, Lin Dane.
“Second Chance” is what you would expect from The Outer Limits, only shifted to focus on the single story of a monster. This is a sci-fi series that regularly deals with honest human emotions at the same time as fantastical creatures. Stripping the human element out of the story leaves a shell like “Second Chance” behind.
Up next: S1E24 “Moonstone.”