The Outer Limits: S1E25 “The Mutant”

The Outer Limits is streaming for free again on the Roku Channel.

An astronaut is sent to an outpost on an alien planet to investigate the death of a scientist. He thinks everyone is acting a little strange, but isn’t sure why. No one is really answering his questions, and one scientist is trying to keep him away from the research.

“The Mutant” is an alien invasion/hidden among us story. This is a subgenre that allows for a great build of suspense and plenty of twists as the people in the story realize something is wrong, try to figure out what is wrong, and finally try to discover how to weed out the alien species. “The Mutant” takes it a step further with an outsider entering the community to lead the investigation.

The opening narration draws the parallel between the creation of “explosive forces,” weapons and life. This sets up a story about the potentially destructive desire to keep exploring and expanding our reach of the universe. The scientists on Annex One are sent there to colonize a new planet for the growing population of Earth. This puts them under the influence of dangers we’ve never imagined that also want to seize more control of the universe.

The mystery is created in a simple way with costumes. Everyone on Annex One has to wear tinted goggles for their safety outside of the research facility. The sun is always up, so the glasses preserve eyesight and help acclimate the scientists to the environment. Everyone starts to look the same when half their faces are covered outside, and it makes sense that some people would choose to keep wearing them indoors for their comfort and safety.

The monster of the week hides behind these goggles. He’s revealed in the opening scene and it’s a great scare. The only difference between the regular scientists and the alien menace is the eyes. His eyes bulge outside of his head, permanently opened and strained as his mind-reading powers grow. The goggles protect his secret from the astronaut and keep him safe. The eyes are a beautifully sculpted prosthetic that tells you more about the pain and suffering this unfortunate scientist is facing than any dialogue ever could.

The first big twist of “The Mutant” is the conceit of the episode. The scientists on Annex One know who has changed among them. It’s not a secret to them. It’s a secret kept from Earth under threats by the Mutant. He knows if they’re lying to him and can find out anything he wants to with very little effort. Entire scenes are played out in a mix of echoey voiceovers as the Mutant reads their thoughts and forces them to act.

What works so well here is the layered narrative. The astronaut is in his own world, slowly investigating what’s happening in Annex One. The mutant is in his own world, constantly surveying his surroundings and making sure no one reveals his secrets to Earth. Finally, the other scientists are trapped between the world they knew and the world they’re forced to explore, unable to make their own choices without fear of destroying the mission or losing their lives. It’s an episode where everyone thinks they are the hero of the story and no potential ending could be a happily ever after for them all.

***

content warning: body horror, blood


Up Next: S1E26 “The Guests”