A robot pulls a young girl from a river. She is terrified of the giant metal man. An angry mob led by sheriffs is already chasing the robot, claiming he is a murderer and assuming the worst in everything he does.
“I, Robot” is an adaptation of the famed short story by Eando Binder. This is not to be confused with Isaac Asimov’s collection of robot short stories, which was titled I, Robot by his publisher. Binder’s “I, Robot” is a curious sci-fi story commenting on Mary Shelley’s formula in Frankenstein but told from the perspective of the creature brought to life. The world assumes the robot is a monster and he has no idea why.
The robot, Adam Link, is your stereotypical sci-fi robot. He’s a silver figure with ridged joints and a vaguely human expression permanently etched on his face. His walking is labored, requiring a lot of energy to swing one leg past another. He even speaks in that shlocky robot voice—all monotone and distortion. Adam is designed to look like the robots people feared in B-movies and pulp magazines.
Adam Link’s only support is Nina Link, the niece of Dr. Charles Link, his creator. Nina knows that Adam could never intentionally hurt someone and refuses to let him be dismantled by the police without a trial. This draws the attention Judson Ellis, a newspaper reporter, who treats the whole case as tabloid fodder. Judson gives Nina the funds needed to lure famed defense attorney Thurman Cutler out of retirement. He, too, is in it for the novelty, defending a mechanical man facing trial like a real human.
Courtrooms appear as the setting in quite a lot of science fiction. It is an easy to access reference for the audience. We know what a trial looks like. That setting and form allows the text to dig deeper into minutia under the guise of seeing the court case solved.
In “I, Robot,” the beats of the murder investigation and trial are used to reveal what Adam Link can do. He demonstrates his empathy right when the episode starts, helping the girl out of the water rather than continue his escape. While in prison awaiting trial, he shows Thurman that he could escape anytime he wants by bending the bars. Then he shares the immense grief he felt after the death of Dr. Charles. The episode continues in this fashion, revealing how Adam came to be so close to human.
Both the original story and The Outer Limits episode use Frankenstein in many layers. The episode takes advantage of the visual medium to restage two scenes from the Universal film. The little girl being rescued in the river looks just like the scene with the little girl and the lake in the film. Adam then runs to a remote shack about the size of the blind man’s shack in the film before being surrounded by a mob like the climactic scene at the windmill. This screenplay lays on the Frankenstein parallels thick to create that tension between perception and reality.
“I, Robot” is one of the saddest episode of The Outer Limits. Adam Link is such a loveable character who just wants a chance to be seen for who he is, not what he looks like. It’s not quite that heavy handed in the episode, but this is a piece of sci-fi that holds up a mirror to society in its original form and its adaptations.
Up next: S2E10 “The Inheritors”