The Twilight Zone: Season 2, Episode Twenty-Nine “The Obsolete Man”

Original Air Date: June 2, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Eliot Siverstein

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Face the cameras, step into the light. Let the whole country see the strength of the state, the resilience of the state, the courage of the state. Let the whole country see the way a valiant man of steel faces his death. You have a nirvana coming up, too. Why don’t you sit down, we’ll have a little chat. Just you and me and the Great Equalizer, ’cause death is a great equalizer. So here you have you have this strong, handsome, uniformed, bemedaled symbol of giant authority, and this insignificant librarian, and suddenly, in the eyes of God, there is precious little to distinguish us.”

“The Obsolete Man” is a dystopian, Orwellian horror story that is the concluding episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone. It features the great actor Burgess Meredith in a story that explores similar literary themes as in his famous earlier episode “Time Enough at Last” -including prohibitions on reading and Cold War-era totalitarian fears.

“You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in… The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The future is shadowy, cold, dark, barren -reminiscent of Soviet communism. An old librarian named Romney Wordsworth (played by Burgess Meredith) is brought before a towering tribunal. His charge? Being obsolete. Wordsworth is a librarian and books are forbidden. He also believes in God which is strictly forbidden. Wordsworth is sentenced to death but he is allowed to select his method of execution. He requests for an executioner to kill him at his private library in his apartment, and that his execution be publicized on live television.

Later, the Chancellor (played by Fritz Weaver) arrives at Wordsworth’s apartment. Why the Chancellor comes alone and without security is somewhat of a mystery. He finds Wordsworth reading a rare copy of the Bible amidst shelves of overflowing books. When the Chancellor tries to leave he realizes that the apartment door is locked. Wordsworth has rigged a bomb that is set to kill them both in his apartment. At first the Chancellor laughs off the situation but as time passes he is steadily driven mad until he begs Wordsworth “in the name of God” to let him out of the apartment. At the last minute Wordsworth relents but only after God is invoked. The Chancellor flees the apartment just as a bomb explodes killing Wordsworth on live television in his isolated apartment.

Later the cowardly Chancellor returns to the tribunal court to find that now he has been labeled obsolete because he has acknowledged a deity, and there is a new Chancellor in his stead. Despite his protestations, the former Chancellor is surrounded and slowly killed by the zombie-like goons of the state.

“We know that a dream can be real but who ever thought that reality can be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings, or are we simply part of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it, and then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in The Twilight Zone?”
-Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This episode marks the second of three Rod Serling appearances on screen at the end of an episode.
  • This was the third of four appearances by Burgess Meredith in the series.
  • When Wordsworth is reading from the Bible, he quotes the following verses: Psalm 23 Psalm 59:1, Psalm 14:1, (or Psalm 53:1), Psalm 142:1, and Psalm 130:1-2.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

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