Recap / The Twilight Zone S 2 E 65 The Obsolete Man

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"Wordsworth, Romney. Obsolesence".

Rod Serling: 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 superstates 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 has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone.

In this totalitarian society, Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) is arrested for being "obsolete". The reason for this is his profession, librarian. As the State bans all books, he is therefore obsolete. He is put on trial with the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) serving as judge. It is revealed that Wordsworth also believes in God, whom the State declares does not exist. This does not of course make the Chancellor more fond of him. He is held to be obsolete and sentenced to death. Wordsworth makes three requests: that only his assassin know the method of his death, that he die at midnight the next day, and that his execution be televised. These requests are granted.

Roughly an hour before his execution, he invites the Chancellor to his room and says that he chose to be killed by a bomb set to explode at midnight. He then locks the door, trapping them both in. Wordsworth reminds the Chancellor that they are on TV, and now they will prove which is stronger, the will of the State or that of the individual.

At first, the Chancellor is unflappable, but when he realizes that no one is coming to save him since it would make the State seem weak, he slowly begins to panic. In contrast, Wordsworth quietly reads a Bible. Finally, the Chancellor screams "In the name of God, let me out!" Wordsworth hands him the key and the Chancellor dives out of the room, just as the bomb explodes and kills Wordsworth.

The Chancellor returns to his court, but finds his old subaltern in his usual seat. He demands an explanation, and is informed that due to his cowardice and invoking God, he has been judged obsolete. He begs for a second chance, citing his previous accomplishments, but they are unmoved. He tries to escape, but the court members assault him and drag him away.

Rod Serling: The Chancellor, the late Chancellor, was only partially correct. He was obsolete. But so was the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under "M" for mankind... in The Twilight Zone.

Trivia

  • Burgess Meredith also appears in the episodes "Time Enough At Last", "Mr. Dingle, The Strong", and "Printer's Devil". He is also the narrator for Twilight Zone: The Movie.
  • Fritz Weaver also appears in the episode "Third From The Sun" and the 1980s revival episode "The Star".

Tropes

  • Asshole Victim: The Chancellor.
  • Badass Bookworm: Wordsworth.
  • Batman Gambit/Guile Hero: Wordsworth has truly an awesome one. He locks himself and the Chancellor in the same room as a bomb that is set to kill him. Knowing that the Chancellor is a coward, he keeps him there until he freaks out... at which point he sets him free to face a Humiliation Conga.
  • Badass Grandpa/Cool Old Guy: Wordsworth is the oldest character in the episode and is by far the awesomest.
  • Blatant Lies: The Chancellor claims that the State has disproven the existence of God. Wordsworth, however, doesn't believe a word of it - and their interactions hint that such a declaration wasn't fact so much as it was a means for the State to remove religion from its equation. It's not as if declaring that "God does not exist" is going to convince people who believe it.
    • The Chancellor claiming that the State has decreed that books no longer exist, whilst reading from a ledger. Furthermore, Wordsworth's room is stacked high with various books, further proving this is not the case at all (though Wordsworth later says he's hidden his Bible, so presumably they might not have searched his house-though it does seem a bit of an oversight).
  • Didn't See That Coming: The idea Wordsworth would turn the tables on them never occurred to the Chancellor or the State.
  • Dirty Coward: The Chancellor is called as such by his replacement and the State.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Wordsworth.
  • Dragon Ascendant: The subaltern.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: This episode is all about Wordsworth's.
  • Dystopia
    • Dystopia Justifies the Means/For the Evulz: This seems to be the objective of the State. They got rid of books, they got rid of religion and they get rid of anybody whom they deem "obsolete" in order to tighten their grip on society. When Wordsworth calls them out over how they're even more awful as Hitler and Stalin, the Chancellor seems proud of this. The State's goal seems to simply be control and power for their own sakes. He does vaguely mention that it's to "eliminate undesirables", but why isn't explained.
  • Evil Chancellor: The Chancellor. And later his replacement.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The Chancellor.
  • Evil Gloating: The Chancellor smugly proclaims that The State has executed more than 1300 people in under 6 hours.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Though not so much declaring it to be evil, but rather considered obsolete as well.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Wordsworth. He calmly reads his Bible, waiting for the bomb to explode, while the Chancellor continues to prowl the room, looking for the key. Tellingly, even after the Chancellor runs out of the room in a panic and leaves the door wide open, he accepts his death gracefully rather than trying to escape.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Combined with Ironic Echo. "Yes! In the name of God I WILL let you out!"
  • The Government: The State. They also have shades of The Empire.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The ending implies that while his cowardice disgraced the State, it was his frantic pleas for "God" to let him out that was the final nail in his coffin. After all, he said himself, "God does not exist", according to the State. Earlier there is also a lesser example, when the Chancellor tries to call for help, but Wordsworth points out that there's no one around to "isolate the prisoner", demoralizing them, which is a rule he enacted.
  • Hollywood Atheist: The Chancellor (and by extension the State) are pretty extreme examples, given that they not only declare God does not exist, but run a murderous totalitarian dictatorship which outlaws religion entirely, along with killing anyone whom they deem "obsolete" (people who believe in God presumably are included) especially in contrast with the saintly Christian character Wordsworth. Given this was in the Cold War era, it may have been a Take That! regarding the officially atheist communist states, who persecuted religious people... and everyone else who didn't obey them.
  • Homage: The script was based on Fahrenheit 451.
  • Insult Backfire: Wordsworth calls out the State for being as bad as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. The Chancellor simply replies that they didn't go far enough.
  • Ironic Echo: Wordsworth and the Chancellor have this conversation before Wordsworth reveals his plan.
    Wordsworth: Knowing you're going to be blown to smithereens in a few moments isn't the happiest thought, is it? Is it?
    The Chancellor: Well, it depends on the individual, Mr. Wordsworth.
    Wordsworth: Indeed it does.
    The Chancellor: *Tries to leave but finds the door locked* What kind of idiocy is this, Mr. Wordsworth? You've locked the door.
    Wordsworth: Oh yes, I've locked the door. Now question! (Directly to the camera) How does a man react to the knowledge that he's going to be blown to bits in a half an hour? Answer: it depends on the individual.
  • Karmic Death: The Chancellor is declared obsolete and condemned to death.
  • Large Ham: The Chancellor, as per the norm for a brutal dictator. It makes for an amusing moment when he enters Wordsworth's room and sees the camera has been installed; you can see him immediately "switch on" and start playing to it.
  • Last Request: Wordsworth is granted the right to name how he will die.
  • Make An Example of Him: This is the State's intention with televising Wordsworth's execution. It backfires on them spectacularly.
  • Meaningful Name: "Wordsworth" or "The worth in words", which is what he is about.
    • Lampshaded by the Chancellor who puts a heavy emphasis on "Wordsworth" whilst dismissing his profession as a librarian.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Chancellor's reaction to realizing that he's stuck in a room with a bomb, that no-one is around to hear him as per his orders and that Wordsworth is completely right that the State wouldn't want to embarrass itself by coming to his rescue. Particularly when Wordsworth snarks that they'd rather see a loyal State member Face Death with Dignity, while one lowly and obsolete librarian begs for his life.
    • The Chancellor's reaction to seeing the subaltern, his old second-in-command, now sitting in his seat and declaring him obsolete.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played with. At first, it seems like this is the reason why religion has been banned. However, the Chancellor's words - particularly about how Hitler and Stalin didn't go far enough in controlling the masses - imply that religion was outlawed mostly as a means to control people, since they wouldn't want them being loyal to something else like God.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Wordsworth refuses to give up his belief in God, even under penalty of death.
  • Smug Snake: The Chancellor clearly thinks that he's some kind of all-powerful dictator, but he's nothing more than a cowardly, hypocritical bully.
    • And easily replaceable.
  • Speak in Unison: The court members.
  • Taking You with Me: Wordsworth's plan with the Chancellor is this no matter what the Chancellor does. Wordsworth traps him in the room with him with the bomb ticking down, knowing full well that the Chancellor will be left to his fate. Even though he let him out, it was only after the Chancellor had said and done things that the State sees as making him obsolete. Depending on how you interpret the ending narration and the fact it was televised, Wordsworth may easily have taken the State with him as well.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Wordsworth sets up his own execution specifically to make a point. He leaves the State very disappointed following it, especially when the Chancellor is shown to be a coward who would even beg God for help, who as he earlier mentioned, has been decreed by the State to not exist.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Wordsworth invokes this, that they clearly underestimated him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Chancellor, who by the end is begging for his life.
  • Villains Want Mercy: The Chancellor finally breaks down begging Wordsworth to let him out in the name of God...who the State decreed does not exist, condemning himself to death as well. As he's pounced on and dragged to his fate, he begs the State to show him mercy. He gets none.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Wordsworth trapping the Chancellor in the room with him. Either the Chancellor says things that get the State to declare him obsolete even after being let out (ensuring his death), or the Chancellor dies with him. Either way Wordsworth takes him down with him.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Wordsworth courageously and singlehandedly exposes the Chancellor and the corrupt and seemingly invincible state. The Chancellor is kicked out of power by his associates and replaced, but since the whole thing was televised around the world, what is stopping others from becoming inspired to follow Wordsworth's example?
  • You Have Failed Me: The Chancellor returns to his court to find the State has declared him obsolete for being outed as a coward and declaring belief in God on national television. Even earlier Wordsworth tells him they won't save him for this reason.

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