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Recap: The Twilight Zone S 3 E 89 To Serve Man

It's a cookbook!

For the original short story, see Damon Knight.

The Trope Namer for To Serve Man

First aired on March 2, 1962.

Rod Serling: Respectfully submitted for your perusal: a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin : unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment we're going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone.

The episode opens with a man named Michael Chambers lying uncomfortably on a cot in a futuristic room. A voice implores him to eat. He refuses. He asks what time it is on Earth, and begins to tell the story of how he came to be aboard a spaceship in flashback.

A race of benevolent aliens called the 'Kanamit' arrive on Earth, offering to help humanity. After initial resistance, humanity accepts. The Kanamit set about putting an end to many of Earth's greatest woes, including hunger. Energy becomes very cheap; nuclear weapons are rendered harmless. The aliens even morph deserts into big, blooming fields.

Michael Chambers, revealed to be a United Nations codebreaker, attempts to decipher the Kanamit's language from a book the Kanamit left behind. A woman named Patty, one of his employees, manages to decipher the title, which reads 'To Serve Man'. Chambers' team seems to be satisfied with this.

With the Cold War ended, Chambers has no real work to do, but Patty is still trying to work out the meaning of the text of To Serve Man.

Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits' home planet, which is portrayed as a paradise. Chambers, with nothing else to do, signs up for an excursion to the planet. As he is boarding the ship (amongst people who excitedly talk about their upcoming trip), Patty runs up to him, but is stopped by a Kanamit guard. She desperately calls out:

"Mr. Chambers! Don't get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it's... it's a cookbook!"

Before Chambers can escape, he is forced onto the ship. The episode ends with him on the Kanamit ship, breaking his hunger strike and giving in to the Kanamit's orders to eat.

Rod Serling: The recollections of one Michael Chambers, with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone's soup. It's tonight's bill of fare on the Twilight Zone.

Tropes:

  • Adaptation Displacement: The episode is better known than the short story it was based off of.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: That's what we learn at the end.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Subverted.
  • Big Eater: The Kanamit's favorite kind of human.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end, Chambers faces the camera, and asks the audience if they're still on earth or on the ship with him, but says is doesn't matter because sooner or later we'll all be on the menu.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Why show up on Earth, announce an invasion and attack to take your dinner, when you can win it's trust with zero effort to the point hundreds of entrees are lining up to come to your planet?
  • Downer Ending: Obligatory. And a pretty depressing at that, since humanity goes from the ruler of a planet to someone's dessert.
  • Fattening The Victim: The Kanamit's intentions from the start, what with their providing means of ending world hunger. Before boarding the Kanamit ships, humans are weighed: when a heavier person steps off of the scale, the Kanamit smiles gleefully after checking the person's weight.
    Kanamit: "Please, Mr. Chambers. Enjoy, eat hearty! ... We wouldn't want you to lose weight."
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Kanamit. Dilly dilly, come and be killed!
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: All of the Kanamit are played by Richard Kiel, Jaws from James Bond
  • How We Got Here
  • It Was His Sled: the Wham Line is known to practically everyone by now.
  • Lie Detector: It worked. The Kanamit didn't lie about their intentions. However, he didn't give the whole picture.
  • Meaningful Name: "Kanamit" evokes "cannibal" (which, technically, they're not...)
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Apart from adding more action to a story that had originally been mostly a talk-piece, the Kanamit's appearance is changed as well. Knight wrote them as looking like humanoid pigs, which was found to be too fairy tale in production.
  • Prop Recycling / Recycled Set: The Kanamit ship was first used in Forbidden Planet.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Of the bald big-brained variety.
  • Stock Footage: The opening scene of the Kanamit ship is taken from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
  • Superior Species: The Kanamit are far more advanced than humans.
  • Technology Uplift: Alien benefactors arrive on Earth and provide technology that ends war by nullifying all weaponry, cures to all known diseases, and other remarkable benefits of their advanced technology.
  • To Serve Man: The Trope Namer.
  • Vichy Earth
  • Wham Line: "It's a cookbook!".