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Recap / The Outer Limits (1963) S 1 E 10 "Nightmare"

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The Ebonite Interrogator (John Anderson) menaces Major Jong (James Shigeta) in a publicity still.

The Control Voice: A war between worlds has long been dreaded. Throughout recent history, Man, convinced that life on other planets would be as anxious and belligerent as life on his own, has gravely predicted that some dreadful form of combat would inevitably take place between our world and that of someone else. And Man was right. To the eternal credit of the peoples of this planet Earth, history shall be able to proclaim loudly and justly that in this war between Unified Earth and the planet Ebon, Ebon struck first. Ebon: Its form of life unknown, its way of life unpredictable. To the fighting troops of Earth, a black question mark at the end of a dark, foreboding journey.
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In response to an unprovoked nuclear attack from the planet Ebon, a group of soldiers representing Unified Earth is sent to fight the enemy on their alien world. Captured en route to Ebon, the soldiers undergo physical and psychological torture and interrogation at the hands of the Ebonites, demonic, bat-winged aliens who possess the ability to control the five senses. The prisoners become suspicious of each other when their captors claim they have received cooperation in obtaining military secrets, which is further complicated by each one's past and ethnic origins, along with the unexpected appearance of high-ranking Earth officers among the hostile aliens. The earthmen are subjected to various interactive images of relatives and friends, which have been implanted in their minds during questioning, allowing them to feel a false sense of security, or to instill deeply hidden emotional conflicts. In the end, it is revealed that all of this is but a military "game", organized by the Earth officers to test their troops' loyalty and valor under intense interrogation and psychological stress. The Earth-Ebon war itself is a fake, as the Ebonites' initial bombardment was unintentional. Unexpected accidents and deaths having occurred during the test, the Ebonites - who are, actually, a peaceful and honorable alien civilization - eventually ask for such an immoral and inhuman experimentation to end at once; but, nonetheless, fail to prevent one last man from being killed...one of the conspiring Earth officers thought to be an illusion created by the Ebonites to trick the captives into revealing more information.

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The Control Voice: The exploration of human behavior under simulated conditions of stress is a commonplace component of the machinery called war. So long as Man anticipates and prepares for combat, be it with neighboring nations or with our neighbors in space, these unreal games must be played, and there are only real men to play them. According to established military procedure, the results of the Ebon maneuvers will be recorded in books and fed into computers for the edification and enlightenment of all the strategists of the future. Perhaps they will learn something.

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Tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The episode seems to take place then, considering that space travel is possible. However, consider Krug's Dark Secret: he betrayed his Jewish grandfather to the Nazis during The Holocaust. Krug is no older than his mid-30s, which means the episode takes place in The Present Day (it was filmed in 1963)! When the Control Voice says "A war between worlds has long been dreaded", he's onto something.
  • Asshole Victim: The human Chief of Staff. Just a few minutes before he's killed, he and his CO self-righteously attempt to justify the horror they've inflicted on their fellow humans.
  • Big "NO!": Colonel Stone's reaction when the human general and his Chief of Staff insist that the "experiment" continue, despite all the suffering his men have already experienced.
  • Broken Tears: Happens to Willowmore as he recounts how the Ebonites gave him sight back on the condition that the first thing he saw would be Krug's corpse. However, there was one detail they didn't tell him...
    Willowmore: He... He had no heart! He had a big hole in his chest! They took his heart out! (breaks down sobbing)
  • Dark Is Not Evil: What the Ebonites are eventually revealed as.
  • Deadly Prank: A variation, as the interrogation experiment was mostly done to test the loyalty and valor of the soldiers.
  • Downer Ending: Pushed to their limits, the surviving soldiers decide to kill the next Ebonite they see — just as the Interrogator enters their compound to expose the truth about the experiment. As they give the Ebonite a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, Stone and the Chief of Staff arrive and tell them to stop. Brookman thinks the Chief is just another Ebonite illusion and shoots him, learning too late that he was real.
  • Dramatic Irony: Brookman says that he can't kill a fellow human. He does just that at the climax, although he doesn't realize it at first.
  • Drawing Straws: How the POWs decide which one of them will kill Jong, who they believe has turned traitor.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The Ebonites become a lot more sympathetic after The Reveal that the corrupt Earth military is behind all the tortures Stone's men endured.
  • A Father to His Men: Colonel Stone does what he can to protect his troops. Tragically, he's no match for the Ebonites' advanced technology — or the deceptions of his superiors.
  • Freak Out: Dix does this when he first sees an Ebonite. Later, Willowmore does it when the Ebonites temporarily blind him.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Ebonites have a better moral compass than their human colleagues.
  • Multinational Team: The human soldiers. Stone and Dix are from The United States, Brookman is from Britain, Krug is from Germany, Willowmore is from an unnamed African nation, and Jong is presumably from China.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Brookman at the end.
  • My Greatest Failure: Krug's Dark Secret, as described above. When the Ebonites remind him of it, complete with an illusion of the grandfather who died because of him, he's so stressed out that he succumbs to a heart attack.
  • One-Word Title
  • Secret Test: The whole episode is revealed to have been one.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: During the episode, one of Major Jong's arms is completely shattered. While the Ebonite interrogator is talking to two United Earth officers, he says that Jong will not regain the use of his arm "for a year or more in your measure" (i.e. Earth time).
  • Warrior Poet: Major Jong, who recites a Haiku by Kobayashi Issa while the aliens are torturing him: "Good friend grasshopper, will you play the caretaker for my little grave?"
  • Was It Really Worth It?: The question implied by the Control Voice's closing narration.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Invoked. Brookman, who earlier refused to kill Jong, says he could kill an Ebonite because "an Ebonite's not a human."

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