With Selby (Sidney Blackmer) a shoo-in for the White House, Asian dictator Sung (Richard Loo) initiates a bizarre conspiracy to infiltrate the American government. He hires a scientist, Dr. Su-Lin (Aki Aleong), to develop a serum that can change the molecular structure of any living creature; the serum makes human flesh pliable, allowing a person to alter their appearance. Ho-Chi Wong (Clarence Lung), a secret agent who has been carefully trained to impersonate Selby, is injected with the drug; then, using a template of Selby's face, Wong molds his features into the uncanny likeness of the candidate.
One night on the campaign trail, as Selby is lying in bed in his Chicago hotel room, Wong (disguised as Selby) breaks in, knocks out the real Selby, molds Selby's face to look like his, then kills Selby in an act of "self-defense" which is soon swept under the rug. On the day of the election, "Selby" and his vice-presidential candidate, Theodore Pearson (Phillip Pine), find time for a hunting trip, during which the imposter blasts an attacking rattlesnake. Since Selby was never a good shooter before, his previously unseen skill with a gun surprises an astonished Pearson; "That's the second time in 20 years you hit what you aimed at", he marvels. A few hours later, "Selby" wins by a landslide — and an enemy agent is sworn in as President of the United States.
While Sung's conspiracy is seemingly going according to plan, the people closest to "Selby" are beginning to notice small changes in his personality and actions. Pearson, still mystified by the hunting trip incident, is also disturbed by Selby's seemingly inexplicable reversals of his anti-Sung policies. Selby's daughter Carol (Nancy Rennick) and son-in-law Bob Conner (Mark Roberts) also notice that several things are off about him, from his suddenly distant demeanor to his taste in food, and confess their suspicions to Pearson. During their visit, Pearson disrupts an attempt on his life by a doppelganger impersonating him, causing him to realize that the real Selby was assassinated and an imposter is sitting in the Oval Office.
Pearson devises a plan to expose the false Selby by getting forensic evidence of the real Selby, only to learn that Selby's body was cremated. Fortunately, Conner, who happens to be a scientist, knows about the serum based on written reports of experiments tested on monkeys by the Russians, and they're able to get a sample of the serum. During a diplomatic reception, Pearson, with the help of Secret Service head Frank Summers (Bert Remsen), arrests his doppelganger (who was once again attempting to assassinate Pearson), displays him to the assembled dignitaries while explaining Sung's plot, and applies the serum on the phony President, revealing his true facade. With the conspiracy exposed to the world, Pearson, who is now Commander in Chief, must decide whether to declare war on Li-Chin Sung. An adviser tells him all he has to do is give the order, but Pearson, realizing that such a decision would result in World War III, replies that "There will be no order."
The Hundred Tropes of the Dragon:
- Actor Allusion: A couple involving Sidney Blackmer which may or may not be intentional.
- Blackmer had plenty of experience in Presidential roles. He played Theodore Roosevelt in seven different productions, and also appeared in Wilson, a 1944 Biopic of Woodrow Wilson (although not as the President).
- Blackmer appeared in the 1940 Romantic Comedy Third Finger, Left Hand — which is exactly where Selby got the hunting injury mentioned below in Fingore.
- As You Know: The scene where the fake Selby briefs his fellow agent Wen Lee (James Hong) on the second attempt to replace Pearson invokes and lampshades this trope."Selby": I want to outline the plan one final time. Do not fail again.
- Chroma Key: Rear projection was used for the two scenes where Pearson and his doppelganger appear in the same shot.
- Conspiracy Thriller: One of several Outer Limits episodes centering on a secret plan to take over the American government, and possibly the rest of the world as well.note As always, the show gives this trope a Science Fiction twist, although this is notable as the only conspiracy episode that does not involve aliens.
- Creator Cameo: Series creator/executive producer Leslie Stevens is the voice of the reporter reading the results on election night.
- Evil Doppelgänger: Sung's scheme revolves around installing imposters in positions of power throughout America.
- Evil Plan: Sung's murderous conspiracy to subvert American society.
- Fingore: An off-screen example. The real Selby lost part of one finger in a hunting accident, so Wong has to have his finger amputated as well.
- The Ghost: Governor Washburn, Selby's electoral opponent, is briefly mentioned just so the audience knows that the race actually has another candidate.
- Identification by Dental Records: Sung's agents cremate Selby's corpse to prevent this, and we also see the fake Selby cancel a dentist appointment.
- The Infiltration: Wong infiltrates the US government at the highest level, and Sung's ultimate plan amounts to doing this to American society on a grand scale.
- Kill and Replace: William Lyons Selby is assassinated and replaced by agent Ho Chi-Wong, and Sung plans to do the same to other prominent figures to secretly control America.
- Killing in Self-Defense: The first public thing the fake Selby does is claim that the real Selby was "this wild man [who] came rushing at me shouting 'You'll never be president!'", forcing him to shoot the attacker. He tells his campaign officials to downplay the incident because he doesn't want "sympathy" votes.
- Missing Mom: Not much is made of it, but Selby's wife (and therefore Carol's mother) died before the beginning of the story. At one point, a TV interviewer notes that "It's been a long time since we've had an eligible bachelor in the White House"; later, at the reception "Selby" says to Carol that "I wish your dear mother were here tonight".
- Motor Mouth: The fake Selby describes Ambassador LaCour, a diplomat from an unspecified country, as one of these."Selby": [LaCour] will talk your ear off, you know.Pearson: If an ear will help, I'll be glad to give it.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed/No Communities Were Harmed: The unnamed nation Sung rules is obviously based on China, with Sung himself as an Expy of Mao Zedong.
- No Party Given: No mention is made of what party the presidential candidates belong to. For that matter, the episode never confirms if the nameless Asian country is communist or not.
- OOC Is Serious Business: The conspirators have done exhaustive research on Selby, but it's not enough. Little things about the false Selby (such as his declining interest in Carol and Bob's lives, his having a gun in his possession the night of the assassination attempt, and his suddenly accurate shooting on the hunting trip) make Selby's friends and family suspicious.Carol: He's polite. He remembers all the right anniversaries and birthdays. But it's as if he turned to stone. Suddenly I don't love him anymore.
- Revenge: Played with. Pearson refuses to declare war on Sung because the results would be disastrous (although he'll presumably take some kind of diplomatic action). However, when the fake Selby is exposed and injected with the shapeshifting serum, Pearson angrily mutilates his face, blinding him by pulling his flesh over his eyes before he's taken away.
- Shout-Out: A colorized excerpt from the scene where Wong's face is being transformed appears in Mrs. Doubtfire.
- Snakes Are Sinister: But in this case, the rattlesnake isn't as sinister as the man who shoots it.
- Spanner in the Works: The fake Pearson not only fails in his first murder attempt, but allows the real Pearson to get a good look at him. This allows Pearson, Conner, and the Secret Service to figure out Sung's scheme and set a trap at the diplomatic reception.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The molecular serum allows for an atypically realistic version of this power.
- Yellow Peril: The unnamed Asian government wants to infiltrate the US government by killing and replacing its most important officials, along with leading figures from industry and the media.