Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Written by Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Leon Benson
Starring Howard Da Silva, Marianna Hill, Leonard Nimoy, Peter Brocco, Ford Rainey
First Aired Nov. 14, 1964
RT 51 min.
Watch On iTunes
Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of episode revealed.
Though not a literal “Frankenstein” story, Season 2, Episode 9 of The Outer Limits (“I, Robot”), is thematically similar enough to call it one. And it’s not ashamed to do so. Its first scene shows an encounter between a robot and a little girl beside the water, just not with the same outcome as a similar scene in Frankenstein (1931). An angry mob, one man who carries a pitchfork, corners it in a cabin and, when force is threatened, it speaks, “That won’t be necessary; I’ll go under my own power.”
After commercial, the first words spoken at the jail where the robot is taken are, “Frankenstein killed by his own monster.” The robot is accused of murdering his creator, Professor “Doc” Link (Peter Brocco). Herein lies the moral issue of the episode: can a non-human being be tried for a human crime? D.A. Thomas Coyle (Ford Rainey) wants it declared a harmful weapon and destroyed. Reporter Judson Ellis (Leonard Nimoy) smells a way to sell papers. “You may end up a skillet, but I’ll make you famous.”
Ellis recommends that Doc’s niece, Nina (Marianna Hill) contact Thurman Cutler (Howard Da Silva) an attorney who has “retired from the human race.” Representing Nina and her “legacy,” Adam (the robot’s name), raises enough ethical issues to entice him to go back to work, and he begins by saying it’s been unlawfully detained. If Adam is on trial for murder, Cutler will enter a plea of not guilty. Both sides agree to a private hearing without jury or press (although Ellis sits in the gallery).
What follows is an interesting debate on what to do with Adam. If it was born from “nothing but a heap of nuts and bolts,” but remembers, thinks, reasons and performs, is it man or machine? Is Adam a “creature of high intelligence” or a clever mimic? D.A. Coyle pulls out a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, quoting that a creature lacking soul must kill its creator. Through the eyes of Coyle’s witnesses, we see flashbacks of events that brought them all to this point.
Cutler then calls his witnesses, seeming to focus on whether or not Adam has true emotions. Did the robot derive them from its environment and from Doc Link? After the judge rules for the prosecution that an experiment can be performed during the hearing, Adam’s wires are switched and he goes on a destructive rampage. On the stand afterward, Adam recalls that he had no sensation during the incident, but had never wanted to “destroy” before.
In closing arguments, Cutler says Coyle is trying all of society based on a robot; he’s convicting society itself of irresponsibility for its progress. Coyle counters by asking if we aren’t rushing toward some dreadful outcome, trying to control a piece of machinery that has a mind of its own. “I don’t think we should let such a force loose on the earth!” The judge renders a ruling that, under these abnormal conditions, Adam is guilty and must be destroyed.
Cutler is discouraged; he thought the hearing would help people understand. However, when Adam sacrifices himself to save a little girl from running in front of the paddy wagon, he gets some satisfaction that Adam just cheated the execution. “There’s the end of your story,” he tells Ellis, who replies, “It’s not the end; it’s just the beginning.” The Outer Limits voice then reminds us, “Out of every disaster a little progress is made.”
This complements its opening voiceover, “In vain we build the world unless the builder also grows.” “I, Robot” raises more issues than it resolves, and it doesn’t do so in a completely satisfactory way. That may just be the nature of the story; there’s not an adequate resolution that could come in 51 minutes. Somehow, though, I think it’s something The Twilight Zone could have done in 25. That’s always been my preference, though, to venture into the “Zone” rather than take a trip to the “Limits.”