The Obsolete Man
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|"The Obsolete Man"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
Burgess Meredith as Romney Wordsworth in The Obsolete Man
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||Elliot Silverstein|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Featured music||Uncredited stock, almost all of it from Bernard Herrmann's score for a radio adaptation of "Brave New World"|
|Original air date||June 2, 1961|
|List of The Twilight Zone episodes|
In a future totalitarian state, Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) is a man put on trial for the crime of being obsolete. His occupation as a librarian is a crime punishable by death, as the State has eliminated books and literacy. He believes in God, a crime also punishable by death, as the State claims to have proven that there is no God. He is prosecuted by the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver), who announces in front of the assembled court that Wordsworth, in not being an asset to the State, shall be liquidated.
After being convicted, Wordsworth is allowed to choose his method of execution. He cryptically requests that he be granted a personal assassin to whom he may privately disclose his preferred method of execution. He also requests that his execution be televised. Thinking that the spectacle will help show the public what happens when citizens become of no use to the State, the court grants both requests.
A camera is installed in Wordsworth's study to broadcast his final hours and execution live to the nation. He summons the Chancellor, who arrives at exactly 11:16 p.m. After some discussion, Wordsworth reveals to the Chancellor that his chosen method of execution is by an explosive set to go off in his room at midnight. He explains that the reaction to imminent execution that will interest the public is not his own but the Chancellor's, as the door is locked and no one is outside to help the Chancellor escape. He intends to show the nation how a spiritual man faces death, and proceeds to read from his illegal, long-hidden copy of the Bible (in particular, Psalm 23). He also points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State would risk losing its status in the eyes of the people by trying to rescue the Chancellor. As the time draws to a close, Wordsworth's calm acceptance of death stands in sharp contrast with the Chancellor's increasing panic.
Moments before the bomb explodes, the Chancellor desperately begs to be let go "in the name of God". Wordsworth says that "in the name of God" he will release the Chancellor immediately, which he does. The Chancellor bursts out of the room and down the stairs just as the bomb explodes and kills Wordsworth, who in his last seconds of life, stands tall and has a facial expression of peace and satisfaction.
In the final scene, the Chancellor returns to the courtroom to discover that his own subaltern has replaced him and that he himself is now obsolete: "You have disgraced the State. You have proven yourself a coward. You have, therefore, no function." Immediately convicted, the former Chancellor screams as the crowd in the courtroom apprehends him. He continues to plead with the court, insisting that he is in fact not obsolete and wishes only to serve the State. In his closing narrative, Rod Serling says that "The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is 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."
This episode was meant to highlight the dangers of totalitarianism. Wordsworth once compares the Chancellor to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and asks "History teaches you nothing, does it?" The chancellor's reply is "On the contrary, history teaches us everything." The chancellor then argues that Hitler and Stalin had the right idea, but that their mistake was that they did not push their merciless agenda far enough. The episode is also meant to put emphasis on the importance of art, philosophy, literature, freedom of religion, and free speech in a society (all of which are taken away by the state).
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
- Peak, Alexander S. (2006). "The Obsolete Man." LewRockwell.com.