The Obsolete Man

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"The Obsolete Man"
The Twilight Zone episode
Burgess Meredith The Twilight Zone 1961.JPG
Burgess Meredith as Romney Wordsworth in "The Obsolete Man"
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 29
Directed byElliot Silverstein
Written byRod Serling
Featured musicStock
Production code173-3661
Original air dateJune 2, 1961
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) (season 2)
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"The Obsolete Man" is episode 65 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone, starring Burgess Meredith as Romney Wordsworth. It originally aired on June 2, 1961 on CBS. The story was later adapted for The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas starring Jason Alexander as Wordsworth.

Opening narration[edit]


In a future totalitarian state, Romney Wordsworth is put on trial for being obsolete. His professed occupation as a librarian is punishable by death as the State has eliminated books. He believes in God, also proof of obsolescence, as the State claims to have proven God does not exist. Following a bitter exchange, the Chancellor finds Wordsworth guilty and sentences him to death, allowing him to choose his method of execution. He requests that he be granted a personal assassin, who will be the only one who knows the method of his death, and that his execution be televised nationwide. Though televised executions are commonplace, the secretive method is highly unorthodox; the Chancellor nonetheless grants both requests.

A television camera is installed in Wordsworth's study to broadcast his final hour live to the nation. He summons the Chancellor, who also agrees to this unusual request out of curiosity, arriving early in Wordsworth's final hour. The librarian reveals that the method of execution he chose is a bomb, set to go off in the room at midnight. The Chancellor expresses approval, until Wordsworth further explains that the door is locked, and the Chancellor will die with him, providing the viewers with a more interesting death than his own. He points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State would risk losing its status in the eyes of the people by rescuing the Chancellor. Wordsworth proceeds to read from his illegal, long-hidden copy of the Bible (in particular, Psalm 23 and Psalm 59) expressing his trust in God. Wordsworth's calm acceptance of death stands in sharp contrast with the Chancellor's increasing panic as the final minutes pass.

Moments before the bomb explodes, the Chancellor breaks down and begs to be let go "in the name of God". Wordsworth agrees to do so in those terms, and immediately unlocks the door for him. Wordsworth stays, and the bomb explodes, killing him alone.

Due to his cowardly display in Wordsworth's room and professed belief in God, the Chancellor is replaced by his own subaltern and declared obsolete. He protests pitifully that he is not obsolete, and tries to escape, but is overwhelmed by the attendants of the tribunal.

Closing narration[edit]

Unusually, Serling appears on camera to deliver the closing narration. While he had made a gag appearance towards the end of an earlier episode ("A World of His Own"), Serling still delivered the closing narration of that episode off-camera, as he would for all other Twilight Zone episodes save this one and season 3's "The Fugitive". As broadcast, Serling's narration reads:

Serling's original narration was longer, but the middle section was cut for broadcast. As scripted, the original narration reads as follows (with the cut section in italics):


In popular culture[edit]

Serling's opening narration is sampled in the song "Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)" by American hip-hop duo Run the Jewels on their 2016 album, Run the Jewels 3.


  • 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."

External links[edit]