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 by Elliot Silverstein
Written by Rod Serling
Featured music Stock
Production code 173-3661
Original air date June 2, 1961
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of season 2 episodes
List of Twilight Zone episodes

"The Obsolete Man" is episode 65 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on June 2, 1961 on CBS. The story was later adapted for The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas starring Jason Alexander.

Opening narration[edit]


In a future totalitarian America, Romney Wordsworth 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 literature. 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, 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, who will be the only one who knows the method of death. Wordsworth also requests that his execution be televised nationwide. 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 television 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 a bomb set to go off in the 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 there is no one outside to help the Chancellor escape. 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. Wordsworth 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 and Psalm 59). 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 by quoting "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 closes in on him. He continues to plead with the court insisting that he is in fact not obsolete and wishes only to serve the State, as he is enveloped and overwhelmed by the crowd, which apparently kills him.

Appearing in his closing narrative, Rod Serling observes that the late chancellor was partly correct about being obsolete as well as the state.

Closing narration[edit]


Political messages[edit]

This episode was meant to highlight the dangers of totalitarianism. Wordsworth compares the Chancellor to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and says "History teaches you nothing." The chancellor's reply is "On the contrary, history teaches us a great deal." 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 in the episode). It also underscores, as displayed by Wordsworth through his final act in life, the importance of mercy.


  • 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]