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
Episode 29
Directed byElliot Silverstein
Written byRod Serling
Featured musicStock
Production code173-3661
Original air dateJune 2, 1961 (1961-06-02)
Guest appearances
Episode chronology
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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, the accused, and Fritz Weaver as the Chancellor (and prosecutor). It originally aired on June 2, 1961, on CBS.[1] The story was later adapted for The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas starring Jason Alexander as Wordsworth.

Opening narration[edit]

You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He's a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he's built out of flesh and because he has a mind.[2] Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone.


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 atheist 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. Wordsworth 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. Although Wordsworth's demand for privacy is unprecedented, the Chancellor grants both requests.

Wordsworth summons the Chancellor to his now-monitored room, to which the Chancellor agrees out of curiosity. The librarian reveals that the execution method 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. He also points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State would risk losing its status in the people's eyes if it chose to rescue the Chancellor. Wordsworth brings out an illegal, long-hidden copy of the Bible, reading Psalm 23 and portions of several other psalms aloud to express his trust in God.

At the last minute, the Chancellor breaks down and begs to be let go "in the name of God." Wordsworth agrees to do so on those terms and unlocks the door for him. The Chancellor flees from the room while Wordsworth stays as the bomb explodes. Due to his cowardly display in Wordsworth's room and invocation of God, the Chancellor is replaced by his own subaltern and declared obsolete. He protests against this and tries to escape but is overwhelmed by the tribunal's attendants, who then beat him to death.

Closing narration[edit]

Unusually, Serling appears on camera to deliver the closing narration.

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 which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man...that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under "M" for "Mankind" - in The Twilight Zone.


Original epilogue[edit]

Usually Serling delivered his closing narration off-camera. But for the earlier episode ("A World of His Own"), Serling delivered the closing narration of that episode on-camera, as he would for "The Obsolete Man" and season 3's "The Fugitive." 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):

The Chancellor, the late Chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshipped. Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody. When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man...that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under "M" for "Mankind" - in The Twilight Zone.

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]