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|
|Original air date||June 2, 1961|
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. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in The Twilight Zone.
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. 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). 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 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 apprehends him. He continues to plead with the court insisting that he is in fact not obsolete and wishes only to serve the State, as the crowd appears to kill him.
Appearing in his closing narrative, Rod Serling says that the late chancellor was partly correct about being obsolete as well as the state.
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. A case to be filed under "M" for Mankind - in The Twilight Zone.
- Burgess Meredith as Romney Wordsworth
- Fritz Weaver as The Chancellor
- Josip Elic as The Subaltern
- Harry Fleer
- Harold Innocent as Man in Crowd
- Jane Romeyn
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).
- 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.