The Obsolete Man
|"The Obsolete Man"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2|
|Directed by||Elliot Silverstein|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Original air date||June 2, 1961|
"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.
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 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. 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. While televised executions are commonplace and the secretive method is highly unorthodox, the Chancellor 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 agrees to this unusual request out of curiosity, arriving early in Wordsworth's final hour. 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, providing the viewers with a more interesting death than his own. He also points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State would risk losing its status in the people's eyes by rescuing the Chancellor. Wordsworth proceeds to read from his illegal, long-hidden copy of the Bible, expressing his trust in God. Wordsworth's calm acceptance of death stands in sharp contrast with the Chancellor's increasing panic as the bomb ticks.
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 immediately unlocks the door for him. Wordsworth stays as the Chancellor flees from the room and the bomb explodes, killing him alone.
Due to his cowardly display in Wordsworth's room and invoking 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.
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:
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.
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.
- Burgess Meredith as Romney Wordsworth
- Fritz Weaver as the Chancellor
- Josip Elic as the Subaltern
- Harry Fleer as Guard
- Harold Innocent as Man in Crowd
In popular culture
- 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.