The Sentence (The Outer Limits)
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|The Outer Limits episode|
|Directed by||Joseph Scanlan|
|Written by||Melissa Rosenberg|
|Cinematography by||Attila Szalay|
|Original air date||4 August 1996|
"The Sentence" is an episode of The Outer Limits television series. It first aired on 4 August 1996, and is the final episode of the second season.
Dr. Jack Henson creates a Virtual Prison — an environment in which convicts experience a life sentence in a harsh regime in just a few hours of real time.
|“||Crime and punishment... an age-old dilemma. Man has long sought a solution to society's ills. But at what point does the punishment itself... become a crime?||”|
In a near future plagued by prison overcrowding, Dr. Henson presents his new invention—a virtual prison where a subject's feelings of guilt literally convict them by subjecting them to a lifetime of imprisonment in a matter of minutes. Demonstrating the device before a group of policymakers, Dr. Henson successfully demonstrates the process by rehabilitating a career criminal, though one of the observers, Senator Meade, voices concern about possible risks.
Determined to prove the viability of the process, Henson continues the demonstration with another prisoner, a man who repeatedly insists upon his innocence. When the new subject experiences seizures upon the device's activation, Dr. Henson realizes the man had indeed been telling the truth about his innocence. Since the machine was not programmed to deal with a man who was not guilty, it created a nightmarish world of a virtual prison that he could not escape. In an attempt to retrieve the subject, Henson hooks himself up into his machine; while he succeeds in retrieving the subject, the man dies soon afterwards.
Charged with reckless endangerment of the prisoner, Dr. Henson is sentenced to prison, a hellish environment where he faces a malfunctioning penal system and torture by other inmates. Even worse, his assistant Dana, a woman whom he secretly loved, gradually abandons him and marries Senator Meade, leaving Henson without hope. As the years pass he lives out his life, suffering abuse and loneliness until his term comes to an end.
Suddenly Dr. Henson finds himself back in the laboratory during the experiment with the virtual prison. He learns that he succeeded in freeing the innocent subject from the virtual prison in time but was trapped in the cycle as a result. Senator Meade announces that Henson's intervention addressed his concerns, and that he was willing to approve the use of the machine on the general prisoner population. Upon hearing Meade's decision, Henson becomes frantic and tries to destroy the machine, only to be restrained and removed from the room. As Henson is led away, Dana realizes that the guilt Henson felt over the innocent prisoner inadvertently caused his incarceration for what seemed a life sentence, one that caused him to regret his creation of the device.
|“||Sometimes it is an easy thing for a man to cry out for retribution until he himself has walked in the footsteps... of those suffering the penalty.||”|
- Simulated reality
- The idea of a simulated prison sentence was used nearly four months earlier as part of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Hard Time".
- Simulated environment detention and prison was tackled in the Black Mirror episode "White Christmas".