To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone)

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"To Serve Man"
The Twilight Zone episode
Susan Cummings and Richard Kiel
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 24
Directed by Richard L. Bare
Written by Rod Serling (Based on the story To Serve Man by Damon Knight)
Featured music Stock (from Jerry Goldsmith's scores for "Back There" and "The Invaders")
Production code 4807
Original air date March 2, 1962
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) (season 3)
List of The Twilight Zone episodes

"To Serve Man" is episode 89 of the anthology series The Twilight Zone.[1][2][3][excessive citations] It originally aired on March 2, 1962 on CBS.

The story is based on the 1950 short story "To Serve Man", written by Damon Knight.[4] The title is a play on the verb serve, which has a dual meaning of "to assist" and "to provide as a meal". The episode is one of the few instances in the series wherein an actor breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewing audience at the episode's end. The episode, along with the line "It's a cookbook!" have become elements in pop culture.

Opening narration[edit]


The Kanamits, a race of 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) aliens, land on Earth. One of them addresses the United Nations via telepathy, announcing that his race's motive in coming to Earth is to aid humanity by sharing their advanced technology. After answering questions, the Kanamit departs and leaves a book in the Kanamit language without comment, which leads Michael Chambers, a US government cryptographer, to be pressed into service.

Initially wary of an alien race who came "quite uninvited", international leaders begin to be persuaded of the Kanamits' benevolence when their advanced technology puts an end to hunger, energy shortages, and nuclear proliferation. Trust in the Kanamits seems to be justified when Patty, a member of the cryptography staff led by Chambers, decodes the title of the Kanamit book: To Serve Man. The Kanamits submit to interrogation and polygraph, at the request of the UN delegates. When declaring their benevolent intentions, the polygraph indicates that the Kanamit is speaking the truth.

Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits' home planet, which they describe as a paradise. Kanamits now have embassies in every major city on Earth. With the Cold War ended, the code-breaking staff has no real work to do, but Patty is still trying to work out the meaning of the text of To Serve Man.

The day arrives for Chambers's excursion to the Kanamits' planet. Just as he mounts the spaceship's boarding stairs, Patty runs toward him in great agitation. While being held back by a Kanamit guard, Patty cries: "Mr. Chambers, don't get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it's... it's a cookbook!" Chambers tries to run back down the stairs, but a Kanamit blocks him, the stairs retract, and the ship lifts off.

Michael Chambers's ship quarters are a cot in a spartan interior. A voice offers him a choice of dish at all the regular meal times. Each time he refuses food with increasing irritation. At last he says to the audience: "How about you? You still on Earth, or on the ship with me? Really doesn't make very much difference, because sooner or later, all of us will be on the menu... all of us." The episode closes as he gives in and breaks his hunger strike.

Closing narration[edit]



The arriving Kanamit ship is shown as scenes extracted from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but with different sound; the departing Kanamit ship is shown as a scene extracted from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, also with different sound.

Critical response[edit]

Marc Scott Zicree, writing in The Twilight Zone Companion, has criticized a cardinal plot point in "To Serve Man": "In the show ... a staff of cryptographers led by [Michael Chambers] Lloyd Bochner attempts to decipher the alien language as though it were some secret code, which is utterly ludicrous. Without some sort of interplanetary Rosetta stone, deciphering an unknown language would be impossible." Zicree also points out that the chances of the word "serve" having the same dual meaning in both English and another language, especially an alien one, are almost nil.

In 1997 TV Guide ranked the episode at No. 11 on its "100 Greatest Episodes of All Time" list[5] and in 2013 ranked the ending as the "Greatest Twist of All Time."[6] In 2009, Time listed the episode among the "Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes."[7]

Cultural influence[edit]

USAF - 509th Operations Group Unofficial Patch.png

An unofficial badge of the 509th Bomb Wing based in Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. The text reads, "To Serve Man," and the caption below reads, "Gustatus Similis Pullus"—dog Latin for "Tastes Like Chicken".[8]

The plot device of the alien cookbook is parodied in the segment "Hungry Are the Damned" on The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror" (1990). In the segment, the seemingly benevolent aliens Kang and Kodos are discovered to have a book titled "How to Cook Humans".[9] The humour is played up by a series of reversals in revealing the actual title of the book. What begins as "How to Cook Humans", through a series of repeated blowing of "space dust" from the book, becomes "How to Cook for Humans", "How to Cook Forty Humans", and finally "How to Cook for Forty Humans". Ultimately, the trope is subverted, as Lisa later comments on their suspicious attitude towards the aliens: "Truly there were monsters on that ship, and truly we were them."

In the Futurama episode "A Fishful of Dollars" (season 1, episode 6), Bender is shown wearing an apron that says "To Serve Man".[10]

The American heavy metal band Nuclear Assault featured a song of the same title on their 1993 album "Something Wicked". The lyrics focus around the same theme.

American deathgrind band Cattle Decapitation has a 2002 album of the same name.


  1. ^ Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
  2. ^ DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
  3. ^ Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
  4. ^ Belasco, Warren James (2006). Meals to come: a history of the future of food. University of California Press. pp. 130, 358. ISBN 0-520-24151-7. 
  5. ^ TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes & Noble. 2004. p. 667. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1. 
  6. ^ Roush, Matt (November 4–10, 2013). "Eyes on Surprise! The 60 Most Startling Twists of All Time". TV Guide Magazine. TV Guide. 61 (3187): 22–23. 
  7. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (2 October 2009). "Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes". Time Inc. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Inside the black budget". The New York Times. 1 April 2008. 
  9. ^ Booker, M. Keith (2006). Drawn to television. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 67–68. ISBN 978-0-275-99019-0. 
  10. ^ Booker, M. Keith (2006). Drawn to television. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-275-99019-0. 

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