I love the original Twilight Zone television series, so I have decided to start a series of posts in which I discuss why I like particular episodes and what is the deeper meaning that lies within them. Since this is not strictly a review series of articles there will be SPOILERS ahead.
To Serve Man is my all time favourite Twilight Zone episode hands down. It was the 24th episode of the third season that first aired on March 2nd 1962.
Rather than starting at the beginning of the story we see what is to happen at its conclusion. A man is being held captive in what looks like a sealed off room, a sort of jail cell. He refuses food, and we learn that he is in outer space after he asks the time and his captor answers that time is not kept in space. Why is he being held captive and where is the ship he is in taking him to?
The human inhabitants of Earth are fighting against each other, and are teetering on the edge of going to war yet again when multiple spacecrafts are first noticed heading in the direction of Earth. These aliens send a message telling us humans not to be afraid and that they come in peace. The UN in New York City comes together in council meetings and agrees to not attack these creatures who call themselves the Kanamit. They think it is better to hear them out, to give them a chance to explain themselves. After all if they wanted to hurt humans they wouldn’t have announced themselves. Right?
As the secretary general of the UN is announcing the ship landings at a press conference being shown worldwide a Kanamit walks onto the stage and talks in a telepathic manner to the UN and the world about their good intentions. They say that they have noticed the hostilities that Earth has been suffering so they come in peace, wanting to help us solve our problems. They say they will not force us to take their help, that we can decide what help we do or don’t want; affordable nuclear energy, growing nutrient filled crops and erecting forcefields to protect countries from hostilities with one another.
What is the catch to all of this? There really is no reason why a superior race that has space travel technology would travel far just to help a petty squabbling species save themselves from…..themselves. Logically one would think that there would have to be something in it for the Kanamit as well. The fact that all of the countries agree to not be overtly cautious about the Kanamit speaks volumes about the human species. We think that we are so superior to any other kind of species, on and off of Earth, that there is no way anybody would risk lying to us. It all comes down to the human species being very arrogant in its way of thinking.
The Kanamit leaves a book in his language behind after he departs, so it is given to a team of cryptographers. This team is lead by…the man named Chambers whom we met in the very beginning of this episode.
The governments as a whole eventually fully trust the Kanamit since their technologies have proven to be helpful, and they are found to be telling the truth when given lie detector tests. Right after this Patty, one of Chambers’ assistants, figures out the title of the book; To Serve Man. Because of all of this good information about the Kanamit coming out all of the countries get rid of their weapons and it is now a world of peace.
The Kanamit, whom all look alike, now invite humans to visit their planet for free of charge, as a sort of cultural exchange. Even though only a few thousand of the Kanamits have settled onto Earth, hundreds of thousands of humans decide to board the Kanamit ships and go to their alien world. Chambers also decides to visit and while he is waiting in line to board a ship the humans all around him talk about what their friends and relatives have written back to them about their current vacations. All of it sounds fantastical and very alluring, which puts Chambers who was a bit of a skeptic about the Kanamits, at ease.
As he is finally ascending the staircase a commotion towards the back of the crowd happens and Patty, with the Kanamit book held above her head, yells at Chambers telling him that the book is not a guide to help humans, but a cookbook on how to prepare humans for eating! Chambers tries to leave but he is forced onto the ship.
Again we find Chambers in his room, refusing food. Then he turns to the camera and tells us that no matter where we are, either on Earth or on the spaceship, we are pretty much screwed and our lives will all end the same, as a source of food. He then takes his tray and finally eats.
This episode is so powerful because the ending is just so twisted! Remember, this episode was made almost sixty years ago. All of the Earth versus alien films back then ended with the Earth vanquishing the enemy, because why wouldn’t they? Humanity was so advanced that no way could the aliens ever get one over on us! There are even a lot of current films, such as Independence Day, who still buy into this trope expecting us not to question how the humans won because we are more smart than mere aliens! Oh hell no.
I’m glad that the Kanamits got one over on us! As a species we treat the planet and each other horribly at a constant rate. If we ever travel into space why would our egos behave any differently? I guarantee that we would go to other inhabited planets, enslave any native sentient species, and take everything there for our own enrichment. I know that I sound jaded, but we really are that horrible.
So, maybe we will get lucky and some alien species will find us….for dinner.