Friday, March 02, 2012

Breaking the Code

I've found, over the years, that my friends who are devotees of the original Twilight Zone series tend to agree on which episodes are classics.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the debut of one of them.

It's the episode titled "To Serve Man," and it is the one in which aliens from another world — who stand half again as tall as their earthly counterparts — come to earth, bringing with them everything they need to make life on this planet bountiful and peaceful and, well, perfect.

The suspicious earthlings look for an ulterior motive and, finding none, accept the generosity of their benefactors. There is no apparent downside. Hunger is eradicated. Energy becomes cheap and plentiful. Nuclear weapons no longer have any effect.

But one thing continues to puzzle the earthlings, though — a book written in the aliens' language and alphabet. Researchers manage to de–code the title, which turns out to be "To Serve Man" — a sufficiently benign title — and the earthlings start lining up to take trips to the aliens' home planet.

It is at the end of the episode that it is revealed that the aliens' motives were not as altruistic as they appeared. "To Serve Man," it turns out, is the title of a cookbook, and the contents of the book deal with different ways to prepare man for the aliens' consumption.

As I say, it's regarded as a classic episode by many Twilight Zone fans. My latest proof of that came this afternoon.

I was advising the student newspaper staff as the next edition of the paper was being completed, and I mentioned that today was the 50th anniversary of this episode. The editor of the paper — a talented and industrious young woman — squealed, "That's so awesome!"

Awesome really isn't the kind of word that my peers would have used when we were her age, but those of us who liked the Twilight Zone probably would have said whichever word was in fashion at that time.

It's kind of reassuring to know that, 50 years after its debut, "To Serve Man" is still recognized as one of the best episodes in Rod Serling's ground–breaking series.