Director: Elliot Silverstein
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Burgess Meredith, Fritz Weaver, Josep Elic, Harry Fleer, Barry Brooks, Harold Innocent, and Jane Romeyn
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 6/2/1961
Production Code: 173-3661
In a futuristic society, a Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) finds librarian Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) obsolete—a crime punishable by death—given that all books, including the Bible, have been banned by the state. Arranging the method of execution with his own personal assassin, Mr. Wordsworth extends a last-minute invitation to the Chancellor—with a surprise in mind.
“The Obsolete Man” deserves its reputation as an iconic and thought-provoking episode of The Twilight Zone. Notably, astute viewers will observe the many parallels between Nineteen Eighty-Four—a dystopian science fiction novel by George Orwell—and the underlying themes featured in this offering.
Though quite heavy on exposition, the interactions between both main characters are made compelling by the performances of Burgess Meredith (“Time Enough at Last” and “Mr. Dingle, the Strong”) and Fritz Weaver (“Third from the Sun”). Specifically, the passion with which Mr. Wordsworth—ostensibly a meek librarian with a trick up his sleeve—and the Chancellor, a bloviating bureaucrat, plead their respective causes (i.e. individualism and collectivism) should allow the audience to personally engage with Rod Serling’s dialogue, lack of subtlety notwithstanding. Especially worth noting are the final exchanges between Mr. Wordsworth and the Chancellor, which, despite being somewhat predictable, maintain an air of credibility due to Weaver’s cowardly, groveling, and thoroughly convincing portrayal of a hypocritical authority figure.
Often criticized for its aforementioned lack of subtlety, “The Obsolete Man” occasionally fails to represent the totalitarian position in a realistic, let alone persuasive, manner; for example, the Chancellor goes so far as to condemn Hitler and Stalin for sparing the sick, the maimed, and the elderly—a judgment that, in the real world, would likely horrify the vast majority of people. For this reason, Serling’s narrative would best be viewed as an allegory of the individual, no matter how seemingly insignificant, posing the greatest challenge that a supposedly omnipotent state will ever encounter.
An insightful (if not exceptionally nuanced) commentary on the dangers of worshiping the state as one would a benevolent deity, “The Obsolete Man” will appeal to fans of libertarian philosophy. Also terrific is the acting of Meredith and Weaver, which adds a captivating quality to the main thesis presented by Serling.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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