“The mind of man has always longed to know what lies beyond the world we live in. Explorers have ventured into the deeps and the heights. Of these explorers some are scientists, some are mystics. Each is driven by a different purpose. The one thing they share in common is a wish to cross the Borderlands that lie beyond the Outer Limits.”
The Outer Limits: The Borderland
Season One, Episode Twelve
I know that there are fans of Star Trek and fans of the Twilight Zone who will claim that their favorite programs pioneered the way for TV science fiction. Of course there are several predecessors in that field including Quatermass, One Step Beyond and more… but personally I hold the Outer Limits in high regard. It combined the elements of pulp sensibilities with modern story telling techniques along with the latest in cutting edge special effects to produce some of the weirdest and most enduring televisual statements of the 20th Century.
The program ran for a scant two years yet many avid TV viewers recall at least or two episodes in sharp clarity due to the nightmarish visuals and evocative cinematography. I have been randomly reviewing episodes of the Outer Limits for about four to five years now, often throwing a disc in and choosing at random.
The twelve episode of the program’s first year was initially intended as the first, but it lost out to the stellar The Galaxy Being. The Borderland is a very clever story that works on several levels. As a pulp sci-fi tale it involves the use of magnetism, that invisible force that binds the universe together, to cross over to another dimension. From another perspective it is about the need for some to believe in the unbelievable as well as the short-sightedness of others who seek power above all else, refusing to see beyond the five senses.
The story opens with Ian Frasier conducting an experiment with electromagnetism. The result is startling and alters not just his imagination but his body as well, transforming his left hand into a second right hand. This gives him a glimpse into a world beyond this one, perhaps traversable if enough power could be generated to create sufficient force. Looking for a backer, he finds the ideal candidate in local money bags Dwight Hartley who desperately wishes to contact his recently deceased son.
Hartley has ardently searched out a means to contact the ‘other world’ through clairvoyants. Fraisier and his associates attend one of these seances and reveal it to be a hoax. The psychic insists that she has reached Hartley’s son, and her associate devotedly backs her up as the only hope that Hartley has, but after their trick has been revealed they don’t really have a leg to stand on. Ironically, Ian Frasier then pitches his scheme using magnets as method of inter-dimensional travel, appearing to be a much more flamboyant scam artist to Hartley’s fellow executive and business partner, Edgar Price. But Hartley is sold. It soon becomes apparent that Price is secretly behind the psychic con artists’ visit and is seeking to grift Hartley of his fortune. In Frasier’s proposition, he sees an even greater prize, obtaining knowledge that no one else could obtain, available to the highest bidder.
By blacking out the entire power grid of the local area and dedicating those resources to the experiment, Frasier hopes to break through the sundered veil between this realm and another. Strangely, no one ever theorizes that the other world is the after life yet Hartley is sure that the experiment will grant him the opportunity to contact his son. The preparations are intense and arduous, made all the more uncomfortable by Edgar Price, who reminds Frasier that he is a contractor and any obliged to report any otherworldly discoveries to him directly. Similarly, Frasier’s wife reminds him of his importance to her and her fears of losing him (though it appears that she has already lost him to his work).
As the scientific crew prepare for the event, the psychic and her associate manage to somehow sneak into the installation, thinking that the entire operation is nothing more than some colossal con. By tampering with the equipment, they damage the experiment, almost trapping Frasier in the other world as he experiences bizarre feelings of disorientation and views strange alien landscapes that overlap our perceived world. His devoted wife manages to grab his (now ‘fixed’) left hands and drag him back to reality, thus proving that there is one invisible force running throughout the universe more powerful than any other.
However, Hartley’s need to contact his son proves too great, prompting him to enter the magnetic field and disintegrate into atoms.
The Borderland is a very slow-paced episode, but there’s a lot to love here. Ian Frasier is your typical hard-as-nails 1950′ scientist that many fans of magazines and comic books will recognize. So single-minded is he that he even distorts his own body in search of his goal! Played by veteran actor of stage and screen Peter Mark Richman (familiar to MST3K fans from Agent from H.A.R.M. and from his appearances in Star Trek the Next Generation and the original Battlestar Galactica), Frasier is intensely distracted by his work, much like a pioneer or alchemist on the verge of a breakthrough. He has clearly taken many parts of his life for granted, seemingly detached from his wife and friends and ambivalent to the possibility of getting lost in another reality. Frasier is a compelling character, stoic yet surprisingly passionate when he is faced with the vastness of the unknown and realizes what is most important to him.
Unlike all other Outer Limits stories, The Borderland does not feature a single monster (the network insisted that every episode featured one), yet it does contain one of the trippiest sequences ever shown on TV at the time as we witness Frasier’s image distort, duplicate and overlap in a silently screaming expression, his words out of sync with his mouth. The sequence sees to extend for ages and takes on a hypnotic if not meditative effect on the viewer.
While not a stand out of the golden standard variety, The Borderland remains one of the more ambitiously intelligent and sincere of the Outer Limits series.
For the finest source of Outer Limits reviews and articles, I highly recommend the siteWe Are Controlling Transmission.