- The Obsolete Man
"The Obsolete Man" The Twilight Zone episode
Burgess Meredith, as Romney Wordsworth, awaiting his fate, in The Obsolete Man
Episode no. Season 2
Directed by Elliot Silverstein Written by Rod Serling Featured music Uncredited stock, almost all of it from Bernard Herrmann's score for a radio adaptation of "Brave New World" Production code 173-3661 Original air date June 2, 1961 Guest stars Episode chronology ← Previous
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
List of Twilight Zone episodes
In a future totalitarian state, Romney Wordsworth (Meredith) is a man put on trial for the crime of being "obsolete". His occupation as a librarian is a crime punishable by death, as the State has eliminated literacy. He also believes in God, also punishable by death, as the State has declared that there is no God. He is prosecuted by the Chancellor (Weaver), who announces in front of the assembled court that Wordsworth, in not being an asset to the State, shall be liquidated.
After being convicted, Wordsworth is allowed to choose his method of execution. He cryptically requests that he be granted a personal assassin to whom he may privately disclose his preferred method of execution. He also requests that his execution be televised. Both requests are granted by the court.
A camera is installed in Wordsworth's study to broadcast his final hours and execution live to the nation. He summons the Chancellor, who shows up at exactly 11:16 p.m. After some discussion, Wordsworth reveals to the unsuspecting Chancellor that he has locked the door, and that his chosen method of execution is by an explosive hidden in the room that is set to go off at midnight. He intends to show the nation how a spiritual man faces death, and proceeds to read Psalm 23 and the beginning of Psalm 53, among others, from his illegal copy of the Bible. He also points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State will risk losing its status in the eyes of the people by trying to rescue the Chancellor. As the time draws to a close, Wordsworth's calm acceptance of death stands in sharp contrast with the Chancellor's increasing panic.
Moments before the bomb explodes, the Chancellor, in a desperate plea, finally begs the old man to let him go, "in the name of God." Wordsworth remarks that "in the name of God" he will let him out, and immediately releases the Chancellor.
The Chancellor bursts out of the room and down the stairs just as the bomb explodes and kills Wordsworth.
In the final scene, he returns to the courtroom to discover that a new Chancellor has replaced him and that he himself is now obsolete: "You have disgraced the State. You have proven yourself a coward. You have, therefore, no function." Immediately convicted, the crowd in the courtroom physically assaults him and carries him off.
In his closing narrative, Rod Serling says the Chancellor was wrong about one thing: any state capable of judging its own citizens obsolete is itself obsolete.
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593931360
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0970331090
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