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12 Best Episodes Of 1995's The Outer Limits

Revived in 1995, a relaunched version of the "Outer Limits" anthology series has sometimes been overlooked as an imitation of the original series, but it might be one of the most underrated sci-fi classics of the '90s. Relaunched thanks to a new wave of hit sci-fi shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The X-Files," it ran far longer than the original, with six seasons on Showtime and a final year on the nascent Sci-Fi channel in 2002.

Exploring more sinister stories, it eschewed the classic series' "monster-of-the-week" structure in favor of more adult-skewing sci-fi drama. One of its strengths was its impeccable casting, with sci-fi veterans like Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, and Robert Patrick joined by a laundry list of future stars including Ryan Reynolds, Kirsten Dunst, and Josh Brolin. Packed with thought-provoking stories with a message, it used allegory to explore social issues and moral lessons like the best in the genre.

That's not to say the show isn't without it's flaws: the music can be overly dramatic, the effects are overly ambitious to put it mildly, and it's very much a product of its time. But like all good sci-fi, the '90s "Outer Limits" is more about its stories than its special effects, and when it examines deeper themes, it excels. Though this list doesn't scratch the surface of the show's best, it will take you on a journey from the deepest inner mind to the best episodes of the '90s "Outer Limits."

The Human Operators (Season 5, Episode 7)

Like any good science fiction anthology, the 1995 "Outer Limits" didn't just employ talented writers, it also adapted the works of genre luminaries like George R.R. Martin, Larry Niven, and Stephen King. The fifth season installment "The Human Operators" is based on a story co-written by author Harlan Ellison, who'd also contributed stories to the original '60s version of the show in the time travel tales "The Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier." Rewritten by "Star Trek" scribe Naren Shankar, this one has no time-jumping, but is instead set in a distant future where mankind has become slaves to artificial intelligence.

In the far reaches of space we meet a man with no name (Jack Noseworthy), the sole passenger aboard Starship-35. The advanced intelligence aboard the ship has enslaved the man, and frequently tortures him for disobedience. The man is naive and docile; he was born on board and only exists to serve as the ship's operator. He makes repairs when needed to keep the ship functional, but has recently begun to question his existence and the world around him. But when the ship introduces the man to a woman (Polly Shannon) for the purpose of procreating his eventual replacement, he rediscovers his humanity and hatches a plot to take back his life.

An eerie and effective sci-fi thriller, "The Human Operators" is a twisted dystopian vision that reminds us of the innate human desire for freedom.

Dead Man's Switch (Season 3, Episode 13)

Alien invasion stories are a staple of science fiction, and the 1995 "Outer Limits" had its fair share of them. But "Dead Man's Switch" is a very different take on the age-old formula. This time, the story doesn't revolve around the invasion or even the aliens at all, but a group of individuals chosen from around the world to act as a failsafe when an alien armada is detected on its way to Earth, and the military fears the worst.

As the alien fleet approaches, five people are isolated from the outside world in subterranean bunkers, each with a dead man's switch that controls the entire world's nuclear arsenal. At periodic intervals, one of them must activate the switch to prevent global armageddon, and if all goes well and they're released after the planned year in underground exile, then it means the aliens didn't pose a threat. If they're never retrieved, it means humanity has been conquered, and they are to allow the warheads to launch.

But before the year is up, four of the five bunkers go offline, and the final survivor (James LeGros) suspects the aliens have destroyed mankind and must decide whether to activate the bombs early. Set entirely in one room, the isolated nature of the story and the ominous alien threat we never see makes it ripe for a twist ending — and it delivers one you won't see coming.

Decompression (Season 6, Episode 13)

"The Outer Limits" gets surprisingly political in the Season 6 installment "Decompression," and it's a timeless tale of delusional ego. It features "Tron" star Bruce Boxleitner as a U.S. Senator campaigning for President of the United States, with plans for a radical new future for the country. But his plans are threatened when the flight to his next campaign stop receives a mysterious visitor.

Boxleitner stars as Senator Wyndom Brody, whose bold vision for America has just sent him to an overwhelming victory at the New Hampshire primary. But just as his next flight is in the air, Brody is visited by an enigmatic woman (CCH Pounder) who claims that he'll be killed when the plane crashes due to a lightning strike. She tells Brody that she's from a future where his ultimate presidency led to the dawn of America's next great age of enlightenment, but it can't happen if he dies, so she urges him to jump from the plane where people from her time will save him. Now Brody must decide whether to believe her and jump, while his aides — and a suspicious reporter — worry he's lost his mind.

The story of an ego-driven politician whose own ego obscures his lust for power, it includes some overt political issues that seem all too relevant today. With another shock ending and some stellar performances from Boxleitner and Pounder, "Decompression" is a stunning mind-bender.

Trial by Fire (Season 2, Episode 9)

The best science fiction will use action-packed futuristic tales or alien monsters to reinforce a powerful moral lesson. The original "Outer Limits" always excelled in this regard, and the 1995 revival carried the torch and continued that tradition in episodes like "Trial by Fire," the story of another impending alien invasion. It's also the story of another U.S. President, whose decisions could mean the difference between peace and war, while the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.

It's a happy occasion for President Charles Halsey (Robert Foxworth), who has just been inaugurated to the highest office in the nation, and already feels the pressure of the enormous job in front of him. A politician whose critics perceive him as weak, Halsey doesn't even have his cabinet sworn in when an alien spacecraft is detected on its way to Earth, but its intentions are anything but clear. Coordinating with world leaders, the new president must decide how to proceed: if he's too open and accepting of these visitors from the stars, it could invite disaster if they're hostile. But if they take too aggressive a defensive posture, it could instigate an alien attack.

A stirring suspense story, "Trial by Fire" is more than just a powerful drama. Like the best sci-fi, it was also frighteningly prescient, as just five years after it aired a recently inaugurated President Bush was forced to deal with a real-life attack on the nation.

The Light Brigade (Season 2, Episode 18)

The biggest strength of the "Outer Limits" revival might be the roster of past, present, and future stars who appeared across the series. In the second season episode "The Light Brigade," the show recruited "Star Trek: The Next Generation" alum and geek icon Wil Wheaton in a story that served as a sequel to a previous episode. That one starred "Terminator 2" actor Robert Patrick, who returns in this follow-up.

In "The Light Brigade," planet Earth is embroiled in an endless war with an alien race who have driven humanity to the brink of annihilation. In a last-ditch effort to drive back the enemy once and for all, a starship called the Light Brigade is sent to the alien's homeworld with a devastating doomsday weapon that could turn the tide in mankind's favor. Manned by a determined crew — including a steely-eyed veteran and former POW (Patrick) and a fresh-faced recruit (Wheaton) — the ship comes under unexpected attack by the enemy. Now their entire mission is in jeopardy, but nobody knows how the aliens knew they were coming.

With a handful of genuinely shocking moments and a pair of incredible twists, "The Light Brigade" is an engrossing space-based adventure with the highest stakes imaginable. It also concludes with one of the bleakest endings of the entire series.

Final Exam (Season 4, Episode 16)

Always on the cutting edge of cultural, political, and social issues, "The Outer Limits" was never afraid to tackle uncomfortable or controversial subjects. It did so again in a unique way in "Final Exam," the story of an embittered trenchoat-wearing student who holds millions of lives hostage. Angry at the world, he threatens deadly violence unless the government executes five individuals who he feels have ruined his life.

Former student Seth Todtman (Peter Stebbings) is a brilliant but troubled young man, an outcast who had previously been expelled from the local college. Frequently mocked by his peers, the pariah returns to the school claiming he's cracked cold fusion technology, and built a bomb capable of killing millions. When the military responds, he demands the arriving general round up his personal hit list of enemies and have them executed or he'll detonate the bomb, a device that nobody believes is real. Now it's up to Dr. James Martin (Brett Cullen), a seasoned negotiator and physicist, to talk down Todtman and decide whether he really has developed a cold fusion bomb. But if he has, Martin may have no choice but give in to his twisted demands.

A haunting tale of a disillusioned man teetering on the edge of sanity, "Final Exam" explores the taboo subject of school violence with a sci-fi twist. It's also a powerful lesson in the dangers of technological discovery and how our own destruction may be inevitable.

Vanishing Act (Season 2, Episode 21)

Sometimes the lessons in "Outer Limits" aren't so profound, and can be as simple and timeless as learning to cherish every moment. This is the case with the Season 2 episode "Vanishing Act," which featured a pair of future sitcom stars: Jon Cryer (nearly a decade before his stint on "Two and a Half Men") and Jessica Lundy ("Hope and Gloria"). They play Trevor and Theresa McPhee, a young husband and wife in the 1950s whose marriage is interrupted when Trevor disappears. 

A downtrodden soul, Trevor has grown frustrated with his mundane life when he unexpectedly is plucked out of time by an unknown force and dropped back home after ten years, with no explanation. But just as he's trying to figure out what happened, it happens again and again, with each jump moving him forward a decade. Within just a few days his whole world has been turned upside down as he is quickly a man out of time, further removed from a world that has moved on without him. Before long his wife is remarried, and his own son is older than he is. 

With a new theory about what's happening to him, he'll have to work fast to set things right before everyone Trevor knows is lost to time. A poignant story of love, commitment, and forgiveness, "Vanishing Act" is full of moving performances.

Patient Zero (Season 7, Episode 2)

Late in its run, "The Outer Limits" was dropped by Showtime (per Variety) and received a grand two-part finale. But a year later, the series was resurrected by the Sci-Fi Channel for one final season, and while that last year of stories wasn't its best, it did produce at least one stellar installment. That episode is "Patient Zero," with future "Guardians of the Galaxy" star Michael Rooker as a man determined to save the world from a deadly virus.

In "Patient Zero" Rooker stars as a military soldier named Beckett who arrives in the present day from a dystopian future where Earth has been ravaged by a devastating plague. Scientists in the future have discovered the origins of the virus, tracing them to a doctor (Tanya Allen) who came into contact with three different strands of DNA which combined to form the initial viral outbreak. But when Beckett meets her, he can't go through with his mission to kill her, and sets out instead to try to prevent her from causing the first virus to form. 

Unfortunately, the more he tries, the more circumstances seem to conspire against him, and he may be forced to do the unthinkable. Meanwhile, a fellow future agent follows him back to make sure that he completes his mission. While the episode shares certain hallmarks with the Bruce Willis classic "12 Monkeys," "Patient Zero" takes the story in an entirely new direction.

A Quality of Mercy (Season 1, Episode 13)

A popular title for science fiction, "A Quality of Mercy" derives from the Shakespeare play "The Merchant of Venice," and was used as a title for episodes of "The Twilight Zone," "Babylon Five," and "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." But it's also the title of a famous episode of the 1995 "Outer Limits" revival, an episode from the show's first season starring Robert Patrick ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day") and Nicole de Boer ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine").

In "Quality of Mercy" we meet Major John Stokes, a soldier in an interstellar war between Earth and a monstrous alien race. He's been taken prisoner and thrown in a cell with an innocent young cadet named Bree Tristan (de Boer) who has been subjected to gruesome experiments that are slowly transforming her into one of their own kind. As she slowly metamorphoses, Stokes and Tristan fall in love, and he vows to save her and find escape. But as the days drag on, he must face up to the fact that she may be forever cursed to be a mutated monster, and she asks him to end her life before the process is complete.

Does Stokes have the will to end her life before she loses her humanity entirely, or can he find a way to escape first? A psychological horror story, nothing is as it seems in "A Quality of Mercy," which includes one of the most gut-wrenching revelations in the series.

Afterlife (Season 2, Episode 15)

Twisted experiments, alien invaders, and moral lessons — "Afterlife" mixes them all to deliver a powerful story of redemption. Much like "A Quality of Mercy," the story revolves around a human subject turned into an extraterrestrial monster, but this time it's not alien torture, but a government experiment. The episode sees Clancy Brown — then best-known for his role as prison guard Hadley in "The Shawkshank Redemption" — as a killer and former soldier named Lindon Stiles who's sentenced to lethal injection, then given a second chance at life thanks to a top secret program.

The principled Stiles, who insists he was framed for a mass murder, is now subjected to brutal series of clinical procedures where he's injected with DNA that was discovered in a crashed alien spacecraft. Hoping to learn what kind of creatures they're up against, the military mutates Stiles into one of the aliens and sets him loose on a military manhunt. Fighting for his life, he'll have to use his newfound alien physiology, combined with his military training, to stay alive while he struggles to come to terms with his waning humanity. 

No matter how they've transformed his body, though — giving him enhanced strength, stamina, intelligence, and a grotesque appearance — they can never alter his soul. In the end, "Afterlife" is a classic sci-fi parable capped off by a sobering ending that provides a stark examination of our own worst impulses and unending hubris.

Tribunal (Season 5, Episode 12)

"Tribunal" may be one of the most dark and unsettling stories that the 1995 revival of "The Outer Limits" had to offer. The episode opens amid the holocaust during World War II, where in a Nazi death camp German SS officers are lining up Jewish prisoners for inspection and execution. There we meet a young man named Leon Zgierski, who is forced to watch as his wife is killed in cold blood.

In the present day we're introduced to Aaron Zgierski (Saul Rubinek), a lawyer and the son of Leon, who has dedicated his life to hunting down members of the Nazi party who've escaped justice. His latest target is Robert Greene, a Philadelphia man who he believes is actually Karl Rademacher, a Nazi commandant and the same man who murdered his father's first wife in a concentration camp. But just when it seems his evidence isn't strong enough, a mysterious traveler arrives with everything he needs to prove that Greene is the commandant. When Aaron discovers the pocket watch that the mystery man uses to traverse time, he realizes he can use it to do more than just prove his case against Radermacher.

One of the most touching, tear-jerking stories in the series' seven-season run, "Tribunal" is a triumph of sci-fi storytelling. An episode about the power of grief, guilt, and healing, it has a truly disturbing two-fold ending that's both bone-chilling and tearfully uplifting at the same time.

A Stitch in Time (Season 2, Episode 1)

While the original "Outer Limits" mostly told stories about aliens with moral messages about mankind's worst traits, the 1995 revival embraced far darker stories, with more disturbing themes. "A Stitch in Time" is bar none the best episode in the series, mixing a tragic story of trauma and injustice with a stellar cast that included Amanda Plummer ("Pulp Fiction") and Michelle Forbes ("Battlestar Galactica"). 

Forbes plays FBI agent Jamie Pratt, a dedicated law enforcement officer whose testimony successfully convicted the man who killed her best friend, along with 16 other women. But with the killer's execution now behind her, Pratt is working on the mystifying new case of a serial killer whose victims span decades, and the evidence doesn't make any sense. Ballistics and fingerprints at the scene of the first crime in the 1950s all point to a woman who was still in kindergarten when the first murders occurred, while the gun used wasn't even manufactured until the 1980s. Her name is Theresa Givens (Plummer), a seemingly deranged person who claims to use a time machine to execute convicted murderers before they commit their crimes.

The tale of a time-traveling serial killer and a dedicated agent out to stop her, "A Stitch in Time" is an unforgettable sci-fi crime story that feels like it could have been an episode of "The X-Files." Forbes and Plummer give tour de force performances in a story about how trauma shapes our past, present and future.