Main cast: Beau Bridges (Dr Simon Kress), Helen Shaver (Cathy Kress), Dylan Bridges (Josh Kress), Kim Coates (Dave Stockley), Lloyd Bridges (Colonel Kress), and Patricia Harras (Debbie)
Director: Stuart Gillard
I’m probably going to regret this, as The Outer Limits ran for seven freaking season. No, I’m not reviewing the first iteration, I’d be taking at look at the reboot that started airing from 1995 onward. I have no idea when I’d be done with this – something tells me we’d still be doing this come 2040. Anyway, this revival of The Outer Limits was done to cash in on the success of sci-fi and fantasy boom on TV during the 1990s, and to mark off the first episode, they roped in three generations of the acting Bridges clan. And no, we aren’t talking about Jeff Bridges – who cares about that loser when we can have the hotter, hunkier, more popular sibling Beau?
Oh, people, be nice. Maybe that Jeff fellow had some commercials to shoot, and couldn’t take time off.
This episode is supposed to be based on George RR Martin’s story, but the only similarities these two have is the name – The Sandkings. In this episode, the Sandkings in the title are lifeforms found on Mars – spider-like creatures that are caught and kept in a secret underground lab of the US government for further study. However, one of the specimens manages to break loose at the start of the episode, and the lab calls for the complete extermination of the spider-like things. Dr Simon Kress, who has spent the last four years studying them, decides to gather as much of the creatures and the “Martian sand” they live in as he can and flees with them. He ends up keeping them in the barn, of all things, in a large aquarium-like case.
He has to keep the wife and the son out of the barn, of course, but a bigger problem arises as he continues to study the creatures which he calls the Sandkings. Much to his delight, they are intelligent like he initially thought them to be. They even begin carving his face on their personal aquarium Mount Rushmore. Kress is soon consumed by a feeling of megalomania as he begins to play the role of the deity to these creatures – starving them and making them behave as per his whims, among other things. Meanwhile, his lab supervisor Dave Stockley begins sniffing around. Worse, soon Kress’s “worshipers” grow disillusioned with their increasingly maniacal “deity” and stages a revolt.
The Sandkings is longer than the usual episode of this series – it’s a special one that way – but it is a well-acted and well-directed episode that kicks off the first season just nicely. Even that kid isn’t annoying, which is a nice surprise. Beau Bridges does a good job in portraying Simon’s transition from a somewhat obsessed researcher determined to study the specimens he has grown too attached to, to a more ruthless and even cruel tyrant that treats his subjects as objects that exist to cater to his amusement or whims. The ending is a bit over the top and predictable, but still, for an episode that tries very hard to follow in the didactic, heavy-handed tone of the original season, it succeeds well at being what it sets out to be.
The heavy-handedness can get annoying, though. I know, this is one of those sci-fi tales that are determined to have an important message to mankind, and here, it’s absolute power corrupts. Of course, it is then natural to extrapolate this to the nature of our deities. Are the gods of the human religions similar to Kress: tyrannical, cruel creatures that force us, their Sandkings, to live, fight, love, and die for their jaded amusement? If that’s the case, then this episode is a celebration of atheism: life persists and even possibly flourishes despite our rejection of the gods.
Whether I agree or not with the message, it’s a pretty powerful one. However, it’s inserted in a manner akin to a hard blow in the head with a pickax. Surely, some degree of subtlety may deliver whatever it is the show wants to tell me in a more evocative manner. Still, this is a very watchable, well made episode, so yes, two thumbs up from me.