Remembering It Wrong

Ever watch a movie or television show and remember something that never happened? A moment you thought went one way but didn’t? Name the show or movie and what you thought you saw. Did catching the mistake change your feelings? Or do you still feel the same?

My favorite episode of The Outer Limits is “Demon With a Glass Hand.” However, it turns out I misremembered significant details - including how it ended - for well over a decade. When I saw it again I found the ending was not nearly as good as the one in my head.

It’s from 1964 so I’m going to forego a spoiler tag. Just stop reading my post now if you need to.

The basic outline of the show is that a guy has no memory of who he is and he’s got a weird glass hand which is a computer missing parts (fingers). If he can retrieve the fingers the computer will be complete and it can tell him what’s up. There are aliens trying to kill him so they can take the computer hand, and he fights them off and collects missing pieces, slowly getting new information, for example he’s actually from 1000 years in the future and the survival of the human race depends upon him.

The aliens have him trapped in a building which they’ve sealed off and there’s a random person also in there, so now he’s trying to protect her as well. As is common in murderous time travel situations, these two fall in love. Eventually the last of the aliens is killed off and he can complete the hand and get the full truth, which is: it’s not just his hand; he’s actually a full-on robot with synthetic skin covering most of his body (oh yeah by the way, this is one of the two Harlan Ellison episodes that he cited to sue the makers of Terminator). So now he is essentially a man who has learned he’s not a man and has to chill for like 1000 years until he can save humanity with the information he contains.

Super cool story. But there are two details I had wrong for the longest time: 1) I thought the building was sealed with a force field that would not let up for 1000 years, regardless of what happened, which led to 2) the woman stayed with him. As it turns out, she was able to leave at the end.

So the story I remember ends with this couple trapped in a building, and though they’ve “won” they have the knowledge that she’s going to die from starvation or suffocation fairly soon, and he won’t die and will carry the pain for at least 1000 years. Essentially the same as what was transmitted but with an extra gut punch.

Part of me wanted to write to Harlan Ellison about it, but there’s no way he would have taken well to “hey I improved your script.” I didn’t really want to be the subject of a long tirade he’d publish in a book and/or share at SF convention panels whenever he could. But he’s dead now so it’s safe for me to share this.

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I met Ellison once and worked with him on a live radio drama at DragonCon in the 90s. Either he was in a really good mood or the reports of him being a big jerk were greatly exaggerated, because I really enjoyed his company. I think it may be that his brutal honesty was taken for intentional rudeness.

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That’s good to hear. Maybe he would have responded with “hey that’s a great idea, I wish I had thought of it back then” or maybe “that’s actually in the original script but the network didn’t want the bleak ending” or any number of things that would lead to us being BFFs and my life would have taken an entirely different turn.

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