"To Serve Man" is an episode of The Twilight Zone.
From the CBS Video Library cover:
"Headlines around the world blare the news. Aliens have finally found us. Weighing in at 350 lbs. each, the Kanamits are an impressive breed. Standing a little over nine feet tall, they dazzle the world with polished rhetoric and winning promises that would make a politician's head spin. With their superior technology, they teach man how to end famine, harness energy and lay down their guns. The title of a Kanamit book left at the UN seems to say it all—translated it reads: "To Serve Man." While decoding experts struggle to decipher the rest of the book, thousands, including head cryptographer Michael Chambers, book passage to the Kanamits' home planet. By the time his assistant translates the book, it's too late...because Michael Chambers and thousands more like him have just bought a one-way ticket into The Twilight Zone!"
- 1 Episode Details
- 2 Critical response
- 3 Production
- 4 In Popular Culture
- 5 See Also
- 6 References
- 7 External Links
"Respectfully submitted for your perusal - a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment, we're going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone."
As the episode opens, Michael Chambers is seen lying uncomfortably on a cot in a spartan interior. A voice instructs him to eat. He refuses. He asks what time it is on Earth, and begins to tell the story of how he came to be here (aboard a spaceship) in flashback. The Kanamits, a race of 9-foot (2.7 m)-tall aliens, land on Earth. One of them addresses the United Nations, vowing that his race's motive in coming to Earth is solely to be helpful to humanity. Initially wary of the intentions of an alien race who came "quite uninvited", even skeptical international leaders begin to be persuaded of the aliens' benevolence when the Kanamits share their advanced technology, quickly putting an end to many of Earth's greatest woes, including hunger; energy becomes very cheap, and nuclear weapons are rendered harmless. The aliens even morph deserts into big, blooming fields. Trust in the Kanamits seems to be justified when Patty, one of a staff of US government cryptographers led by Chambers, cracks the title of a Kanamit book the spokesman left behind at the UN. Its title, she reveals, is To Serve Man. Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits' home planet, which is portrayed as a paradise. With the Cold War ended, the code-breaking staff has no real work to do, but Patty is still trying to work out the meaning of the text of To Serve Man. The day arrives for Chambers's excursion to the Kanamits' planet. Just as he mounts the spaceship's boarding stairs, his staffer Patty appears. He waves, smiling, but she runs toward him in great agitation. While being held back by a Kanamit guard, Patty cries: "Mr. Chambers, don't get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it's... it's a cookbook!" Chambers tries to run back down the spaceship's stairs, but a Kanamit blocks him, the stairs retract, and the ship immediately lifts off. Chambers is once again seen aboard the Kanamit spaceship, now saying to the audience: "How about you? You still on Earth, or on the ship with me? Really doesn't make very much difference, because sooner or later, we'll all be on the menu...all of us." The episode closes as he gives in and breaks his hunger strike; as Chambers tears at his food, Rod Serling provides a darkly humorous coda in voice-over, noting man's devolution from "dust to dessert" and from ruler of a planet to "an ingredient in someone's soup".
"The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man. The cycle of going from dust to dessert. The metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone's soup. It's tonight's bill of fare from The Twilight Zone."
Preview for Next Week's Story
Next week on The Twilight Zone, contributor Charles Beaumont provides us with a most charming tale of an old man and some children - an old man who's an exceptional playmate, exceptional because, well, how many old men do you know who can change into monsters? Mr. Beaumont's excellent tasting stew is further seasoned by an element of mystery. It's called "The Fugitive." We hope to see you next week.
To Serve Man is often thought of as one of the finest episodes. Marc Scott Zicree, writing in The Twilight Zone Companion, has criticized the weakness of a cardinal plot point in the script of "To Serve Man":
"In the show ... a staff of cryptographers led by [Michael Chambers] Lloyd Bochner attempts to decipher the alien language as though it were some secret code, which is utterly ludicrous. Without some sort of interplanetary Rosetta stone, deciphering an unknown language would be impossible."
Zicree also points out that the chances of the word "serve" having the same dual meaning in both English and another language, especially an alien one, are almost nil (though it is entirely possible that, as in the original story, the word's dual meaning in the English language was merely coincidental, and the word did not have the same dual meaning in the Kanamit language, or that the Kanamits deliberately came up with a dual-meaning construction (possibly with "words" they made up, not previously existing in native "Kanamitish"), plausible in English, before making it the title of the book).
Zicree's comments have been seconded by many others, including Damon Knight, though an explanation as to how the cryptographers managed to translate the Kanamit language may be found in an early draft of Serling's teleplay, which included this scene:
- (Close shot: Chambers as seen over her shoulder. His eyes narrow.)
- Chambers: What's the matter, Pat? What's going on?(Reverse angle looking toward her. Her lips tremble.)
- Pat: I...I finally deciphered their language. All of it. I read their book.
- (Close shot: a suspended speaker overhead. A Kanamit's metallic voice rings out.)
- Kanamit's voice: Please move ahead. You're holding up our departure. Kindly move ahead.
- (Cut to: Two-shot Chambers and Pat)
- Chambers: Well?
- Pat: Mr. Chambers...Mr. Chambers, the first page is just a collection of English words with their own translation. But the rest of the book...the rest of the book—it's a cookbook!
In 1997 TV Guide ranked the episode number 11 on its 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time list.
In 2009, Time magazine listed the episode among the "Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes."
In 2013, TV Guide ranked the ending of the episode as the Greatest Twist of All Time.
The full-size lower portion of the Kanamits' transport spaceship is the adapted version, with retractable stairway, of the saucer-shaped United Planets Cruiser C-57D, seen in the MGM film Forbidden Planet (1956). The ship used for the episode is also seen on the episode "Third from the Sun", and shots of the ship or stairway also appear in the episodes "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby", "The Invaders", and "Death Ship".
Stock footage from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was also used in the episode for the shots of the Kanamit spaceship arriving in New York City (although landmarks of Washington, DC, are seen).
The Kanamit ship seen taking off near the end of the episode is the distinctive Ray Harryhausen-animated ship from the film Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).
- Cayuga Productions
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (in association with)
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1959) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
In Popular Culture
In the movie Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, when a large group of people start freaking out a man stops a woman hold a book entitled to serve man and he yells "it's a cookbook!" the man who yells this is the same actor who played Mr. Chambers.
In reference to the previous entry, Dreamworks' animated film "Madagascar" features a scene in which several lemurs panic on an airplane under the mere mention of the Foosa, their natural predator, with one holding up a book labelled "To Serve Lemur" yelling "It's a cookbook, it's a cookbook!"
The episode has been referenced many times in popular culture; in such movies as Madagascar and The Lion King 1½; in television shows: Angel, Futurama, Millennium, NewsRadio (S3E24: "Space") and Supernatural ("S07E22"); in music: Cattle Decapitation's To Serve Man and El-P's "How to Serve Man"; and in video games: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Warcraft III, and Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego?. The Simpsons devoted an entire episode segment to it in "Treehouse of Horror" (1990), with the spoof "Hungry are the Damned."
An unofficial badge of the 509th Bomb Wing based in Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. The text reads, "To Serve Man," and the caption below reads, "Gustatus Similis Pullus";dog Latin for "Tastes Like Chicken".
In the 1996 What A Cartoon Show episode "Gramps", there is a spoof where, as the aliens are attacking the earth, a man runs towards Gramps yelling "To Serve Man. It's a cookbook! It's a cookbook!!!" after which Gramps sends him flying away after hitting him with a golf stick, telling him that "That's been done".
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season seven episode "Lessons" (2002), Dawn makes a reference to the episode. After being given a long list of advice from Buffy, Dawn replies "I know: You never know what's coming. The stake is not the power. To Serve Man is a cookbook. I love you. Go away." Another reference is made in the Buffy spin-off Angel. In the season four episode, "Peace Out" (2003), upon finding out the main villain, Jasmine, eats humans, Gunn exclaims "Wait, people? She eats people? 'To Serve Man'. It's 'To Serve Man' all over again."
The Grimm season two episode entitled "To Protect and Serve Man" (2012), is an homage to this episode, involving a man being sentenced to death after claiming self-defense against cannibal monsters.
- You Might Also Like, a sequel to this episode.
- Main article: List of memorable quotes from the first series
- CBS Video Library: Twilight Zone #0309 "The Living Doll/To Serve Man/Judgment Night/In Praise of Pip" ; UPC: 000309060002, EAN: 0000309060002, ASIN: B0007LHTX8; Format: NTSC, VHS, Collector's Edition (1987)