State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
I am a jug-eared jackanape of 7 years old. My close-cropped air force brat haircut reveals a misshapen head like a lopsided jelly bean. I have a lazy eye, no shoulders to speak of and the pizzazz of a fruit tree. But I am slowly being formed by sixties TV into the man I am today. And what a swell man I am…whoa! Look! There! My favorite TV show has just bleared onto the cathode ray behemoth lurking in the corner of our sixties-era living room. The show is a sci-fi omnibus called The Outer Limits, and every week it takes control of the television set—the horizontal, the vertical. You name it. “We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.” Hoo boy! The show is a casually disturbing foray into nightmare-feeding weirdness. Just the ticket for Fruit Tree Boy! Oohh, here’s the episode that’ll make your blood jump—The Zanti Misfits. Yes, yes… (rubs spotted paws together in ruminative anticipation) What’s that you say? You’d like a Zanti Misfits synopsis? Oh, ahh, yes. Heh-heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh-heh-hehOWW!! What the hell was that for?! Yeah, I’ll get to it!! No, it’s NOT boring!! It’s got Olive Deering, you moron! OLIVE. DEERING.
Doomed Bank Robber Sparks Intergalactic Incident
Bruce Dern, all hooded eyes and upturned nose and unshaven bank-robber jaw, drives carelessly into a restricted area in the middle of a desert. His reward for this otherwise mild bout of trespassing will be an entomological bitch-slap to end them all. In the car with him is his silent, odd-looking, angular, hideously chain-smoking moll; an actress named Olive Deering who is scarier by several orders than the alien nemesis they will soon encounter.
Dern has just robbed a bank. He is fleeing by car the scene of this most recent lapse in judgment. But as he is rocketing through the desert something catches his eye, a glint of silver descending through the sky like an inept drawing. It comes to rest on a hilltop, and there goes the neighborhood. Dern has to investigate. He leaves the car to shamble up the side of one of those loose-rocked hills that little spaceships tend to land on with some regularity, and whose gravelly gradient makes for useful horror-slippage as our B actors try without success to flee the various repulsive meanies that pursue them. You’ll see.
“Zantis in my Panties!”
So it is that Dern quizzically approaches the silver conical spaceship, a little door pops open and out marches a not terribly threatening army of ants the size of prairie dogs, each with a little nose and strange little cupie doll lips one might be tempted to kiss if they weren’t affixed to ant heads. The invaders step out onto conquered Earth in a stop-action goose step that makes them appear very easy to flee, but startled Bruce Dern slips down the hill and is knocked unconscious. He awakens to find a Zanti with Drew Barrymore lips strolling up his forearm, which insectoid sashay inexplicably kills him in a wincing, screaming fit. It develops the Zantis are themselves criminals from the planet…wait for it…Zanti. It’s that same ill-conceived sci-fi TV convention that gives us Vulcans from the planet Vulcan; a strangely ubiquitous bit of screwy extraterrestrial nomenclature that would have people of this planet called ‘Earths’.
Previous Ill-Conceived Government-Issue Arrangement
By previous arrangement we had agreed to allow the Zanti ship to land in a Death Valley-like location, and to provide the passengers a desert cordon in perpetuity. We probably also told them this g*d forsaken baked hill in the middle of desert nowhere was a popular beauty spot here on Earth, keeping Hawaii and La Jolla secret. “Secure for us your most beauteous place for exile, Earths!” Okay, you dumb ants. Here are the coordinates. Happy landings!
At any rate Dern screws the whole agreement up and the affronted Zantis, feeling pretty good for having killed him just by walking on his arm, take off in their little ship and land atop the U.S. Army’s flyblown command post/Zanti Welcome Wagon in a nearby tumbleweed-choked desert ghost town. Here’s where the studio’s ant-builders and over-actors join forces to give us some wild, emotive action. Let’s take a look!
Overconfident Zantis Make Poor Show
The diminutive and ill-advisedly cocky ‘invaders’ exit their ship, rappel haughtily down the side of the clapboard army building and begin a slow, twitchy march in the direction of heavily armed men in khaki who waste no time dispensing with the uppity space ants using pistols, grenades, clubs, and (yes) the soles of their army-issue shoes. It’s not much of a fight, and suggests the Zanti criminal element did not do its homework before choosing this particular planet to terrorize.
One or two men in khaki, surely aspiring thespians who, like Dern, thought they would sidle into steady Hollywood employment via this hastily executed teleplay, are ‘attacked’ by Zantis and run screaming around the room. One unfortunate soldier has a Zanti climb under his uniform and seems to go to sleep on the floor. Even a jug-eared 7 year-old sitting cross-legged in his flannel pajamas could see the foolishness in all this.
Intergalactic Teaching Moment
When the Zantis are vanquished, Olive Deering leans against a post and meaningfully drags on a cigarette. We’ve learned—through the exhausting exposition of a distant Zanti explainer on the short wave space radio—that the Zanti prisoners were sent here deliberately by their overseers to be killed by the bloodthirsty humans. It seems executions of even the most hardened criminals are illegal on the awkwardly named but comparatively merciful planet Zanti. So this was a sort of extraordinary rendition. “Humans are expert executioners” the smarmy Zanti leader says on the radio, causing Olive Deering to take a pull on her cigarette and say “expert executioners” with an arch little leer of judgement. Whose side are you on, Deering? Yet again Earth’s haples accountants, ball players, sandwich makers, thoracic surgeons and polo champs—the whole sorry lot of us, that is—get the bum’s rush.
And the Zanti Misfits? We must suppose that the passengers on the doomed Zanti penal ship selected for this expensive route to the Death Chamber were chosen based on the delicacy of their beautiful little mouths, which on the unfortunate planet Zanti are considered a crucial element of facial Zanti menace. We know the opposite is true. What are the takeaways from The Zanti Misfits episode?
- If an ant is as big as a field rodent and has a human countenance, it is likely a thug from space.
- Don’t walk away from a slow-moving space bug when you can shoot it or blow it up or laboriously beat it to death with an army-issue shoe.
- Don’t make hasty deals with government officials from other planets concerning their jailbirds unless you’ve seen a clear picture of the aliens. If the Zantis had been armored grizzlies or acid spewing giant starfish or face-hugging deep space crabs; well, we’d’ve been really screwed.
- If you agree to having a plastic ant placed on your arm while you scream for the camera you may be nominated for an Oscar one day.
Moral Relativism: Teaching Moment for Vulnerable Zantlets
Back on the planet Zanti, the ineptly produced teleplay thrills the little ones in their Zanti exo-pajamas—but there the episode is called “The Great Parole Board Screwup”’, and is used to frighten the kids into cleaning their Zanti rooms and not falling in with the badass Zantis at school. This is pure speculation.