Ah, one of my favorites!
The opening scene is of a disheveled man named Michael Chambers apparently an unhappy passenger in his cabin on a space ship, refusing a meal being offered to him over the ship’s intercom system. He tells this story.
On a sunny April day in New York City a flying saucer lands and a nine-foot alien belonging to a race called the Kanamits speaks before the UN General Assembly. He informs the humans that his people want to solve all of Earth’s problems and for completely altruistic reasons. They will provide technological solutions to food and power scarcity and they will provide every country with an impenetrable force field that will render warfare obsolete. When the Kanamit leaves the building, he leaves behind a book in the Kanamit language. The American intelligence agencies pass the book over to their code cracking (cryptography) team, led by Michael Chambers and including his associate Patty. After a while they are able to translate the title. It reads, “To Serve Man.” But the rest of the book evades their efforts to translate.
Meanwhile the Kanamits make good on their promises and provide the humans with technological wonders that make Earth a veritable paradise. During a polygraph (lie detector) test the Kanamit reveals that as part of their new relations with Earth, the Kanamits were encouraging large numbers of humans to visit the Kanamit planet as a means of mutual cultural exchange.
In a scene at the Cryptography Department we see Michael Chambers and Patty talking about how their jobs have become obsolete with the disappearance of war and they note somewhat skeptically about how every day thousands of humans take the tourist trip to the Kanamit world while more and more Kanamits take up residence on Earth. But then Chambers admits sheepishly that he has accepted an invitation to spend a lengthy sabbatical there in the near future. Patty admits that she is still working to translate the Kanamit book even though no one now cares about the answers there.
In the next scene Michael Chambers is in line to go aboard the Kanamit space ship for his trip when Patty rushes up to the ship and calls to him. A Kanamit restrains her but Chambers stops on the ramp and hears Patty say that immortal line, “Mr. Chambers, don’t get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it’s… it’s a cookbook!”
And of course, the other Kanamit at the ramp forces Chambers up the ramp and seals the ship for take-off.
In the last scene, on the space ship, Chambers finally relents and eats a meal when one of the Kanamits jokes that he wouldn’t want Chambers to lose weight. Then Chambers summarizes the situation and speaking to the viewing audience he tells us that even if we are hearing this back on Earth, we’ll all be on the menu eventually, all of us.
The only cast item of note is that the Kanamits are all played by exceedingly tall actor, Richard Kiel who played Jaws in some of the James Bond movies.
What can I say? I love this episode. The title pun, the goofy looking Kanamits, the surprise ending. It’s marvelous. Oh sure, it’s all kinds of dopey. A race that has intergalactic space travel capability and impenetrable force fields needs or wants to fool lesser beings into travelling halfway across the universe to be made into soup. And the explanation for why the code breakers could translate the title of the book but not the text, because the title is in capital letters but the rest is lower case? That’s nonsense.
But I don’t care. How can you not love the payoff, the horrified woman trying to save her boss from the cannibal’s pot stuttering out the ultimate irony? The Kanamits thought so little of our intelligence that they left behind the truth of their contempt for us in plain sight. Marvelous. A+