To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone)

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This article is about the Twilight Zone episode. For the short story by Damon Knight, see To Serve Man.
"To Serve Man"
The Twilight Zone episode
Susan Cummings and Richard Kiel
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 24
Directed by Richard L. Bare
Written by Rod Serling (Based on the story To Serve Man by Damon Knight)
Featured music Stock (from Jerry Goldsmith's scores for "Back There" and "The Invaders")
Production code 4807
Original air date March 2, 1962
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Twilight Zone episodes

"To Serve Man" is episode 89 of the anthology series The Twilight Zone.[1][2][3][excessive citations] It originally aired on March 2, 1962 on CBS.

The story is based on the 1950 short story "To Serve Man", written by Damon Knight.[4] The title is a play on the verb serve, which has a dual meaning of "to assist" and "to provide as a meal". The episode is one of the few instances in the series wherein an actor breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewing audience at the episode's end. The episode, along with the line "It's a cookbook!" have become elements in pop culture.

Opening narration[edit]


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-tall (2.7 m) aliens, land on Earth. One of them addresses the United Nations via telepathy, vowing that his race's motive in coming to Earth is solely to aid humanity. The most skeptical UN delegate is from the Soviet Union, who asks if the Kanamits come with any ulterior motives. After answering questions, the Kanamit departs and leaves a book in the Kanamit language without comment, which leads Michael Chambers, a US government cryptographer, to be pressed into service.

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 shortages, and nuclear proliferation. The aliens even transform deserts into large, blooming fields. Trust in the Kanamits seems to be justified when Patty, one member of the cryptography staff 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.

The Kanamits submit to interrogation and polygraph, at the request of the UN delegates. The film of the interview depicts the Kanamit purposely answering control questions both truthfully and falsely to show the process can be trusted. The Kanamit goes on to discuss their benevolent intentions; the polygraph indicates that the Kanamit is speaking the truth.

Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits' home planet, which is portrayed as a paradise. Kanamits now have embassies in every major city in the world. 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 title was simple to decode; however, the Kanamit's alphabet has different uppercase and lowercase letters, as in some human languages, which makes decoding the rest of the text much more difficult.

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!" implying that the book is not an instructional book on how to assist men, but rather on how to properly cook man for consumption. 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, all of us will 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 arriving Kanamits ship is shown as scenes extracted from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but with different sound; the departing Kanamits ship is shown as a scene extracted from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, but without sound.

Closing narration[edit]


Critical response[edit]

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.

In 1997 TV Guide ranked the episode at No. 11 on its "100 Greatest Episodes of All Time" list[5] and in 2013 ranked the ending as the "Greatest Twist of All Time."[6] In 2009, Time listed the episode among the "Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes."[7]

Cultural influence[edit]

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".[8]

The plot device of the alien cookbook is parodied in the segment "Hungry Are the Damned" on The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror" (1990). However unlike Patty (whose later suspicions on the Kanamits proved valid), Lisa's suspicions on Kang and Kodos ended up humiliating the Simpsons when the aliens reveal the cookbook's true title "How to Cook for Forty Humans" and their real intent to let the family live in peace on their planet. (The full title is revealed in stages, alternating between sinister and benevolent: "How to Cook Humans", "How to Cook For Humans", "How to Cook Forty Humans", etc.)

During the climactic scenes of The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Lloyd Bochner spoofs his own performance in the Twilight Zone episode, repeating his "It's a cookbook!" line while holding a book entitled To Serve Man.


  1. ^ Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
  2. ^ DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
  3. ^ Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
  4. ^ Belasco, Warren James (2006). Meals to come: a history of the future of food. University of California Press. pp. 130, 358. ISBN 0-520-24151-7. 
  5. ^ TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes & Noble. 2004. p. 667. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1. 
  6. ^ Roush, Matt (November 4–10, 2013). "Eyes on Surprise! The 60 Most Startling Twists of All Time". TV Guide Magazine. TV Guide. 61 (3187): 22–23. 
  7. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (2 October 2009). "Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes". Time Inc. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Inside the black budget". The New York Times. 1 April 2008. 

External links[edit]