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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S2E25: "The Silence"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 2 E 61 The Silence

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Rod Serling: The note that this man is carrying across a club room is in the form of a proposed wager, but it's the kind of wager that comes without precedent. It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever offered by one man to another. In just a moment we'll see the terms of the wager and what young Mr. Tennyson does about it, and in the process we'll witness all parties spin a wheel of chance, in a very bizarre casino called The Twilight Zone.

Air date: April 28, 1961

This episode is based on "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov.

Colonel Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) is a prominent member of his local gentleman's club. The evening chatter proceeds as normal, but one particular member bothers him: Jamie Tennyson (Liam Sullivan), a new nouveau riche member who is prone to talking incessantly, and who Archie views as mouthy and "poorly bred". Because he is aware Jamie has squandered his recent wealth and is desperate for money, and despite gambling being illegal in their state, Archie offers Jamie a wager. He promises to award Jamie $500,000 if he can keep himself from uttering a single word for an entire year. As a means to ensure that no cheating is allowed to take place, Jamie will be locked in a glass room riddled with microphones so they can catch him if he talks at any time, even when people aren't watching. Jamie is offended both at the conditions of the wager and the fact that Archie has just aired his dirty laundry to the whole club, but he nonetheless agrees to the bet. Archie then says that he needs a check on deposit in Jamie's name, but the Colonel takes umbrage at what seems to be impugning his word, and the rest of the club backs him up because he's a longstanding member. Jamie subsides, accepting "my courage against your credit", and shows up the following night to begin his year of muteness. Alfred, Archie's friend, seems to think this whole thing is a bad idea, but Archie pays him no mind.

Weeks soon pass, and Archie is astonished that Jamie has made it this far without speaking a word, but he remains confident that he will win the bet. Jamie is well cared for, but Archie is astonished that a young man with a beautiful wife isn't bored. After nine months have passed, Archie is visibly on edge. He approaches Jamie and offers him $1,000 to walk out of the wager right away, having proven he can keep himself quiet. Jamie angrily marches over to the calendar, taps it, and writes out his reply to the Colonel: "Three months to go! The bet stands!" Alfred again warns Archie that his bet is a bad idea and asks if he has the money to give to Jamie, if he should succeed in holding up his end of the wager.

As the end of the year draws closer and closer, Archie begins fighting dirty. Though Jamie has sent multiple requests for his wife to visit, she never came to the club. Taylor begins tormenting Jamie with gossip, claiming she's been seen around town with moneyed young men who drive around in flashy sportscars. Jamie is visibly tormented by hearing these things, but he never says a word. Archie keeps turning the screws, calmly tormenting Jamie with the knowledge that his wife is stepping out on him and doesn't seem to care who knows. Archie tries once more to offer Jamie an out to the bet in the form of $5,000, which he then raises to $6,000. Jamie doesn't see the actual cash and, certain that he's being scammed, refuses his offer.

At the end of the year, Jamie has stayed silent and won the bet. He comes out of his glass prison and approaches Archie, silently demanding the promised $500,000. Caught on the back foot, Archie makes an admission of "distasteful candor": he himself has no fortune either, having squandered it a year ago. He also admits that the counter-offers were far more than he could afford. He praises Jamie for his resolve and says he'll resign from the club.

With all the members watching, a tearful Jamie pulls out his pad and begins to write, then hands Archie the resultant note, which he reads aloud:

"I knew that I would not be able to keep my part of the bargain. So one year ago, I had the nerves to my vocal cords severed!"

Jamie tears off his cravat, revealing a large surgical scar which he's kept hidden under scarves and turtlenecks all year, causing the members of the club, Archie especially, to react with shock and horror.


  • Adaptational Heroism: Unlike the bet-setter in Chekhov's original story, Archie never considers killing Jamie, even when he's at the absolute end of his rope (then again, the silenced man is imprisoned in the basement of a communal club in this version, not in a room on the bet-setter's property, so it's not like he could've gotten away with it).
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Unlike the original story, Jamie cheats via vocal-cord surgery instead of genuinely toughing out the years of silence. The bet-taker in the original story was also motivated by his idealistic conviction that even life imprisonment was an improvement over death, rather than Greed or Pride.
  • An Aesop: One of the few episodes to have two: Don't make a bet if you are unable to keep it, and cheaters never prosper.
  • All for Nothing: Jamie's entire ordeal ends this way, as Archie reveals he's completely broke.
  • Amoral Attorney: Inverted. Archie's lawyer Alfred is the only character not to gleefully go along with the bet, continously pointing out why it's a bad idea to both men.
  • And I Must Scream: In the end, Jamie can no longer speak or scream due to having the nerves to his vocal cords severed, and he's still in huge debt after the end of the wager.
  • Bottle Episode: This episode takes place entirely in the gentleman's club, and features only two sets.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Jamie has his vocal cords surgically disabled so he will win the bet. Unfortunately for him, not only is he permanently mute, but he learns that Archie is broke, so Jamie is in huge debt.
  • Chromosome Casting: This episode features an all-male cast.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: An exceptionally cruel one, as both men are much worse off than when they started.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: This is the only Twilight Zone episode to use snippets of the main theme in its soundtrack.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Archie puts Jamie through untold torment and helps ruin his life all because he found Jamie annoying and overly talkative.
  • Downer Ending: Both parties end up worse in the end. Archie is forced to admit that he's a fraud, destroying his reputation and credibility, and now has to live with the knowledge that he psychologically tortured and traumatized a man for no real reason. Jamie gets it worse, having his vocal cords severed and no longer being able speak or verbally communicate, and he still remains in large debt and with the possibility that his marriage is over.
  • Evil Is Petty: The whole reason that the bet gets started in the first place is solely because Archie was sick of listening to Jamie's nonstop chatter.
  • Fixing the Game: Since he knew that he couldn't remain silent for a while year, Jamie tried to ensure that he would win the bet by having his vocal cords surgically severed. Since Archie is broke, it didn't make any difference.
  • Foreshadowing: Nine weeks into the bet, club attendant Franklin remarks that Jamie hasn't been eating much, but his appetite is better than it was weeks before. This hints at the surgery that took Jamie's voice, as it would be painful for him to swallow.
    • After four and a half months, Alfred asks Archie if he has the money ready just in case Jamie does beat him. Archie brushes him off, believing that Jamie can't last, prompting Alfred to hope for his sake that he's right. Considering the two of them are friends and Alfred is his lawyer, it's no surprise that he'd know Archie is actually broke.
    • Archie dismisses the notion of writing a cheque before the bet and having it put on deposit, proclaiming that his word and honor are enough. Archie knows he can't afford the amount and so naturally doesn't want to get tied into owing it legally.
  • The Ghost: Jamie's wife Doris, who is much discussed, but never seen. Archie gets under Jamie's skin during the bet by implying that she's cheating on him, and even if she wasn't her reaction to her husband locking himself in a glass box for a year can only be assumed.
  • Glassy Prison: Jamie spends an entire year in a glass cell in the basement of his club to prove that he is fulfilling his part of the bargain and remaining silent.
  • Happily Married: Jamie loves his wife Doris very much. Archie fabricates rumors(?) that she may be cheating on him, which clearly leave him distraught.
  • Heroic Willpower: Subverted and played with. No matter how hard Archie tries to convince Jamie to give up, offering him smaller sums of money and gossiping about his wife, Tennyson is determined to win the bet. Everyone concludes that he's the stronger of the two men, only to be revealed that he cheated by having the nerves to his vocal chords severed. While it undermines his victory, especially since Archie had no money to give, Jamie was still willing to be surgically disabled and endure both a year in near-isolation and fears that his marriage is falling apart, none of which should be scoffed at.
  • Hypocrite: Archie gives Jamie a lot of flack for being a man of low character. All the while, he's been lying to everyone about his fortune and forces Jamie to endure a psychologically destructive bet, torturing him with rumors about his wife cheating on him to weasel out of paying him the money he offered for said bet.
  • Irony: To quote Jamie, "My courage against your credit. In a year, both will be proven." This is indeed the case at the end, as Jamie's willpower and Archie's riches are both proven to be completely bogus.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Archie, who provokes Jamie into the bet by insulting him as a shallow ne'er-do-well. When it becomes obvious that Jamie was going to win the bet, he resorted to psychologically attacking him with gossip about his wife Doris. He still realized that he was going to lose, but not once did he lift a finger to actually raise the money to pay off his end of the bargain when he lost. He just confessed he was broke and that was that.
  • Manly Tears: Jamie shows them in private moments as he registers Archie's words about his wife's infidelity and betrayal. He shows them again when Archie reveals he's a fraud and can't pay off the bet.
  • Mock Millionaire: Archie reveals that he actually lost his fortune long ago and never would have been able to pay Jamie's money, not even the lower sums he offered him to quit early.
  • Motor Mouth: Jamie is a higlhy-talkative young man. His incessant chatter getting under Archie's skin is what kickstarts the whole plot.
  • No Sense of Humor: Archie's sense of humor is, by his own admission, the least developed aspect of his character. Case in point, he's dead serious about the bet.
  • Nouveau Riche: Jamie, which is a partial factor of his conflict with Old Money Archie.
  • Old Money: Archie, which is part of why he dislikes the Nouveau Riche Jamie.
  • Oddball in the Series: One of only four episodes in the history of the show with no magical, sci-fi, or supernatural elements. (The last one was the first episode of the series, "Where Is Everybody?".)
  • Only Sane Man: Archie's lawyer, Alfred. He tries to act as the voice of reason to both him and Jamie, telling both men why their bet is a bad idea, and is also the only person in the club who seems to be at all concerned about Jamie's well-being and to call Archie out on his behavior at the end.
  • Paranormal Episode: Inverted. One of the few episodes with no supernatural or sci-fi elements at all.
  • Pet the Dog: It's not much, but after revealing that he's not actually a millionaire, Archie humbly admits that even without "fine breeding, Jamie has more honor". This unfortunately amounts to cold comfort when it turns out Jamie cheated before the bet even started, and the compliment hardly compensates for the fact that he's now in enormous debt and permanently mute.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jamie refuses Archie's lower offers to quit the bet early, certain that he was being scammed. Considering that Archie admits he's a fraud and wouldn't have been able to cover those sums, it's very likely Jamie was right to be distrustful.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The outcome of the bet results in this trope for both men.
    • Sure, Jamie wins, but Archie has no money to give him. After he's wasted a year of his life in a glass box, he's still in debt, possibly lost his wife, and is permanently mute.
    • Archie finally gets the silence he wanted in the first place. All it cost him was his reputation, having to publicly admit to his friends that he's a fraud, and the knowledge that he put Jamie through serious psychological and physical trauma for a petty bet.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Archie delivers one to Jamie after his chatter gets far enough under his skin.
    Archie: "I dislike you intensely, Tennyson. It goes much beyond the ordinary distaste I feel for someone without breeding, without principles, without manners. Your voice has become intolerable. I sit here each night and the sound of it makes me wince. I can't ask you to resign from the club. I haven't got that right. So, it occurred to me that I'd be willing to offer you a large sum of money just to have some quiet. You see, Tennyson you could not possibly remain silent for a whole year, it's not in your nature. You're a shallow, talkative, empty-headed ne'er-do-well and to remain silent would absolutely destroy you. So, what I assume will happen, you will perhaps withstand the pressures for three or four weeks, maybe a couple of months and then you will succumb. That's again, your nature. In the meantime, I will derive oh, several months of exquisite silence. (other members except for Jamie laugh) Well, Tennyson does it appeal to your sporting blood."
    Jamie: "Oddly enough, it does appeal to my sporting blood."
    Taylor: "Now that too, is patently ridiculous. There's nothing sporting about you, Tennyson. I happen to know you're delivering your nightly financial folderol because you're in desperate straits. You've run through your inheritance, your debts are insurmountable, and you'd do practically anything for money. Except, perhaps to remain silent for a year."
  • Snobs Vs Slobs: The whole purpose of the bet. Archie is disgusted by his club having been invaded by Jamie, who he perceives as a talkative, shallow nobody who wasn't bred to live the life of the rich. Jamie himself isn't really a bad guy, if a little motormouthed and frivolous with his money.
  • The Voiceless: Jamie, as it turns out, thanks to his secret surgery.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Jamie failing this trope is the very root of how the cruel twist happens. Had he tried to rely solely on his willpower to win the bet, it would've spoken volumes on his spirit. Rather, the strength of his muteness is made empty because it's a testament that he cheated.

Rod Serling: Mr. Jamie Tennyson, who almost won a bet, but who discovered somewhat belatedly that gambling can be a most unproductive pursuit, even with loaded dice, marked cards, or, as in his case, some severed vocal cords. For somewhere beyond him, a wheel was turned, and his number came up black 13. If you don't believe it, ask the croupier, the very special one who handles roulette – in The Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 2 E 61 The Silence