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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 2 E 61 The Silence

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Cat got your tongue?

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.
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Air date: April 28, 1961

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

Old man Colonel Archie Taylor is a prominent member of a gentleman's club. The chatter proceeds as normal, but one member's chatter bothers him: that of young, nouveau riche Jamie Tennyson. He's a new member, and he's mouthy and "poorly bred" in Taylor's opinion. To get rid of Tennyson, and because he knows Tennyson has squandered his recent wealth and is desperate for money, Archie offers a wager despite gambling being illegal in their state.

He promises Tennyson $500,000 if he can keep from saying a word for an entire year. Not only will Tennyson have to not speak for a year, but he'll have to consent to being in a locked glass suite riddled with microphones so they can catch him if he talks, even a word, to himself, at any time when no one's watching - but people will be watching. He is allowed to communicate only through gestures and writing. Tennyson is offended, both at the conditions of the wager and the fact that the Colonel has just aired all his dirty laundry to the whole club! He asks questions of the Colonel, before agreeing. He finally says he needs a check on deposit in Jamie's name, but the Colonel takes umbrage at what seems like impugning his honor and 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 mute year. Archie's friend in the club, Alfred, seems to think this whole thing is a bad idea and says so.

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Weeks pass, and Colonel Taylor is astonished that Tennyson has made it so far without speaking a word, but remains confident that he will win the bet. The young man is well cared for, but Archie is astonished that a young man with a beautiful wife isn't bored. Months pass and pass, and by the time nine months of the year have passed, Archie is visibly on edge. He approaches Jamie and offers him $1,000 to walk out that very day, having proved he can keep quiet for a long time. 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 warns Taylor again that his bet is a bad idea and asks if he has the money to make good if Jamie does succeed in holding up his end of the wager. Alfred walks away saying he hopes Archie really does have the money.

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Taylor decides to fight dirty. Though Jamie has sent multiple requests for his beautiful young wife to visit, she never has. Taylor begins tormenting Jamie with gossip about her: she's been seen around town with moneyed young men who drive around in flashy sportscars. Jamie is visibly hurt and tormented by hearing these things, but he still never says a word. Taylor turns the screws, repeating every nasty word of gossip, calmly tormenting Tennyson with the knowledge that his wife is stepping out on him and doesn't seem to care who knows. Taylor tries again to offer Jamie an out to the bet in the form of $5,000, then raises to $6,000. Jamie doesn't see the actual cash and refuses, certain he's being scammed.

Finally the year has passed, and Jamie has won the bet! He comes out of his glass prison, and approaches the Colonel with his hand out for the promised $500,000. Archie, caught on the back foot, must now make an admission of "distasteful candor": that he is himself also without a fortune, which he lost a decade ago. He even admits that the counter-offers were more than he could afford. He praises Tennyson for his resolve and says he'll resign from the club.

With all the membership watching, a tearful Jamie Tennyson pulls out his pad and begins to write. The men of the club are boggled. His year is over, he can speak if he wants, why doesn't he?!

Jamie hands Archie Taylor a note, which Taylor 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 surgical scar which he's kept hidden under scarves and turtlenecks the whole time.

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.

"...":

  • All for Nothing: Jamie's entire ordeal ends in this as Archie reveals he's completely broke.
  • And I Must Scream: By the end, Jamie is left in a state where he can no longer speak or scream due to having the nerves to his vocal cords severed.
  • Bottle Episode: This episode takes place entirely in the gentleman's club and features only two sets.
  • Chromosome Casting: This episode features an all-male cast.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: An exceptionally cruel one.
  • Downer Ending: Both parties end up worse in the end. Archie is humiliated and forced to admit he is a fraud and has destroyed his reputation and credibility, while Jamie gets it worse. He has severed his vocal cords and can no longer speak or verbally communicate and remains in large debt.
  • Evil Is Petty: All this because Archie was sick of listening to Jamie talk.
  • Fixing the Game: As he knew that he couldn't remain silent for a year, Jamie hoped to ensure that he would win the bet by having surgery to have his vocal cords severed. Since Colonel Taylor is broke, it ends up not making a difference.
  • Foreshadowing: Nine weeks into the bet, the club attendant Franklin remarks that Jamie doesn't eat much, but his appetite is better than it was weeks before. This hints at Jamie's surgery that took his voice, as it would be painful for him to swallow.
  • The Ghost: Jamie's wife Doris, much discussed (Archie implies she's cheating on him) but never seen. Her reaction to her husband locking himself up in a cage for a year can only be guessed at.
  • Glassy Prison: Jamie lives in a glass cell in the basement of his club for a year to prove that he is fulfilling his part of the bargain and remaining silent.
  • Happily Married: Jamie loves his wife Doris very much. Archie's rumors that she may be cheating on him clearly leave him distraught.
  • Hypocrite: Archie gives Jamie shit for being a man of low character. All the while he's been lying to everyone about his fortune and letting Jamie go through a psychologically destructive bet and torturing him with rumors about his wife cheating on him.
  • Irony: To quote Tennyson, "My courage against your credit. In a year, both will be proven." This is indeed the case: both are proven to be completely bogus.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Archie. He provoked Jamie into the bet by insulting him as a shallow ne'er-do-well. When it became obvious that Jamie was going to win the bet, he resorted to attacking him psychologically by sharing gossip about Jamie's wife. He realized he was going to lose the bet, but not once did he lift a finger to try raising the money to pay off his end of the bet when he lost. He just confessed he was broke and that was that.
  • Manly Tears: Jamie shows them in private moments while reliving Taylor's words about his wife's infidelity and betrayal. He shows them again when Colonel Taylor reveals he can't pay off the bet.
  • Mock Millionaire: Archie reveals that he lost his fortune long ago and never would have been able to pay the money, not even the lower sums he offered.
  • Motor Mouth: Jamie is this. It's what kickstarts the whole plot.
  • No Sense of Humor: Taylor's is, by his own admission, the least developed aspect of his character. He's dead serious about the bet.
  • 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?".)
  • 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 coming clean that he's not rich, Archie humbly admits that even without "fine breeding, Jamie has more honor". Though this amounts to cold comfort when it turns out Jamie cheated, and the compliment hardly compensates for the fact that he's now in debt and mute.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jamie refuses Archie's lower offers, certain that he was being scammed. Considering that Archie admits he wouldn't have been able to cover even those sums, it's very likely Jamie was right to be distrustful.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: For both men.
    • Sure, Jamie wins the bet, 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 he's now permanently mute.
    • Archie finally gets the silence he wanted. All it cost him was his reputation, having to publicly admit 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: Taylor delivers one to Jamie.
    Taylor: "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 what he perceives as a talkative, shallow nobody who wasn't bred to live the life of the rich. Jamie isn't really a bad guy if a little motormouthed, and unfortunately frivolous with his money.
  • The Voiceless: Jamie, as it turns out, thanks to his surgery.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Jamie failing this is the very root of how the cruel twist happens - had he tried to rely solely on 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.

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