It has been six decades since The Twilight Zone first premiered. Though now most are familiar with the series during the holiday season. Marathons run during the New Year when time often loses all meaning. Rod Serling, creator of the sci-fi anthology series, would write most and narrate every episode, offering you a glimpse into another realm with undefined boundaries. They were cautionary tales and commentaries on the horrors of reality and beyond.
In Season 2 of The Twilight Zone The Silence introduces us to ironic justice in a game of chance. First airing in 1962, the plot was based in part on Anton Chekov’s short story “The Bet”. Both play into the underrated trope of the “absurdly high-stakes game” or a Scare Dare. More recently seen in films like Would You Rather?, Cheap Thrills, and the constant Scare Dare film Funny Games. Chekov’s story focuses more on divine salvation while Serling in The Twilight Zone‘s The Silence questions the value of a man’s integrity.
The Twilight Zone The Silence stars Franchot Tone as Colonel Archie Taylor, a crotchety socialite. Tone is a familiar face as a regular guest star on The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Liam Sullivan plays the young braggart, Jaimie Tennyson. Desperate for money to keep his trophy wife happy. Rounding out the pair is Jonathan Harris as Alfred the lawyer. The only voice of reason in this episode. Harris is best known as Dr. Zachary Smith on Lost in Space. Serling opens the scene to the audience by describing a wager among our characters.
It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever offered by one man to another.
In a posh den of finer furnishings, in The Twilight Zone’s The Silence we find Colonel Taylor. A crusty aristocrat and respected member of this men’s club. A place where gentlemen of sizable reputations enjoy vice and stimulating conversation. The Colonel cringes behind his newspaper as a din of mindless chatter fills the club. Jaimie Tennyson is spinning another self-congratulatory yarn for anyone within earshot. Unable to read the room as other members skirt away from his incessant yammering.
The only thing worse than his talking so much is his transparency.
With legal advice and moral warning from his lawyer, Colonel Taylor propositions Mr. Tennyson. For his own amusement he preys upon a man desperate for money. Tennyson has run through his inheritance and his debts grow larger each day. The Colonel offers half a million dollars if he can remain silent for 12 months. Tennyson is baffled by the ludicrous notion and dismisses it. Yet goaded and insulted in front of other club members, his blood is stirred. To prevent more humiliation, he accepts the game of chance. For one full year, Jaimie Tennyson will reside in a glass walled cell in the club’s game room. Never to speak a word in that time.
Attempting to save face, Tennyson makes a condition to have the check certified and placed on deposit in his name. Publicly questioning his foe’s ability to uphold HIS end of the wager. The Colonel scoffs, referencing his reputation and vouchers of his honor. Tennyson folds in this moment, now completely lost to the Absurdly High-Stakes Game. It is his courage against Colonel Taylor’s credit.
Tennyson takes his place in the glass apartment, resembling a greenhouse. Custom built by the Colonel’s specifications to be comfortable and exquisitely furnished. Anything Tennyson desires is brought to him, communicating only by pen and paper. A great deal of money has been invested into this bet by Colonel Taylor. The amount of sacrifice and inconvenient arrangements Tennyson made to participate should be noted as well. This lavished staging is typical of the classic Eccentric Millionaire theme. Absurdly High-Stake Games are almost always a perverse form of entertainment for wealthy weirdos.
As months go on, the Colonel applies pressure to Tennyson. Offering smaller sums of money and teasing him with pleasures that cannot be bought. Tennyson merely smirks, his resolve after 12 months will make him a richer man. The Colonel twists the knife deeper, remarking on how lonely Tennyson’s wife must be. Repeating canards of seeing her out with other young men. Though tortured, Jaimie Tennyson still manages to hang on.
Club members gather on the last day along with Albert, the disgusted lawyer. Scolding his client for even suggesting a dehumanizing experiment. Tennyson is much stronger than given credit for, and Colonel Taylor is considerably weaker. The clock runs out and our victor emerges with his hand held out. The Colonel admits the less than admirable actions undertaken to win this bet. Also confessing that he is a fraud as he had lost all his money years ago. Tennyson drains of all color as club members urge him to say something at last.
Instead, he pulls out a pen and paper and scribbles a note to Colonel Taylor. It’s a confession knowing he’d be unable to uphold his end of the bargain. Tennyson had the nerves to his vocal cords severed, rendering him mute forever.
He pulls a silk ascot away to reveal a jagged scar.
In The Twilight Zone The Silence, two men driven by greed are now disgraced for compromising their integrity. Spinning a wheel of chance in a very bizarre casino called… The Twilight Zone.
Last Updated on May 30, 2021.