Thursday, April 3, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Sounds and Silences" (4/03/1964)

Season 5, Episode 27 (147 overall)
Originally aired 4/03/1964
Cayuga Production # 2631

Fifty years ago, a man found himself the victim to an aural nightmare. Besieged by unknown forces, he…. oh, screw it. I can’t polish this turd, nor am I inclined to try.

Roswell G. Flemington is obsessed with all things nautical, particularly recordings of actual naval battles, which he regularly blares at full volume. After twenty years of wedded misery, his wife finally leaves him, after which his hearing becomes inexplicably sensitive: quiet sounds like dripping water become deafening roars to him. He sees a doctor, who refers him a psychiatrist, who makes the staggeringly clinical diagnosis that it's all in his head; moreover, he can choose to exercise control over it.

Bolstered, Flemington goes home, where he finds his estranged wife, there to pick up the last of her things. He uses “mind over matter” to reduce her voice to a whisper. Smugly satisfied, he goes to play one of his beloved naval battle records, which he finds he can’t hear at all. He then comes to the horrifying realization that he can’t hear anything at all.

Well folks, here it is: the single worst episode of season five. I’m not quite prepared to place it below “Mr. Bevis” or “Four O’clock,” but I’ll definitely rank it in the bottom five of the entire series. First and foremost, there’s almost no story at all. Loud guy suddenly develops super-sensitive hearing, and then abruptly (and presumably) loses his hearing entirely. That's it. It’s essentially a depiction of a man losing a vital sensory function. How is that a Twilight Zone? Is causing an asshole to become disabled really Cosmic Justice?

I could almost find it in myself to sympathize with the ol' guy a bit. Almost. Not quite.

It doesn’t help matters that Flemington is such a complete and utter tool, or that there’s a ridiculous amount of overacting on John McGiver’s part, particularly every time he (over)reacts to the exaggerated sounds around him (it’s almost as if he’s using his facial expressions to compete with them). Seriously, how flagrantly obnoxious can one character be? Flemington makes previous Obnoxiometer™ placers like Roger Shackleforth and George P. Hanley seem positively likable by comparison. In fact.... I can't believe I'm about to do this, but.... 

That's right.... he's worse than James B.W. Bevis. That's quite a feat, Mr. Flemington.

“Sounds and Silences” is yet another episode that, once aired, resulted in somebody crying plagiarism and suing Cayuga Productions. Since litigation was still pending, the episode wasn’t included in the syndication package, and remained buried for 20 years. When the series turned 25 in 1984, it was resurrected along with vault-mates “Miniature” and “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” for a syndicated special. The episode is now easily viewed via Hulu and Netflix, and can be acquired in the various DVD and Blu-ray iterations of the series.

Rod Serling had to have known his teleplay was an utter piece of shit; however, he clearly didn’t care anymore at this late point in the series. There’s a whiff of season two’s “The Mind and the Matter” as Flemington utilizes what he calls “mind over matter” to minimize the sound of his wife’s voice. Serling wrote that one too; I guess it’s the closest to an antecedent we’ll find for “Sounds and Silences.” In the director’s chair this week is Richard Donner, who also helmed “From Agnes - With Love” (‘nuff said).


“Sounds and Silences” is notable (I guess) for having no actual underscore; aside from the copious sound effects herein, there are only a few brief snatches of nautical source cues played on Flemington’s hi-fi.


I despise Roswell G. Flemington; however, I do like John McGiver quite a bit. We last saw him in season four’s “The Bard" but, to me, he’ll always be the noble democrat Senator Thomas Jordan in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate.

Mrs. Flemington (no first name, apparently) is played by Penny Singleton, probably best known as Blondie Bumstead in the long-running Blondie film series (1938-1950). If she sounds more familiar than she looks, it’s because you've undoubtedly heard her as the voice of Jane Jetson on TV’s The Jetsons.

Michael Fox plays the unnamed psychiatrist (I love how the nameplate on his door reads, simply, “Psychiatrist”). This is his third sojourn into The Twilight Zone: he played the doctor in season one’s “Nightmare as a Child,” and was one half of the two-head Martian in season two’s “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” He also popped up on the 80’s Twilight Zone revival in “A Message from Charity."

Francis de Sales plays the unnamed doctor (give these people some names, for Rod’s sake!). Genre fans may have spotted him in the Outer Limits episode “The Mice,” which also turned 50 recently.

“Sounds and Silences,” like its protagonist, is all bluster and no substance; there’s honestly nothing of value here. The completest in me is relieved that it’s available along with its Lost Five kin, but its relative rarity doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the worst offerings in the entire series. I’m filing it under “S” for “sucks” and turning a deaf ear to it for the rest of my days. 

Next week:
Season three's "The Dummy" gets a late-in-the-game surprise repeat airing, and---- wait, what? It's not a repeat? It's a new episode? We're doing another dummy story?  Really....?


Bill Huelbig said...

Bad Twilight Zone episode = one of your funniest blog entries ever!

Craig Beam said...

It's just depressing. The more I think about it, the more I suspect it's worse than "Mr. Bevis." Maybe I need to do a head-to-head viewing.