Twilight Zone S4 – Mute (01/31/63)

tzmute01At a meeting in 1953 Dusseldorf, a group agrees to dedicate their lives to developing telepathy in themselves and their children.  Eventually they will create a colony where all communication will be mental.

Ten years later in the freakishly appropriately-named German Corners PA, one of the couples from the meeting has their house burn down as thinking 9-1-1 did not bring the fire department in time.  They die, leaving their daughter Ilse an orphan.  The firemen find her safely outside the fire, but she does not respond to their questions.

The Sheriff Wheeler takes her back to his house.  She stays in the room of the Wheeler’s dead daughter Sally.  The sheriff doesn’t understand the girl’s silence — Ilse, I mean, not Sally.  He says, “I know she’s not deaf, dumb or retarded,” hitting the non-PC trifecta.  He says it is as if she doesn’t know how to talk.  Ilse awakens in Sally’s bed and telepathically calls to her parents.  Being a small rather than a medium, she gets nothing.

tzmute07

Sheriff Wheeler really doesn’t seem to get the concept of a mailbox.

Wheeler recalls how he had tried to get Ilse’s parents to enroll her in public school, but they wisely declined.  Naturally, Cora sees her as a surrogate for Sally.  Ilse reads Cora’s mind and sees what happened to Sally.  She seems happy to fill in, but really perks up when she hears that some letters from Europe have arrived at the Post Office.  Demonstrating that famous Aryan commitment to diversity, she really wants to be taken back to the other children who are exactly like her.

The Postmaster would not let Wheeler open the letters, so he writes letters back to addresses on the envelope.  Cora retrieves the letters and burns them.  She is witnessed by Ilse and damned lucky she doesn’t go all Carrie on her.

tzmute10Wheeler asks Miss Frank from the school to come by.  She communicates without words, too — she snaps her fingers summoning Ilse to her.  Ilse sends out a message to Cora, “Please, don’t let her touch me.”  Miss Frank is creepy enough to make me take that in the worst possible way.

The next day Cora takes her to Mrs. Frank’s class.  The kids seem to be about 5 years younger than Ilse.  Miss Frank stands Ilse up in front of the class and says, “We are going to work on her until she is exactly like everyone else.”  Guess that’s why they call it German Corners.

Eventually the Germans roll into the country, as Germans were wont to do [1].  They are upset that the Wheelers sent her to school.  Cutting to Miss Frank’s class again we see they are right to be concerned — Miss Franks is continuing to badger Ilse to say her name. When Ilse comes back to the house, the Germans try to communicate telepathically with her. Her mind has been so corrupted by public school that it just sounds like gibberish to her.

tzmute06Ilse finally manages to speak, “My name is Ilse.”  Then again.  Then again. Then again.  Then again. And she breaks down in tears.  The tightly wound Cora has been on the edge of hysteria the whole episode and this sets her off.  She shrieks that she will not let Ilse go, that the girl needs her.

Sheriff Wheeler drives the Germans back to the Greyhünd Bus [2] station. They have decided to leave the girl in America.  Mrs. German says she is better off with people who love her, and not just as an experiment.

An entry from Richard Matheson is always going to be welcome.  The production had a couple of problems, though.  The main issue is the craziness of the women in this town. Mrs. Wheeler seems perpetually on the edge of madness.  She has the Patsy Ramsey crazy-eyes and is not shy about shrieking.

Miss Frank is equally unbalanced but is, at least, more low key.  There is also an oddly unexplored plot point that Miss Frank’s father had attempted to develop psychic abilities in her as a child.  This undermines the main plot by 1) making Ilse not quite so special, and 2) introducing a blatantly supernatural element into a largely secular story.

These two performances and a lousy score bring this episode down a notch.  The performance by Ann Jillian, and the concept were very good, but didn’t quite win the day.

Post-Post: 

  • [1] Ironically, Germany is now famous for other countries’ citizens rolling in.
  • [2] I don’t think an umlaut was required here, but it just makes it look more German and less typo-y.
  • The episode is a more faithful adaptation than some film novelizations.  Except the kid was a boy.  Except for that.
  • Ann Jillian went on to be a cutie in the ’80s.

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