With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?
The Twilight Zone (Episode #107): “Mute” (airdate 1/31/63)
The Plot: A little girl is treated like dog feces because she has a special gift.
The Goods: When Ilse (Ann Jillian) was born, her parents decided to do a little experiment. Instead of talking to her like a normal child, they deprived her of language in order to exercise her natural psychic abilities. As a result, she became incredibly strong at speaking telepathically with the other children in a school where such a thing was the norm.
Sadly, the school wasn’t run by a bald guy in a wheelchair, and when her parents die in a fire, she’s sent to the United States with a new set of parents. Her life is now filled with people who speak, a bunch of schoolmates who think she’s an idiot, and a teacher who also has the gift of telepathy but views it as a curse. Good times ahead!
The ultimate message of the episode is not to discriminate against those that are different. After all, what we see as a glaring deficiency could be masking a strength, or it could be the strength itself. That’s all well and good, but poor Ilse doesn’t have a friend in her corner at any point of the proceedings. The message comes at the expense of a frightened little girl who has lost her parents (which, we’re told in a shoehorned line of dialogue, never really loved her), have new parents that don’t understand her, peers that despise her, and a teacher who punishes her for being herself.
It’s a terrifying tragedy – that a little girl essentially born this way has to suffer the slings and arrows from those that hate and those that are trying hard to love but will never be able to comprehend who she is. The end result is the worst part of all. All that’s magical about her is stripped away by social pressure and the promise of a “real” kind of love from a family that wants nothing more than to have a normal daughter.
It’s an interesting story that has enough moving parts to survive its entire runtime, but it’s a damned confusing message and tone slammed together as if writer Richard Matheson split into two people with competing views on how the story should be told. On that note, though, it’s an excellent example of how to create a compelling narrative and crush it with the wrong tone – a pitfall all writers should strive to avoid. Here’s how not to do it.
Otherwise, it’s a perfectly mean-spirited episode that perhaps shows the truly hellish compunction of people to gang up on the anomaly, and the dirt-stirred nature of what it’s like to be different as a child. It’s too bad no one was able to tell Ilse that it gets better.
The Trivia: Even at her young age, Jillian had already appeared in the movie Gypsy a year before this episode aired.
On the Next Episode: A space crew finds their own dead bodies in a spacecraft that’s crashed on an alien world.
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.