Breaking “The Silence”: Serling Almost Ended This Episode Very Differently
If you’ve never seen Twilight Zone‘s “The Silence”, this post isn’t for you. At least not yet. Seriously, go check it out and come back. You’ll be glad you did.
But if you’re among those who have watched this Season 2 episode and enjoyed the double-twist ending, read on. It may surprise you to learn that Rod Serling made one significant change to his initial script before the story was filmed.
To be specific, Jamie Tennyson (Liam Sullivan) — the overly talkative club member who agrees to stay silent for a year to win a half-million-dollar wager — wasn’t going to survive.
Worse, his demise was set to occur on the last day of his incarceration, less than an hour before his release. Talk about a killer ending.
No, he wasn’t murdered. Not directly, anyway. In this initial version, Tennyson had been subjected to a campaign of abuse from Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone), the club member who proposed the bet. And this abuse went beyond the rumor-mongering and trash-talking we see in the episode. At one point, Taylor jacks up the thermostat in the prisoner’s glass cell, causing the temperature to soar. He even tries to poison Tennyson’s food.
So when, in this version, Tennyson is found dead of an apparent heart attack on the day of his victory, it isn’t terribly surprising. Taylor argues that this means Tennyson lost the bet: “The wager implicitly called for him to live in silence for a year. He did not live. He died before the allotted time.”
George Alfred (Jonathan Harris) is disgusted with this justification, suggesting that Taylor will face a sterner judgment from God someday. Only then is it discovered, posthumously, that Tennyson had the nerves to his vocal cords severed.
I think most fans, though, would prefer Serling’s revised ending — in which Tennyson not only lives, but walks out triumphantly. He then discovers that Taylor is broke. There’s no question that he won (albeit by cheating, as we quickly learn), and his tormentor is more definitively shamed.
The reveal of his vocal-cord incision in the filmed version is more dramatic as well. Rather than watch someone examine a corpse, we see Tennyson’s wide-eyed, mute astonishment when Taylor admits he can’t pay. We notice the silent anger as he grabs Taylor. We witness the anguish on his tear-stained face as he removes his scarf, revealing the scar underneath.
The final ending is clearly an improvement. As Serling scholar Tony Albarella points out in his review of this episode, “Tennyson’s death is unnecessary, implausible and melodramatic.” Fortunately, Serling was one of his own best editors. He obviously realized the weakness of his initial conclusion and revised it accordingly.
Tennyson’s number came up “black 13”, Serling tells us in his outro to this episode, but not so for the rest of us. “The Silence” is clearly a winning hand.
Both versions of Serling’s script for “The Silence” can be found in Volume 2 of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling” (Tony Albarella, editor).
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