The Twilight Zone

Season 4 Episode 5

Mute

6
Aired Unknown Jan 31, 1963 on CBS
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Episode Fan Reviews (3)

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7.7
out of 10
Average
129 votes
  • Telepathy Should Never Be at the Cost of Speech

    7.5
    In his book The Twilight Zone Companion, the author Marc Scott Zicree criticizes this episode as having brutishly insensitive characters and a conformist message. For instance, Zicree lambastes the character of Sheriff Harry Wheeler (Frank Overton) as cool and undemonstrative. In actuality, this character comes off as terse, no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts, meat-and-potatoes, as one would expect a peace officer to be. Personally, he does seem to be a man unaccustomed to expressing his emotions, but no more or less than so many men. Nevertheless, he is a husband and he has been a father, hence he unequivocally knows how to provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child as is Ilse (Ann Jillian). And despite his difficulty being emotional, there is no doubt that he knows how to be loving and compassionate when he is so called upon. The character of the Sheriff's wife Cora Wheeler (Barbara Baxley) Zicree degrades as being selfish and hysterical and believing irrationally that Ilse is her deceased daughter returned to her. True, when Mrs. Wheeler intercepts and destroys the letter her husband sends to the telepathic community meant to inform them about the death of Ilse's parents and at the end of the episode when she refuses to turn over custody of Ilse to the Werners, her actions can be described as selfish as well as hysterical, still, Cora Wheeler is not a one-dimensional character. Her actions are likely motivated by the grief over losing her own daughter in a drowning accident and the void it has created in her life, thus her character does rate some sympathy with us the audience. But she also knows that Ilse is devastated by the loss of her parents in the fire and needs comfort both physically and emotionally, which she understands because she too has lost a loved one. Moreover, Ilse herself understands this about Mrs. Wheeler, after all Ilse is telepathic and she reads Mrs. Wheeler's mind learning about the tragic death of her daughter. Indeed, from that moment on Ilse and Mrs. Wheeler gradually begin to bond over this mutual understanding. Also, one does not get the impression that Mrs. Wheeler irrationally believes Ilse is her dead daughter returned to her, rather the impression one gets is that Mrs. Wheeler believes-irrationally-that Ilse will fill the void in her life created by her daughter's death. Overcoming this will be challenge for her but she is capable of overcoming it, just as she is-like her husband-unquestionably capable of providing a safe and nurturing environment for a child such as Ilse, because she is a wife and has been a mother. Zicree goes on to condemn the character of Ilse's teacher Miss Frank (Irene Dailey) as being sadistic and misguided for teaching Ilse to speak but destroying her telepathy in the process. When Miss Frank tells the Wheelers that the death of Ilse's parents in that fire was a blessing her actions are patently odious; nonetheless, like the others Miss Frank is not a one-dimensional character. Miss Frank was raised by her father to be a medium and likely still harbors bitterness over her experiences which motivates her to cruelly denigrate Ilse's departed parents. However, because Miss Frank has had similar experiences she actually understands Ilse better than anyone else and thereby knows how best to teach Ilse to speak-which she ultimately does. Although her methods might come off as harsh one could argue that extreme measures were needed since Ilse could neither speak nor understand speech courtesy of her parents.



    Zicree contends that the overall message of "Mute" is conformity because Ilse loses her unique ability of telepathy in favor of the common ability of speech. In fact, the point that "Mute" succeeds in making is that one should never be at the cost of the other. Telepathy is indeed a unique ability to acquire, hone, apply, and examine but not at the cost of speech which in life is fundamental. According to Zicree "Mute" focuses on adults committing atrocities against children, but his argument is the atrocity against Ilse Nielsen was committed by the Wheelers and Miss Frank in teaching Ilse to speak at the expense of her telepathy. In truth the atrocity was committed by Holger and Fannie Nielsen who taught their daughter telepathy at the expense of speech, for they regarded Ilse as an experiment first and a daughter second. Let us not forget that in the very beginning of the episode, members of the telepathic community themselves expressed reservations about what effects the experiment might have on their children before proceeding. What happened to Ilse Nielsen is proof that such concerns were not unfounded. Furthermore, at the end of the episode Frau Maria Werner (Eva Soreny), herself a member of the telepathic community, admits that Ilse is better off with the Wheelers because whereas to her parents she was a guinea pig in an experiment now she has a chance at having a childhood. Lastly, Zicree claims that "Mute" fails to answer the question of what type of life will Ilse have with parents such as the Wheelers and a teacher such as Miss Frank? Actually, "Mute" more than ably answers this question: it is a question of the lesser of two evils. For all their faults the Wheelers are capable of providing a loving home for Ilse; for all her faults Miss Frank did teach Ilse to speak. Because with the Nielsens the experiment always came first-and-foremost, but with the Wheelers Ilse will always come first-and-foremost. The latter fact perfectly illustrates that love is more important than telepathy, which is the central point of the episode.

  • Love casteth out telepathy

    4.0

    While watching this episode about how a young girl's remarkable gift is overlooked, misinterpreted and ultimately psychologically bullied out of her, if you'd asked me what the moral was supposed to be, I would have guessed that it had to do with how society tends to destroy anything it doesn't understand. I suppose the actual message is meant to be "love is better than psychic powers." That's as may be, but this episode failed to set the right tone to deliver such a message. Everyone might have had Ilse's best interests at heart, but I was far from convinced that their idea of what was was best for Ilse was correct, or that their actions were appropriate.

    I don't know how you could see the teacher's actions and attitudes as anything less than sinister, particularly her line about making Ilse just like everyone else. As for Cora Wheeler, I have my doubts that she truly loved Ilse and find it plausible she saw her more as a substitute for her dead daughter. The underhanded way in which she sabotaged Ilse's chances at being reunited with people like herself did little to endear me to her, nor did the hysterical way she clung to the confused Ilse in the end, screaming about how Ilse needed her, when the case seemed to be more the other way around.

    All this is not to necessarily say that I wholeheartedly approve of child rearing techniques of Ilse's biological parents, but frankly, if a line hadn't been shoehorned in at the end that explains that the Nielsens viewed Ilse as a science experiment more than a daughter, it would be harder to condemn them as parents simply because they were a tad unorthodox. When Ilse begins speaking her name out loud for the first time, it didn't register as an uplifting moment for me, like Helen Keller saying "water" in "The Miracle Worker," but rather it had the extremely uncomfortable feel of watching someone break under the strain of mental torture. What was intended as a hopeful ending instead left me feeling saddened that something special had been lost in order to force Ilse to conform to the rest of "normal" society.


  • Enjoyable to watch, if you are not an overly analytical viewer and can ignore the flaws.

    7.8
    First, the flaws. Barbara Baxley, as Sheriff Wheeler's wife, Cora, knows how to act. Perhaps too well, such as in the climactic scene when she screams at the German couple, "You can't have her! She loves me! She needs me!" She comes off as rather unlikable, which is too bad, because she was a compassionate woman. And Irene Daily as the teacher! Though it became evident that she had the girl's interests at heart, she was a terror. And what a coincidence that she, too, just happened to have been raised to be a medium!

    In spite of these things, it was a good episode. The subject was telepathy, and the cruelty of using children as experimental guinea pigs. The German couple, played by Oscar Beregi and the lovely Eva Soreny (for more on her see The Armstrong Circle Theater episode The Hunted: The Eva Soreny Story), realize this cruelty, even though they are themselves devoted telepathists, and were part of the same group as the girl, Ilse, played by a young Ann Jillian, something else that makes it worth watching. One other thing that I don't quite get is the ending. When Cora Wheeler goes walking with Ilse, why does Ilse seem to hesitate at first? Well, maybe it was symbolic of her gradual acceptance of the world of reality. But, where was Sheriff Wheeler (Frank Overton) at the end? It would have been more satisfying to see the three of them walking together at a carnival or something. But don't let these things get in the way of your enjoying it.