Friday, January 26, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 17 (The Fever)

Franklin Gibbs isn’t too big on gambling.  He sees it as an immoral activity.  Still, he’s apparently not one to pass up an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas.  Rather than try his luck a little, he seems to spend most of his time telling his wife, Flora, how horrible gambling is.  Why, look at all of these people just throwing their money away.

Flora is not as judgmental when it comes to the activity.  She puts a nickel in a slot, but Franklin admonishes her.  Since the nickel is already in the machine, she pulls the lever and loses.  It’s not until a passing drunk puts a dollar in a machine and puts Franklin’s hand on the slot machine that Franklin has a taste of excitement.  His turn at the machine wins several dollars, which he’s initially content to take his winnings back to his room and save it.

Later, Franklin decides that he can’t keep dirty money, so he goes back down to the floor to give it back to the casino.  The next thing we know, Franklin’s lost a significant amount of his own money.  One pull may give him a few dollars, but he gives it all back.  He’s become obsessed with winning the $10,000 jackpot.

When the machine breaks on his last dollar, he accuses the machine of denying him the jackpot.  It’s not a machine any more; it’s a force that’s taken all his money.  He’s driven to the point of hallucinating.  He sees the machine following him, prompting him to jump out a window.

The episode is unusual for me in that I don’t really see it as a twist ending.  It seems like the natural progression of a story, even if it is extreme.  Franklin will either learn his lesson or he won’t.  He could have walked away any time.  Flora even tried to warn him that the next spin probably wouldn’t have been the big winner.

The episode would seem to come off as a morality play.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a counterargument.  We don’t see people staying within a set budget or doing anything else.  In fact, the entire episode takes place in the hotel and casino; Franklin and Flora don’t seem to leave the building until Franklin jumps out the window.

I have to wonder if this is the view most people have of a gambler.  Is it meant to warn off everyone that wants to go to a casino or is it simply meant as a warning of what might happen if you don’t moderate your impulses?  Franklin comes across as a very unsympathetic protagonist.  He’s very rigid in his view on gambling and would not seem to be the friendliest of personalities.  He’s exactly the kind of guy who would lecture you on the evils of something.  (If not gambling, then drinking or pornography.)  When he finally did meet his end, my sympathy was more with Flora, who didn’t deserve any of this.

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