by Peter Farris
Hello. My name is Peter Farris and I am an Outer Limits junky. As in I’m now deciding which Bear to get tattooed on me, having narrowed my choices to the back-humping Naked Luncheopod of The Invisibles, The Mice’s laundry-eating clam penis, Ape Rooster Wizard Pimp of Second Chance fame or…Donald Pleasence.
Indeed my absence from the comments section isn’t due to the new season of American Idol or numerous restraining orders filed at once, but rather my contentment to simply lurk, in awe of the staggering amount of insight offered by our hosts JS and PE, as well as the Larry’s, Gary Gerani, Hollywoodaholic, Tac Warrior, David Holcomb, Ted Rypel and of course, our cult’s Minister of Minutia and High Priest of Perspective: David J. Schow. I almost feel the need to pay you guys tuition….
Way too many Season One highlights to list here (I imagine they’ll be covered at the first annual WACT Awards Banquet in lovely San Blas), but it’s safe to say if there was a Stefano, Oswald and Hall in the credits, that show made the list. To be honest my personal favorite WACT moment was Peter Enfantino’s ZZZZZ-inspired lampooning of what I’ll call the “thesis papers,” a humorous (and welcome, I admit) counter to the erudition on display in the comments and spotlights.
PE’s epic commentary actually reminds me why the idiom “One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure” seems so apt when discussing a show like The Outer Limits. As I was negative sixteen when Please Stand By aired, my first dance with the series about ten years ago was a clumsy one, as my sensibilities just weren’t equipped to appreciate what I consider now to be fantastic. Sure, there are deficiencies and shortcomings in even the best episodes, but I’ve gained some major perspective thanks to WACT, learning how to watch television from a bygone era with a frame of reference expanded immeasurably by all you awesome folks. Apologies aside (there is no apologizing for Moonstone), I see now that the magical first season represented the passion and toil of some BIG dreamers, experimenting in a still very new medium, operating on a budget that would probably put J.J. Abrams or Shawn Ryan in a padded room, while fighting deadlines with the clock ticking twice as fast. All the more reason to love this profoundly weird, albeit imperfect two years of television.
With that said, I’m honored to kick off the second half of The Outer Limits with a spotlight on Cold Hands, Warm Heart aka The Astronaut’s Wife aka Underwater Voodoo Sock Muppet.
Cold Hands, Warm Heart is a peculiar episode in that even from the opening credits, it feels fabricated, no doubt a testament to Dominic Frontiere’s iconic theme, and the fact Harry Lubin’s music—although far from insulting—sounds to these ears like it was intended for another show altogether. Lubin’s harp cues reminding the audience something is…just…not…quite…right with William Shatner don’t help his cause either.
The above-the-line regime change and subsequent penny pinching rear their ugly head in the form of stock (parade) and recycled (space) footage, but in all honesty, if there was an episode where this tactic works, I’d argue it’s Cold Hands. The Buck Rogers rocket, cockpit, pressure chamber and assorted interiors are all serviceable (yet very familiar), as is Charles Haas’ largely static direction. Likewise Shatner’s webbed hands make their point, but part of me wanted monstrously more.
And by all means, tell us we’re looking at a steam room before showing us the steam room, Charlie!
From a production standpoint there were certainly first season episodes that appeared threadbare, but projected more heart and soul. That is to say there is something strangely sterile about the look of Cold Hands, as if the series—even at the outset of the second season shooting schedule—had already become an approximation of The Outer Limits, if not a program satisfied with its status as an orphan on life support. There are a few memorable edits and some nifty shots: a cut from a vent billowing steam to the exhaust of a thrusting rocket, astronaut Jeff Barton as seen from inside the fireplace desperately warming himself, jumps to a subdued Barton in his office after breaking in, and the first haunting glimpse of the Venusian drifting toward the porthole.
Cooking meat in a fireplace is more metal than your ma’s kettle. \m/
Sadly that edict to hit audiences over the head with THE monster kills our mysterious and sinewy Venusian. The more is less approach reduces the poor gal from a wafting apparition to a wet puppet, which is a shame considering how much is satisfyingly left unexplained in Cold Hands. The extent of Barton’s illness and the Venusian’s motivations or agenda are never addressed, which along with Barton’s willingness to sacrifice his very being for the sake of space exploration, strikes me as some of the most powerful elements of the heavily rewritten story. Could reworking Shatner into the “Bear” ala Robert Culp in Architects have salvaged this episode from mediocrity? Or suggesting something insidious was still at work inside Barton’s body instead of the uncharacteristically upbeat ending? As a thought experiment, I tried to imagine what the Stefano/Oswald/Hall trifecta would have done with the material, and perhaps the comments section will be the perfect place for a li’l Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
How can you not love Shatner dropping the security guard with his Hulk hand?
Speaking of alien life forms manifesting as nice white men, Cold Hands, Warm Heart really plays like a cousin to The Architects of Fear, and not just because Geraldine Brooks has a thing for dudes whose bodies tend to turn a bit gnarly. There are provocative and horrific concepts at the core of both episodes—body mutation, transformation, alien infection—that more so in Cold Hands get bogged down by our main character’s altruistic desire…to secure government funding for what, despite his speechifying, comes off in that closed-door meeting like a real estate venture. Project Vulcan: A Swim & Tennis Community. Breaking Ground in Season Three!
Oh, and before I forget, can we have a moment of silence for Geraldine Brooks’ incredibly SHORT dress in that opening interior apartment shot?
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by both Brooks and Shatner, with Brooks expressive eyes carrying the load for a character that I imagine read as one-note on the page. I did have to stifle an Atlanta to L.A. eye roll during that “He loves me better than you!” talk with the stars. Schow called the speech “excruciating” in the OLC. I call it a corndog.
I’d also argue that William Shatner was the only actor capable of playing astronaut Jeff Barton. Bold of me, you say? Need proof? Consider the priceline, I mean, priceless expression on his face when he awakens from the Venusian night terror. All kidding aside, I think he’s actually quite good, delivering as capable a performance as his turns in the Thriller series, particularly during his character’s fits of sickness and anguish. He also sells Barton’s physiological strife, and in arguably my favorite scene, steals the show by the fireplace as he and Ann struggle to extinguish his flaming arms—a moment of terror that recalled Salome Jens seconds before getting a face full of parasite in Corpus Earthling. There are glimpses of that other Shatner, however. The actor with…the…oddly…timed…deliveries as if he could only…recall dialogue…in…spurts.
As an Outer Limits episode, I’d be generous in giving Cold Hands, Warm Heart two Zanti’s and a reluctant Eck! for effort. It was light beer when compared to a Season One full-bodied stout.
Now as an episode of Ben Brady Presents Science Fiction After Mother’s Meatloaf…?
Peter Farris is a novelist and screenwriter from Cobb County, Georgia. His screenplay You Don't Scare Me (co-written with John Farris) has been optioned for film. His short story “The Couch” appeared in More Stories From The Twilight Zone, an anthology celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary and edited by Carol Serling. Peter’s debut novel will be published by Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Books next winter.