Monday, February 21, 2011

Spotlight on "Cold Hands, Warm Heart"

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.


  1. This is a tough one to defend, Peter, but you do an admirable job of rounding off the sharp edges and trying to rescue the muppet from drowning.

    The great thing about watching movies is, your own assessment is always the right one for you. If you found value in something, though everyone else panned it, whose time was wasted in the watching?

    Everyone's perspective is worth considering. The only purpose served by differences among critics is to sort like-minded listeners into various camps. Nobody's got a handle on the ideal.

    We will, though, be treated to what I feel is a better "alien voyeur" theme in the episode "Wolf 359."

  2. Nice to hear from you in length Peter. You seem like a pretty funny guy. Too bad the ep. wasn't as good and entertaining as your summary. Strange, this show is probably my least favorite so far, while your spotlight is one of the best. So for that, THANK YOU!!!!!!

  3. Absolutely, Peter!

    First class assessment of a third-rate episode. You did a great job! And I'm glad to see there were no hard feelings when you found out your bid on the "Zanti Misfuts" spotlight came bit low.

    When God gives you lemons...

  4. Nice job of summing up this flat and unappealing misfire, Peter. Thank goodness, there's a much better episode just around the corner...

  5. Much appreciated, fellas and a huge thanks to JS and PE for giving me another at bat. Being the youngin' in the group, I was a bit intimidated, but nothing like a stinker to bring out the best in your spotlighting capabilities.

    PE: Or as I like to say: "When God gives you lemons...make lemonade...then add Vodka."

    Thankfully, as Gary mentioned, there's redemption up ahead.

  6. the uncharacteristically upbeat ending

    Upbeat? He bilked the 'Committee' (with the spending power of Congress?) into a trillion-dollar Mars program without divulging the pesky little medical (and psychological?) problems encountered on the Venus romp, to say nothing of the morality of putting future Astronauts in unwitting jeopardy (Tuskegee Airmen, redux).

    Was this a reflection of the anything-to-beat-the-Russians go-go culture of the Cold War era? Or was Ben Brady out sick the semester the taught ethics at his law school?

    Talk about a missed opportunity for dramatic conflict.

    1. Tuskegee Airmen
      Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments

      out sick the semester the taught ethics
      out sick the semester they taught ethics

  7. Enjoyable Spotlight, Peter, and some good laughs. Three Screaming Shats.

  8. Glad you could appreciate the entertaining aspects of the episode, which I also like. (I put my comments on the main episode entry.)

    Cobb County, eh? I lived there from 1987 - 2004. I hear it's even more congested now! Yikes!

    Great to read your entry here, and welcome!

  9. Peter--

    Your enjoyable commentary has lightened the load of my Season 1 withdrawal symptoms; thanks, man...I think we ALL needed that.

    If your spotlight is any indication, I'll be looking forward to reading the WACT commentaries far more than actually sitting through the episodes themselves.

    If we all consider ourselves as one big "self-help" therapy/support group, we may get through this thing with some shred of our dignity intact.


  10. Larry R---

    We can DO this, Larry! Deep breaths, and one episode---one STEP---at a time! There are some oases and pleasant scenery along the way. Stay with us, Larry---don't stop believing---don't let go of the rope---!

    If Blamire can hang with this fellowship and embrace the great quest we pursue, then so can YOU!


  11. Yeah, Larry R., just think, Adam West is right around the corner :>

  12. Peter is so right, Larry R--- Who can argue with BATMAN: THE PRE-GUANO YEARS?

  13. Hell, I almost missed a Spotlight somehow, and glad I came back and read it, cause it was hugely entertaining, Peter. Well done!


  14. Peter--thank you for giving this one ANYTHING at all. I owe it this much -- that Venus puppet creature would have scared the spacesuit off me if I had seen this as a kid. As for the spaceman's wife's sartorial gift to us, I had held no hopes for high altitude hemlines prior to 1969. Will have to dial up HULU for another look. Anyone have a guess if Mr Shatner's spaceship is a 'lander', or the actual ship for the trip? Seems cramped for a LONG journey to Venus, but MEN INTO SPACE apparently sent William Lundigan to Mars in his tiny bus in one episode, a craft similar to types on OL.

  15. Till hockey24hrs' comments I never completely saw the bad side of that ending. Now it reminds me a little of an underrated early ' 70s TV movie called simply "The Astronaut."

    I agree with Peter Farris about the things that are left unexplained being more of a good thing than a bad thing. In a way, this is Outer Limits' answer to Twilight Zone's "And When The Skies Were Opened," which deliberately leaves almost EVERYTHING unexplained.


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