S01E16 – The Fever
“Tight fisted Franklin Gibbs is not pleased when his wife Flora wins a trip for two to Las Vegas. Franklin detests gambling, but his wife is excited about their vacation. Things change when Frank falls under the spell of a slot machine that calls his name.”
There’s an oft repeated adage that if ones scratches an atheist, they’ll find a fundamentalist. It’s some folk’s shorthand way of saying that many skeptics are just as rigid and dogmatic in their non-belief as the most fervent of fundamentalists are in their faith. Really, though, you could substitute just about any quasi-religious viewpoint into the formula with the same results. Scratch a vegan, scratch a social justice warrior, scratch a policy wonk… you get the idea. But have you ever wondered what happens if you flip the functions? What happens if you scratch a fundamentalist?
Apparently you get Frank Gibbs, at least if The Fever is any indication. Frank rolls into Vegas wearing an expression like William Bell Riley strolling through the evolution section at a library. You think the guy would at least appreciate all the free food and entertainment that comes with his wife’s prize. I mean, for crying out loud, the Rat Pack was headlining the “Summit at the Sands” the year The Fever aired, so you know the shows had to be good. But no, Frank has an aversion to gambling that makes the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution on the subject seem tame by comparison, so there’s no way he can enjoy even a single second on the Strip. That is, until that demonic slot machine scratches an itch Frank didn’t even know he had.
And one scratch is all it seems to take to turn Frank from a hardliner to a high roller. Once that first coin drops in the slot, it’s all over. It isn’t long before Frank actually hears the machine talking to him. Actually, the talking one-armed bandit that menaces Frank is kind of silly when you get down to it, but Robert Florey’s stalwart directing and Everett Sloane’s performance as the haunted gambler manage to sell the whole scenario. It also helps that there’s a nugget of truth in the tale. As Rod Serling relates it, after CBS picked up The Twilight Zone as a series, he decided to celebrate the deal in Vegas. Unfortunately, he became obsessed with winning the jackpot from one particular slots, and spent most of his weekend pumping coins into the uncooperative machine. Like any good author, Serling immediately seized upon the episode as fodder for a story about the potential dangers of gambling.
Unlike some of the protestant denominations, the Catholic Church has always taught that “games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice.” However, “they become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” But as long as that’s not the case, and as long as the person participates freely, the earnings aren’t used for illicit means, and the games aren’t rigged, dropping a few bucks on gambling has always been held to be morally neutral. Well, as long as you know when to stop, that is. You see, the Catechism also warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.” Once you surrender conscience to any activity, then you’re knee-deep in sin. And the last time I checked, the wages of sin were still death. Poor Frank learns that the hard way, right on the street in front of the casino. Some itches, it seems, are best left unscratched.
Twilight Tidbits: At the time of filming, slot machines were illegal in California. The show was able to obtain impounded slots from the police for the shoot, but only under the condition that officers were on hand at all times to ensure no one absconded with any of the devices.