An astronaut returns to Earth after a successful mission to Venus. He is celebrated as a hero as he announces the next steps in Project Vulcan. He will return to space in a new mission to start colonizing Mars. Then the side effects begin.
William Shatner stars as Jeff Barton in “Cold Hands, Warm Heart.” This episode is part of Shatner’s successful streak of leading roles in American anthology series in the late 50s and early 60s. Before he became Captain Kirk on Star Trek, he headlined episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits. He’s an effortless leading man, grounding some fantastical stories in a sense of reality they don’t often deserve.
The side effects Jeff experiences are dizziness and an inability to be warm. When everyone else is sweating from the heat, he’s wearing flannels and sweaters and guzzling down boiling pots of coffee. His wife and doctor realize something is wrong, but he refuses to admit it. He also refuses to answer any questions about the eight minute period when his ship lost contact with Earth.
“Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is melodrama with a sprinkling of sci-fi. There isn’t a lot going on with the space exploration story at all. An astronaut is sick after returning to Earth but wants nothing more than to return to space. This story has been told countless times before on the page, the stage, and the screen with someone prioritizing their job over all other aspects of their life.
Part of the reason for this is the casting. Shatner stars opposite Geraldine Brooks, an acclaimed stage actor who found some success onscreen. They’re both playing with subtext and character dynamics like “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is an innovative new production of a Shakespearean play running in a giant auditorium. They are acting with a capital “a” to bring some sense of meaning to the story. Occasionally, a vision of a random alien, a spaceship launching, or a new side effect emerges. The rest is all marital strife caused by Jeff choosing career over everything else.
The episode does pick up a bit when it finally shows what happened on the expedition. The journey is shown through a mix of matte painting, 3D models, and a small cockpit set we’ve seen on the show before. Everything is reflected off of something else, trapping Jeff in an inescapable world of stars. The galaxy is especially beautiful, with different layers of splatter paint star clusters and lights being moved with depth of field on the camera. Jeff’s dream ends and the physical transformation begins.
“Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is an indicator of how a more sci-fi focused anthology can play out. Episodes reflecting on reality are only as engaging as the otherworldly concept at play. The only concept here is “Venus is hotter than Earth” and it shows.
content warning: medical/hospital footage
The Outer Limits is streaming for free on The Roku Channel.
Up next: S2E03 “Behold, Eck!”