Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Rod Serling's Night Gallery: "Tell David"

In “Tell David...,” woman prone to jealousy, Ann Bolt (Sandra Dee) is caught in a terrible storm, and stops at the first house she can find in the deluge.  

There, she finds a loving young couple, David Blessington (Jared Martin) and Pat (Jenny Sullivan), but is baffled by the advanced equipment in their house, including a video phone, and closed-circuit TV monitors.

When David tells Ann about his troubled youth, Ann realizes she has somehow ended up twenty-years in the future and that the grown man is actually her own son.  David tells her about the mistakes she is destined to make -- caused by jealousy -- and begs her not to make them a second time.

“Tell David...” is a promising Night Gallery story that ultimately fails to achieve its potential. Rod Serling’s opening narration suggests that the story is about “jealousy” but that suggestion is ultimately off-point.  

Given the fact that Ann’s husband, Tony (also Jared Martin) is cheating on her with the family maid, all the discussion by Serling and by David about the “old green-eyed monster” is misplaced. 

Ann’s suspicions are actually right on the money.  Her problem is not jealousy, but rather poor impulse-control and defeatism.  

To wit, Ann knows that she is destined to shoot and murder her husband, because David has warned her that she will. 

No matter what, then, she should not take that particular course. Instead, Ann should tell her husband she wants a divorce, take David out of the house, and leave immediately.

But Ann doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, she surrenders to a future that has not yet been written, but which she has the capacity to re-write.  She mindlessly lets fate take the course that she assumes is pre-determined, and commits murder. 

Then, we must assume, she follows through with the timeline David diagrammed, and commits suicide in prison, before going to trial.

Again, none of this is really about jealousy at all.  Accordingly, the episode’s whole tenor is off.  Sandra Dee’s character, Ann, has been manipulated grievously by her husband, and then her son blames her for that manipulation…accusing her of being jealous and claiming that said jealousy destroyed his childhood.

Talk about blaming the victim!  Didn’t his Dad’s lies and infidelity play a part in scuttling his childhood too?  

Why does Mom get all the blame?

The most intriguing aspect of Night Gallery’s “Tell David...,” perhaps, is its imagination regarding the future.  In the world depicted here -- of far-flung 1989 -- home security systems consist of CCTV.  And of course, if you watch British TV like Torchwood, Primeval and Doctor Who, you know that CCTV is now ubiquitous in the UK, if not in America. So that prediction seems spot-on. 

Secondly, “Tell David” imagines video phones in common usage, which we don’t have, and electronic music…which does exist, though not exactly like the weird, atonal tunes featured here.

Other than these interesting touches, however, “Tell David..” is pretty seriously wrong-headed.  It also fails the test of believability.  David and Tony are dead-ringers, and so it makes no sense whatsoever that Ann fails to recognize David as being related to him. Especially since her son’s name is David. It’s contrived that she can’t put two and two together sooner

So, “Tell David..?” 

Well, someone should “Tell David...” that his father is a cheating asshole, and that he is the one, ultimately, to blame, for David’s piss-poor childhood.  

Mom may be impulsive and self-loathing, but she’s not the cause of all his pain.  “Tell David...” shouldn’t suggest otherwise.

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