Tales of Tomorrow – The Bitter Storm (12/26/52)

Professor Leland Russell is getting frustrated.  He is working on his new invention which is giving him static.  And, he lives with his sister Madeleine; who is also giving him static.  Leland took in Madeleine and his niece Pat after his brother-in-law died.  Pat is now married to Steve, but Madeleine still lives with Leland.

Leland bitterly toils away in this remote house to escape from the kinds of people who stole his ideas and profited from them.  Meanwhile, he lives in a cabin on an island he owns, which, frankly sounds pretty sweet to me.  Pat and Steve show up, having braved a hurricane.  Steve hangs up their coats, but they fall to the floor as he turns away.  This is not listed as a Goof on IMDb probably because I’m the only one dopey enough to watch this since 1952. [1]

When Leland steps off-camera to chew out his agent for getting him this gig, Steve turns on the device to see what it does.  OH MY GOD, IT’S A BOMB!  Oh, wait, it’s a radio which picks up conversations that took place earlier.  Leland returns and is furious at their snooping, and the reveal that he voted for Wendell Willkie.

Leland explains, “This is a machine that picks up and recaptures the sounds of the past.”  He demonstrates by turning on the machine again.  It picks up the ear-piercing sound of an opera.  Madeleine recognizes the singer as [unintelligible] who retired years ago.  Cynics might say it was just picking up a radio station.  But this was pre-PBS and no profit-seeking station in America would have broadcast this caterwauling.

He turns a few knobs and picks up Roosevelt’s “All we have to fear is fear itself” speech.  I get that they wanted to use a familiar speech and speaker, but they undermine the device’s power by using something that was so widely broadcast and replayed so often.  It would have been better to use something that everyone knew about, but was not recorded or broadcast.  Like when Thomas Jefferson said, “Hey, Hamilton, leave room for everyone else!”  Or when John Wilkes Booth said, “[BANG] Sic Semper Tyrannis . . . Ow, my f****ing knee!  Well, I’m done now.  They’d have to be complete idiots not to capture me before I even get off the stage.”

Leland starts getting static again.  The dial starts swinging wildly . . . back past the middle ages.  Madeleine begins to hear something through the interference.  She steps back in horror and shrieks, or maybe it is the opera fading back in.  She faints for approximately the length of a commercial break.  When she awakens, she says they were the most glorious sounds she ever heard. She heard and understood, and snottily tells Leland he should be asking himself why he didn’t understand.

Steve leaves to see if he can get the boat ready to take them back to the mainland.  Pat tries to get an explanation, but Madeleine says, “It is a message no one can escape, if they will only listen.”  She asks Pat to read the bible to her.  She opens it randomly to the “blessed are the peacemakers” chapter and reads aloud.  Madeleine asks Pat if she remembers any of the Aramaic that her father taught her.  She remembers only, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Steve returns and says they can escape by boat, Leland is touched that he risked his life to save them.  Leland doesn’t want to abandon his invention, though.  Like all sci-fi break-throughs, he has no plans, no back-ups, no prototypes, and it can never be duplicated.  He turns the device on again and is amazed that he can now hear through the interference.  He is overcome as he realizes that he is listening to the crowd sounds at the crucifixion.  Leland stares into the camera and describes the scene.  It would make sense if he were quoting the voices being transmitted, but the writer opted to have him quote the bible.  At length . . . this guy knows his bible.

Hey professor, was you born in a manger? Shut the freakin’ door !

The storm gets so bad, they decide to flee the island.  Leland is a changed man.  He says, “Those sounds meant nothing to me until I had faith in people.”  He takes a last look at the machine that provided his salvation, this priceless device that could lead the world to peace and love.  Then he walks out into the hurricane and doesn’t close the door.  The end.

I kind of like what they were going for even if the botched it in a few places.  Using the “fear itself” speech was the first mis-step.  It was also a mistake to have Pat remember a few words of Aramaic (and have her late father apparently be fluent).  This opens up the possibility that Madeleine understood the transmission because she picked up some of the lingo from her father.  That certainly was not the intent, so why muddy the narrative?

Madeleine was the first to understand because she was already woke enlightened to the goodness of people.  Leland began to understand when he witnessed Steve’s selfless act to help every one.  Maybe Steve was too busy saving the group to pay much attention to the transmission, but why didn’t Pat understand what was being said?  Is she an asshole?

I was suckered in because I didn’t realize this was a Christmas episode.  Normally I skip them because they are so sappy and mawkish.  This was OK, though.  Wait, I understand now!  I see the error of my ways!  My heart is no longer hard!  I’m going to go back and watch that Christmas episode of Night Gallery . . . naaaaah.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] At least 3 other people have seen it based on the Comments at IMDb.
  • Actually this is more a tale of yesterday than a titular tale of tomorrow — it aired the day after Christmas.
  • The first IMDb credit for Joanne Woodward.  Her husband Paul Newman had his 2nd IMDb credit on another ToT episode.

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