(Edward) Rod(man) Serling Robert Lewis Shayon

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Robert Lewis Shayon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Murder was brilliantly done on the (NBC) Kraft Television Theatre in January and repeated "by popular demand" early in February. The unplanned second performance of an original television drama ["Patterns"] so soon after its first showing is an unusual video event. The notability is doubly compounded when the play pyramids its prestige almost exclusively by word of mouth. Of even sharper interest to this viewer is the fact that the "murder" which climaxes the drama is unwittingly (I hope not deliberately) condoned by the author and producer in subtle yet painful violation of commonly honored and deeply cherished moral principles….

In the years I have been viewing television I do not recall being so engaged by a drama, nor so stimulated to challenge the haunting conclusions of an hour's entertainment.

"Patterns" is the story of murder in the executive echelon of a typical big-business corporation. I call it murder; in the story the victim [Andy] dies suddenly of a heart attack, but the fatality comes stunningly on the heels of an executive conference in which the company's president [Ramsey] plunges an invisible dagger, tipped with the poison of fear, hate, and resentment, into the life-urge of an unwanted member of his high command….

"Patterns" is the kind of a script that strikes a match to production talents. Director, cast, even stagehands suddenly become aware they're touching a piece of uranium in the TV desert. You're inching open a curtain on truth…. Rod Serling's lines are spare, measured out with intensity, precision. (p. 23)

How wonderful that rich, young, bedeviled TV can come up with so meaningful a theme, so honest and revealing a treatment! It can happen here…. Then Fred Staples returns from the hospital where Andy has died (the two men were really fond of each other—no rivalry between them but Ramsey's). Righteously indignant, Staples walks into Ramsey's office to tell him off and to quit—but moments later he walks out—still on the job. How has Ramsey persuaded him? The tyrant has admitted his lack of humanity, but he has waved aloft the banner of impersonal achievement. "It is no one's business! It belongs only to the best! To those who can control it. Keep it growing, producing—keep it alive! It belongs to us right now! In the future, to whoever can give it more … I don't ask to be liked—fight me, take over if you can. And watch the business grow …"

Young Staples then stands revealed in his true hollowness…. He had admitted wanting the job, had left it to Andy to take the lead in the showdown. His big ethical explosion is a naked rationalization. He is Ramsey's man. They are all Ramsey's—Staples's wife, the other executives who conform—even Ramsey himself, who hasn't the courage to fire Andy but must kill him by cowardly indirection. All except Marge, Andy's secretary, who takes her potted plant and quits when she gets the news from the hospital.

I repeat. The author and producer may not have wanted to imply a favorable judgment on the play's ending; but that's how the final armed truce between Ramsey and Staples comes out. Poor old Andy is dead and swept under the carpet. Ahead lie fulfilment and peak achievement for the living—on terms of competitive struggle alone. Rising sales curve is God and Ramsey is his prophet. Inefficiency is heresy and crime is compassion. It is a fine thing to have struck so firm and brilliant a note as "Patterns." It is shocking to think that the moral climate of our time is so committed or befogged that a drama of such seriousness and merit should fail to penetrate into the utter issue raised by the situation and to stand up and be counted on the side of decency. (pp. 23-4)

Robert Lewis Shayon, "The Efficient Murderer," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 9, February 26, 1955, pp. 23-4.