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Thursday, November 16, 2006

3.09 --- The Call

Directed by : Gilbert Shilton
Written by : J. Michael Straczynski
Starring : William Sanderson, Julie Khaner, Dan Redican
First aired : 19th of November, 1988.

Norman Blane (William Sanderson, Blade Runner, Fletch) is a timid desk clerk, living a solitary life in a small apartment. One night, he falls asleep while watching TV, and awakens just in time to hear an ad for a classical music compilation. Being a keen fan of those tunes, Norman writes down the number as heard on the commercial and immediately dials it. However, he seems to have dialed a wrong number - his call is answered by a female voice (Julie Khaner, see Hellgramite Method) who is obviously not the person he's looking for.

Or is it, then ? The woman on the other side - Mary-Ann being her name - seems to be as lonely as Norman, and the two casually engage into some small talk. Next day at work, Norman is unusually loquacious, a fact which slightly ticks his silence-loving colleague (comedian Dan Redican) off. He tells Norman that he should ask her out on a date, and get over with it.

After a three-and-a-half hour phone session which ensues next night, Norman gathers the courage and asks her out. Surprisingly, she refuses, saying that all she wants is "phone friendship". Norman is shattered, but there is a glimmer of hope - his co-worker (quite a man that fellow) suggests him to check out her number at the phone company, and grab an address that way.

Turns out, the calls are coming from the local art gallery. Browsing around, Norman finds nobody named Mary-Ann, so he secretly dials the phone number from inside the gallery and then follows the ringtone to its source. Eventually, he finds a remote phone somewhere far from entrance, in the room which, amongst few exhibits, contains a life-sized sculpture of a young woman. As he gazes into the statue, a passerby informs him it was the last work - a self-portrait - of a young artist who commited suicide. Her name ? Mary-Ann Lindeby.

Norman can't quite believe what's going on. Next evening, he dials Mary-Ann, who tells him she saw him visiting. He loses it and slams the receiver, refusing to come to terms with the obvious. Seconds later, he phones her again, only to hear she can't do this anymore and bid him farewell.

Norman is not giving up easily, though. He again visits the gallery, and delivers a heartfelt speech to Mary-Ann's sculpture, a gesture which, amazingly enough, draws tears from the lifeless bronze face. Norman returns home, and this time, it's his phone which rings - it's Mary-Ann, who is also in love, asking him to come to her. He obliges, realizing this is his "now or never".

In the gallery, Norman approaches the bronze Mary-Ann, who now openly talks to him. They profess love to each other, and vow to stay forever together. He touches her hand, and transforms into a bronze statue himself, bound to his lover for eternity.

***

Escapism, be it existential or romantic, is an concept often found within the Zone, both young and old. J. Michael Straczynski treads familiar ground with The Call (season 2's Song of the Younger World is the most recent example, while classic episode Miniature seems to be a direct ancestor), but the episode rises itselfs above the average thanks to several factors.

The Call might be Straczynski's best script so far. A TZ fan to the core, he meticulously implemented those influences in his writing, pacing the episode just right and striking the fine line between just outlandish and too corny. If you do wind up believing in a love story between a consummate loser and a bronze statue, the writer did his job.

Straczynski couldn't do it all on his own though. William Sanderson, oh so memorable as the handyman-cum-replicant aide in Ridley Scott's cult sci-fi epic Blade Runner, gives an excellent performance as the low-key desk clerk with no life or prospects of it. Everything fits here, from his confused face, his speech pattern which echoes his lack of social contact, to his declaration of love to the late Mary-Ann, voiced by Julie Khaner. Sanderson's turn is complemented by Dan Redican, who is delightfully smug and condescending as Norman's colleague.

Overall, a touching little episode, and two-for-two for director Gilbert Shilton, who also, just like Khaner, previously worked on Hellgramite Method.

Comments on "3.09 --- The Call"

 

Blogger Matthew Maloney said ... (3:54 PM) : 

I have to say that this was quite a touching episode. The ending was perfect. Great acting by the lead. My only quibble was the work colleague giving the story a comedic feel at times that wasn't warranted. Really good stuff though overall.

 

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