What Is Going On Here? (or, The Strangest Donna Reed Episode Ever!); (or, McCarthyism Comes To Hilldale!)
First the recap (including a spoiler): Jeff is part of a group of three guys, one of whom has somehow rigged the school's bells to ring at the wrong time and thereby utterly disrupt the school. (Why Jeff is part of such a prank is the first bizarre aspect of this story.) The vice principal sees Jeff check his watch just before the bell goes off and assumes that he must know who is responsible. When Jeff fails to spill his guts he is suspended. Jeff then spends the next couple of days deciding what to do. He pretends to go to school as usual (for some reason the school doesn't notify his parents) but spends the day alone at the lake contemplating his actions. A family friend tells Alex about this, but instead of confronting Jeff, he decides to wait and let Jeff come to them when he's ready. This is truly odd behavior by his parents, completely out of character for them. As best as I can remember, (I was so flummoxed while watching this story I have trouble remembering the end) there is no real resolution to it. Jeff apparently never rats, his suspension isn't lifted, and he never explains to his parents what happened. All in all, a really strange episode.
Now the good part (my analysis): While the episode begins in a rather straight forward fashion (Jeff is part of a plot to sabotage the school's alarm bells so that they ring at odd times and therefore disrupt classes), it quickly veers off into some kind of bizarro world. For one thing, Donna and Alex are not notified by the school that Jeff is suspended. This may have been necessary for the sake of the plot since Alex and Donna spend most of the episode wondering what is bothering Jeff and why he is being seen at odd places like the local lake instead of where he really should be be, namely school. And of course instead of asking him they patiently wait for him to come to them. Is this how 1950s parents raised kids? (Where's June Cleaver when you really need her??) The other bizarre aspect to this episode is that Jeff and his friends actually committed a crime (breaking and entering and vandalizing school property come to mind) and NO ONE acts like this is a big deal. Had this happened in real life the police would have gotten involved. The point is is that Jeff's "prank" was something the show's writer's shouldn't have gotten into and picked something more benign. As it is, we have Jeff doing something patently illegal, with the school only suspending him, Donna and Alex acting like befuddled nitwits, and poor Jeff trying to figure out what to do.
Jeff's actions are the second issue here. Just what on Earth were these people thinking? Jeff's problem is a common enough thing - does he rat on his friends or does he do the right thing and tell what he knows. This particular dilemma is not a good one to use, since as I noted earlier Jeff and friends are guilty of an obviously criminal act, and not something more benign, like loosening the tops of the salt shakers in the cafeteria or something like that.
I couldn't help but think of Hollywood's counter-reaction to the McCarthy-inspired blacklisting that began in earnest in 1960. By the time this show was on, Hollywood was in full reverse mode trying to undo all the terrible things they had supposedly done during the '50s blacklist era. (I've also notice that at least one writer on the Donna Reed Show was a formerly blacklisted writer.) One can easily see poor Jeff symbolizing the plight of the Hollywood Ten, valiantly refusing to do the right thing and choosing instead to remain loyal to his friends. I personally have never understood this mentality as it is everyone's duty to tell what they know, even if it means implication friends or family.
That's why I find this episode of an otherwise excellent series (yes it's dated and yes the subject matter of it's stories is often trite) to be very odd. The way people behave in this episode is out of character and I can't help wondering if there is some agenda at work here. (Although I should also mention that in another episode Donna is shown reading a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, something that I find VERY interesting.) If you haven't seen this one for yourself (or haven't seen in a long time) watch it and see if you don't agree with me that it's the strangest Donna Reed episode ever...
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