Rod Serling’s Night Gallery was an underappreciated series that saw a ridiculous amount of talent and featured some amazing stories. Steven Spielberg got his directorial debut, and the Queen of Mean Joan Crawford starred in an episode. It was not the first time Crawford dipped her toe in the genre pond. She and Bette Davis made Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? one of the most chilling psychological thrillers to this day. However, Serling was often frustrated with the final episodes, a few stand above the rest. Even though strange comedy skits shared space alongside creepy stories adapted from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, there was a cohesion to the painting used to introduce the story and the types of terrifying questions being asked.
Night Gallery ran from 1969-1973 and had 43 episodes focused on the horrors of the supernatural. Serling’s other little show, The Twilight Zone, sat squarely in the science fiction arena, but NIght Gallery set its sights on fantasy horror with mixed results. The majority of the episodes were well received, with a few clunkers. Easily one of the most enduring segments is Brenda. Most of the episodes played with the morality of humans and their often flawed decision-making process, but Brenda takes this focus to a new level. A sociopathic child is every parent’s nightmare. Instead of just asking what our purpose is, Brenda asks us to explore our impact on the world through our offspring.
Serling had an adept ability to hone in on the existential dread in everyday life. What is life about? How did we get here? Why are we here? Similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming Old, the most important life questions are asked. Brenda is a chilling look at a “Bad Seed” and a monster in the making but with a twist. The creature in Brenda isn’t the monster; Brenda is.
What happens in Night Gallery’s Brenda?
Brenda, played convincingly by Laurie Prange, is a young girl who lives on an isolated island with her parents, servants, and permanent island residents. She is very lonely and has trouble making friends. In large part, this is due to the sadistic streak that runs wild through her. Instead of engaging peers in play or conversation, she knocks down sandcastles and throws taunts. Making matters worse, she does it all with cold indifference. When a strange moss creature washes up on shore, Brenda lures it into a trap. For a time, she torments the creature, but then she begins to wonder about its existence.
A dream-like segment speaks volumes about who Brenda is and what she wants in the world. She offers the creature a hand up and leaves the door to her house open. That night the creature enters the house, and Brenda’s parents and other residents drive the creature out with torches and flashlights. They force the creature back into the pit and cover him with stones. The following summer, when Brenda returns to the island, she finds the pile of stones in the pit undisturbed.
What is Brenda really about?
Brenda’s story could be viewed in two ways. The first is Brenda is a psychopath, and the creature is the manifestation of her monstrous psyche. When Brenda returns to the island later, her speech to the creature could be viewed differently. She tells the creature they will be born together. She also says, “I’ll give you love.” This emotionally stunted girl may have never been shown compassion, love, or kindness. As a result, she doesn’t know how to behave.
Her parents are to blame for the growing monster they have created. Her true nature will give rise to the creature again, and this time they will destroy her parents together. This is a decidedly more horrorific interpretation of the story. It doesn’t matter if the creature exists or not; Brenda thinks it does. The mentally unstable child will go on a rampage and kill her parents and anyone else in her way. In this viewing, Brenda’s parents are as monstrous as Brenda and the moss creature. Their neglect and indifference are as much to blame as Brenda for anything that happens in the future.
The second is Brenda is a very lonely little girl who is coming of age with no one to guide her. The moss creature is the symbol of her burgeoning adolescence. By keeping her isolated, her parents are burying Brenda’s authentic self, just like they buried the creature in stone and left him in the pit. In this interpretation, Brenda is a sad child desperate for attention and love. She is growing up, and her parents don’t want to acknowledge her maturity.
When she returns to the island later, she is noticeably older, and her parents can no longer deny the changes. The creature who Brenda speaks to so lovingly in the pit at the end represents her independence and growth. She is becoming a woman, and the creature lives waiting to be reborn. That is why a single tear can be seen running down the rocks near the moss tendrils, which now cover the stones covering the creature. Brenda and her creature will be reunited eventually.
Night Gallery’s Brenda is one of the best examples of the dread-filled ambiguity the anthology series was known for. Although Brenda leaves the viewer with zero answers the segment is one of the most often debated stories. Who is the creature and how did it get on the island? Who is responsible for what Brenda may become? Whether Brenda is a monster herself or a neglected little girl, most of the horrendous behavior is directed towards her. The segment shines a harsh light on bad parenting and irresponsible choices. It forces us to ask, who really is the monster?
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.