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The Twilight Zone Episode #6 – “Escape Clause” (airdate 11/06/59)
The Plot: A man convinced he’s sick makes a deal with a pitchfork-less Devil for eternal life (with one important caveat).
The Goods: There are some interesting ideas at work here embedded in a story that’s as old as first degree murder. Deals with the devil always come with a twist, and this one isn’t anything special, but the episode itself is a mess of Serling attempting comedy. The result is a cartoon of flat characters that takes too long to get to the chase (10 minutes of a 25-minute-long episode) and can’t spend enough time on the truly fascinating questions about living forever.
David Wayne plays Walter Bedeker with such acerbic disdain that he seems like an adult version of Stan from South Park after his 10th birthday. He hates everything – his wife, his room, his life, his potato pancakes. He’s a misanthrope of the worst kind which makes him unbearable to listen to. It would be an acting triumph if the character had anywhere to go. Luckily he has further to go than Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez) who uses that name because “Lucifer The Morningstar” doesn’t seem cordial after appearing from nowhere in a stranger’s bedroom. Gomez makes the part so huge that it’s surprising to see him never twirl his mustache.
Bedeker, thermometer planted firmly in cheek makes for an interesting character with no motivation, though. He’s a nihilist for the most part – obsessed with death and avoiding it, obsessed with “winning” some imaginary contest of life in his head, and obsessed with life despite not understanding it. He makes a long-winded deal with the devil to be indestructible with the added bonus of being able to call upon an Escape Clause if he ever wants to die. The price? His soul. Of course.
His plan to defraud the subway corporations and bus companies of the world by having accidents and settling out of court is a fascinating one, but the money never matters. He eventually tries to jump off his building, but when his wife intervenes, she falls to her death. Thinking he can beat the electric chair, he offers to the police that he killed her (in the only truly funny moment of black comedy in the whole thing). Sadly, the twist of it all lands like a feather instead of a bomb. Instead of letting the fate hang in the air like most episodes, when Bedeker finds himself in jail for life (instead of getting the chair) he opts for the Escape Clause and we see the results. That’s it. The episode just sort of ends.
The Trivia: There a few interesting facts about the actors involved in this episode, but the most interesting thing to note is that (unlike most episodes) the twist here has nothing to do with what happens. The contact and the diabolical Escape Clause aren’t factors at all. Thus, if you’re someone who doesn’t want to die, the devil is totally willing to make you a deal, and all you really have to do is avoid telling the police you killed your wife. The lesson of this tale, of course, is to get eternal life and to avoid being a complete idiot.
On the Next Episode: A man in a different kind of jail (all the way across the universe) gets a female robot companion from his captors.
Catch-Up: Episodes 1–5
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch Film will be entering the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.