The Twilight Zone Episode 6: Escape Clause

General Information

Director: Mitchell Leisen

Writer: Rod Serling

Cast: Rod Serling, David Wayne, Thomas Gomez, Virginia Christine, Raymond Bailey, Wendell Holmes, Dick Wilson, Joe Flynn, and Nesden Booth

Composer: None (Stock Music)

Air Date: 11/6/1959

Production Code: 173-3603

 

Overview

Lying in bed one evening, hypochondriac Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) is visited by Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez)—a personification of the Devil who offers to grant Bedeker, now willing to sell his soul in exchange for eternal life,the-twilight-zone-escape-clause the immortality that he desires. Before agreeing to Cadwallader’s proposition, Bedeker is presented with an escape clause that, if invoked, will allow him to end his life in a swift, uncomplicated fashion. Initially dismissive of the escape clause, Bedeker decides to exploit his invincibility by seeking a variety of dangerous and destructive thrills, resulting in terrible consequences for both himself and his wife Ethel (Virginia Christine).

Employing an overused fiction trope (i.e. a despicable coward selling his soul to the Devil in human form), “Escape Clause” may elicit groaning from the majority of viewers. This episode should, however, be commended for its profound (if clumsily executed) commentary on the human condition.

 

Pros

The animated mannerisms of Thomas Gomez (known for playing con-man Peter Sykes in the season-two episode entitled “Dust”) provide his interpretation of thethe-twilight-zone-escape-clause Devil, normally depicted as an ominous and malevolent figure, with a comical demeanor while interacting with Bedeker—an aspect that may allow young children to appreciate this episode, which, in spite of its morbid implications, contains a worthwhile message on coming to terms with mortality.

Also terrific is David Wayne’s portrayal of Bedeker, the odious behavior of whom is made humorous by the lackadaisical, if not thoroughly indifferent, manner that he exhibits while committing his crimes (e.g. diving before an oncoming train and collecting insurance money thereafter).

 

Cons

(Spoilers beyond this point)

After receiving a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Bedeker takes advantage of the escape clause in his contract, thereby avoiding an eternity in the-twilight-zone-escape-clauseprison—a predictable, underwhelming outcome to an otherwise clever and thought-provoking episode.

 

Analysis

When freed from pain, illness, and fear of death, Bedeker no longer possesses the willpower to continue existing—a statement on the paradoxical nature of man.

 

Concluding Comments

“Escape Clause” is a cute and humorous episode of The Twilight Zone. Especially worth noting is the central thesis of Rod Serling’s narrative, which benefits from further examination in season one’s “A Nice Place to Visit.”

 

Overall Quality: 7/10

 

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4 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone Episode 6: Escape Clause

  1. I loved that you used the word “odious”; its one of my favorites and it is an accurate observation. Walter is odious, but you are right, I don’t hate him all that much.

    • I did not care for Walter very much in this episode, and I liked the other Walter/ eternal life episode “long live Walter Jamison” much better.
      The Walter in this episode was never a very likable character, even more so towards the end. He was afraid of death, I get that part, that was the point of this episode, but he was just too whiny and irritable the first part of the episode. He could’ve toned down his excitable attitude and repetitiveness a notch and still made his fear of illness and death and his questions about death convincing and heartfelt.
      When he did achieve eternal life and started his quest for thrills by jumping in front of trains and buses, he could’ve been slightly less arrogant and still made his adventures interesting.
      Turning Walter into a heartless killer the last part of the episode was the biggest mistake of this episode. The story set Walter up as a man afraid of death who gets his wish at eternal life. Him becoming a man who kills his wife by pushing her off his 14 story apartment building and then feeling absolutely no remorse did not sit well with me. Him just caring about not getting enough thrills and wanting to try out the electric chair inspite of having murdering his wife was not nessesary to make this story good and interesting.
      I did enjoy the devil Calladawell character though. He carried a good humorous attitude with a deceitful undercurrent with a bargain. I liked his choice of semantics too, like when trying to find the right words when describing the escape clause, saying “You’ll get your, uh demise, and I’ll see to it that you get a quick and uncomplicated..departure”. I liked his big stamp of smoke too when he stamped the signed contract.

      • After thinking about it some more, I do sort of have an understanding on the whole bit of Walter killing his wife and feeling no remorse. When Calladawell granted Walter eternal life, he had to give him his soul. His no longer possessing a soul explains his lack of remorse over pushing his wife off the building, and it even explains his extremely arrogant unfeeling altogether such as with the claims adjusters over his train and bus “accidents”.
        I didn’t think of that point before.
        He still acted too annoying in this episode, definitely near the beginning when he was still scared of illnesses and death. And even so, it’s daunting to watch a man kill his wife and not even care. Even in TZ episode ” What’s in the box”, the William Demesrest character was pretty disturbed but he still showed a real upset regret there when he knocked his wife (Joan Blondell) out the window and killed her.

        • Yeah, I could see how Walter’s lack of a soul might affect his behavior, but Rod Serling should have done a better job of explaining that fact in the actual episode. As you indicated, Walter’s “thrill-seeking” seemed out of place in a story about one man’s extreme fear of illness and death.

          You also make a good point about the William Demarest character from “What’s in the Box” – at least he showed remorse for (accidentally?) pushing his wife out the window, making the whole scenario more tactful overall.