Director: David Orrick McDearmon
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Albert Salmi, Russell Johnson, Than Wyenn, George Mitchell, Jon Lormer, Fay Roope, and Richard Karlan
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 4/1/1960
Production Code: 173-3628
While awaiting execution via hanging, murderous cowboy Joe Caswell (Albert Salmi) is teleported eighty years into the future by the experiments of Professor Manion (Russell Johnson). Though initially pleased with his remarkable turn of fate, Caswell soon discovers that 20th century society can be just as savage, if not more so, than that of the Old West.
A classic fish-out-of-water scenario, “Execution” offers a haunting study on the paradoxical nature of progress (i.e. the fact that technology tends to advance more rapidly than human development). That being said, an excessively violent approach to storytelling may offend science fiction fans of a sensitive inclination.
Fantastic though his circumstances may be, Caswell embodies a combination of ignorance, brutality, and confusion that would be expected of an 18th century criminal plunged into a reality beyond his comprehension—an aspect that accentuates the realism of an otherwise extraordinary situation. Especially worth mentioning are any scenes wherein Caswell—now in a state of shock after killing the man responsible for his temporal misadventures—must navigate the streets of a modern city with only his raw, primitive instincts to guide him, thereby evoking pity for a decidedly crude and barbaric individual.
By conducting himself in a foolish manner (i.e. confronting a hot-tempered sociopath while unarmed), the professor—coincidentally portrayed by Russell Johnson of Gilligan’s Island fame—fails to demonstrate the intelligence of a man who builds and successfully operates a time machine.
As evidenced by Caswell’s mental breakdown and subsequent rampage, “Execution” appears to suggest that civilization is now even more unnatural than in centuries past. Note that in the opening sequence, Caswell maintains a calm, rational manner despite the imminence of his execution; however, upon traveling to then present-day America, Salmi’s character remains unable to quell his homicidal tendencies—an ironic statement on a flawed society and its harrowing effect on the human spirit.
Narrative shortcuts notwithstanding, “Execution” is a disturbing and philosophically profound episode of The Twilight Zone. Serling enthusiasts may therefore wish to view this episode, which exemplifies all the misanthropic sentiments for which the late teleplay writer is known.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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