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
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 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.
The animated mannerisms of Thomas Gomez (known for playing con-man Peter Sykes in the season-two episode entitled “Dust”) provide his interpretation of the 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).
(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 prison—a predictable, underwhelming outcome to an otherwise clever and thought-provoking episode.
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.
“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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