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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S1E24: "Long Live Walter Jameson"
aka: The Twilight Zone S 1 E 24 Long Live Walter Jameson

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Rod Serling: "You're looking at Act 1, Scene 1 of a nightmare. One not restricted to witching hours or dark, windswept nights. Professor Walter Jameson, popular beyond words, who talks of the past as if it were the present, who conjures up the dead as if they were alive. In the view of this man, Professor Samuel Kittridge, Walter Jameson has access to knowledge that couldn't come out of a volume of history, but rather from a book on black magic, which is to say that this nightmare begins at noon.

Air date: March 18, 1960

Walter Jameson (Kevin McCarthy) is a well-spoken college history professor who is engaged to his colleague Sam Kittridge's beautiful daughter Susanna, and has also been gifted with an eternally youthful face. A little too youthful for Sam's liking, as Walter seemingly hasn't aged a day in the twelve years that they've known each other. During one of his lectures, Walter reads from the diary of Major Hugh Skelton, who served in the Civil War and participated in the burning of Atlanta.

He invites Walter over for dinner one evening. After sending Susanna away to study, Sam asks Walter how old he is, to which he answers 44. Sam points out he'd said he was 39 around 1947, which would make him 51. Walter asks if that makes him too old for Susanna, but Sam counters that he had all his hair and teeth in 1947, though twelve years have turned him into an old man while Walter looks the same as ever. Sam then pulls out a photo album with Civil War-era photographs taken by Matthew Brady. In the photo is Hugh Skelton, who looks exactly like Walter, complete with the same ring and same mole on the side of his face.

Walter confesses that it's indeed him in the picture. Sam asks him how old he really is, to which Walter responds that he's old enough to have known Plato personally, making him over two thousand. Sam pleads with Walter to tell him the secret to eternal life, but Walter says he can't, since he doesn't know it himself. He recounts his early life, where he was afraid of death and wanted to learn more than a man could in his short time on Earth. He talked to priests and philosophers, and eventually met an alchemist that promised to fulfill his wish for a price. He paid the man all his money and submitted to his experiments, then woke up alone many weeks later. He thought he'd been conned, but then saw people aging and dying around him while he remained young.

When he asks Sam if he'd want to be immortal, Sam admits he's afraid of death and would rather live forever, but Walter calls him a fool and admits he wants to die, but he's a coward who has never been close enough to death to finally do so. Sam thanks him for providing some enlightenment on eternal life, that an immortal man doesn't necessarily grow wiser, just keeps on living. When Sam asks if he's been married several times, Walter admits he has indeed, and realizes Sam is asking about Susanna. Walter tried to resign after he saw Susanna was falling in love with him, but after Sam convinced him to stay, he fell for her as well. Sam objects and says he can't let Walter marry her. Just at that moment, Susanna walks in and Walter asks her to elope with him that night. Sam threatens to tell her the truth, but Walter says nobody will believe him.

Later, as Walter returns home to prepare for their departure, an old woman is there waiting for him, one who had been secretly stalking him during his earlier trip to the Kittridge residence. She calls him "Tom Bowen" and reveals herself as Laurette, one of his previous wives. She'd heard about his engagement and had to confirm it in person, finding that he hasn't aged a day. She decides she can't let him marry Susanna and then break her heart the same way he did to her many years earlier. As such, she takes the gun from Walter's desk and shoots him.

After hearing the shot, Sam arrives at Walter's house, where he finds Walter sitting in the darkness. Sam offers to get him help, but Walter says it doesn't matter. As Sam turns on the light and reaches for a phone to call a doctor, Walter has begun rapidly aging. He utters "nothing lasts forever" before collapsing on the floor. As Susanna arrives and calls for them, Sam shuts off the lights and closes the doors before urging her to go home. She barges in and the two find Walter's clothes covered in dust. Sam leads her out and closes the door, knowing what's happened.

Long Live Walter Tropeson:

  • An Aesop: Sam invokes this when he thanks Walter for essentially teaching him that living forever isn't all it's cracked up to be.
  • The Ageless: Walter can't age, but he can still die from trauma, which he does after being shot.
  • Alchemy Is Magic: Walter became immortal after submitting to the experiments of an alchemist 2,000 years earlier.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • September 11, 1864 was a Sunday, not a Tuesday.
    • The September fire written of by "Hugh Skelton" was actually set by order of John Bell Hood, commanding general of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, in order to destroy all military assets which could be of use to the Union Army prior to his force's evacuation of the city. Sherman's fire was set in the early morning hours of 15 November 1864, prior to his army setting off on its famous March to the Sea.
  • Been There, Shaped History: As Hugh Skelton, Walter took part in the Civil War, including the Atlanta burning.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Walter is shot dead and turned to dust, and Susanna has lost her fiancé. But at least someday, she'll find someone special to marry and grow old with, and won't suffer the same fate as Laurette or any of Walter's previous wives. note  As for Walter, he has finally gotten his wish to rest after 2,000 years.
  • Born Lucky: Walter, though from his perspective it's being Born Unlucky.
    Sam: You mean to say you've survived over two thousand years without an accident, without being wounded?
    Walter: Some people are lucky that way. They go through life without ever breaking a bone or seeing the inside of a hospital.
  • Call-Back: When Sam and Walter are playing chess, Sam compares their hands and how much his have wrinkled in twelve years, whereas Walter's have stayed the same. Later, when he tries to call a doctor after Walter's been shot, Walter grabs the phone from him and Sam notices his hand is now wrinkled.
  • Cassandra Truth: After Walter asks Susanna to elope with him, Sam threatens to tell her the truth, but Walter states that neither she nor anyone else will believe him. He even adds "you won't even believe it yourself tomorrow morning."
  • Death Seeker: Walter wants to die, and has been close several times, but never close enough. He admits that he has a pistol in his desk and takes it out every night, but he just doesn't have the strength to pull the trigger. Thankfully, Laurette does it for him.
  • Dirty Coward: Walter considers himself one, still as scared of death as he was two millennia earlier.
  • Driven to Suicide: Walter wishes he were, taking a pistol out of his desk every night and praying for the courage to pull the trigger, but he never can.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: Sam and Susanna find that this is all that's left of Walter, his body having been reduced to dust.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Most of the episode is Walter explaining the truth about his immortality.
  • Face Death with Dignity: After being shot, Walter simply waits for his wounds to kill him, not trying to save himself and showing no fear at his impending demise.
  • Gaslighting: When Laurette, one of Walter's previous wives, shows up and starts to call him "Tommy" (one of his previous identities), he tries to convince her that she's mistaken, insisting he is "Walter Jameson," and painting her as suffering from Alzheimer's.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Reconstructed. While Laurette threatening to kill Walter for having left her years ago may border on possessive, she's right that Walter can't go around marrying a new wife every generation and not expect them to feel hurt when he leaves them. He's guilty of abandonment, adultery, and bigamy. What's more, her killing him finally grants his wish to die.
  • I Have Many Names: Our titular character has gone by Hugh Skelton, Tom Bowen, and Walter Jameson, along with countless other names across two millennia. It's likely he doesn't even remember what his original name was.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Averted, as Walter looks to have stopped aging in his forties. He also discusses the subject with Sam a bit.
    Walter: I tell you that somehow I can stop you from aging, where do you want to stop? At 30? Then you watch everyone around you grow old. At 70? Do you wanna live forever the way that you are now? Old, sick?
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Walter and Sam, though it turns out Walter is the older of the two.
  • Lightswitch Surprise: Walter Jameson believes he is alone in his room. The only light comes from a desk lamp. When he hears a voice say "Hello, Tommy", he turns the desk lamp to face the speaker. It turns out to be his former wife Laurette, sitting in a chair.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: Walter realizes it's wrong of him to marry Susanna, and even tried to dissuade her on several occasions, but after he started falling for her himself, he decided none of it mattered.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship: Walter has made friends with Sam (and hundreds of other people offscreen) but his immortality means he outlives everyone he knows — until his wife undoes it.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Walter is engaged to Sam's daughter Susanna, and has been married several times. Sam questions how long he's been with his wives, which Walter is loathe to discuss.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Walter tried to resign six months earlier when he knew Susanna was falling for him, but Sam talked him into staying, resulting in this entire situation and Walter's eventual death.
  • No Immortal Inertia: After being shot, Walter ages rapidly until his body turns to dust.
  • Rapid Aging: The titlular character has lived thousands of years due to an alchemical experiment. When he's mortally wounded, the effect wears off. He is subject to accelerated aging and ends up being Reduced to Dust.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Walter is more than 2,000 years old, even having known Plato personally.
  • Riddle for the Ages: How Walter came to be immortal is a mystery even he doesn't know the answer to. All he knows is that he simply doesn't age.
  • Reduced to Dust: After being fatally shot by Laurette, Walter rapidly ages as he dies, eventually leaving his empty clothing surrounded by dust.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Walter certainly doesn't, but he's too afraid to kill himself either. By the end, he gets his wish to finally die.
  • You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You: Walter says this word for word when Sam asks how old he is.

Rod Serling: "Last stop on a long journey, as yet another human being returns to the vast nothingness that is the beginning, and into the dust that is always the end."

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 1 E 24 Long Live Walter Jameson