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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 1 E 6 Escape Clause

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Rod Serling: You're about to meet a hypochondriac. Witness Mr. Walter Bedeker, age forty-four, afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, draft, and everything else. He has one interest in life, and thatís Walter Bedeker. One preoccupation, the life and well-being of Walter Bedeker. One abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die how will it survive without him?

Air date: Nov. 6, 1959

Walter Bedeker is a "perpetually ill" man who constantly despairs over the frailty and impermanence of human life. Despite receiving a clean bill of health after yet another visit from his doctor, Walter is bemoaning his impending death when a man suddenly appears in the room. The man introduces himself as a Mr. Cadwallader, and he offers to make a trade with Bedeker. He can grant him immortality and indestructibility for as long as he wishes in exchange for a rather small, unimportant, inconsequential item in Bedeker's possession: his soul. Although he realizes that Cadwallader is The Devil and is initially hesitant, Bedeker reluctantly agrees to the trade. To assuage Bedeker's lingering doubts, Cadwallader writes an escape clause into their agreement. If at any time Bedeker wishes to die, Cadwallader will end his life.

With his new Complete Immortality, Bedeker commits a string of insurance fraud scams around the city, jumping in front of trains and the like and collecting the insurance money from associated companies. When he becomes bored of these scams, he decides to jump from the roof of his apartment, much to his wife's dismay. After pleading with him not to jump, she accidentally falls off the roof herself. Wanting to give the electric chair a try, Bedeker calls the police and tells them that he killed her. To facilitate this, he acts as uncooperative as possible during the court proceedings, but his lawyer manages to get him a sentence in prison "for the rest of his natural life". Terrified at the prospect of living in prison for hundreds of years, Bedeker decides to use the escape clause. Cadwallader happily complies, giving Bedeker a fatal heart attack in his holding cell.

Rod Serling: There's a saying: "Every man is put on Earth condemned to die, time and method of execution, unknown." Perhaps this is as it should be. Case in point: Walter Bedeker, lately deceased, a little man with such a yen to live. Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom, and by the scheme of things in this, the Twilight Zone.

Escape Tropes

  • Affably Evil: The Devil. Standard M.O. deal-for-your-soul bit. However, he is eerily polite and quite accommodating and gives Bedeker exactly what he asked for with no tricks or hidden clauses.
    • He quickly shows what he is really like after Walter signs, casually flipping the signed and sealed papers onto the floor for Walter to pick up.
  • Age Without Youth: Bedeker is aware of the concept and seeks to prevent his aged body from becoming a living husk. The Devil is impressed and offers Bedeker to have his appearance change minimally over the millennia.
  • Asshole Victim: After Bedeker makes a deal with Satan, repeatedly commits insurance fraud, kills his wife, and feels no remorse for his actions it's hard to feel sympathy after he's doomed to spend an eternity in Hell (or an Ironic Hell, at that).
  • Deal with the Devil: Immortality for a soul. Cheap, right? The titular detail on the contract is there in case Mr. Bedeker needs it—if he invokes it, his soul will be taken (and he will die) immediately. Surprisingly, unlike most other examples of this trope, the deal plays out exactly as Bedeker wanted. He gets what he agreed to with no use of phrasing to screw him or direct efforts by the Devil to screw him over later.
  • Establishing Character Moment: If Rod Serling's narration isn't convincing enough of what kind of person Bedeker is, the first five minutes or so sums his character up in a nutshell. He's rude to his doctor, doesn't believe his prognosis that he's healthy as a horse, and treats his poor, sweet wife as though she secretly hates him.
  • Evil Laugh: Twice by the Devil:
    • The skin-crawling bellowing laugh that the Devil lets loose with right after Bedeker signs the contract
    • At the end when he tempts Bedeker into exercising the escape clause.
  • Failed Execution, No Sentence: A rare (attempted) invoked example. Bedecker hopes to be sentenced to the electric chair for killing his wife, knowing that he can survive it. Unfortunately for him, his lawyer is able to reduce the sentence to "just" life imprisonment... which is a very bad thing for an immortal. He ends up invoking the escape clause immediately to avoid centuries of imprisonment.
  • Forgot About His Powers: An immortal man could easily escape prison, having nothing but time to plan — he could even try to fake his death via Suicide by Cop. But Bedeker panics the moment he hears the sentence and uses the escape clause later that same day (with some prompting by Cadwallader).
  • Immortality Immorality: Of the Deal with the Devil variety.
  • Immunity Disability: A man makes a Deal with the Devil to gain immortality, which is effectively immunity to death. He confesses to murdering his wife after she falls off the roof so that he can experience the electric chair, but his lawyer manages to get him life in prison. Since he can't die, he's going to be there a long time... at least until the devil shows up and "mercifully" gives him a fatal heart attack.
  • Ironic Echo: "After all, what's a few hundred years, or a few thousand?" The first time Cadwallader brought this up to Bedeker, it sounded tantalizing, a chance to drink deep from the cup of life for however long he wanted. The second time these same words are brought up, it's after Bedeker has been sentenced to life in prison and a guard remarked he'd only be in jail for a lifetime, lending an ominous implication that Bedeker could spend a long time in his cell.
  • It's All About Me: Walter is thoughtless and self-centered and demanding even before he sells his soul.
  • Jerkass: Even before the death of his long-suffering wife, Bedeker is a deeply unsympathetic character. He's selfish and rude and treats everyone he interacts with with disdain. One almost pities the Devil for being stuck with him for eternity.
  • Karmic Twist Ending: A perfect example. A man becomes immortal through evil means, does evil deeds, and by the end of the tale his only choice remaining is whether to die immediately and go to Hell or wait and see how long it takes him to Go Mad from the Isolation after living in prison for centuries.
  • Never Say "Die": Done by the Devil. While explaining the contract's escape clause, he speaks of Bedeker's "demise" and his "departure". Averted, however, by other characters.
  • Noble Demon: The Devil surprisingly comes across as this. He honors his deal with Bedeker completely and doesn't even try to screw him over on the phrasing or nature of the deal, giving Walter exactly what he wants, and while he exploits them for his benefit when they do occur, there's no indication he was behind later events either.
  • Stealth Insult: When Bedeker is considering Cadwallader deal he asks about his appearance and Cadwallader says, "I'm afraid I can't do much about that." before clarifying that Bedeker's appearance won't change with age.
  • The Sociopath: Once he is rid of his soul, Bedeker starts to show a bit of insensibility. His wife plummets 14 stories to her death, and all Walter can say is "I wonder what it felt like."
  • We Are as Mayflies: Bedeker compares the lifetime of a human to the vast ages the Earth, and even greater the Universe has lived. "Why can't a man live five hundred years or a thousand? Why does a man have to die the moment he's born?" So says Bedeker, grousing about how man has to die so soon, which attracts the Devil.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Bedeker at first, but when faced with the prospect of spending eternity in prison, he realizes it will be a long hell of a time.