Original Airdate: November 6, 1959
Rod Serling had a gift for writing a wide variety of characters. In “Escape Clause” he presented Walter Bedecker and gave us permission to hate every moment we spend with him. This is simultaneously the guilty pleasure and weakness of this episode.
Walter Bedecker (David Wayne, “The Apple Dumpling Gang”) is not only a hypochondriac, but a bitter pill. He treats his wife, Ethel (Virginia Christine, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”) with total disdain and utter disregard, and he treats his doctor with complete contempt. When I say there isn’t one redeeming quality about Walter Bedecker I am not understating the issue. After snarling disbelief at yet another clean bill of health and growling at his wife over a prescription she was written for her stress related issues Walter isolates himself in his misery and wails to the walls. His calls are soon answered by the wonderfully named Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez, “Key Largo”) who takes no time at all to reveal he is actually the Devil and wants to offer Walter extreme longevity and invulnerability in exchange for his soul. Being the egotistic pissant he is Walter jumps at the offer and soon embarks on a “new life.”
The trouble with a new lease on life is that it doesn’t make you a new person. Walter, now freed from the bonds of hypochondria is still the same wanker he was, only now imbued with aggressive arrogance. As he sets out to test his invulnerability, and rip off various agencies through insurance claims, he finds that without weakness there is no edge to life and boredom soon sets in.
Walter never becomes interesting, nor does his wife. The sole enjoyment of this episode is waiting, and hoping, for Walter to get his comeuppance. I knew it would have something to do with the escape clause built into the Cadwallader’s contract, and not just because it was the episode’s title. It felt right for Walter to have to ask the Devil to revoke his immortality and thus sink his soul into Hell. The question of this episode becomes what situation will arise that will make this cocky arse, who is convinced the world revolves around him, give up this amazing gift?
As the final act builds I could see the pieces start falling into place and realized the corner he was painting himself into. It was hard to relish the climax when it was telegraphed so much. Yet somehow, at the same time there was some satisfaction of watching poetic justice unfold as I knew it would making this episode mostly passable as guilty pleasure and not much else. I believe the biggest failing, from a storytelling perspective, is that our main guide through this narrative world was so unlikable. There was nothing to seize upon, at no time was there ever a moment where I believed redemption was a possibility only to watch him stumble and fall. Instead this was the television equivalent of watching a carcrash when you know everyone in the car is an in-the-act convicted felon who just escaped from prison and stole their car from a wedding as it careens off a bridge into a gorge far below. That kind of sordid guilty pleasure. Knowing that cosmic justice caught up with them. This is the feeling I had as the credits rolled on “Escape Clause” which is, in my mind, the weakest episode thus far.