S01E06 - Escape Clause
"Forty-four-year-old Walter Bedecker (David Wayne) is a hypocondriac par excellence. So when the Devil in the form of fat, jolly Mr. Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez) appears and offers him immortality and indestructability in exchange for his soul, Bedecker jumps at the chance. He insists on an escape clause, however: if at any time he tires of life, all he need do is summon Cadwallader. Soon, Bedecker is delighted to find that nothing can harm him - steaming radiators can't burn him and throwing himself in front of speeding subway trains only rips his clothes. Insurance agents are lining up to pay off handsomely for all his little "accidents." And yet, something is missing… life lacks a certain zip. Bedacker has a nasty feeling Cadwallader has pulled a fast one. And, in his quest for bigger and better thrills, Bedecker is setting himself up for a nasty shock… courtesy of the Twilight Zone. "
To the bewilderment of many a secular sci-fi fan, it turns out the devil is quite real in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. He’s also inexplicably Welsh, or at least that’s what his given name of Cadwallader would lead us to believe anyway. Whatever his actual nationality may be, though, here in the first of his many appearances in the Twilight Zone, Old Scratch is up to his favorite pasttime of trading services for souls.
This Faustian tale marks the series’ first foray into comedic territory, though with a decidedly Twilight Zone spin. At breakneck speed, the narrative transitions from the sitcom setup of a hyper-hypochondriac Walter refusing to leave his bed, through the black comedy of his repeated “accidents,” and ultimately into the (literal) gallows humor of his life imprisonment. Depending on your taste, you’ll either find this episode to be a master class in compressed storytelling or a completely rushed mess. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
Depsite its comedic overtones, however, there is still a darkness at the heart of the story, or to be more precise, in the heart of Walter Bedeker. As Seling points out in his opening narration, Walter has "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?" Waler is a self-absorbed to an infinite degree.
It takes a special kind of narcissist to come face to face with the devil (Walter unhesitatingly accepts that’s who Cadwallader is with no requirement of proof) and do anything but immediately call out to God for help. After all, if Satan is real, then the whole kit and kaboodle, Heaven and Hell, must be real as well. And yet these Faust types inevitably trust themselves to be able to handle the devil on their own, always sure they can outwit the guy who wrote the book on tricking us poor humans. We’re taking about the entity John described in his gospel as “a murderer from the beginning and [who] does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” Yeah, that’s the guy people like Walter try to outsmart.
Even Popes don’t have such high opinions of themselves. Back in 1884, Pope Leo XIII had a vision of evil spirits trying to carry out Satan’s plan to destroy the Church within the next one-hundred years. Now, being the Pope and all, Leo could have just made some pronouncements and maybe wrote a homily or two. Instead, he called for help by writing a little prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and demanding it be said at every low mass throughout the world. Maybe you’ve heard it before…
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Vatican II put the kibosh on the low mass, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say the St. Michael ourselves, or call on any of the other Saints for that matter. The main thing is not to be so full of ourselves that we don’t reach out for help in dealing with the forces alligned against us. Walter’s fate shows us what happens when we do that.