Episode 6 “Escape Clause”

Walter Bedeker is a misogynist, a hypochondriac, and a self-centered fool. He’s pre-occupied by the inevitability of his death, even though he is clearly not ill. “Why does a man have to die? The world goes on for millions of years…why does a man have to die almost the moment he’s born?”

While bemoaning his mortality, someone named “Cad Wallader” appears – but says he’s been there for “quite some time” – offering immortality in exchange for something “insignificant,” his soul. (Wallader’s characterization of the soul is brilliantly deflationist!)  The deal is sealed, and Walt gets immortality, though there is a an “escape clause.”  If Walter tires of living, he can “call upon” the devil to “furnish [his] demise.”

Immortality leads to a restructuring of Walter’s life. Instead of languishing in bed, Walter intentionally has life-threatening accidents, and he cleans up financially, securing lucrative insurance settlements after jumping in front of trains and buses.

But as Bernard Williams speculated in “Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” Walter is bored (to death?) by all this. The argument is compelling. How long can the novelty of immortality last? For Walter, boredom seems almost immediate. Is it inevitable for all of us? Would a virtuous person do better with the “gift” of immortality, or is it, as Serling speculates at the end of the episode, that we are all “condemned to die” really “as it should be”?

Someone who is immortal is estranged from humanity. How could such an individual (or god) share concerns which are defined by the fact of our limited existence? Take certain limitations away – and the world simply doesn’t make sense. Walter isn’t just bored. He has no motivation. There is nothing he wants to do.

Further Reading:

Williams, Bernard “The Makropulous Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality”, Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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