Monday, November 27, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 2 (One for the Angels)

Lou Bookman is just an ordinary guy.  He sells toys, ties and whatnot on the street.  He’s well liked, especially by the children.  Everyone knows who he is and he seems to know everyone in the area.  It’s odd, then, when an unfamiliar face shows up one day.  He’s well-dressed and polite…and he’s asking questions about Lou.  Who is this gentleman?  He’s Death.  Lou’s number has come up; he’s to die at midnight of natural causes.

Understandably, Lou tries to get out of this.  Alas, there are three exceptions that will give Lou a reprieve.  The first is having a family to support, which Lou doesn’t.  The second is an impending breakthrough, which Lou can’t claim, either.  The third is unfinished business, which doesn’t seem evident at first.  Lou points out that he has yet to make a major pitch.  One that the angles would take notice of and would cause the sky to open.  Death reluctantly grants this, but doesn’t provide a timeframe.

Lou instantly realizes that he has an out.  All he has to do is not make a pitch and he’ll never die, but this comes at a price.  One of the neighborhood children is struck by a car; if death can’t have Lou, the little girl will go in his place.  When Lou realizes what he’s done, he pleads with Death to no avail.  The girl is to go at midnight and there’s no negotiating this time.  The only thing left to do is make a pitch for the ages.  By delaying Death past midnight, Lou points out that he’s made his pitch, allowing Death to take Lou as originally planned.

The episode is fairly simple.  Lou tries to cheat Death only to find out that it comes with a price.  He has to basically cheat death again to put things right.  I did some reading and there are two ways of looking at the episode.  One is as presented:  Lou cheated Death twice.  Another is that Lou only thought he cheated Death, but that Death knew what Lou was doing and got the better of him.

When I first saw the episode, I was inclined to believe the first interpretation.  To an extent, I still am.  Death seems genuinely surprised when Lou delays him.   I thing Lou got the better of Death at least once.  However, Death has seemingly been at this a long time.  He’s not some new guy.  Death seems more like a social worker making a call, just like countless other calls.

There are undoubtedly rules and procedures for a reason.  Death’s taking another person is probably a way of ensuring that people don’t cheat.  One might say that there’s no way for the general population to know about this, thus making it ineffective, but Lou did eventually go with Death.  Also, had Lou not done this, Death would have eventually been one death over.

Then again, I’m probably reading too much into this.  Twilight Zone episodes tended to make a point in simple terms.  Lou doesn’t want to die.  It’s normal to want to prolong your own life.  The question is at what cost.  The story is pretty straightforward.  Lou got himself into a mess and has to get himself back out.

The episode is safe for children in the sense that there’s no violence or gore.  When the girl is hit by a car, we don’t see the accident, but it’s evident what happened.  Also, when Lou finally does go with Death, we don’t see anything special happen to Lou; they simply walk off together down the street.  The depiction of death might be a little confusing depending on how young the child is, though.

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