Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 26 (Execution)

There seem to be two motivations for using a time machine.  In Back to the Future, Doc Brown builds a time machine with the intent of furthering our knowledge of history and humanity.  He can see how we’ll progress.  Biff Tannen, on the other hand, has no problem using the modified DMC-12 for his own use.  He steals Marty’s idea and makes himself rich and powerful.

Execution starts with the execution of Joe Caswell way back in 1880.  Just before Caswell can be hanged, he’s pulled to 1960 by Professor Manion.  By all accounts, Professor Manion is more like Doc than Biff.  He built the time machine to study people.  Caswell is his first attempt.  The problem is that Manion has no idea what Caswell is like.  He could be a saint or the devil.  Given that he’s admitted his guilt and lack of remorse to his would-be executioners lets us know that Manion is more like Biff than Doc.

One thing I’ll say about The Twilight Zone is that it seemed to have mastered brevity early on.  It did this by finding good writers.  Either Rod Serling adapted a short story or he let another writer pen the episode directly.  David Orrick McDearmon seems to have made a decent career directing for television.  This would be the first of three Twilight Zone episodes he’d direct.  IMDb also lists credits for Bonanza, Gilligan's Island and Bewitched.

Like other Twilight Zone offerings, this one doesn’t deal much with the mechanics of time travel.  We see the time machine, but the professor doesn’t mention how it works.  He’s more interested in questioning Caswell.  It takes Manion a few minutes to realize that he may have made a mistake.

What strikes me as odd is that Manion was smart enough to build a working time machine, but didn’t see fit to hire security or build some sort holding cell.  It’s one of those minor details that are forgivable.  Without it, we wouldn’t have a story and it believable that someone focused on the science wouldn’t consider the risks until it was too late.  If someone did invent a time machine, I would think that they’d be more prudent about it, though.

My big concern is that Manion doesn’t seem to have any control over who he brings forward.  It was lucky that he found someone on the verge of being killed.  Even though there were three people who noticed that he vanished, Caswell would likely be little more than a footnote in some county courthouse.  There would be little risk of influencing history.

This was the beauty of The Twilight Zone.  Many of the important details were there, even if they were subtle.  I’d recommend watching this episode if you can get it streaming.



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