Retribution in the Twilight Zone

That kid who stole your lunch money back in junior high school.

The snotty girl with expensive clothes who made fun of your worn out hand-me-downs.

The Nazis.

All of these people deserve what comes to them. Karma. Payback time.

Rod Serling obviously thought so. For him, it was retribution in the Twilight Zone. It was a popular theme for many episodes which continued throughout the entire run of the series. Getting what’s coming to them was the name of the game in the following seven stories.

“Judgment Night” – Season 1

The title really says it all. The story opens with German U-boat captain Karl Lanser standing on the deck of the S.S. Queen of Glasgow with a feeling of impending doom. As the story progress, Captain Lanser finds himself all alone on the ship. Looking out through his telescope, he sees himself at the helm of the German submarine ordering his crew to fire upon the feeble British ship. The ship is sunk and we see Captain Lanser gloating over the event with one of his officers who is visibly shaken by the fact that they destroyed a ship carrying passengers, including women, with no warning. Their fate, he warns, is to relive the doom of those people over and over again as punishment. Finally, we see Captain Lanser standing on board the S.S. Glasgow and the scene plays out one more time out of a hundred million more to come.

Nehemiah Persoff is superb as Captain Lanser, evoking fear, doom, bewilderment and arrogance. The cast is well supported by Patrick MacNee as the first officer and a young James Franciscus as the German lieutenant who warns that they are damned for all eternity for their actions.

“Perhaps there is a special kind of hell for people like us. Perhaps to be damned is to have a fate like the people on that ship. To suffer as they suffered, and to die as they died. We ride the ghost of that ship every night, every night, Herr Kapitan, for eternity. They could die only once, just once, but we could die a hundred million times.”

If only every dastardly deed could receive its just reward. In the Twilight Zone, it can.

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” – Season 2

The timeworn tale of Rip Van Winkle gets a facelift in this story. Four thieves steal a million dollars worth of gold bars. Their plan to get away with the crime? Put themselves into suspended animation for one hundred years in a hidden cave way out in the desert, thinking that when they wake up, no one will be looking for them. The plan is thwarted by the twist at the end. Gold has become worthless because it can be manufactured. One by one, the robbers have killed each other off as they succumb to greed and the search for that truly valuable commodity in a vast desert–water.

Oscar Beregi, Jr. portrays the mastermind of the scheme and would go on to give an outstanding performance in another retribution-themed episode, “Deaths-Head Revisited.”

In this story, crime really didn’t pay.

“Deaths-Head Revisited” – Season 3

Perhaps the best example of retribution from all of the Twilight Zone episodes. A Nazi Captain returns to the infamous concentration camp, Dachau, where he tortured and murdered imprisoned Jews. As he struts around the camp reliving his “glory” days, he sees the ghosts of the human beings he brutalized, and experiences their pain and suffering. Eventually he is rendered insane. Fitting justice from the Twilight Zone.

Oscar Beregi, Jr. gives an unforgettable portrayal of the inhuman Captain Lutze and Joseph Schildkraut is equally powerful as the ghostly prisoner, Becker. Schildkraut had given a magnificent performance of Otto Frank in the stage and film version of “A Diary of Anne Frank.” Schildkraut would go on to perform in season 3’s “The Trade-Ins.”

Justice for Dachau and all the horrific places like it will come about.

“The Jungle” – Season 3

An engineer who has taken advantage of the tribal people of Africa by taking their land is haunted and eventually hunted after he returns home to Manhattan.

The walk through New York City is accompanied by increasingly louder sounds of the jungle–drums and screeching birds. Relieved that he has finally made it back to his apartment building, he relaxes and reaches for the ever-present bottle of booze, only to hear the unmistakable sound of a growl. Behind the bedroom door waits–retribution.

John Dehner is wonderful as the worldly engineer who scoffed at superstitions and curses, but found himself sinking deep into terror. Just when he thought he was safe, of course, he wasn’t. Dehner also appeared in “The Lonely” from season 1 and “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” from season 5.

It’s not nice to cheat people–no matter what continent they live on.

“The Mirror” – Season 3

Peter Falk portrays a Castro-like tyrant, Ramos Clemente, in a South American dictatorship who has staged a coup against the current regime and has risen to power. Clemente becomes increasingly paranoid, believing that everyone around him wants to kill him and seize control of the country. When he looks in a mirror, he sees visions of his enemies and begins ordering mass executions. After a week of this, the priest comes to Clemente and asks him to stop the bloodshed. “Why do I have so many enemies?” he implores the priest. Having left Clemente, they rush back to see him lying on the floor from a self-inflicted gunshot. “The last assassin and they never learn,” moans the priest. “They never seem to learn.”

Peter Falk is nearly synonymous with his TV alter ego, Columbo. It’s great to see him in a completely different character so as to appreciate the depth of his abilities.

What goes around comes around.

“The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” – Season 5

Salvadore Ross is an insensitive boorish man who has his eyes set on marrying the woman of his dreams, Leah. She heeds the warnings of her father, however, and tells him she could never love a man with no compassion.

Ross finds that he has a supernatural power that enables him to trade anything with someone else, and eventually becomes successful and wealthy. He even trades for the compassion of Leah’s father. However, with his compassion gone, Leah’s father shoots Ross and kills him.

Don Gordon portrayed Salvadore Ross and had also appeared in “The Four of Us Are Dying” from season 1. Gail Kobe portrayed Leah, and was also in two other episodes, “A World of Difference” from season 1 and “In His Image” from season 5.

You just can’t take the easy way out, supernatural or otherwise.

“You Drive” – Season 5

Is there anything worse than a hit-and-run driver? Especially one who has killed a child?
Oliver Pope plays just such a villainous character in “You Drive.” Driving home, he hits a boy riding his bicycle, but takes off without stopping. The boy later dies and Oliver thinks he has gotten away with the crime. However, his car won’t let him off the hook so easily. The car eventually drives him to the police station where he confesses to his horrendous actions.

Edward Andrews is gleefully annoying as Oliver Pope. He had also appeared in “Third From the Sun” in season 1, another annoying character trying to prevent the families from escaping the planet that was about to self-destruct.

If justice isn’t meted out by human beings, our machines will do it for us.

Unfortunately, justice isn’t always found in this world like it is in the Twilight Zone, but it’s comforting to think about it. We also have to realize that vengeance belongs to God and it will be even more powerful than the retribution in the Twilight Zone.

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