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"One for the Angels" is the second episode of the first season of the The Twilight Zone, first airing in October of 1959. It starred two veteran character actors: Ed Wynn as a peddler and Murray Hamilton as Death.

The story of "One for the Angels" is based around a classic theme, the theme of an Appointment in Samarra: a man tries to cheat or trick the personification of death, and learns that death is an intractable opponent. In this case, Lou Bookman, an aging peddler of toys and knick-knacks, is informed by Death that it is his turn to go. Bookman protests, and wheedles Death into admitting that a forbearance can be made for those who need to complete their life's work: in this case, Bookman's lifelong desire to make a grand pitch, "one for the angels". When Death accedes, Bookman then says he will just not make any pitches. Death retaliates by getting a neighborhood child into a fatal car accident. Bookman then has to convince Death not to take the life of the young girl.

The ending to this is fairly predictable, but it is still well told and acted, with a great ironic turn.

What is most interesting to me about this episode is how it contrasts with the previous episode, "Where is Everybody?", and how both tie into the Twilight Zone's stated purpose of being a story of in-betweens. The opening narration for Season 1 of the Twilight Zone includes the line:

...it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
The first episode of the series was a science-fiction tale, based on the 1950's striving for technological accomplishment. In this story, we are turned in the opposite direction, focusing on a religious, mythical theme that is based on "the pit of man's fears". Although the story is told in the genteel, restrained manner of the 1950s (Death is a polite, well-dressed man), it still points backwards to more primal fears. It also, sociologically speaking, seems to be looking backwards to a time when sidewalk "pitchman" and tenement neighborhoods were a common sight in America's cities, as opposed to the suburbs of the future.

So despite the fact that this story has been done before, I still found this episode interesting because it showed the dual nature of the Twilight Zone, and of the culture of the 1950s: a culture juggling past and future, science and myth, optimism and pessimism.


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