Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. In honor of the premiere of WGN’s Underground, we’re revisiting our favorite television episodes featuring a great escape.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “Final Escape” (season one, episode eight; originally aired 10/28/85)
Alfred Hitchcock didn’t direct much of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the mother of all mystery/horror anthologies, which ran for seven seasons between 1955 and 1962, then in a four-season revival in the mid-’80s split between NBC and USA. Though Hitchcock only put his directorial stamp on 17 of the episodes, his influence over the show loomed large enough to suggest otherwise. Hitchcock’s distinctive, clever cold opens, delivered in his flat, stentorian voice, linked the episodes together, as did their emphasis on phobias inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and narrative twists reminiscent of O. Henry.
“Final Escape” is the purest example of the way Alfred Hitchcock Presents blends the themes and tricks of Poe and Henry, and it’s also the show’s most terrifying episode. In the 1985 version of “Final Escape”—a gender-flipped replica of an episode from the show’s original run—Season Hubley stars as Lena Trent, a woman convicted of murdering her husband. Lena insists she’s innocent in a plaintive speech to the judge, but she’s sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison.
The episode starts turning the audience against Lena from its opening frames, showing Lena in court wearing ostentatious sunglasses, an indication of her lack of respect for the court. She has no more respect for the rules of the prison, using the first available opportunity to attempt an escape by hiding in a laundry truck bound for a distant commercial facility. “They’re idiots,” says Lena, “they’re all idiots.” Though she’s quickly discovered, Lena can’t seem to let go of the notion that she’s smarter and more sophisticated than her jailers or her fellow inmates.
That includes Doc (Davis Roberts), a kindly old gravedigger whose failing eyesight has left him nearly blind. Lena cozies up to Doc and manipulates him into helping her hatch another escape plan. She’ll crawl into a casket with a dead inmate set for burial, and once she’s six feet under, Doc will double back to dig her up. In exchange, Lena promises to pay for Doc’s eye surgery once she’s back on the outside. By this point, Lena has already distinguished herself as an especially awful person, so it comes as no surprise that her plan falls apart. But as in the most terrifying of Poe’s short stories, there are some fates so horrible no one deserves them, no matter how imperious they are.
Availability: “Final Escape” is available to stream on Dailymotion.