The source material upon which “Execution” is based offers a balanced, scathing take on the concept of justice meted out in a way that defies the space-time continuum. Here, two scientists use a time machine to extricate a killer to the present, moments before he is about to be publicly hanged. The scientists, unaware of the killer’s crimes, come to realize that inadvertently saving him was a huge mistake, and a string of events leads to the killer being shot by a policeman in the present. This “death” reverts the killer back to the moment where he is about to be hanged, and justice is meted out, despite being momentarily thwarted by the rules of time travel.
Serling’s take on “Execution” is a tad more complicated. Here, the killer is outlaw cowboy Joe Caswell (Albert Salmi), who is yanked out before he is hanged by a scientist named Professor Manion (Johnson). Manion realizes that he has let a killer on the loose, and as he tries to send Caswell back, the latter kills him. Just when Caswell thinks he can walk free, a thief strangles him before being accidentally sent back to the noose meant to hang Caswell. The episode ends with this note: “Justice can span years. Retribution is not subject to a calendar.”
The decision to bring about balance by hanging a thief, whose crimes are less serious in comparison to a serial murderer like Caswell’s, makes “Execution” a clunky and uneven experience. While there’s an attempt to deepen the themes of justified comeuppance, the punishment in question comes off as too severe in comparison to the crimes. Manion’s death also poses questions, as he becomes a victim of his own invention when he accidentally saves a murderer without meaning to.