This essay covers various aspects of Kimble's escapes, often (but not always) coming in the closing minutes. We've augmented Rosenzweig's text with episode identifiers in various places, which can be used for those interested in locating them at YouTube, where 90+% of the episodes can be accessed.
The Great Escapes
Thanks to the helping hand of Fate, Richard Kimble undergoes a rapid transformation after being freed en route to the death house. Almost overnight, the mild-mannered small-town pediatrician turns into a master escape artist, able to wriggle his way out of seemingly hopeless traps with the ease of Harry Houdini.
One of the most brilliant escape sequences occurs in the first season, when Kimble visits the Los Angeles Hall of Justice [NOTE: episode 4, "Never Wave Goodbye"]. Gerard also shows up, suspecting that Kimble might try to visit a one-armed prisoner being detained there. Kimble has barely finished interviewing this man (who turns out not to be the real killer) when Gerard arrives. They catch sight of each other just as the doors of the elevator Kimble is riding on glide shut. Gerard runs down the stairs, but he is delayed by the security gates in the detainment block, which ironically are designed to prevent fugitives from escaping. This twist of fate gives Kimble the extra few seconds he needs to get out of the building ahead of Gerard. But where can he run to?
Luckily, a municipal bus is just getting ready to leave the bus stop in front of the Hall of Justice. Kimble jumps on board, but the wily Gerard commandeers a car and speeds off in pursuit. Kimble though is wilier still--he asks the bus driver for a transfer, gets off the bus at a later stop, and quickly gets on a connecting bus heading in another direction! When Gerard finally catches up with the first bus, Kimble is nowhere to be found. Astonishingly, this is not the last suspenseful bus chase in the series--another one takes place a few episodes later in Chicago, but this time it's the one-armed man who uses a bus to get away from Kimble. Buses continue to play a central role in many other later episodes of the series, but rarely in as intense a way. And the idea of using public transportation (in Los Angeles, of all places!) as an alternative to the late-model sports cars usually employed by action-adventure protagonists recurs in the later HARRY O TV show, where the title character does all his P.I. work from the passenger seat of a city bus.
Another exciting escape occurs in MAN IN A CHARIOT [NOTE: Season 2 opening ep], the episode in which Ed Begley plays a law school professor who is convinced that Kimble was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Kimble secretly peeks in on Ed and his students as they re-stage Kimble's murder trial, trying to detect procedural errors that could be grounds for a new appeal. The cops though get wind of this, and come snooping around the law school as well, forcing Kimble to take flight. The cops soon corner him in the school library, and Kimble's fate seems sealed. Ingeniously, though, he camouflages himself by taking off his jacket and climbing up on a ladder as if to consult a reference book on an upper shelf. Thus clothed in a tie and shirtsleeves, and with his face averted, he is indistinguishable from the dozens of law students in the library who are wearing exactly the same outfit. The mystified cops scratch their heads and wonder how Kimble managed to vanish into thin air.
Even Houdini probably used an assistant sometimes, and Kimble also gets by with a little help from his friends on occasions when he just can't go it alone. As Jeff Fox points out, "a recurring theme" of the show involves "Dr. Kimble being aided in his escape from the law by someone who appreciated his inobtrusiveness and sincerity." More often than not, this "someone" is one of Dr. Kimble's many female admirers, like the gushy young hostage in WINGS OF AN ANGEL [NOTE: opening episode of Season 3: actress Lane Bradbury] or the hospital nurse in NOBODY LOSES ALL THE TIME [NOTE: Season 4, episode 10, the fetching, blonde-wigged Joanna Moore, who happily makes four appearances during the run of the series], who helps Kimble make not one but two plausible, suspenseful escapes within the space of a single episode.
DOSSIER ON A DIPLOMAT [NOTE: Season 4, Episode 26] is capped off with another neat little escape made possible by a friendly femme, this time Diana Hyland. Kimble has found refuge in an African embassy because the ambassador has offered him diplomatic immunity. But when the ambassador's deathly illness incapacitates him, his unsympathetic wife decides to close up the embassy, leaving Kimble to his fate. Gerard and some other cops are waiting outside the embassy like so many circling vultures, watching suspiciously as crate after crate of furniture and documents are loaded onto the moving van. They can't go in and arrest Kimble until the ambassador's residence is officially vacated. Finally the moving van is closed up and rumbles off, but suddenly Diana, who plays the ambassador's secretary, rushes out with a bundle of dresses and a table lamp or something. When Gerard tells her that the moving van just left, she looks annoyed and wonders aloud why they didn't wait for the rest of the boxes and stuff to be loaded. Gerard and his local sidekick du jour exchange meaningful glances and rush to their patrol cars, speeding off in pursuit of the moving van. But of course Diana was just pretending that the van was supposed to wait, so that the cops would think Kimble had hijacked it. By chasing after it, they have left the back entrance to the embassy unguarded, allowing Kimble to sneak out and hop onto (what else?) a waiting bus, completing his escape.
But not every clever escape is helped along by a woman. Kimble's male friends do their share as well, in such episodes as THE IRON MAIDEN [NOTE: Season 2, Episode 13] and TUG OF WAR [NOTE: Season 2, Episode 7]. THE IRON MAIDEN is the one in which Kimble gets trapped at the bottom of a mine shaft; by the time the rescue operation is ready to commence, the cops have been tipped off and Gerard is waiting for him on the surface. Meanwhile, though, Kimble has explained his plight to some of his miner buddies who are trapped with him. By a stroke of luck, they happen to be Native Americans, and hence they are able to communicate in their tribal language with their colleagues on the surface, who are coordinating the rescue effort. In particular, they radio special instructions to the operator of the crane which is being used to scoop them out of the mine. To the cops, it sounds like so much gibberish, but in reality, they are plotting an escape route for Kimble. When the crane operator finally lifts the trapped miners, including Kimble, to the surface, he doesn't deposit them in the front of the mine; instead he maneuvers the crane all the way over to the opposite end of the mine, giving Kimble the crucial head start he needs to elude capture.
A particularly elegant escape is orchestrated by old sheriff Arthur O'Connell in TUG OF WAR. O'Connell has been engaged in, well, a tug of war with a younger lawman over the course of the entire episode. They are both escorting Kimble back to town after taking him prisoner in the wilderness. But they are rivals, each jealous of the other, and they miss no opportunity to secretly sabotage each other in petty ways. After a few days of hiking through the back country, old Arthur is near the end of his rope. His heart isn't what it used to be, and it doesn't help matters that his younger colleague has tampered with his supply of medication, to gain an unfair advantage in their little feud. When the old sheriff is suddenly struck down by a heart attack or something, and is at death's door, he asks Kimble to bend down next to him and whisperingly asks him if he is really innocent, as he claims. He points out that Kimble evidently has nothing to gain by lying to him now, since he is about to die and is therefore powerless to do anything to save Kimble. His young, virile nemesis holds the one rifle they have between them. When Kimble continues to swear that he's just a victim of blind justice, old Arthur realizes that he must be telling the truth.
And, as it turns out, there is something Arthur can do to save Kimble after all, even though he is about to die and the other cop has the gun. Arthur simply opens his cupped right hand, wordlessly revealing to Kimble the six bullets he has been concealing there. He has in fact previously unloaded the young cop's rifle, and thereby has managed to keep the upper hand after all, old and feeble as he is. Arthur then proceeds to kick the bucket, but Kimble, armed with this liberating knowledge, now just marches up to the young cop and takes the harmless, unloaded rifle out of his flabbergasted hands. Then he knocks him out or something and vanishes into the landscape.
But even a loaded gun does not necessarily present an obstacle to Kimble's escape plans, if the person holding the gun is a basically decent person who obeys the law more out of habit than deep conviction. In such cases, Kimble's avenue of escape is simple — he just walks away, daring the waffling gun wielder to shoot him in the back. This tactic is successfully employed for instance at the climax of DETOUR ON A ROAD GOING NOWHERE [NOTE: Season 2, Episode 12]. Confronted with the choice between shooting down a kindly do-gooder who happens to be wanted by the police, and just minding their own business and letting him go on his way, most people outside of the law-enforcement community have a clear preference.
OF course, not all of Kimble's remarkable exploits are quite as convincing as the ones mentioned so far. Some of his escapes, in fact, are downright ridiculous. Take the one at the end of NIGHTMARE AT NORTHOAK [NOTE: Season 1, Episode 11], for instance. Kimble has just been tracked down as the result of a nationwide manhunt. Eagle-eyed Lieutenant Gerard himself has swooped in to supervise his extradition. Yet, after the friendly wife of the local sheriff slips Kimble the key to his jail cell during visiting hours, all Kimble has to do to escape is knock out Gerard with one blow, and then wave Gerard's gun at a single terrified local deputy. Then, since no one else seems to have bothered to show up that day at the police station, the coast is clear for Kimble to run out into the street and vanish. In another episode, NOT WITH A WHIMPER [NOTE: Season 3, Episode 16], Kimble is totally surrounded, but manages to make a clean getaway by waving a box with some wires at the cops and yelling about how he has a bomb.
In fact, though, there's something a little silly about all these escape scenarios when one stops and thinks about them a little, even the ones that seem very plausible and gripping while they are unfolding. Couldn't Gerard have radioed for back-up in DOSSIER ON A DIPLOMAT, rather than racing off and leaving a huge gap in his perimeter? And what about that team that had Kimble surrounded in the law school? Didn't they think to seal the exits and check the IDs of everyone in the place one by one? Though they drive around in those shiningly modern '60s black-and-white squad cars and utilize all the then-up-to-date techniques of forensic science, more often than not Kimble's pursuers come off like nothing more than poor second cousins to the good old fashioned Keystone Cops.