Jesse Cardiff is a frustrated pool player. He's very good at his game but his frustration comes from the fact that no matter how well he plays or how often he wins, onlookers always conclude that he's not as good as the late, great James Howard "Fats" Brown. He says he would give anything to have had the chance to play Fats and his wish comes true when the man himself suddenly appears. They agree to a game but Fats warns his eager opponent that winning has its consequences as well. Written by
Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out, after his funeral, that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion's mantle - has gone fishing. These are the ground rules - in The Twilight Zone.
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This game of pool is a very good analogy for any ambitions of becoming the best at anything. The bulk of this episode is such a game, but the characters of Jesse Cardiff and Fats Brown keep it widely interesting. The afterlife aspect featured here from which Fats Brown is called is often criticized. However, I think it's just a spooky fun way to present a story that could elsewhere have been about calling on a retired champion to play the current number one. The afterlife that this episode is really concerned with is one of fame continuing in the memory of the living. Death, it would appear, has made Brown philosophical in contrast to the single-minded Cardiff. What sort of mind game is Brown playing? When Jonathan Winters materializes in the pool room it's classic Zone stuff. Well played by four-time TZ actor Jack Klugman too.
I will say nothing of the ending except to say there's an interesting feature on DVD where Jonathan Winters reads the alternative ending that the writer, George Clayton Johnson, wanted.
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