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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Jonathan Winters gives a spectacular performance as the ghost of the greatest pool player who ever lived forced to play pool against all challengers (a concept introduced immediately and not a spoiler). Winters had literally just been released from a mental hospital and his sweat and nervous energy can been sensed through the screen. His character plays the pleasant professional, but is masking a deep anger -- whether from Winters, the character, or both.
Jack Klugman gives a strong performance: partially a sympathetic loser, but also part narrow-minded bully. Rod Serling was at his best writing about gritty settings like a pool hall and about characters that were in life's losers. The episode also gives food for thought on the worth of struggling to be the best at anything, no matter what the cost.
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