A Game of Pool

From Academic Kids

A Game of Pool is an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.



Episode number: 70

Season: 3

Production code: 4815

Original airdate: October 13, 1961

Writer: George Clayton Johnson

Director: Buzz Kulik

Music: stock


Jesse Cardiff: Jack Klugman

Fats Brown:Jonathan Winters


It's afterhours at Clancy's Pool Hall and once more, Jesse Cardiff is alone, polishing his pool game. Jesse bitterly muses that he would be considered the greatest pool player of all time if it weren't for the memory of the late Fats Brown overshadowing him. "I'd give anything to play Fats Brown, anything at all!" he declares out loud.

"At your service!" comes a sudden voice from the corner of the room. It is indeed James Howard Brown..."Fats, to my friends"...who has been dead for 15 years, but who has now come from the afterlife itself to answer Jesse's challenge. Fats tells Jesse it's time for him to put his money where his mouth is and play a game of pool to see who the best truly is. But to make the game more intense, Fats ups the stakes. If Jesse wins, he will indeed be acknowledged as the greatest. If he loses...it means his life.

So the ultimate high stakes pool game begins, with life and death as the stakes. But just maybe being the best carries its own special burden... as Jesse finds out when he wins.

All throughout the game, Fats has subtly tried to warn Jesse. He laments that Jesse seems to do nothing with his life, have no enjoyment from his life, besides pool. Jesse ignores Fats' comments, convinced that Fats is just trying to protect his title by getting Jesse's mind off the game.

When it comes down to one final, easy shot for Jesse to win and claim the title, Fats again warns him that he doesn't understand the burdens that come with that title. Jesse is more convinced than ever, however, that Fats just doesn't want to lose that title and is trying a last desperate ploy. Jesse sinks the shot and exults in his victory. He now is the best ever.

Fats' response is to thank Jesse for beating him. Jesse is angered by the show of gratitude. He declares that Fats is a sore loser, so upset at having lost that he's now trying to act like the victory would have been sour grapes. Jesse proudly dismisses Fats and claims his rightful title as the best.

Only years later, after he has died, does Jesse finally understand Fats' warnings. Jesse, now being the 'greatest ever,' is obligated to spend his afterlife doing nothing but continuing to prove that he is the greatest ever. His afterlife consists of nothing but going from pool room to lonely pool room, to play against challenger after challenger to his title, just as we now realize Fats must have had to do for Jesse's challenge to him, and for the challenges of countless others whom Fats must have beaten before he finally lost to Jesse. Fats, on the other hand, having at long last relinquished his title to Jesse, is now enjoying his afterlife free of the burden of having to defend that title, and he has happily gone fishing.


  • Johnson's script originally featured an alternate ending in which Jesse loses the game. Seeing that Jesse is bedazzled that he has lost a life-or-death game and is still alive, Fats explains that he will die "as all second raters die- you'll be buried and forgotten without me touching you. If you'd beaten me you'd have lived forever." This ending was eventually filmed when this episode was remade in 1988, during the first revival of the Twilight Zone.


A complex look into the joys and burdens associated with being "the best".

External link

  • TV Tome episode page (http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/GuidePageServlet/showid-237/epid-12655/)


  • Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)

Back to: The Twilight Zone, Episode List, Season 3


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