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"A Game of Pool" is the fifth episode of the third season of The Twilight Zone, and was first broadcast in October of 1961. It starred Jack Klugman as pool player Jesse Cardiff, and Jonathan Winters as reigning (and deceased) champ Fats Brown. It was written by George Clayton Johnson, who contributed several Twilight Zone scripts. This is the second Twilight Zone episode of Season 3, after "Two", to feature only two actors in the episode. And much like "Two", both of the actors in the story were great actors.

Jesse Cardiff is an aspiring pool player that has been practicing hard, and building his reputation, but still feels overshadowed by the deceased Fats Brown. His anger at Brown triggers a scene with Brown in heaven: he is being called down to earth to defend his title. The two then engage in a game of pool that takes the entire episode, with the stakes being the life of Cardiff versus the title of Brown.

A static set, two actors and a pool table don't naturally lend themselves to high action: without the direct competition of a sport like basketball, the rivalry between the players must be communicated with dialog and body language. The rules of pool are also arcane enough that I didn't follow the action technically. But I still found this episode dramatic: the tension was both in the game, and in the unknown motivations of the character. Winter's Fats Brown seems at the same time both a sinister rival and an avuncular mentor, and it wasn't clear whether he was giving out life lessons or trying to play mind games with his opponent.

This game also bucks the trend in Season 3 of dealing with serious, and "hard" science-fiction topics, instead presenting a magical and mythological adventure. Of course, the fact that it is not as topical does not mean it doesn't have its message.

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