The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling
Episode directed by Peter O’Fallon
We’re back with another episode of Story Time with Forest Whitaker! Now the last episode we looked at was a pretty boring example of this show barely even trying and merely going through the motions, but I hear that a lot of people really like this episode so maybe the show has already figured out what it wants to do and is now heading in the right direction. Are the people right and is this one of the better episodes of the series, or is this just another disappointment from a show that probably has no right to exist in the first place? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with a whole bunch of SUPER SURGERY where there’s blood splatter, sawn open rib cages, and some bad ass doctor sticking his hand inside some dude’s chest cavity! SWEET! I don’t know what the fuck he’s trying to do (something to do with the aorta), but whatever it is it ends up saving the poor bastard on the table. Oh I’m sorry, did I say table? They aren’t actually in an operating theater; they’re in the fucking emergency room with the guy on a gurney! Television execs being cheap or the hospital has budget cuts? YOU DECIDE!!
The dashing young surgeon is Doctor Jay Ferguson whose surgery we just saw was his first ever which I guess means he’s a genius rather than reckless and lucky, and he’s next in line on The Twilight Zone’s most wanted list. While checking in with the guy who’s heart he just shoved his fist into (he’s just fine!), a patient is rolled into the emergency room and goes right past him and he follows close behind to see what he can do to help. The patient in question, dressed in simple clothing and carrying around an empty notebook, had tried to hang himself, but the attempt has failed as he’s coming back around and we can see that he’s played by none other than JASON ALEXANDER! HELL YEAH!!
As he’s coming to, he manages to gurgle out that he is in fact Death which is PROBABLY gonna turn out to be true considering we’re watching The Twilight Zone, and since Doctor Ferguson seems to be the only one there that night, he’s assigned to watch over the John Doe (AKA Death) until the day breaks and the next shift comes in. Now being the young hotshot here, he’s not too keen to spend his evenings with a suicidal bald dude, so his bedside manner is… shall we say… a little curt. I mean I probably would be too if the guy I had to talk to kept on saying he’s been around forever and wants to give you a part of backstory starting with The Black Plague, but maybe he should show a bit more compassion for the guy who just tried to off himself. Anyway, Death is super depressed considering the job he has which involves taking mother’s from children, children from families, and Brandon Lee from the world (THE BASTARD!), so he tried to kill himself but now that that turns out to be a dead end (hee hee hee), he’ll just quit his job instead. Of course, it’s probably not gonna be all that easy because he’s sure that THEY will try to stop him. Who are THEY? Basically a non-specific implication of some sort of God or Cosmic Force that controls the universe, but considering the show we’re watching I’m gonna go with Forest Whitaker. Doctor Ferguson has had just about enough of this bullshit and thankfully gets a call to see another patient, but as he’s leaving he’s given one final message from death. The very first person he took from this hospital was a Billy Breem. Interesting… Well then; Doctor Ferguson goes to see the other patient, but stops by the nurse’s station to see the ONE nurse on duty and asks her to look up the first patient to die in this hospital, and also to asks if he can bum an aspirin off of her.
Interesting… again… ANYWAY! We fade cut to sometime later where Doctor Ferguson has fixed the issue with whatever patient was in desperate need of his care (hopefully he didn’t have to stick his hand in their chest cavity) and hears back from the nurse that the first one to die in this hospital was in fact Billy Breem! TWILIGHT SHOCK! Well, sort of. There’s no doubt that this piece of information has put Doctor Ferguson on edge so he goes to see Death but finds that he somehow escaped! See, this is why you have more than two people on staff at any given time, even if it’s the graveyard shift (hee hee hee)! For some reason the nurse doesn’t seem to be all that worried about a suicidal and unstable patient roaming the halls of this hospital, so Doctor Ferguson has to find the man himself! Take a guess where he ended up.
Jason Alexander does a pretty great job here as the sad version of Death as he wonderfully captures the immense weight on his shoulders from doing what he does, but what makes it work is his natural skills at comedy that allows the role to be fun to watch as he infuses it with Gallows humor. That said; I don’t know how much I buy this character, no matter how well he’s portrayed here. I mean maybe the guy is only just now getting to his midlife crisis, but considering he’s been reaping souls for millennia AND knows that it’s not always a bad thing (I’m sure it was satisfying to kick Hitler’s ass to Hell), it just seems odd that all of sudden he’s apologizing to corpses in the morgue. If you can get past that though, they dynamic between Doctor Ferguson (played by Tyler Christopher) and Death is solid as the latter is getting increasingly frustrated with his patient’s snarky remarks and exaggerated claims, including the fact that his notebook is the list of all the people he needs to kill and has killed so far (a pretty small notebook considering that list would include billions). What isn’t helping his case though is that apparently no one has died since Death quit his job and this is proven by a newspaper the two find in the hospital hallway.
Now to be clear, this is still the middle of the night, so it can’t be a newspaper printed AFTER Death decided to quit his job in the emergency room, which means that he ACTUALLY quit his job the day before. I can actually buy that considering his suicide attempt (why would you clock in for your shift if THAT was at the end of your day plan?) but then it calls into question the quitting scene that Doctor Ferguson (and the audience) were actually there for. I guess stuff like this is going to be pretty standard in show that’s so heavily invested in misdirection and twists of fate, but it seems like something they could have cleared up with a simple line change (saying “I quit” in the past tense instead of the present tense). Between commercial breaks, Doctor Ferguson gets on the phone and verifies that no one has died around the world which is ALMOST enough to convince him that this guy is actually Death, but hasn’t quite put him over the edge. What finally manages to cinch the deal (you know, on top of the whole worldwide suspension of death), is when Death pulls a SERIOUS dick move and turns into his dead mother… because apparently Death can do that.
So now that Doctor Ferguson has FINALLY accepted that this dude is in fact Death, he ends up agreeing that the world would be a better place without him; Forest Whitaker be damned! Oh look! He’s getting a call to the Emergency Room! I sure hope that nothing happening in there is gonna convince him that Death actually serves a purpose! Oh look! A whole bunch of burn victims with missing limbs and evaporated eyeballs just rolled in but aren’t dying! Now as conveniently timed as all this may be, I’m actually willing to believe that this is those OTHER FORCES (I’m STILL certain he’s talking about Forest Whitaker), doing whatever it is they do to get Death back on the clock and end his vacation early. See, this is how you manage to squeeze in a lot of drama and plot twists in a small amount of time; set up concepts throughout the episode that take almost no time to do so, and then they can be used to ease the payoffs that have to come in the relatively short twenty minutes they have to work with.
Doctor Ferguson runs out of the Emergency Room realizing his mistake, and goes to find Death. Oh, and it’s also morning now which means he AM shift has come in and the titular night of the episode is coming to a close. He eventually finds Death on the rooftop with a knowing and sad look as the two meet each other’s eyes. Oh, and for some reason he’s holding a rose. Okay…
Actually the rose makes sense. Before Doctor Ferguson can tell Death to get off his ass and go to work, he takes one last chance to vent his frustrations and melancholy; including the fact that he doesn’t just kill humans, but and animals and plants as well. That all of this was started when he saw a rose the other day and just couldn’t bring himself to kill it. Still… duty calls and there are people who need to die, though I’m curious what would have happen if someone’s head got chopped off. Are we going by zombie rules here? Anyway, Death finally agrees that it’s time to do what he has to do and asks Doctor Ferguson to give him back his notebook; but not before having him look inside it first. I WONDER WHAT HE WILL FIND!?
Immediately after reading that the guy keels over, though not of fright! It turns out that the headache Doctor Ferguson has been halving all night was actually a brain aneurism and that he was next on Death’s list. Doctor Ferguson is understandably pissed about this sad twist of fate, but he accepts it because… well he kinda HAS to. Before the two leave, Death asks the good Doctor what it’s like to save a life; seeing if the grass is greener on the other side. Doctor Ferguson gives the only answer he can (it feels good. Big shocker there.) and the two walk off together with Forest Whitaker giving us his thoughts on story we just saw.
“Life and death walk side by side. They are… partners, in the cycle of existence. If you don’t believe it, just talk to Doctor Jay Ferguson. Now a first year resident… of the Twilight Zone.”
Wait, so the Twilight Zone is non-denominational heaven now? And how exactly are we supposed to contact him!? A Ouija board!? I would ASSUME so, but using one of them in this series would probably lead to a monster disemboweling me or my mother turning out to be an alligator or something.
When I first watched this series about a decade ago, I remember quite a few things about this episode (the burn victims, the dead body on the bench), but it never really stuck out to me as one of the best of the series. Looking back on it now, it’s a lot better than I initially gave it credit for and definitely holds up. Hell, this episode is probably good enough to sit alongside the original series which is what this new show always strived for but never quite managed to accomplish. It’s very well paced as the twists feel more natural and are well set up (even if somewhat predictable), and the acting from Jason Alexander is fantastic; embodying death as a man suffering from depression with humor being his only real defense mechanism. It can go a bit over the top at time and the version of Death being portrayed here is kind of cartoonish, but by the end it manages to pull off a really great story about these two guys and the relationship they build in just one night. It’s easily the best episode so far which may not being saying much because this is only my third recap, but I have a feeling it’ll be hard to top this one.
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