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 Kevin Bray
The episode follows Jonah Beach (Eddie Kaye Thomas who played Finch in the American Pie films and the titular Freddy in Freddy Got Fingered); an obsessive gambler who may have a decent amount of skill but squanders it on his single minded pursuit of “beating the house” which in this case means beating this dude named Trevor (Ben Bass) who owns the place. Jonah’s girlfriend April (Marisa Coughlan who was… also in Freddy Got Fingered oddly enough) works as a waitress at the casino where he spends most of his time and is either overwhelmingly empathetic to his plight or completely in denial of his gambling problem. They have a nest egg set up for a restaurant in Florida which Jonah wants to raid for one last chance at the card table and thankfully April tells him no which is certainly the RIGHT decision but puts poor Jonah in a funk as he leaves the casino with nothing more than three bucks to his name. A homeless with a mysterious shopping cart challenges him to a coin toss for the three bucks in his pocket, and after Jonah wins the toss he’s gracious enough to give the man the three bucks anyway. See? He’s not such a bad guy even if he WAS in a Tom Green movie! The homeless man is so moved by Jonah’s generosity that he pulls a tape recorder out from his cart and gives him to him as a gift which Jonah ruefully accepts as the alternative could possibly upset the guy. He starts fiddling with the thing at the bus stop, and wouldn’t you know it; the darn thing is MAGIC!
Now what I like about this is that Jonah finds this something that can’t be explained by rational means and then just accepts it and tries to find a way to exploit it. If you or I were to find a magic wand, it would certainly raise a few QUESTIONS, but the first one would obviously be how to use it in awesome ways. Jonah finds that the tape recorder can take him back in time up to five minutes which is certainly longer than your typical round of poker (unless you’ve got a particularly nervous nelly sweating over calling on the ante) so now that he has his ace in the whole he just needs to find a way to get some money to gamble with. Once again he returns to his girlfriend who he tries to show the tape recorder to but soon learns that only one person can use it at a time. He then goes back in time and says it’s just a good luck charm; again showing a character who is refreshingly savvy about the ridiculous circumstances he finds himself in. We then get a scene that would be straight up copied in the movie Knowing (though admittedly Groundhog Day did it first) where he tries over and over again to think of clever lines to convince her to give him the money which gives us a shocking amount of insight into the way his mind works and how he views his girlfriend; none of which are the least bit flattering.
It’s not until he finally decides to be sincere and tell her about his problem that he finally gets through to her, which… fine. I get that him dropping the phony lines and actually TALKING would be enough to get her attention, but she decides to give him a few hundred bucks anyway specifically to indulge his gambling addiction! Oh, it’s the last time she’ll give him money. Yeah sure; THAT’S how this is gonna work out! Well in any case, he gets what he needs and sets up this half-assed looking mechanism where he has the recorder taped to his leg and a wire going to his shoe. If he taps it in a specific way, it apparently makes the machine work for… I guess however long he needs it to. Okay fine, the exact mechanism isn’t as important as the implications of the story which is now he thinks he’s unstoppable and it’s going to his head, but the whole MAGIC TAPE RECORDER feels way to underdeveloped. Still, we do get some decent poker scenes which work for me since I’m definitely a guy who likes a friendly game of Texas Hold’em, and they do a good job of telling us about Jonah just through the way he plays. Earlier in this episode he said that it wasn’t about the money, and I’m inclined to believe him in the worst way possible because the biggest mistake he makes is that he’s just too darn eager to show off at every opportunity. He forgets to actually LOSE a few rounds, or at least win in a not so ostentatious manner so as not to attract suspicion which, is what you have to do if you’re cheating because here’s the thing about Casinos; they don’t have to figure out HOW you’re cheating. They’re a private business; they can do whatever they want! They’ll just ASSUME you’re doing something underhanded (which Jonah is) and if you’re lucky the only thing they’ll do is kick you and ban you from the premises! Sadly Jonah isn’t about to get off that easy because of course he gets pegged as a cheater almost immediately and that dude Trevor tells his goons to bring him to his office. Jonah, looking as guilty as a misbehaved dog and as clammy as a dead fish, is brought to Trevor’s office and seems to assume what I’m assuming which is that he’ll be moving to a nice shallow hole sometime soon, but no; Trevor is just inviting him to a high stakes poker game with all the big players in the area. Yeah, something tells me that’s ALMOST as bad as the dirt nap, but Jonah is so high on his success that he doesn’t question it for a second and agrees immediately.
We get some more poker scenes, though this is more of a montage than seeing any hands play out which makes it less interesting as far as I’m concerned, and eventually it comes down to Trevor and Jonah. Trevor is low on chips however which would make Jonah the winner very shortly, but Jonah is so sure of his victory that he offers to raise the stakes and for Trevor to get more funds. During this break in the action, April comes over to refresh their drinks and pleads with Jonah to end the game here. He has more money than enough money to cover the restaurant they want to open and it’s not like Trevor’s just gonna keep giving him money like this (again, there’s no way this is JUST a poker game) but as was made extremely obvious right from the outset he’s not in it for the money; he’s there to be a bigshot. April FINALLY realizes this as well, and then and there decides to leave him which barely even phases Jonah; proving just how little he cared for her as much as he was dependent on her for easy cash and a bed to sleep on. The game resumes, Jonah looks like he’s gonna win the pot with a brilliant hand… but then time starts to go all wibbly-wobbly and all of a sudden we’re back about twenty seconds. Uh-oh. I don’t think Jonah’s gonna like where this is going! Trevor has two of his goons grab Jonah and remove the tape recorder taped to his leg so he can no longer go back in time, and Trevor reveals… HE HAS A TAPE RECORDER OF HIS OWN! TWILIGHT SHOCK!!
So as it turns out, the house always wins. Jonah is left alone with Trevor and his goons, and Forest Whitaker is on hand to give us the moral of the story.
“In chasing the big score, Jonah Beach forgot the one unchanging rule of the game. The house always wins, especially… in The Twilight Zone.”
Does it though? Something tells me that a general rule in the real world be the LAST thing to work in The Twilight Zone, but I get it. It’s not a story about reinforcing the status quo; it’s about one man’s out of control ego leading to his own downfall. It’s a classic enough little yarn that The Twilight Zone is known for (particularly calling to mind The Prime Mover), but is it a GOOD version of that? I’m not entirely sure. I guess it’s not a BAD episode of this particular series, but Jonah is SO unlikable and rather one-dimensional that I couldn’t get invested in his story even if the script was going through all the right motions. That’s one of the things that I’m finding more and more to like about the original Twilight Zone; the character writing is ALWAYS strong. Even bit parts are given a lot of personality like the rather pushy diner owner in Nick of Time, and my favorite episode of the series Four O’Clock is nothing but a series of character driven vignettes until the shocking conclusion. That’s perhaps what this series fails to understand; we remember the twist endings, the alien cook books, the reveal of the ugly doctor’s face, but those were the denouements to utterly gripping narratives. Episodes like this one are all about the eventual reveal, and while it’s a decent one and they kept my interest just enough for me to see it through to the end, there’s just not enough meat on these bones to make it GREAT. Then again, I highly doubt that Eddie Kaye Thomas and Marisa Coughlan could EVER be in anything together that’s as phenomenal as Freddy Got Fingered. You can only catch lightening in a bottle once!