Twilight Zone – Welcome to Winfield (02/07/86)

Matt is in critical condition.  He senses death coming, and I mean literal death on two legs.  He pulls himself up, ripping numerous tubes from numerous orifices.  When Death reaches Matt’s room, all he finds is an empty bed; Matt and girlfriend Lori have sped off.  And good for them — shouldn’t Mr. Death only show up when a person is about to die?  If Matt was able to get up, lose the tubes, make it to the car, and take a road-trip, Mr. Death was a tad pre-mature.

Lori turns down the dirt road to the titular Winfield with Matt shivering in the back seat. She soon arrives at a town that seems stuck in the 19th century.  Finally, three weeks later, Death takes the same turn off the main road.  To be fair, there was probably some low hanging fruit at the hospital keeping him busy — that’s like the Dollar Store to Mr. Death.

A couple of yokels are playing horseshoes when Death’s white Mercedes rolls into town. One of them says, “What do you think that is?”  Oddly the whole town saw Lori & Matt’s car three weeks earlier and seemed to get the whole car-thing.  The crowd is a little taken aback as am I — white is a terrible color for a Mercedes.

One of the hayseeds lets it slip — and by “let’s it slip”, I mean proudly exclaims — that he is 150 years old. Shafting another actor out of a speaking role, he also exposits that Matt is hiding out in town. Death calls his predecessor Chin Du Long for some advice. The townsfolk hope they can strike a deal with the new Mr. Death as they did with “The Chinaman.”

One of the hicks tells Death that Chin allowed them to live because “they wasn’t herting anyone.”  OK, he correctly pronounced it hurting, but I assume it was misspelled in his mind.  This raises a few questions.  Did Chin come to town to kill all of them at the same time?  Did a possum fall into the well?  Did he grant them immortality, or did they already have it?  What was the aforementioned deal?  What did Chin get out of it other than a racist nickname?

Matt gallantly gives himself up to save the town, but Death says he might have to take everyone.  His predecessor Chin was “too sentimental in an inscrutable kind of way.” You know, like all Chinese people.  Death tries to get Chin on the phone, but he is unavailable. Death says, “I don’t care if he’s dining with Mao, I want him on the line.” Because who else would a Chinese dude sit with at the cafeteria having only 10 billion dead souls to choose from.  And wouldn’t Mao be in Hell, anyway?

The mayor steps up and offers to sacrifice the town for the boy.  They are all over 100 years old, but Matt is just starting out.  Matt won’t hear of it. All three factions yell at Death to take them, me being the third.  Death inexplicably changes his mind and lets everyone live “for another century or so.”  He gets into his Mercedes and zooms into the sky like Doc Brown — although his rear window still shows him at ground level.

There’s a lot to like here, and any complaints were mostly to fill space.  The one small weakness is the ending — I would have really liked some motivation for Death’s change of heart.  The frontier street has a solid feel to it, and the score is appropriately banjo-y and twangy.  Matt and Lori [1] don’t have much gravitas, but the episode is well-carried by Death and the Mayor.  I initially thought Gerritt Graham was miscast as Death, but he won me over.  Henry Gibson as the Mayor was interesting as always.  Despite being great character actors, neither ever seemed to be appreciated by Hollywood.  I suspect Gibson was undervalued because of his work on Laugh-In.  That’s what did-in Nixon, as I recall.


  • [1] Congratulations to JoAnn Willette on surviving that really awful 1980s hairdo.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Numerous embodiments of death.  I guess.  I can only think of two.  I’ll say this for them, it took more than an upset stomach for them to show up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.