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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S3E23: "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank"

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How did he light that match? Maybe it's best not to ask...

Rod Serling: Time, the mid-twenties. Place, the Midwest – the southernmost section of the Midwest. We were just witnessing a funeral, a funeral that didn't come off exactly as planned, due to a slight fallout – from the Twilight Zone.

Air date: February 23, 1962

In the mid-1920s, Jeff Myrtlebank (James Best) rises from his coffin during his own funeral, causing the townspeople to flee the church in terror. Jeff follows them, angrily demanding to know why he was put in a coffin and who was responsible. Only Jeff's little sister Liz and his girlfriend Comfort Gatewood (Sherry Jackson) are brave enough to approach him, and they confirm that Jeff is not the living dead. Everyone testifies that Jeff had a terrible fever and the town doctor had declared him dead. To save face, the doctor makes up a disease that causes suspended animation and proposes that Jeff caught it, to which everyone accepts.

A few days later, Jeff's family have grown concerned. Before his "death", Jeff was a slacker, but now he's been working furiously on mending the fence and other chores. Jeff soon visits Comfort at her house to give her some freshly picked flowers, but they suddenly blacken and wilt at his touch. Frightened, Comfort won't let him touch her. This gets Jeff angry, as everyone's been avoiding him since his revival, and it would seem that she's no different. As Jeff tries to leave, Comfort's brother Orgram, who always hated him, orders him to never come back. Jeff refuses to give in to his demands, but Orgram boasts about how he always beat him up when they were younger. To their suprise, Jeff takes him out with a few punches before leaving.

The town holds a meeting to discuss Jeff's situation. An angry Orgram reminds everyone that Jeff had previously been a wimp compared to him. The doctor insists that he was sure Jeff was dead, having poked his corpse with a pin and held a mirror to his lips to check for breath. After some debate, the people conclude that Jeff's body must have been possessed by a demon. Jeff is taking a walk when Comfort runs up to him, warning that the townspeople have formed an angry mob. Jeff thanks her and proposes marriage, but before she can answer, the mob arives, demanding that Jeff leave town. Jeff says that his decision depends on Comfort's answer. Comfort accepts the proposal, so Jeff tells the mob he will stay. If he is Jeff Myrtlebank, they have nothing to worry about. But if he is a demon like they say, they'd better leave him and Comfort alone, under the threat of hellish plagues:

Jeff: I might raise my right hand and send a swarm of locusts on your crops! I might raise my left hand and dry up all your wells! And I might snap my fingers... and burn a barn or two!

Terrified, the mob leaves Jeff and Comfort be. When they are alone, Comfort asks Jeff if he can actually do those things. Jeff replies that he was bluffing and lights his pipe, starts to smoke... without striking his match. A shocked Comfort asks how he did that, to which Jeff says she's just seeing things. Jeff, or perhaps the demon possessing his body, takes his fiancee's hand and and leads her home, the gate closing by itself behind them.

The Last Tropes of Jeff Myrtlebank:

  • Affably Evil: Assuming that the title character isn't the real Jeff, the demon who possessed Jeff's dead body counts. He's hard-working, affectionate towards Comfort, and rather than use his hellish powers to enslave them, he arranges a peaceful co-existence with the townsfolk (they don't bother him or Comfort, and he won't bother them).
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Jeff actually return from the dead bearing supernatural powers? Or is he actually possessed by a demon who wants to turn him into a better person? It works either way.
  • Back from the Dead: Jeff appears to rise from the dead during his funeral, but whether it was actually him that came back is the mystery...
  • Bat Deduction: The people of Jeff's town conclude that he was possessed by a demon pretty fast. For all we know, they could've been right.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Jeff points out that if the townsfolk are right and he truly is some sort of monster, they had better be nice to him, because he's powerful enough to ruin their crops, slaughter their livestock, and burn down their buildings.
  • Came Back Wrong: Whether it's really Jeff, or a demon wearing his skin, something clearly changed about him after he came back from the dead.
    • In contrast to the usual use of the trope, Jeff seems to be a better "person" after he comes back. He works harder, eats less, fights better, and is more confident. It's this change in personality that convinces everyone in town something isn't right.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When Orgram warns him to stay away from Comfort, Jeff manages to whup him with little effort. Before Jeff's death and resurrection, Orgram had been pounding him ever since they were children.
  • Demonic Possession: It's strongly hinted that this happened to Jeff. If it's the truth, he's a surprisingly well-mannered demon, all things considered.
  • Dumb Muscle: Comfort's brother Orgram has muscles, but very little else. The official episode guide describes him as "[having] a force-field of stupidity around him".
  • The Last Title: Jeff's last rites make up the title of the episode.
  • Make Them Rot: The fresh roses that Jeff picks for Comfort die within minutes in his grip. This causes her to worry that the townsfolk's fears that Jeff Came Back Wrong are justified.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is there something truly supernatural about Jeff? The episode doesn't give a definitive answer until the end, where it's definitely the case.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The idea of spirits possessing corpses also appears in stories of vampires, something even Jeff himself brings up. Granted, Jeff doesn't seem to actually be a vampire and the ending assures Comfort is in no danger from him, but there's something supernatural going on.
  • Playing with Fire: In the final scene, Jeff lights a match without striking it. He tells Comfort that it was just her imagination when she asks how he did it.
  • Possessing a Dead Body: The townsfolk certainly believe that Jeff is being possessed by an evil spirit. Whether it's true is never clarified, though something clearly happened to him.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The townsfolk form a mob to get Jeff out of town. They aren't able to do much once Jeff reminds them, if he's really a demon like they think he is, he can do a whole lot worse to them than they can to him.
  • Tuckerization: One of the mailboxes has the name "M. Pittman" on it, a reference to the episode's writer and director, Montgomery Pittman.
  • Where Are They Now: In the closing narration, Rod Serling notes that Jeff and Comfort are still alive today, and their only son, a United States senator, is regarded as "an uncommonly shrewd politician."

Rod Serling: Jeff and Comfort are still alive today, and their only son is a United States senator who's noted as an uncommonly shrewd politician – and some believe he must have gotten his education in The Twilight Zone.

Alternative Title(s): The Twilight Zone S 3 E 88 The Last Rites Of Jeff Myrtlebank