This episode caught me by surprise because it so looked like going one way, very dark and then turned into really quirky, family episode, with Jonsey and Jess doing some role reversal, Jonsey trying to be a hero and save Slim and Jess all do-mesticated doing the housework and milking cows. And Slim unwittingly refusing to allow himself to be murdered which seems to send the semi demented killer completely demented.
It is quite a dark theme, (semi) demented gunman Ed Ferrell swearing revenge on Matt Sherman and then Slim when he finds out Matt is dead, because Slim looks like him, (which sort of indicates that at some point they were planning on doing a Matt episode that never happened with John Smith playing Matt, pity.). Ed blames Matt for the horrible death of his child, when a young Slim and Ferrrell's son were sleeping as children, in a wagon crushed in a cattle stampede. There seems to be a little time fiddling going on about when the accident happened. The episode starts with Ferrell sending a letter threatening to kill Matt for what he did 15 years ago. Jonsey then asks Slim if he remembers being on cattle drives with his father when he was seven or eight which appears to be the age the stampede happened. They keep referring to the child killed as little Mike. However later in the episode Ferrell refers to Slim as being twenty-eight (John Smith's real age) the same age as Mike would have been. Ferrell talks about going crazy for 5 years after Mike died and then being ingaol for ten years. I think if the stampede had happened when Slim was thirteen he would have remembered it. Five years seem to have gone missing. Some of the story line does not seem to match with The Last Battleground in Season 4 either, but apart from those quibbles, I loved the episode.
It has some beautiful photography, there is a lovely staged scene on the veranda, sort of after dinner, with Jonsey and Slim talking, Slim leaning against a post and Jonsey beside him talking to his back, with Jesse framed in the doorway and Andy to one side, but all very much a family group. And another lovely dissolve (is that the correct term) with a shot of Slim walking over toward the body, that frames over Slim and Jesse looking down on it. Quite arty.
Slim seems pretty oblivious to many things in this episode. He is completely taken in by Jonsey's fishing stories. Completely taken in by a stranger.
Slim is also going to have to get his priorities right with Andy though. Even though the fishing was a ruse to get him away, he needs to figure out that the work on a ranch will always be there, little brother's patience and the fish won't. Andy was just so happy at going with Slim. I know Slim thought he was compromising saying wait a week but he should have said yes. I bet if Jess had said he was going fishing, not Jonsey, Andy would not have waited for big brother. Not sure Jess is taken in by the fishing story, but he seems anxious to give Andy some big brother time with Slim.
I love in this how all the stage drivers seem to know what Jonsey has been doing, and failing at doing before Jonsey has finished trying. You just know the story of Jonsey's misfortunes is going to be all over the territory by the end of the week. And Jonsey's misfortunes with horses compound his troubles, getting dumped in the stream and having one run away with his clothes. There is clearly a moral that to be able to impetuously rush off and kill someone to save Slim, like Jess does you have to be Jess and he's one of a kind. Of course if Jess had rushed off to save Slim they would have been about 40 minutes short on the show. Ferrell isn't that much of a gunman. Still poor Jonsey, he really does care about all his family and he tries so hard to fail so miserably, when in the end all Jess has to do to succeed is go for a quick ride and fire a few shots to save Slim. Plus have a real gutzer of a fall off a horse.
Probably the biggest shock in the episode is when Jess shows Andy how to shoot at bottles and he misses one. All that do-mesticity must have been getting to him.
do-mesticity of Jess is fun. While every one else is
enjoying the night air on the verandah, Jess comes out complaining he
washing dishes. Unusually for Jess, his shirt is hanging out. He could
possibly have been drying the dishes on his shirt could he. NOOOOOO.
Then Jess introduces another chapter for "101 uses for a gun belt" . A gun belt is a very useful for holding your pegs while you hang out the laundry. My mother never told me that.
When Jonsey miserably fails to kill the gunman to save Slim, the gunman gets to the ranch, pretending to need a job, so he can stay and get Slim alone so he can kill him. With their usual misplaced trust Slim and Jess let him work around the place after he tells them a hard luck story. Surely they should have learned to be suspicious of strangers wanting jobs, especially when they carry bedrolls, which look completely rigid and are about the length of a rifle.
The next day Ed is foiled again because Slim ever so pleasantly refuses to let the man drive out to fix fences with him. You can almost see the villain twirling his moustache and muttering `Curses foiled again' and Slim never seems to cotton throughout the whole episode he is any danger. Even when he is finally saved, he has this sort of bewildered, what's all the shooting about look. When Ferrell does ambush him, Slim sees Jess shooting and if Jess is shooting, so does he, no questions asked about why but he is clearly very fuzzy about what is happening.
Fortunately Jess recovers from being Jonsey fast enough to save Slim. They do a nice sleight of hand with a rathe spectacular horse fall as Jess catches up with the villain. Jess (stuntman Jess ) goes down hard and the next thing you see is Jess and the horse flat out on the ground. Its so quick the shot change is hard to see. Was it Hoot playing dead? The forelock is in the way and I can't quite see if the horse has a star. Big relief when Hoot? jumps to his feet at the first gun fire.
I could be wrong but the last scene where Jess and Andy are listening to Jonsey's tales of woe and badly gone wrong heroics and laughing looks suspiciously like not all the laughter was scripted, in fact it looks a little like Andy and Jess are having an attack of the giggles. They all get their lines out but there are a few pauses and swallows, except by Jonsey who does not miss a beat.
As Jonsey pays no attention to Jess and Andy and tells his tail flat voiced and straight faced, Andy is looking up, down sideways, even trying to bury his face in his shirt, anything but look at Jonsey. He keeps looking at Jess and quickly looking away. Jess who is sitting so you can't see all of his face, or even much of it, is also burying his head in his arm and when you do see a bit of his face, it looks like he's trying so hard not to laugh he's crying. When Slim comes out to say his piece, he sort of has to swallow hard and the dimple is working over time as if he is trying not to laugh. Maybe they just did not want to hurt Jonsey's feelings by laughing out loud.
More proof if it was needed, just how good the writing on Laramie was.