Season 1



This is another one I REALLY enjoyed. I think, feel free to argue, the episode is about Jess learning to admire Slim in the face of adversity. Just love Slim in this one. Heís restrained, mostly right, sticks to his guns, keeps his head and does it all without raising his voice.  He handles Jess being just, well a tad unfaithful, exploitation by economic rationalists when he did the right and honourable thing, (those cursed faceless vice presidents of the stage company) and the prospect of losing the ranch all with same stoicism and without getting bitter.  Just as an aside that stageline really needs to review its hiring policies for executive staff. They get great loyal staff at the coal face, stage drivers, clerks and relay station guys but if supervisors or above only turn out to be nasty petty little tyrants and not thieves, blackmailers and murderers it been a good hire.


 The episode is really Red River, except Cherry Valance (Jess) gets to kill  Tom Dunstan ( Ballard) instead of Matthew Garth  (Slim) coming to fisticuffs with him. Not that Ballard (unlike Dunstan) does not deserve to die. Well maybe Dunstan deserved it but you donít want it to happen.


Both Slim and Jess get to say they were wrong in this episode and neither gets anything but a supportive response, except maybe the restraint comes a lot more easily to Slim than Jess, because Slim gets a great deal more practice. Slim in fact shows so much restraint in this episode, it makes you wonder if he ever considered his life would be a whole lot simpler if he could just drag Jess out to the woodshed and tan the pants off him.


Jess is suffering a bad case of cabin fever in this episode. The ranch is in trouble but Slim really needs him and this is one time where he canít just ride off. The cabin fever is  compounded by Slim refusing to shift from ď doing the right thingĒ even when he is risking losing everything, which probably makes it a little understandable when Jess gets seduced into a slight case of hero worship by Ballard, the man of action who appears to have backbone of steel that lets him face anything, chance anything, try rather than wait. Presumably with Slim so broke he canít even afford groceries, Jess isnít taking wages so he expects to have a say in solving the problems and gets very touchy when Slim says that as he is paying (not paying) the bills he gets to decide. So things are a little tense between Jess and Slim.


When Slim does have to admit that he was wrong and should have taken the cattle to market, the episode just opens right up. The cattle scenes are beautifully done, with quite a lot of original photography, it seems. There are quite a number of shots with Jess and Slim and Ballard with the cattle, to know it was not all stock shots.


On the trail there are some interesting parallels between Slim and Ballard. They are both cool, in control, leaders. Only from the way Jess is seeing it, Ballard is charismatic, rugged and Slim is restrained and acting to cautious. Jim Davis who is always so great at being a  very cool villain, or an always in control good guy is terrific as Ballard, because up until the Indian attack, you really donít know whether he is the risk taker facing danger headon, backbone of steel  Jess would like Slim to be or just evil.  So there is a nice little whoís right about Ballard tension going on.


When Jess finally works out that Ballard is plain evil, the talk between Jess and Slim is one of those lovely understated ones, where everything is said without it being said. Jess just saying how Slim was doing a real decent thing burying the two hands that were killed and meaning (to me) ďYouíre a better man than ever I thought Ballard was.Ē  There is some awfully good writing in these episodes.


There is an awful lot going on in this show, not to sure why the boss needed to be tied up in the wagon, it bothers me. Did they feed him in that two months, they never took the gag off, did he need to go to the bathroom? I prefer not to think about it.There is all the drought story, the cattle drive, Slim and Jess tensions, Jonsey supporting Slim and being considerably less understanding about Jess than Slim is. It was a nice touch taking the time for Jonsey to tell Jess there was a problem with Ballard, and Jess to ignore it. The Matthew Garth moment when Slim takes over and drives Ballard out is really well done.  Slim is calm, reasonable and restrained and Jess does Cherry Valance turning a gun on Ballard without discussing it.

They do not waste time having Jess do a mea culpa to Slim about how itís Jessís fault that Ballard will be going after Slim and Slim isnít good enough to handle him. We do have the foreman telling Slim he canít take Ballard but not Jess. Nice little scare they tried to throw in early in the piece by having Andy say Ballard was faster with a gun than Jess.

Which is another nice little twist because as soon as Slim works out that Jess is gone, he knows where he is gone, and does a Ballard moment that Jess admired and jumps on his horse to take the action to the problem.  Even when though he as been the voice of reason keeping other people with the cattle when they wanted to go after Ballard. I really love when the deep hidden impulsive streak comes out in Slim. Is the reason that he is so understanding of Jessís less than nodding acquaintance with a rationed response because he has to fight it down  himself?

Just a rally good climax with one of the best Slim lines at the end. Jess handles the gunfight, Slim helps but probably wasnít needed. Just the way Slim dismounts and walks up to Jess at the end and asks ďHitĒ and Jess says no calmly but that hand is twitching, as he waits for Slimís response and then Slim says nothing as they walk forward, then stops picks up Jessís hat dust it  off, hands it to him and says ever so mildly ď You dropped your hatĒ and Jess with ever so much meaning says ď Thanks partnerĒ Sigggggggggggggh


It looks like at the end Jess is getting more of a say in what is happening. Heís seen the letter about reopening the relay station and giving orders to Jonsey. Not that Johnsey sounds too thrilled.


Horses because I canít resist. It looks a bit like someone confused Crazy Horseís oat ration with his chaff ration because he excels himself in this one getting very hot with the cattle. There is one scene where John Smith does not touch the bridle, heís on a loose rein and Crazy Horse still tosses his head so high  when he stops its scary to watch, and when he Slim gallops into town at the end, itís a wonder Crazy Horse does not go straight up in the air on his back legs. He was trying.  Even Hoot gets a little uppity. He is in the distance as the Indians attack and the cattle are running and as Jess pulls his rifle out and swings it high, Hoot goes what my friend calls WHOOOOOOOOOSH, and Jess is left behind leaning waaaaay back in the saddle instead of sitting straight up, trying to stop him.

And I think when Ballard got killed Judge Henry Garth bought his horse.

And not a horse thing but for some reason the close up of Slim when the Indians first rode up was reversed. John Smithís scar is on the wrong side of his face.

The music for the cattle drive is lovely. I donít recognise it but it really made the episode different. Was it written just for the episode? One of the things I really like about Laramie is the music background music,  ( not just when Hoagy Carmichael plays) it always seems to be just right



Anyway another episode I really loved. Not just for the Slim/Jess story, but photography and music, an interesting villain and just how much they managed to write into something a bit less than 60 minutes of episode. They knew how to write a good story then. Keep the characters moving, make space so you feel like you are spending time with them, and get in a lot of action. It seems lost with much of the shows they are making now to me anyway.