Friday, 19 February 2016

Bonanza 01x02: Death on Sun Mountain (The Sun Mountain Herd)

In the Old West, cows were walking money, and stealing cattle was a pretty serious crime. Especially to the Cartwrights during season one, when they’re disturbingly gritty and confrontational. Episode two opens with Adam bringing Ben, Hoss and Little Joe to hide in the bushes to watch as a mysterious rustler steals three of their steer.

“So that’s what’s been happening to our cattle!” Ben grumbles instead of stopping the thief. His sons all nod angrily, also instead of stopping the thief.

We discover that the thieves are the neighbouring Paiute, after the mysterious rustler returns to a small camp to rendezvous with Chief Winnemucca. Once the mastermind is revealed, the Cartwrights emerge from a nearby hiding place brandishing fire arms. Ben demands the return of their cattle, and the mysterious rustler angrily tempts fate by shouting: “Shoot, Ben Cartwright! Shoot!” And we go to the title sequence.

Of course, when we get back from the title sequence, Ben doesn’t shoot anybody. He reveals that the mysterious rustler is Tukwa, a Paiute hired to work on the Ponderosa. The betrayal is confusing and disappointing to Ben; he seems to be under the impression that loyalty to the Cartwrights should be instantaneous once you’re on their team, and any previous loyalties should be overwritten.

Chief Winnemucca explains that they’ve only been stealing cattle because all of the deer and antelope on Sun Mountain have been killed by miners and there is no meat to feed his people. Children are starving, so Tukwa stole the cattle. Ben looks mortified and says: “What say you, Winnemucca? The Washoe antelope herds have fed the Paiute since the Long Ago Green Time!”

Ugh. Just speak normally, Ben, you’re so embarrassing.

Hoss is upset about all of this. He’s never liked the idea of starving children, and he wants to know why Tukwa didn’t ask the Cartwrights for help instead of stealing. Hoss would have given the Paiute beef for their children. He seems kind of offended that anybody would think he’d say no to that.

Chief Winnemucca replies that men do not beg for charity. Apparently, all of his braves have been calling Winnemucca a big lame behind his back, and they think he doesn’t know they been saying it, but he totally knows. Winnemucca declares that he is no lame, and even though the Paiutes are a peaceful people, it doesn’t mean they can’t make war.

Ben says: “War brings nothing but wailing in tents and lodges, Winnemucca. For the Paiute and the white man. You and I understand these things.”

(Ben. You need to stop.)

But all the young men of Winnemucca’s tribe have voted to go to war over the antelope, so that’s that. His people have always been where the antelope are, and if white men are killing all of the antelope, it’s only a matter of time before they kill all the Paiute. Ben asks for time to speak with the miners (“men who dig in the ground” he calls them) and settle this whole thing without bloodshed. How, Ben? By reviving the dead antelope with your magical elixir? Or by using a time machine to undo the depletion of a vital food source?

Ben vows to prevent all future killing of antelope, and Adam officially gifts Tukwa the cows he was stealing. When the Paiutes leave, Ben treats us all to a lecture on the ecosystem and the importance of prey animals. Because he didn’t think enough people wanted to punch him in the face today.

The Cartwrights ride into Virginia City and Little Joe immediately starts flirting with women on the sidewalk. Hoss says he liked Virginia City better when it was just a coach stop and a post office. Ben tells them to go play and keep out of the way while he and Adam sort out this antelope crisis.

Over in the campsites the miners have set up, a young family is standing around an open fire where the woman is cooking (antelope?) meat in a skillet. They look ragged and honest, and the wife laments that they don’t have more food to go around. Her two young sons try to make the best of things by acting excited to try her new seasoning method. Oh boy, cumin! We didn’t have that back in Kansas! Almost makes practically starving worth it!

Adam and Ben go over to the poor-but-noble mining family, where Ben nods at the skillet and says: “Ain’t much of a meal for growing boys, is it?” (He’s trying to steal the Most Oblivious Cartwright title from Little Joe this week.) 

The miner gets all up in Ben’s face and says he’d rather be poor than an inconsiderate jerk like Ben, and obviously he wishes he could do more for his family, so why doesn’t Ben just go to hell? Ben says he has no idea how he offended the man, and asks why he doesn’t feed his children beef.

“Why don’t I just sprout wings and fly?!” The miner waves his hands around sarcastically. It’s awesome. Ben’s so rich and out-of-touch, it’s good for him to get yelled at by people who live in reality instead of Ponderosa Magic Land. He’s kind of like Oprah that way.

Adam is amused by the miner’s outburst and shakes his hand. He explains that he is a cattle rancher, as is his father, and they’re trying to figure out how come beef sales are relatively stable if there’s this sudden need for antelope meat. The miner tells him that if antelope costs ten dollars per pound in Virginia City, he’s afraid to find out how much beef would cost him.

For historical context, this man just said he paid about three hundred dollars for the contents of the skillet.

Ben tells the miner, Harris, that he will sell him an entire steer for twenty dollars, and emphasizes that he’s not being generous. This is the standard price of beef. So, just to help everybody with their butcher math: ten dollars for one pound of crummy antelope, or fifty cents per pound of a big huge steer. Harris hoots and hollers and takes off his hat and dances around, as is the formal custom of a prospector who has experienced good fortune.

Over in downtown Virginia City, a hooker hits on Little Joe, and he thinks she’s interested in his personality. Unfortunately, Hoss saves him right away and redirects him to the hubbub at the antelope-selling store, because we can’t have any fun at all, we have to deal with this stupid meat-price plotline. Upon seeing the sign that says Antelope $10 per lb (in case we didn’t get all of this information from the last scene about all of this information), Joe decides to investigate, but he can’t quite push through the crowd and into the store. Lucky for everybody, Hoss is gigantic and the actual best, so he just goes through like a battering ram that says: “Excuse me, pardon me, comin’ right through!” and gets us right to the head of the line.

There’s such a desperate commotion, the butcher announces that it’s now fifteen dollars a pound as he brings out an antelope carcass and pushes away fists clutching wads of cash. Little Joe says that all of these dumb miners are crazy, and the sleazy store owner steps out in his suspicious pinstriped suit – never trust a classic Western character in pinstripes – and asks Little Joe why he would say that. Joe asks the guy if he thinks it’s cool for people to pay so much for not-quite-venison, and the guy says he thinks it’s super cool. He’s the one selling the antelope.

In fact, he says, thousands of people are on their way to Virginia City to try and strike it rich by finding more silver. And they’ll be hungry! Which is where his plan to kill all of the antelope without replacing them comes in! See, first he kills all of the antelope and sells the meat for a stupidly high price, and then, once all the antelope are gone… he’ll be left with nothing? I don’t know, his speech about how smart he is gets interrupted by Ben and Adam who have come to shout at him.

They all go into the evil meat baron’s office to argue about meat, and it’s pretty tedious. The only thing that remotely matters is that we meet our villain, and when Adam tells him that killing antelope risks war, he’s all: “I’m from San Francisco, and in San Francisco we don’t believe in cause and effect. Good day to you, gentlemen.”

Little Joe asks why Ben doesn’t just sell the evil meat baron Ponderosa beef, in front of the evil meat baron, and Ben is like: “Because he will buy it from us at reasonable market prices and then sell it to the miners at thirty dollars a pound, Dumbest Son.”

“Yes, I will!” The evil meat baron cackles, “That is what I do for a living!”

The butcher from earlier comes in to announce he just sold their last side of antelope, which means the fun is over and now they have to go back to San Francisco.

The evil meat baron and the Cartwrights talk about meat some more.

Joe thinks it’s cool to sell to unethical people as long as your end of the business is ethical; what a person does with your product is outside of your control. Hoss disagrees because he believes in building a brand and targeting consumers that respect that brand. Ben-loves-nature-Mufasa-speech. No deals with evil people.

Then an actual event takes place! The butcher is offended by the Cartwrights and attacks Adam with a cleaver! Adam karate chops the butcher in the neck, sending the cleaver clattering to the floor, and the butcher draws a gun. But the evil meat baron steps in and calms the butcher down before there’s any kind of shoot-out. Thank god everyone’s come to their senses so that we can spend another fifteen minutes of this damn episode talking about meat.

Just as the Cartwrights are getting ready to leave town, they run into the miner and his sons from earlier. He’s still in good spirits about meat prices, because oh my god nobody is thinking about anything but stupid meat and I hate it so much. The butcher and the evil meat baron overhear Harris asking Ben about picking up the cattle in the morning, and they decide to stop that beef from ever reaching Virginia City.

But the day is winding down, and even evil meat barons are just regular barons when they take their work hats off. He heads over to the saloon where he catches the eye of that hooker who admired Little Joe’s inner beauty. She asks the EMB to buy her a drink, and he wonders if there are any rules about ladies being in saloons. Okay. This woman is obviously a prostitute. She’s wearing a hot pink corset and has about six ostrich feathers in her hair. Anybody from anywhere in the West (but especially San Francisco, which at that time was famous for its awesome brothels) would know that she was an employee of the saloon. And he’s not being all cutesy-fake-gentlemanly to tease her, he’s pleasantly surprised to learn she’s allowed inside.

They get comfortable at a corner table, and we learn that the woman’s name is Glory Delacie (which was totally on her birth certificate), as her date tries to impress her with his knowledge of classy San Francisco restaurants. This may be the first time the evil meat baron has met a woman. We also learn his name is Burdette, and that Glory is from California as well.

They do that thing where they exchange two sentences and fall in love. Glory is hoping to stop chasing wealth and find something real in Virginia City. Burdette confesses that he could have never really made any money in California because he wasn’t smart enough. That’s not really a surprise. (Step One: Kill all the Antelope. Step Two: Sell the Antelope Meat. Step Three: Wing it!) He asks Glory to go steady with him, because he’s a romantic. Glory agrees provided he takes care of all her financial needs. It’s like Pretty Woman, if Pretty Woman was a dull period piece.

The next morning, Harris is picking his cattle up at the Ponderosa, when Tukwa urgently rides up to the ranch. He says that there are more people coming into town, which bodes ominously for the diminishing antelope. Harris replies with some stereotypical prospector stuff about luck and striking it rich, then leaves with his cattle. Ben tells everyone to watch the herd closely, because desperate newcomers might also be cow thieves.

Meanwhile, the butcher has hired some extra guys and dressed them and himself up like Paiutes. They ambush Harris and his friends, intentionally leaving a survivor to spread the story. Obviously, the survivor is Harris – the only guy who’s already had dialogue so far, and is also the poor-but-honest father of two young boys. The cattle scatter. The butcher rides off with his accomplices.

Back in his office, Burdette is furious about the loss of life. Being an evil meat baron is one thing, but he cannot condone the murder of non-antelope. The butcher points out that he’s a butcher in all departments, and that Burdette was being pretty naïve if he thought there was a way to do all of this without murdering at least four people. And there might still be more murder, if it comes to it. Because, it turns out, Burdette and the butcher don’t really hail from San Francisco, they just hung out there for a little while after the butcher killed a guard in order to break them out of a prison in St. Louis. Which kind of explains why Burdette didn’t know much about saloon girls.

The butcher heads over to where his accomplices from earlier are playing cards. He tells them that now they’re going to take “revenge” on the Paiute for killing miners, because he wants to start a war for some reason? Meat prices will go down, you idiot butcher! People will just leave Virginia City if food is ridiculously expensive and there’s a war all the time!

They ride out and gun down Tukwa while he’s working in the fields. Winnemucca comes to get Tukwa’s body and discuss how impending the impending war now is. Little Joe wonders why anybody would murder Tukwa, and Ben explains it was probably vengeance for killing those miners. Detective Hoss points out that anybody with a brain would know that the Paiute were set up for killing those miners, because the miners were shot with bullets and the Paiute only use arrows. Ben says it’s too late to tell anybody that, since Tukwa is already dead. Don’t listen to him, Hoss! Go tell the sheriff your awesome clues and prevent more killings!

Winnemucca warns everybody that it’s going to be an uphill battle to prevent war, and he might be able to calm his people for a little while, but things are about to get serious. The Paiute leave, tension hanging in the air behind them.

Adam says that Burdette had Tukwa killed and it’s time to go deal with him, once and for all. Little Joe objects, since everybody just told him that the miners killed Tukwa, and Burdette is an evil meat baron. That’s a different occupation! Of course Adam doesn’t like Burdette, but that’s no reason to go around accusing the man of murder! Adam calmly explains the concept of disguises and framing other people, and Little Joe calmly explains the concept of a fair trial and evidence. Ben sides with Little Joe, and tells Adam that they can’t just ride into town and lynch a guy without proof. Adam says that they’ve got plenty of proof: Burdette is a giant pain in the butt and the only person who could possibly benefit from killing those miners and Tukwa. Case closed.

Little Joe says he wants actual proof, not an opinion. So he’s going to go into Virginia City to snoop around, all subtle-like. Terrible plan. Everybody in Virginia City knows who Little Joe is. He’s the dumb schmuck who got half of Chinatown burned down last episode. Ben thinks this is a good idea, and off Joe goes while Hoss watches him ride away and muses: “How could anybody shoot down an innocent man just for a few dollars?”

“Not just a few dollars,” Adam replies, “a bonanza.”

Oh, Adam. You’ve been so quiet during this stupid episode and when you finally get to talking you title-drop? For shame.

Over in Virginia City, the butcher is leaning against buildings and trying to flirt with respectable women who don’t want to make eye contact with him. He notices Little Joe riding into town and reports to Burdette, who notes that Little Joe is taking a mighty big chance by riding into town by himself – especially since it’ll soon be common knowledge that the Cartwrights are siding with the Paiutes regarding antelope wars. Burdette orders the butcher to beat up Little Joe but not kill him, because Burdette wishes to be friends with Joe.

You’re making friends the hard way if your plan includes hiring goons to beat them up.

Little Joe parks his horse right by Burdette’s office, which is a great way to avoid Burdette knowing that you’re around town asking questions, and the butcher walks right over to Joe and calls him a “muttering little skunk.”

Naturally, Little Joe goes straight for the guy’s face. Wham! It’s a pretty great punch, and Joe just keeps wailing on the butcher, who is almost as big as Hoss, without any conversation or hesitation. He really, really doesn’t like being called a skunk. The butcher starts punching back, and soon a crowd has formed to watch the free entertainment. Unsurprisingly, the giant ex-con is a little meaner than the prettiest Cartwright, and Joe is soon rolling around in the dirt while his face bleeds.

The butcher tells the crowd that Little Joe is a friend to the Paiutes, and some old prospector is like: “Paiutes?! Somebody get a hangin’ rope!”

Glory makes her way out of the saloon to speak on Little Joe’s behalf, since Joe is like nineteen years old and super green and hasn’t actually done anything to merit being hanged. Burdette hears the commotion and comes out to help stop the mob. When he asks what it’s all about, the same crazy prospector says that they’re gonna hang themselves “an Injun lover!”

Virginia City is full of such charming people.

Anyway, Burdette stops the hanging using the power of reasoning, and then fires the butcher because things went too far.

Dude, you can’t just fire people like that butcher! You’re going to get shot in the back when you’re coming out of the saloon! You’re going to get beaten to death in a dark alley! Your stupid antelope store is going to get accidentally blown up in a totally reasonable dynamite explosion! You are on a Western!

Glory and Burdette take Little Joe into Antelope Meat Incorporated’s head office and Glory starts mopping the blood off of his face. Little Joe wants to know why everybody was trying to hang him, and Burdette says it’s because two groups of miners have been killed by Paiutes and Harris, the only survivor, says he recognized Tukwa in the group. Little Joe jumps to his feet and calls Burdette a liar, because it’s been fifteen minutes since his last physical confrontation and he’s spoiling for a new fight. He declares that Tukwa was innocent, and Burdette angrily tells Joe to drop the subject.

Glory watches the conversation and figures out that Burdette is arranging all of the recent killings. So, this episode has a character who can have instant epiphanies regarding the plotline, but everybody in the audience needs all of it explained to them five hundred times?

Joe decides to leave and offers to buy Glory a drink sometime. She sort of waves him off and stares angrily at Burdette for a minute. Once they’re alone, Burdette says that Glory isn’t allowed to see Joe in a professional capacity, since their arrangement is some kind of paid monogamy. He is a weird guy. He refers to himself as Glory’s customer and then expects her to act like his wife. Then he smacks her in the face for being sarcastic.

She says she’s glad to have the excuse to break up with him.

He asks what’s bothering her. (Other than being hit in the face, I guess.) She tells him she doesn’t like the idea of being with a man who orders massacres. Glory’s alright, you know? Burdette tries to convince her that it really was the Paiutes, but she doesn’t buy it.

Time for our very first official Dining Room Scene! These scenes became notorious for both fans of the show and the actors who played the Cartwrights, because they’re usually just everybody sitting around the table dumping exposition. Still, you get to admire Adam’s taste in coffee cups and laugh at the cartoonish platefuls of food that are always in front of Hoss.

Little Joe slinks in while everyone’s having dinner, and Ben says that he was starting to worry and Joe should sit down, eat, and report on his sneaky intelligence mission. Little Joe sheepishly displays his black-eye and cut lips. Hoss is all: “Was your face jacked up when you left, or is this recent?” Joe repeats the entirety of the last few scenes, in case we didn’t watch them because we left for snacks thinking it was going to be more meat talk.

Adam gets angry and declares he’s going to go beat the snot out of Burdette and nobody’s going to stop him this time. Ben and Hoss decide that they’re going with him, and Joe sadly puts his jacket and hat back on. Little Joe, stay home. Eat food and take a nap. I guarantee you, you will only get punched more if you go back into town.  

Back at evil meat headquarters, Burdette is angry at the butcher for avoiding the office. So, I guess, he only pretended to fire him? Anyway, the butcher taunts Burdette about his woman troubles and his general incompetence. He says that Glory has gone to the Harris place to try and find out the truth! Dramatic commercial break!

Over in the temporary mining housing, Harris’s two boys are digging for gold in the front yard, and Glory plays along. I’m starting to really hope she lives through all of this, because she’s an active character who never talks about meat and that makes her my favourite. Mrs. Harris comes out and is surprised to find the town’s most notorious prostitute hanging out with her kids. She’s even more surprised when Glory asks to talk to Mr. Harris, because Mrs. Harris doesn’t really know Glory and Glory doesn’t make an accurate first impression.

Still, out in the hard parts of the West, ladies got to stick together. Mrs. Harris lets Glory inside, where Mr. Harris is dazed and staring at the ceiling, Mrs. Harris explains that Mr. Harris doesn’t really talk anymore. Glory asks Harris if he saw Tukwa, and Harris says he doesn’t even know who Tukwa is. Glory thanks everybody and very politely leaves, teasing the boys about their gold hunt on her way out.

But, in a very Snidely Whiplash move, the butcher grabs her and takes her to Burdette and a couple of horses while the little boys watch and don’t do anything. Children are useless.

Glory bites the butcher (not a euphemism) and he smacks her in the face, prompting Burdette to demand that he never hit Glory again! He thinks it’s the most despicable thing ever, even though he himself hit Glory and that’s part of why she left him. I guess only Burdette may hit Burdette’s women, which is more than a little messed up. Finally, the Harris boys get their mother just in time for Mrs. Harris to see Burdette and the butcher ride off with the obviously kidnapped Glory, but too late for her to do anything about it. Timing is for grown-ups, kids. Don’t worry about it.

The Cartwrights arrive in Virginia City, and I swear to you this episode is all arguments about meat punctuated by sudden bursts of sub-plot and scenes of people riding in and out of the three major locations. The saddest part is that it was written by Gene L. Coon, who was usually pretty good.
Mrs. Harris tells the Cartwrights that the butcher – turns out his name has been Thorne this whole time – just violently kidnapped Glory. Ben tells her to calm down and explain, which is hilarious because Mrs. Harris is upset, but totally rational and doing a pretty good job of explaining. Mrs. Harris says that the butcher was with Burdette, and that they’d beat up on Glory and ridden down the road out of town.

Hoss is enraged by this development. None of the Cartwrights are apathetic about violence against women, but Hoss is also very much against unfair fights, so two big men attacking one little saloon girl makes him Hulk right out.

They follow Glory and her kidnappers into the hills, heading towards Devil’s Gate, which is the place where villains hide bodies and perform executions. Up ahead of them, Burdette and Butcher Thorne are trying to locate a shack that Thorne’s heard about. Glory questions everybody’s masculinity and gets in some pretty good burns about how craptastic both of them are at business endeavours and murdering saloon girls.

And, dear god, Ben’s plan is to catch up with the brigands and have Little Joe and Adam head them off at the pass

Ben and Hoss will catch up from behind in a kind of lameoid pincer maneuver. We learn that Thorne is planning to leave Glory in the desert without water, because he likes slow methods of death that his victims can escape. Burdette is horrified, because even though they brought Glory out to Murder Flats, he didn’t think they were going to kill her.

A bullet hits the rock just behind Thorne, and I’m wondering which of the Cartwrights fired it. Adam is an insanely good shot, Joe doesn’t fire unless he knows that he can hit his target, and Hoss rarely shoots since he’s better with charging right at guys and knocking them unconscious. It’s not the kind of show where the hero’s bullets miss things, is what I’m saying.

Turns out it was Little Joe, ruining things again. We’ll let him have this since one of his eyes is swollen and he hasn’t eaten anything all day, but he needs to get it together if he’s going to be on this show for the next seventeen years.

A shoot-out begins, and Glory hides with Thorne and Burdette behind a rock. A lot of bullets hit a lot of rocks, and then Thorne realizes he’s out of ammo. Glory chooses this moment to try and escape, for reasons she doesn’t have to explain to you.

Burdette chases her down and Thorne yells at him to shoot her, but he just takes Glory behind some other rocks and tells her that he’ll always love her for being able to recognize that he was an idiot. “You saw what a fake I was from the start.”

Yeah. So did everybody else except Little Joe. That’s about as big an accomplishment as tricking the dog into thinking you threw the tennis ball when it’s still in your hand.

Glory is gentle and overly kind, not knowing if she’s about to die, and Burdette stands up in order to let her go and turn himself over to the Cartwrights. Thorne, who has reloaded his gun, realizes what’s about to happen and calls Burdette a “fancy pants coward” before shooting him in the back. Burdette is still alive but badly wounded as Thorne grabs Glory in order to use her as a human shield and escape the unusually terrible aim of Adam and Little Joe.

But there’s one thing Thorne didn’t count on: Hoss!

Hoss sneaks up the rocks behind Thorne and drops down on him like an angry snorlax! Glory runs back to Burdette, while Hoss punches Thorne in the back of the head and then starts to strangle him. Never piss off Hoss. Thorne frantically reaches around, struggling for his life, and manages to grab a rock. He hits Hoss in the face with it and frees himself.

Burdette uses the last of his strength to shoot Thorne dead.

After making sure Hoss is alright, Adam goes to check on Glory and Burdette. Burdette is dead, and Glory has a tired, far-away look in her eyes.

“He came here to get rich,” Adam says, “to strike a bonanza. And now he’s dead.”

That’s twice, Adam. Twice.

Then Glory says: “He found his bonanza, right before he died, which is better than never finding it at all.”

Remember that forever. The real treasure is love, not money or antelope meat.

The episode ends with everyone riding home while Ben gives us a voice over about how every town has an evil meat baron, lured by one kind of bonanza or another, and in the last five minutes we have said the word “bonanza” four times.

I, for one, am glad to be rid of Burdette because he spent a full half hour in total doing nothing but talking about the stupidest scam in the history of Westerns.

High Point: Hoss’s drop attack. Also, I’m probably going to call everyone I don’t like a fancy pants coward from now on.

Low Point: I want to say the long conversations about meat pricing, but also Ben’s attempts to communicate with Winnemucca. It was like when you bring your dad to Best Buy.

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