Monday, September 27, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Hangman"

“The Night of the Hangman” is a unusual, but welcome straying from the formula. Jim and Artie get caught up in a mystery when they stop over in a small town as a very public murder takes place. Jim helps apprehend the alleged murderer. He serves as the key witness at trial, but after the guy is sentenced to be hanged, has doubts they have the right man.

Jim and Artie arrive in the midst of a town celebration thrown by the beloved local tycoon who employs most everyone and his young, trophy wife, Abigail. The local banker, a guy you get the impression everyone hates, is the resident grouch attempting to spoil tings for all. As the banker bends down to pick up his walking cane, a shot fires rom somehow hitting and killing said beloved tycoon. Everyone believes the bullet was meant for the ornery judge instead.

Jim gives chase to the murder. He finds himself in the room of Lucius Brand, played by a young Harry Dean Stanton, wearing a jacket identical to the alleged murderer and holding a gun. He protests his innocence, claiming he does not remember a thing. Things look bleak for him, however. Not only was he caught with the jacket and gun, but he had threatened to kill the banker for foreclosing on his farm. There is no surprise when he is sentenced to hang, but Jim still has his suspicions.

He is right to have them. The townsfolk are right out of a Stephen King novel. They have concocted a conspiracy among Abigail, the town’s most prominent lawyer, the sheriff, and a host of henchman to ill the tycoon, earn various sums of money or other advantages for doing so, and framing Brand for the murder by making it appear as though Brand wa killing the banker in revenge, but missed when he ducked.

Artie figures out Brand could not have fired the fatal shot by comparing photos taken at the event. His theorizing sounds very similar to the JFK Magic Bullet Theory, which has me wonder exactly how early the idea was popular among conspiracy theorists regarding whether Lee Harvey Oswald was framed/acted alone. Whether there is a homage here to the assassination conspiracy, Jim and Artie unravel the plan and save Brand from being hanged.

“The Night of the Hangman” fit’s the motif of the more subdued third season in that the episodes that are most unlike the typical episodes of the series are the best. No other episode plot compels Jim and Artie to do their thing on a personal, unauthorized mission. There is a genuine, well-plotted mystery here, too. The only drawback is how these townsfolk inexplicably use the typical super villain paraphernalia of trap doors and koc out gas to thwart our heroes. Why would they have such things? Their use is the only thing keeping the episode from earning four stars. Way too implausible, that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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