Saturday, December 11, 2010

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

We have now reached the final episode of .The Wild Wild West more than a month behind schedule due to a couple bouts of poor health and one not insignifant stretch of, “Aw, screw it!” Nevertheless, the project has been completed. It was also much fun. I had not watched some of these episodes in twenty years or more. It was interesting to see how my perspective has changed since I have gotten older.

I would like to say the show ended on a high note, but it honestly did not. The last few episodes have petered out pitifully with either mediocre stories, obvious budget saving reuse of footage, or both. “The Night of the Plague” has a case of both, but particularly the latter. As with “The Night of the Cossacks,” an entire action sequence lasting nearly three minutes is blatantly lifted from another episode. This time around, it is Jim spying on some bank robbers, then lowering himself from the top of a mountain via pulley, all from the third season’s “The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds.

Jim is on the trail of some serial bank robbers. He has a sting operation going where they are supposed to rob an empty stagecoach carrying a bankroll. Unfortunately, the territorial governor’s daughter has hidden herself inside the stagecoach with plans of running away to Ft. Corboba to hook up with her sweetheart. The robbers take her hostage in order to escape Jim’s trap. He goes off in hot pursuit.

One of them is shot in the melee, however. A medical exam shows he has contracted a plague which originated in Asia. Anyone infected, which now means Jim and the governor’s daughter, must be inoculated within three days. Artie needs to find them both, but his only clue is the robber, in his delirium, quotes Hamlet. Through some investigation, he learns an acting troupe has been traveling to towns in the same pattern as the bank robberies. He surmises the troupe is part of the gang of bank robbers. He dispatches with their Falstaff in the next logical town to be hit, joins up with the troupe, then waits for them to meet up with the others.

Meanwhile, the gang has discovered the money they stole is not real, but then realize they can hold the governor’s daughter for ransom. After “The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds” interlude, Jim is captured, rescues the girl, has a shoot out, loses the girl again, has another shoot out. You know the drill. Artie figures out how to force a meeting between the two gangs, so he is lead right to Jim and the girl. They get safely inoculated. The bank robbers surrender in order to be inoculated themselves.

It is not the most thrilling swan song, but there you go. The Wild Wild West met its end due to an antiviolence mood after the assassinations of MLK and RFK. It was not the only western affected by the crusade, but it was the one to knock me the most. On the bright side, Robert Conrad has said they would have all gotten themselves killed eventually trying to film this comic book western if it had gone on much longer. Maybe so, but I kind of wish it had lasted a while longer.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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