Season 1: Episode 3 – Chase a Wild Horse

Johnny comes home

Original air date: October 8, 1968

Synopsis – Used to living on his own and not answering to anyone, Johnny finds the structured life at Lancer a bit stifling. In his own words he even states: “the only way to beat the system around here is to get ahead of it”. After capturing a wild stallion instead of completing his work, Murdoch chides him and tells him that shirking his responsibilities has repercussions. Johnny feeling the pressure decides to leave Lancer.

Now for my thoughts, as I watch the episode – which has always been one of my favorites.

So mount up, here we go —

The Fence sequence

  • The episode opens with Johnny putting in some fence posts. Yes he is shirtless, and yes he is sweaty. I will say no more…
  • Helping Johnny is Wes, a ranch hand that sounds like he may have known Johnny before, or at least knows him fairly well at this point. He’s trying to get Johnny to slow down – it’s a hot day and he’s about done in. But Johnny keeps pounding away at that fence post. He wants to finish quickly so he can have some of his own time. Wes is a bit of a whiner and starts to get in Johnny’s head.

The Wild Horses sequence

  • In the meantime three men, Sam Stryker and his two sons Davie and Eli, are wandering around looking for some stray cattle – obviously up to no good. In the distance, they see a few wild horses and a beautiful black stallion. Just as they figure how much the horses would be worth, Davie takes his rifle and shoots at the stallion, thinking it would help them round up the horses if the stallion was brought down – not even realizing that the stallion is worth the most. Thankfully he misses and the horses, including the stallion run off. He’s not playing with a full deck – and his father is quick to remind him of that. They go after the horses, even though they know it’s Lancer land. Sam Stryker – father of the year!

The Watch sequence

  • Back to the fence, Murdoch rides up and smiles when he sees Johnny working so hard. He’s impressed with the work that’s been done.
  • Johnny’s pretty pleased with the compliment from Murdoch, but that quickly turns a bit sour when Murdoch tells Johnny that some problems have come up and he needs to help Scott at 2:00, and later that evening some bookkeeping needs to get done. When Johnny asks how he’ll be able to tell when it’s 2:00, Murdoch gives Johnny his pocket-watch. It’s a sweet gesture, and Murdoch starts to say something, but Johnny’s a little bit sharp with him, so he just tells him to be back by 2:00 and rides off.
  • As Johnny resigns himself to finishing up his work, the black stallion makes an appearance, and Wes convinces Johnny to go after it.

The Confrontation sequence

  • Johnny has the stallion, so of course now here come the Strykers – attempting to thank Johnny for catching “their” herd. But of course Johnny isn’t about to give up the horses, and he tells them he knows they’re lying about how they tracked the horses. Stryker is not pleased.
  • I’m not a fan of whiny Wes, but I do love him in this scene.
Johnny and the Strykers

The Lancer Ranch sequence

  • We’re in the Lancer great room, and Murdoch is looking at the clock. It’s 3:00 and Johnny is late. Murdoch is not pleased, but Scott tries to cover for him. Then they get the bad news that at least 50 head of cattle got loose and are stuck in the gully where Johnny was working – and never finished the fence. Uh-oh!
  • Here comes Johnny and Wes with the horses, and of course the coveted stallion. Not knowing the problems that were caused by the fence not being completed, Johnny seems pretty sure that Murdoch will be fine that he comes bearing gifts…..oh boy.
  • Johnny and Murdoch butting heads again, very reminiscent of their conversation in the pilot, and Murdoch loses his cool. Teresa, a cool voice of reason, tells Murdoch that he’s never run his life by a clock before.
  • Here comes trouble – the Strykers are now at Lancer, and I can guess what they want. Stryker gives Murdoch a story about how Johnny stole the horses from him; Murdoch tells him to take the horses, but leave the stallion.
  • Of course Eli goes for the stallion, and Johnny jumps in and a fight ensues. When Johnny’s back is turned Eli goes for his gun – but he’s no match for Johnny Madrid, um.. Lancer.

The Leaving sequence

  • This is a tough scene. I felt so bad for both Johnny and then Murdoch. They both seem so at a loss with each other – and it’s heartbreaking. Again, reminding me of their one-on-one conversation in the pilot. Desperate to find some common ground. Murdoch telling Johnny he needs to figure out who he is and what he wants.
  • So now Johnny is asking Wes to get his gear – what – doesn’t he have anything else? Not gonna pack a bag or anything? I know he arrived with only his saddlebags – but didn’t he at least drop his stuff in a dresser somewhere? Oh, that’s television land – where everything is off somewhere we can’t see.
  • Oh my goodness – everyone’s heart is breaking. Where is my box of tissues?
  • And then we find out that Eli has died. Sorry, not wasting my tissues on Eli – I have better use for them later in the episode.

The Scott and Murdoch sequence

  • Scott is always at his absolute best when he calls bullshit on both Murdoch and Johnny. He is the glue that holds them together – because Murdoch and Johnny are so similar in their temperaments. A short scene, but one with great impact on the story.

The Second Watch sequence

  • So now Johnny and Wes are in town at the livery to bed down their horses, including the stallion. The owner of the stable offers to buy the stallion, but Johnny is adamant – the horse is not for sale. But Wes, once again in Johnny’s head, convinces Johnny to sell the watch that Murdoch gave him earlier. Johnny is reluctant, and agrees, but his heart just doesn’t seem to be in it.
  • After some time in the saloon, Johnny goes back to the livery stable and hunches down in deep thought – you can tell he is torn up about everything that transpired earlier in the day. Tissues please…
  • A drunken Wes comes in and interrupts Johnny’s thoughts. Wes – turning up like a bad penny.

Next Day Lancer Ranch sequence

  • Here comes Stryker and his men. He tells Murdoch Eli has died, and he wants Johnny – he’s looking out for a little revenge. When Murdoch tells him that Johnny is gone and not coming back Stryker doesn’t believe him and he gives the order for Davie to shoot Walt – a Lancer hand.
  • Stryker and his men are staking out Lancer waiting for Johnny to return.

The Saloon sequence

  • This scene is just priceless. One of the best scenes between Scott and Johnny in this episode, and in my opinion probably one of the best scenes between the two of them in the entire series. Scott as the older brother, and likely the more level headed of the two, took the step to make an effort to dissuade Johnny from leaving. The dialogue is perfect; the acting is perfect; and the emotion is perfect. These two together are always a goldmine – and it’s just sweet!
“It was nice to have met you brother”
  • And here comes Wes again – that darn bad penny. Johnny kind of tells him to take a hike – finally. But dumb-head Wes, he decides he’s going to break that stallion. But that stallion has a different idea, and winds up killing Wes instead.
  • Johnny comes running from the saloon and jumps the fence into the corral. Johnny takes out his gun and points it right between the eyes of the stallion – but thankfully doesn’t shoot. Instead he asks if the owner of the livery stable still wants the horse. They come to an agreement that if Johnny breaks the horse he’ll trade it for Murdochs’s watch. I always knew it was killing him to give up that gift from his father.

Johnny’s Return sequence

  • Scott has arrived back at Lancer, and Teresa tells him that Stryker’s son has died. Scott sets off to get help, but before he even gets a few yards, he’s shot. Luckily he’s only injured.
  • In the great room, Murdoch reaches for his rifle and is about to go after Scott, when Teresa sees Johnny riding in. Murdoch wants to keep him away, but Johnny hearing a shot sneaks in from the side.
  • This is where it gets ugly. Murdoch, in some weird sense of protecting Johnny by getting him away from the ranch tells him to leave, that he’s not wanted. A cruel way to protect someone. As Johnny is leaving, by yet another door, Scott stumbles in.
  • Murdoch doesn’t want Johnny to know what’s going on – but thankfully Teresa tells him the truth. Teresa seems to be the one that sets the record straight when no one else will. I really wish they had done more with her in the series (oh but wait, that’s for future episodes, and we’re not there yet).
  • Johnny goes out to see if he can sneak up on Stryker and his men. As he makes his way across the yard, Murdoch and Scott come out of the house shooting – to cover him.
  • Stryker and Davie see Johnny, and Davie sneaks around behind him. As he yells “Lancer” with his gun drawn, Johnny turns, draws and shoots him in the shoulder. Stryker takes aim at Johnny, but Johnny’s too quick and makes his way to Davie, where he holds a gun to his head. He tells Stryker to have his men drop their guns and ride out. They comply. Davie the sniveling coward whines and asks Johnny what he’s going to do. Johnny still has his gun to Davie’s head, when Murdoch just says “Johnny”. He releases Davie, who rides out with his father.

The End sequence

  • Johnny is back digging post holes, not shirtless this time (damn it). Murdoch rides up and, well, it looks like they have come to an understanding.
Father and Son

Guest Stars

  • Robert J. Wilke as Sam Stryker
  • James Gammon as Wes
  • Paul Carr as as Davie Stryker
  • Vaughn Taylor as Dan Spencer
  • Bobby Clark as Eli Stryker

Some final thoughts:

  • One of the best episodes of the series, but I feel like it was completely out of place. In the last scene of the pilot, Johnny signs his name as Lancer, not Madrid. But dropping the mantle of Johnny Madrid shouldn’t be easy. Notice I said “shouldn’t” and not “couldn’t”. He was after all fairly well known as Johnny Madrid up to that point in his life. As we see in future episodes, just the mere mention of that name made people nervous. In the pilot, we saw the inner turmoil that went through Johnny’s mind from the very beginning of the episode to the end. That same turmoil is even more visible in this episode – which makes it appear as a progression that takes place over time. In the second episode, “Blood Rock”, Johnny isn’t seen very much but he is seemingly already ingrained in the Lancer family lifestyle. Again, this is based only on my opinion, and the fact that we don’t see much of him at all. Why would the second episode of a TV show, where the pilot focused so much on putting this family together, change gears and focus on a kid and his outlaw father? And yes, I do see a correlation of Ben and Morgan Price with the two sons who should have known their father as well. I just don’t see that episode as putting their best foot forward after such a fabulous pilot episode. Of course, no one has any insight into the powers that be at CBS, or any other influence, but it seems like a misstep in the episode order.
  • I just noticed for the first time – after watching this episode numerous times – that Scott only takes off one glove to have his drink. A bit odd maybe, but I’ve come to think of Scott and his gloves, like Johnny and his spurs. Functional, but not really needed – other than to make them look cool!
  • In the scene where Scott is riding in to town, there are 2 women that pass behind him as he brings his horse to the livery. Both of them look very “Little House on the Prairie” with their bonnets. The one bonnet looks exceptionally large. I don’t think I recall seeing women wearing bonnets on Lancer. It just looks a bit odd to me. But then again, a lot of the women in the show wear their hair and make-up very 1968, so who am I to question.
  • OK, not to sound gross or anything, but let’s talk about Johnny and sweat. I’ve always felt that some of the older westerns of the 50s and 60s were a little too clean. What I mean by that is, the clothes always looked too clean, too ironed and buttoned down (with a few exceptions, like Festus in Gunsmoke). I like how Johnny is allowed to look hot and sweaty – a lot. It shows a grittier side and it works very well. Today’s westerns – the few that there are – tend to be a lot grimier and grittier, and likely more true to how a cowboy would look back in those days.

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