Episode First Shown:
While away from the Ponderosa Hoss is arrested for murder in a remote town. The victim was the town’s richest citizen and the townspeople seem more interested in finding his money than in justice. Cowboy Child Barnett breaks Hoss out of jail and the two men become friends.
I found this to be
an episode with a lot of potential that was let down by poor direction and
failure to explore interesting issues.
At the beginning a riderless horse is found belonging to "the old man" who is unspecified and a group of townspeople whose names I couldn't catch and whose dialogue wasn't always clear seemed to be discussing his death and his money. Now if someone had said "Old man Harris has been murdered for all that money he had stashed away" I would have been a lot clearer about the plot.
Enter honest Hoss who found the old man's horse and is promptly jailed for murder and robbery. He is unexpectedly rescued from a lynch mob by Child Barnett, the "Child" of the episode title. There is a wonderfully droll line from Child as Hoss hesitates to break jail: "I'm going to save your life if I have to kill you to do it!" LOL!
The introduction of an African American actor (Yaphet Kotto) was welcome but the realistic difficulties faced by a Black cowboy in those times seem to have been ignored.
This episode veers between light comedy and light drama and I would much have preferred one or the other, preferably drama, after all Hoss's life was at stake.
While escaping there is some good dry comedy between Hoss and Child as they discuss their first names. Each is amused because they each find each others' names strange. However this would have been an opportunity to explore each man's background. It isn't explained that "child" is a form of address to youngsters often used in Black families (and here it has stuck to the adult) and again we don't get a definitive explanation of the name Hoss which is frustrating.
As they escape the pursuing townspeople, friendship develops between Hoss and Child and Hoss offers Child work on the Ponderosa. At this point there is a hint of more about Child than appears because he turns down the work and Hoss thinks it must be due to more than the fact that Child cannot read. Now Child's activities needed to be explored in greater depth here for the
story to make sense.
Luckily for Hoss, Ben, Joe and Candy are on their way, though they have very little participation in the story except to turn up at the proper time! Child is shot by the townspeople and confesses to being at the "old man's" property (stealing horses?) but not killing him and saying that the old man had no money. Child dies but the townspeople are still convinced that the mythical fortune of the old man must be in existence somewhere. There is a very good line from Ben when he says that those kind of men carry their own jail sentence (greed) around with them for life.
Now I think that the story would have been far more satisfactory if it had been directed as serious drama. There were a lot of questions that remained unexplored and unanswered about Child. How did he come to be apparently accepted as an equal by the townspeople when he was a Black cowboy in very racist times? How did he get a job? (cf. the impossibility of a Black family getting work in "The Wish"). Did he turn to horse stealing because he couldn't earn enough with ordinary work?
I felt that much of this episode was a lost opportunity and hence disappointing. I must add that Dan gives the episode his best shot and his acting, along with Yaphet Kotto's, way outshines the other participants.
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