Paladin is an extremely rational man, and having him finding his Tarot fortune mysteriously (or very coincidently) coming true just doesn't feel right for me. There are also other flaws which kept this from being a truly fine episode.
Madame Destin(y) is, no doubt, the latest rage among San Francisco's high society. Paladin, of course, is far more interested in her physical charms than her metaphysical ones. He's a little put out when, having persuaded her to a cozy, firelit evening in his suite, she insists on telling his fortune for him. The only future Paladin is interested in at the moment is what is going to be happening in his suite in the next couple of hours. However, he courteously allows her to continue. His interest starts to perk when she turns up a second Chevalier of the Swords card. (As well he might; if two jacks from the same suit showed up during a poker hand, he would have known there was some cheating going on.) Madame is dismayed when the cards predict death, and Paladin is rather astonished to realize that the lady actually believes all this. However, it doesn't prevent him from heading to Temple City the next day.
First thing we see is a coffin being brought into town. Interestingly, while the majority of men in the street took their hats off in respect (including Paladin), several of them turned their backs. Pulling up at Mincus' general store, a young girl springs out and jumps Paladin. Puberty has hit with a vengeance, and Paladin is a little chagrined to confess that he had brought her a doll as a present. He promises to exchange it for something more sophisticated. At this point, Mincus comes out of the store and sternly orders his daughter back inside to finish her work. This is where things start getting odd; Paladin, apparently, has come to Temple City for no other purpose than a yearly visit to an old friend. Mincus acts as though Paladin should already know why he is not welcome. There's a man, Danceman, who has promised to kill the first gunfighter he finds in the town, and Mincus doesn't want it to be Paladin. Why didn't he wire his friend and tell him to stay away? (This, in fact, could have been used to set the plot in motion, as Paladin's curiousity and concern would surely have brought him anyway.) Meanwhile, Juney's pout has changed to a frown. Was she not aware that her father's friend makes his living with a gun?
Paladin takes a meal at the local saloon, which is the noisiest and most bustling one I've seen on this show. An exuberant barroom brawl is underway, with plenty of excited onlookers. A little drunk slyly liberates a drink from a man who is being enthusiastically kissed by one of the bar girls (looks like she's trying to set a record, in fact). Another bar girl obligingly tips some of her own drink into the drunk's cup. He then edges up to the bar and gingerly slips out a bottle, while Paladin watches with amusement. However, another man at the bar catches him, retrieves the bottle, then slams the little man over the head with it. More liquor is sloshed over the unconcious form. When a match is lit, however, Paladin jumps over the table and intervenes. The men at the bar are put out that Paladin would interfere in their sport; it's only an old drunk, after all. Paladin coldly orders them not to light another match, and one of the men decides that Paladin must be a gunfighter. A hush instantly falls, and, as one, all turn to look at a big, benevolent-looking man standing near the end of the bar. They all fade away to the corners of the room and keep quiet. The big man assists Paladin with the unconcious drunk. He mentions that guns are not worn in this town, and puts out his hand to collect Paladin's. Paladin respectfully declines. He had probably already guessed from the crowd reaction that this was Danceman. (I don't suppose that the "Dance of Death" could have had anything to do with the name of his character, do you?) Danceman quite cheerfully announces that he is going to kill Paladin, because he is a gunfighter. The fact that Paladin has just demonstrated his humanity in saving a helpless drunk from terrible injury or death, means nothing. Paladin probably recognizes this, because he makes little effort to tell this man that he only kills when he has to. Danceman will see him in the morning, unless Paladin decides to leave--but of course a gunfighter will be too proud to do so. I wish that they had gone into this a little bit more. Paladin claims that he's just reluctant to be pushed around by a madman, but isn't that indicative of pride? There was also the little matter of the fact that if Paladin left, what would happen to the next stranger who happened to come into town with a gun? Paladin tells his friend that he is going to go to sleep, as he is tired, but Mincus warns him that he will probably not be welcome at the hotel. Paladin exits the saloon, and, like snapping a switch, the joyous chaos breaks out again.
This next scene has a glaring flaw in it. Paladin is sleeping in the stable in lieu of anything better. Paladin knows that there's a man out there who wants him dead, and a town that seems to be in his thrall. Paladin removes his guns, and then he and all the horses in the stable proceed to fall so soundly asleep that they doesn't notice when someone comes up and steals his guns. The guns were right next to his head, and we've seen over four seasons that Paladin is a light sleeper. Given that Danceman has the town in his pocket, he could have arranged for some of those brawlers in the saloon to ambush Paladin and take his guns. Instead, Paladin comes out looking like a fool. Reporting the theft the next day, he finds that the sheriff is also in Danceman's pocket. The sheriff tells him that Danceman lost his son to a gunfighter. We don't learn what the circumstances were--it's quite possible the son brought it on himself--and the sheriff admits that there seems to be more to Danceman's obsession. Paladin is becoming convinced that the man is mad. The sheriff at first denies Danceman's power over the town, then admits to it. It was Danceman who got them all to stop carrying guns, which was a good thing for the town. Or was it? Seems to me that the town is just refocusing its violent tendencies, like fighting for no particular reason or watching gleefully as an unconcious man is set on fire. In fact, other towns had laws about carrying weapons in town--Abilene, and Charlie Red Dog's town. If there had been a proper ordinance about weapons, there should have been a sign to that effect at the edge of town, and Paladin would, no doubt, have complied. The little drunk comes up to Paladin at this point, having apparently been told of how Paladin saved him the night before. Unlike the rest of the town, he's sort of on Paladin's side, but when Paladin asks him to fetch him a gun, he dithers and says there is none to be had. Paladin gives him a coin to buy himself a meal. The drunk is a little upset over this--he wants to be able to do something for Paladin.
Wanting, reasonably enough, to be able to defend himself, Paladin returns to Mincus' store. Juney greets him happily, but as soon as she learns what he wants, she freezes. They have no guns to sell. Paladin can't believe this, even after Mincus confirms it. Juney is suddenly acting like a sulky brat. Mincus suddenly reveals that he, in fact, has a gun--but why did he bring it out? Was he trying to drive Paladin from the store? He admits that Paladin could quite easily take the gun from him, but Paladin only wants him to loan it freely. Mincus doesn't dare, in case Danceman finds out. Paladin is horrified to find that Danceman would, indeed, find out--from Juney. Juney is quite prepared to betray her own father, not to mention the man who has been their family friend and who brings her presents. The frustrating thing is, we don't find out why. Mincus himself can't really understand how Danceman got such control over them. Paladin decides to try and get out of the town. Juney immediately prepares to go tell Danceman, so that this man who wants to keep killers out of the town can come and commit murder himself. Instead of spanking her until she can't sit down and locking her in a room, Mincus looks helplessly on as Juney sneers at him and flounces off, fully in charge.
A heavy storm has broken out, making the morning look as dark as night. Paladin, of course, has made no attempt to leave, and I rather think that Danceman's influence on Juney had a lot to do with it. Danceman enters the seemingly empty stable. Paladin's hiding in the loft. Danceman slowly grips a scythe leaning against the wall. In case we forgot the symbolism of death from the Tarot card, they superimpose the picture over Danceman for a moment. Danceman starts stabbing at the hay bundles, taunting Paladin. It's quite obvious that he is very excited at the thought of killing. Paladin challenges him, and Danceman promptly pulls out a gun (Paladin's, presumably) and fires it. He also goes into a long diatribe about gunfighters while continuing to fire the gun, sublimely oblivious to the irony. Paladin was probably counting off the number of shots (there was still that scythe, though) but then the little drunk stumbled through the door. Hard to say if he disregarded Paladin's suggestion to avoid liquor for the day, but he had remembered Paladin's request, and had somehow followed through on it. He heaved the gun up into the loft, and then bravely (drunkenly?) attacked Danceman, outraged that Danceman should try and shoot "the Captain". Danceman easily knocked him down, which gave Paladin the chance to jump out of the loft and nail Danceman in midair. Moments later, Juney appears, shocked and tearful when she sees Danceman's body. It doesn't occur to her that this man who had outlawed guns has been blazing away with one, and she sees no problem with picking it up and aiming at Paladin. Keeping still was probably the best (and only) thing Paladin could do under the circumstances; he suggests that she give the town a chance to pick itself up and start looking after itself again before she passes judgement on him. Perhaps things do start percolating through her head, as she hands the gun to Paladin. She does hold herself aloof from him as she exits the stable, but then Paladin had to stay behind anyway, to pick up the drunk. Either the blow or alcohol had rattled his wits; he didn't remember Paladin, or Danceman, for that matter.
Even with the flaws, it's quite an entertaining episode. Without them, it could have been excellent.