Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 5 Episode 19

Mark of Cain

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Jan 20, 1962 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • This episode has been described as "silly", and it is quite a bizarre one. The characters are good, however, and if they had worked the storyline somewhat differently, they could have made it into a fascinating psychological episode.

    A thin, austere-looking man enters the Carlton's lobby, paying little attention to two lovely ladies in front of him. Taking a good look around, he approaches Hey Boy at the desk and quietly inquires about Mr. Paladin. Hey Boy gives him the once-over and elects to cooperate, taking the man to the side dining room. It would be interesting to know just how Paladin came to know of his current companion, an Oriental swordsman, let alone persuaded him to give an Occidental a lesson. Temuchin Khan (a descendant, perhaps, of Genghis?) opens with a demonstration, first splitting a nail sticking out of the wall (a feat I've never seen done before) and then, in mid-air, slicing Paladin's business card neatly and precisely in half. He then attempts to slice Paladin neatly and precisely (not in half, though, Paladin's too tall). Presumably Mr. Khan had the control to stop his blade if Paladin had not ducked in time. He condescendingly informs Paladin that it will be many hundreds of hours before Paladin is ready to take up an actual sword. Paladin doesn't mention that he already has some knowledge of Western swordplay, but he does point out that as he is paying for the lesson (and probably a sizeable fee, at that) he has the right to insist on a real sword--and promptly swings at Mr. Khan. There is a short, intense exchange, but Khan is the better swordsman. Paladin nonchalantly concludes that he has earned his fee--although that was one heck of a short lesson. As Paladin wipes off the sweat, the visitor approaches. This is a charmingly ludicrous scene, as he addresses a head completely obscured by the towel. An advance payment of one thousand dollars quickly gets Paladin's attention. He knows something of Dr. Leopold Avatar, a student of Cesare Lombrosso. Their theory is that criminal tendencies come about by malformations in the skull (in other words, that the brain is affected by the shape of the container that holds it). These visible and measurable formations are referred to as "The Mark of Cain". Avatar is impressed. Paladin, of course, has good reason to keep abreast of information relating to criminology. (In the episode "Brothers" Paladin comes across this in passing while reading from an antiquated encyclopedia.) Avatar believes that such "stigmata" only shows in people who are habitual murderers, not those who kill once or twice when driven to it. He's looking for a specimen to measure, and thinks that he will find one more readily in the Wild West than back in Europe. (I suspect a cultural bias here.) Of the names he mentions, supposedly Jake Trueblood is the only one alive to be measured. Paladin protests that Jake has only killed when he had to, in fair fight. Avatar only seems concerned with the quantity of Jake's "score".

    Paladin turns aside at this point, a rather odd expression on his face. He has good reason to do so. I looked through my episode guide after this episode, and started counting up. I can't make an exact count, because at one point ("The Pledge") Paladin mowed down a number of men, dead or wounded, with a Gatling gun, and later ("Duke of Texas") fired a cannon into a warehouse of weapons, setting off a mass explosion and presumably killing everyone inside. However, the count comes close to--are you ready?--150 men. That's men that we know of, and there's still a season and a half to go!

    A thousand bucks is a thousand bucks, and Paladin agrees to take Avatar in search of Jake, who has gone into hiding to avoid all the young bucks seeking to carve a reputation for themselves by killing a famed gunfighter. In the recent episode "Blind Circle", Paladin seemed to be getting a glimpse of his possible future in the person of the old bounty hunter, Jess Larker. To my mind, this episode could have done an even better job--yet they didn't touch on it. It seems likely to me that Paladin would have the wisdom to know when he should hang up his guns (in fact, that was one of the reasons Richard Boone gave for quitting after six seasons), but surely there will be those young bucks coming after him, and while he will probably be able to afford a more comfortable retirement than Jake, back East or in Europe or Hawaii, he'll still be in hiding.

    On their way, they make a stop for provisions. We don't see if this general store is in a town, or if it's just a waystation at some convenient crossing of trails. A man is inside, shopping for a new hat. Paladin gives him a casual, yet keen, glance, then takes a longer look. The man takes exception to this, and the storekeeper, no doubt accustomed to disturbances like this, swiftly produces a shotgun and demands that they take it outside. Paladin quietly addresses him as Enoch Harrison, wanted for two murders. (It of course behooves Paladin to keep abreast of wanted criminals as well as theories.)Paladin, being a good citizen, is not going to allow a wanted criminal to walk away. Harrison makes only a token protest (if you can call it that) before spinning around. Paladin naturally drops him. Avatar is fascinated, although he seems to misread the situation entirely. He thinks that Paladin deliberately goaded an innocent man into a gunfight, so that he could shoot him in "self defense". He ignores the fact that an innocent man, in the presence of himself and the storekeeper, would probably have tried to plead his innocence rather than simply diving for his gun. He fetches out his calipers to make a measurement of the dead man's head. As he does so, the storekeeper presents Paladin with a Wanted poster of Harrison. We don't get to see Avatar's reaction to this. If Harrison's head had measured up as innocent, would Avatar assume that the accusation of murder was in error?

    In the episode "Vernon Good", the best part of the story--to my mind--was the interaction of Paladin and Father Montalvo, discussing their lifestyles. I wish they had done something of the sort here, with a discussion between Paladin and Avatar (and Jake Trueblood), not about the silly theory of cranial measurements, but of just what constitutes "murder". Avatar seems to think that anyone who kills is a "murderer", no matter what the circumstances. The concept of "self defense" or the defense of others, seems beyond him. He also seems to think that a person kills solely because of the configuration of his skull--there is no free will or choice in the matter. Paladin could have given him a wide variety of killer personalities--Red Harper, who did indeed goad innocent men into gunfights, Manfred Holt, who could not bear that any man he disliked be alive in the same world with him, Ben Jallisco, who became a bounty hunter because he liked hunting things, old Jess Larker, who killed his bounties because it was easier than taking them alive, Joe Culp and his crew, who killed a man because they were bored and wanted some excitement, Danceman, who wanted to kill a man--any man who happened to be a gunfighter...the list goes on and on, and they all had their reasons, their self-justifications.

    Paladin and Avatar finally reach the little canyon where Jake Trueblood has set up housekeeping. (And how did Paladin know where to look for it?) Paladin makes the first approach. Jake, naturally, thinks that Paladin is one of those looking to make his reputation--but he is willing to face Paladin on even terms, although he had the drop on Paladin. He takes a second look, however, and Paladin sensibly keeps still while Jake sorts matters out for himself. He doesn't call Paladin by name, but recognizes that he is not a "belt notcher". Paladin tells him about Avatar. Jake blows this off at first, but Paladin plays on his vanity, telling him how well-known he is. The mention of some "store-bought" food, decent wine, and a newspaper or two smooths things over. (I find it interesting that Jake knows how to read, and seems to have a taste for wine, although Paladin could as easily brought a good quality whiskey.) Jake's companion, however, a mature Indian or Mexican woman (or a mix) named Pina, takes more persuasion. Unlike Jake, she is quite prepared to kill, fairly or otherwise, in defense of her man.

    Avatar busily undertakes his measurements, while Jake tackles the wine. He finishes by taking a rubber hammer and bopping Jake on the head, commenting with satisfaction on his "low sensitivity to pain". I'm wondering if Avatar is deliberately adjusting his findings to suit his theory. A rubber hammer on the skull isn't going to hurt anybody much, still less someone who has been swigging down alcohol. He is delighted to conclude that Jake Trueblood has confirmed his theory. Whoever heard of confirming a theory based on one single test? I was surprised that Paladin didn't comment on this. Avatar is pleased, and claims that his work is done, but his tone is condescending, and Pina quickly picks up on this, infuriated at Avatar's bland labeling of Jake as a "congenital killer". Paladin finally expresses his opinion on the matter--it's a far-fetched, foolish theory. Avatar is smugly convinced that he's in the right, and lets both Paladin's and Pina's comments slide right off. The hour being late, Pina very grudgingly allows them to sleep in the storeroom, and it's clear that she's doing this more for the courteous Paladin than the obnoxious Avatar.

    In the storeroom, Paladin brings up Avatar's insulting behavior. Avatar blithely dismisses this; what's wrong with telling the truth? Paladin pulls off his gunbelt, dropping his derringer inside of his hat, before he settles down against a sack of flour or cornmeal. Avatar then waves a wad of cash in his face. He says it's a "small" bonus, but then goes on to say that it is an additional thousand dollars. Written measurements aren't really very much proof, after all. Much better to have the actual skull, and who cares that it's still attached to a living man? He wants Paladin to do it rather than attempting it himself, Paladin being so skilled at killing. (This should have raised a red flag.) Paladin coldly informs him that he will complete the job he was paid for by getting Avatar safely back to San Francisco, and that is that.

    Later, Avatar quietly slips into the main room and approaches Jake's bed. It's hard to say just what he planned to do; perhaps he was going to smother Jake and then find him dead of "natural causes". However, when Pina confronted him with a gun, he did not fumble for an excuse; he told her that Paladin was jealous of Jake's reputation and planned to kill him--so they should kill him first. Pina has no problem with this, but apparently wants to leave the actual job to the skilled Jake. She wakes him, shoves the gun in his hand, and tells him that he has to kill Paladin. Half asleep and confused, Jake rises up as Paladin comes to the door of the storeroom. Seeing Jake confronting him, he again, sensibly, keeps still. Jake is ready to take Pina's word that Paladin needs killing...but a lifetime of killing only when he had to counters this. He needs a reason. Gratefully, Paladin returns to the storeroom, promising to leave by daybreak. Incredibly, Avatar follows him back in, although he surely must have known that Paladin had guessed what he was up to.

    Avatar is very disappointed. Surely one life is a small price to pay for the advancement of human knowledge. (The classic cry of mad scientists everywhere.) Paladin proves oddly slow on the uptake here; when he points out that HE might have been the one killed, it takes several moments for it to dawn on him that Avatar would be just as happy to take his head as Jake Trueblood's. (It doesn't seem to have dawned on Avatar, focused only on his own desires, just what Pina would have done if he proposed decapitating her Jake.) Paladin abruptly steps over and takes Avatar's calipers. He's going to do a little advancing of human knowledge himself. Avatar fussily advises him on the proper placement of the calipers (one of the show's funniest moments). Surprise--Avatar himself has the classic killer's measurements. Paladin shows off the sketch he made of Avatar's head. (Oddly, although the calipers measure the width of the head, the sketches only show a side view--they should have had all sides.) Avatar abruptly pulls out a small gun (living up to his own measurements?) He then pauses, reminding himself to aim lower, so as not to damage the skull. Richard Boone shows an interesting reaction, here. He laughs, but the first laugh sounds like an involuntary, shocked reaction to his impending death. Only afterwards does his continued laughter sound like a deliberate attempt to disconcert Avatar--which it does. Paladin steps forward, his hand slipping oh-so-casually into his hat. The result is a foregone conclusion, although I could wish that Paladin had merely wounded him, showing that killing wasn't an automatic reaction. Given Avatar's blind fixation on his theory, I suppose he really didn't have much of a choice.

    Jake and Pina rush to the door, and find Paladin contemplating the two sketches--which really are quite similar. He states that he does not believe the theory at all--but Professor Lombrosso might like the sketches as a souvenir. (Hopefully, he will also send along an explanation.) Pina begs Paladin not to send the sketch of Jake--let people think that Jake Trueblood is dead, so that they can live out their lives in peace. I find it interesting that Pina does not do her pleading at the point of gun. Paladin obligingly hands over the sketch, and they happily tear it up.

    It's a watchable episode, and I like Jake Trueblood, who shares Paladin's views on killing, and has managed to survive to a good old age in a very hazardous profession. But it could have been much better.