Right off the bat, we see a new angle of the Carlton lobby. Back along where the camera is usually parked, we find there is either a second dining room, or an extension of the one that's off to the right. The young woman who enters the room apparently had Paladin described or pointed out to her; despite her unease, she walks directly to the table where Paladin is preparing to carve the entree for himself and his dinner companion.
Said companion is of a different cut from Paladin's usual harem beauties. She's rather bemused at the young woman standing awkwardly behind them (so is Paladin). She's also visibly disconcerted when Paladin invites the intruder to dine with them. However, she neither pouts nor shows anger, either to Paladin or the girl--not even in the guise of a supposedly friendly comment. She encourages the girl to explain herself, and, more to the point, she listens. When the girl, Rivka, compliments her beauty for the second time, she graciously observes that the girl is also beautiful, which reduces Rivka to blushing silence. After Rivka leaves (without eating) and Paladin is looking anxiously after her, his companion spares him the awkwardness of framing an excuse and more or less orders him to help the girl. In the past seasons we've often seen Paladin take his leave of a woman with a tap on the nose; it appears to be a gesture of affection, although not necessarily (see "The Gladiators"). Here, it's clearly affection, and quite possibly respect. Paladin has found himself a genuine lady.
In the town where Rivka and her father, Nathan Shotness, have immigrated from Russia, Billy Buckstone and his gang are in charge. The people have learned to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. But Nathan, who comes from a territory where wholesale slaughter is commonplace, is not frightened of a land that "only" has twelve murders or so a year. He knows his duty as a citizen, and when he witnessed Billy murdering a man, he promptly reported it. Oddly, Rivka states that the sheriff tried to arrest her father at this point. This makes no sense, unless he wanted to put him in protective custody, but Rivka did not mention this. If the sheriff is under Billy's control, how is it that Billy has been arrested and is coming to trial? Nathan has been encouraged to leave town for the duration. He has also been offered $2000, ostensibly for his battered old wagon and horse. No deal. Rivka wants Paladin to protect him through the trial.
Rivka apparently has had the time to get to know and like Paladin during the stage trip; she looks positively radiant as he swings her down upon their arrival (and he's not looking unhappy, either). Rivka points out the saloon where her father takes his afternoon beer, and steps away to wait. This next scene is interesting on several points. For one thing, it may be the first time in the history of the show that Paladin entered a saloon and didn't get a drink. Even in "The Misguided Father", when Paladin walked into the abandoned saloon, he stepped behind the bar and poured himself a drink. The scene is a fairly long and intense one, and Richard Boone, the star of the show...says not a word. Seems amazing, and yet, he doesn't really need to. His presence is unmistakeable, and his posture and his facial expressions say a great deal as he reacts to the others. Three young men are seated near the door, while Nathan sits alone at the bar. The barman is nowhere to be seen. Anti-Semitism is not mentioned at all in this episode; presumably Nathan would not be allowed in the bar if it was a problem in this town. The implication is that everyone is afraid to come near Nathan for fear of looking like they're on his side. Everyone seems to have been seated for some little time, but the moment Paladin enters, a young man, really a boy, jumps up and approaches Nathan. He acts like he wants to be friendly, but Nathan bluntly rejects him. The man, Smolett (superbly played by Robert Blake), pretends to overlook this. At this point, there is a badly crafted shot. Smolett is pushing himself closer to Nathan, and finally hops up on the bar so that he can loom over him. At this point, Paladin leans sideways, and it is painfully obvious that his sole purpose in doing so is to keep his face in camera range. Nothing wrong with that; we need to see his reactions, but they should have rehearsed that bit to work out and mark where everyone would go, to keep it from looking so awkward. Boone looks like a bit-part actor forcing himself into a shot. Moments later, Smolett hops behind the bar to get a drink. He offers one to Paladin, who shakes his head. This could be seen as a subtle insult, but if so, it goes over the boy's head. He doesn't seem to wonder why Paladin is there, if not for a drink. He starts to get a little menacing to Nathan, and Paladin silently draws his gun and slides it to Nathan. Glancing at it, Nathan treats it better; he picks it up and sets it before Paladin. Smolett sneeringly offers to let Nathan see a real gun up close for the first time. Nathan holds out his hand, and Smolett lays his gun in it with exaggerated care. With a few quick moves, Nathan expertly dismantles the gun, and notes how worn and badly flawed it is. Paladin struggles to hide his amusement. Nathan scoffs at would-be gunfighters who spend their money on fancy silk shirts (thereafter unwashed) rather than investing in a quality weapon. Smolett's cronies find this amusing, and Smolett makes an angry exit.
Nathan knows without being told that Paladin has been hired by his daughter. He comments on a man who carries a ten-dollar gun. Paladin looks thoughtfully at his holster, causing me to wonder how accurate Nathan's assessment was. At that time, I believe, ten dollars would have been a high price for a handgun. Paladin manages to convince him that he is not a hired killer, and even persuades him (since Nathan will not stay safely at home) to let Paladin accompany him on his rounds (Nathan is the local postman). Having arrived near a spot that would make a good ambush, Nathan suddenly reveals that he's not simply plodding on, to live or die as Fate decrees. He plays chess (Paladin plays a little, too) and is preparing an offensive gambit. Taking a gun, he sends the horse on its way and they conceal themselves. It's not long before Smolett leaps out and jumps into the wagon. He seems to be alone. Maybe after Nathan cut him down to size in the saloon, his friends left him, or he was angered by their laughter. More likely, this arrogant puppy thought he could take on Nathan all by himself. Finding the wagon empty, he jumps out and stands out in the open, screaming that he's going to kill Nathan. As Nathan observes, only a heel would kill at this point. Smolett finally realizes his danger and runs for cover. Knowing that the boy will be smarting over this second insult, Paladin offers to stay at Nathan's house overnight. Nathan merely points out that his house is small and even King David could be tempted by a pretty girl. Paladin wisely keeps silent.
It does not occur to either of these chess players that their opponent might attack in another direction.
For the benefit of those viewers who had not yet figured out that Nathan and Rivka were Jewish, a menorah is shown on the kitchen table in the Shotness home. There are no candles in it, and Rivka promptly scoops it up and shoves it on a shelf as she does some final tidying up. It's safe to assume that it's not thoughts of her father that send her dashing to the mirror for a quick primp when there's a knock at the door. Unfortunately, it's not Paladin. Smolett forces his way in. Rivka grabs a heavy knife, but it's an empty threat; she doesn't have the nerve to strike out with it. To be honest, that fairly slow appoach, with that staring expression, would have given me the jitters, too.
From this brutal scene the camera jumps to a light, amusing one. It's one of those mundane little things that you just don't usually see--changing your socks. And something happened to one of Paladin's boots that caused him to jam it over the bedpost and hammer at it with the other one. All this while singing a bit of nonsense verse (quite a pleasant singing voice) complete with a silly bit of commentary tossed in on the side. He's interrupted by Nathan, who rushes in with the news of Rivka's abduction. There's been no note or vocal message sent; Nathan has lived in the town long enough to understand what's expected of him. Now he wishes he'd killed Smolett when he'd had the chance. Paladin reminds him of what happened the one time Jacob attempted to be like his brother Esau, and what his father said: "The hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob." This is a rather odd comment, because Paladin seems to have forgotten that Jacob did, in fact, sucessfully deceive his father to gain his brother's birthright. I think they just wanted to have Paladin's line about putting forth the hands of Esau, which admittedly is a nifty turn of phrase.
Naturally, they've got men betting on whether Nathan shows up for the trial or not. As Nathan pulls up in his wagon, Paladin casually drifts inside a store. This was a beautifully framed shot; rather than cutting from Paladin to the henchman slipping away, they showed his reflection in the window Paladin was standing behind. How elegant. Somewhere outside the town, Rivka is tied up and looking somewhat dishevled, but undaunted. Smolett hears a horse approaching. As the rider comes into view, he gives the killing signal. This was the danger; if Smolett had turned immediately and killed Rivka, Paladin could not possibly have gotten there in time. Luckily (the sort of luck you only find in Hollywood) he delayed for the necessary taunting remarks, and Paladin speaks up from atop a large chunk of rock. Paladin actually sounded like he was interrupting a bit of mischief rather than a murder. Smolett's assistant, facing a man who already had his gun out, idiotically grabbed for his own gun and died. Smolett gets Paladin in the shoulder, and Paladin dives off the rock, a fall that would have killed anyone but the hero. Didn't even knock him out. He comes up clutching his derringer lefthanded, and gets his shot first. Presumably he killed Smolett, although it looked as though he just winged him in the arm. I wish that they had shown Smolett's gun misfiring or something like that. After the scene in the saloon, it would have been nice to show that Nathan's opinion of the gun had been correct.
It's not actually stated how the verdict went. Paladin finally gets that long-delayed meal at the Shotness'. Rivka suggests that he spend the night and leave the next day. The two men look at each other, and you can practically see the name "King David" hanging between them, but oddly enough, Nathan repeats his daughter's offer. Apparently he feels that if he can trust Paladin with his daughter's life, he can do so with her virtue. Paladin, perhaps feeling a little King Davidish, declines, citing other commitments. Nathan has changed considerably since meeting Paladin; not only does he risk his daughter's virtue, he unbends to the extent of actually teasing Paladin, calling him a hired killer again--and Paladin rises to the bait.
All in all, a delightful beginning to the fourth season.