Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 2 Episode 16

The Wager

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Jan 03, 1959 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (2)

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  • Two wicked rich men (WRM) who hire gunmen and then bet on the the gunfights, set Paladin up. Only after the other hired gun is dead, does Paladin learn about the wager and the game of death the WRM have been playing. He arranges justice for them.

    This is a satisfying story, if a bloodthirsty one. It employs a device that is familiar to fans of Ian Fleming where the woman attached to the wicked rich man (WRM) reaches past her own pain and peril to help the hero. Unlike Bond, Paladin usually manages to improve the lot of the woman while trouncing the WRM.

    The WRM are portrayed perfectly, and the viewer feels no sympathy when discomfort and fear overcomes them. The image of Paladin as an avenging angel seems to loom over the sun-washed sand where the two desperate wicked men face each other and only one survives.
  • A rather frightening episode, really. It proves beyond all doubt that, while Paladin was the best friend you could ever hope to find, he was also the worst enemy.

    For only the second time (the first being Season 1's "Strange Vendetta") Paladin is tricked into accepting a commission. A guest of the Hotel Carleton narrowly misses an assassin's bullet, and Paladin naturally leaps in to assist. Sid Morgan claims that someone is trying to kill him to take over a business deal, and Paladin offers his protection to the man and his fiancee, Stacy.

    Stacy flirts openly with Paladin during the trip, and Morgan seems quite casual about it, simply indicating to Paladin that Stacy likes to try and make him jealous as a game. Paladin hastens them on their way when he spots a horseman following them. He himself backtracks to intercept the man, who introduces himself as Howard Gorman--a name Paladin is familiar with. Gorman is a gunman who has (so far) accounted for 12 men. He refuses to give his reasons for following them, and Paladin returns to his client.

    They dine in a hotel that evening (with Gorman staring at them from a few tables away). A man named Shawcross enters the room and walks over to Gorman, who immediately comes over to Paladin. After getting Stacy and Morgan out of the way, Paladin attempts to stop, or at least put off, the confrontation, but Gorman will have none of it. They don't even bother stepping outside (perhaps it was too dark). Paladin wins the encounter, of course, then pounces furiously on Shawcross, who claims that the people after Morgan had changed their mind about killing him, but that Gorman had refused to back down. During this exchange, one can see Stacy in the background, smiling. Perhaps she was moved by Paladin's obvious distaste for what had happened, for she then proceeded, with some very heavy-handed flirting, to hint that the situation was not what Paladin thought. Morgan angrily ordered her up to her room, and told Paladin that his services were no longer required. Paladin pointed out that Gorman could not have been the assassin back at the Carleton, but Morgan brushed it off. (Since Shawcross had stated that they no longer wanted to kill Morgan, Paladin should not have been surprised at his dismissal.)

    We're not shown how much time passes; Paladin is still downstairs, perhaps contemplating the hints Stacy had dropped, when Stacy herself makes her way downstairs, looking very disheveled. She had paid for her hints (and probably the flirting, as well) with a beating. She tells Paladin the truth--that Morgan and Shawcross are business partners, who get their kicks by setting gunmen up against each other, and gambling on the outcome. (I'll bet Morgan made a fortune on Paladin.) Paladin goes very still and quiet. Morgan comes searching for his errant mistress and Paladin challenges him. He tries to provoke Morgan into a fight, but Morgan clings to the code of the West, refusing to touch his gun, and Paladin, naturally, will not draw on an unarmed man.

    Morgan really, really should have picked another man. Finding them gone in the morning, Paladin sets out after them, finding Stacy abandoned along the way. Somehow (this is never explained) Paladin, leading his horse on foot with Stacy riding, gets ahead of Morgan and Shawcross in their buckboard. Paladin gets the jump on them, relieving Morgan of his wallet (which presumably included his winnings on Paladin) and giving it to Stacy to start her new life with. He has Stacy take his horse and go back to town--alone. Normally the gentlemanly Paladin wouldn't dream of such a thing, but he has something more important to to--and he doesn't want her there to watch.

    Presumably Paladin could have gotten both men in jail for abandoning Stacy, but since she didn't die, they probably wouldn't have gotten much jail time. Paladin becomes an icy, implacable avenger, dumping the two men out on the desert with a three-day walk and one canteen...and then follows them in the buckboard, grim and silent, taking a gulp of water every time the two men turn back to look at him. Again, we don't see just how much time passes--in the desert, it probably wasn't very long, and Paladin would have had the horses to worry about. The two men rapidly drain their canteen, and are left facing certain death. Paladin then enlivens the proceedings by tossing out another canteen. Neither of these wealthy, arrogant men are inclined to share, and in the struggle for a mouthful of water, Morgan shoots Shawcross. (It wouldn't have mattered who shot whom, but I suspect that Paladin was pleased with the outcome.) Paladin has accomplished what he set out to do: a crime has been committed, in front of a witness, and Morgan will finally pay for the unknown number of deaths he has helped cause in the past. The outcome might have been a virtual certainty, but legally Paladin is guiltless, just as Morgan and Shawcross had been "guiltless" of using the code of the West to commit murder for fun.
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