They call him 'The Midas Man' because everything he touches presumably turns to gold. When Scott Breckenridge arrives in the valley, he quickly learns two things: A drought has devastated the economy in the Stockton area, causing a run on the bank; and the sister of his old friend Jarrod is both beautiful and romantically available.
Tall, dark and handsome, Breckenridge is also a charming flirt, and Audra can't hide her fascination with the stranger. In the meantime, Breckenridge observes the desperation of the neighboring ranchers and offers to make them short-term loans, with their land as collateral. While a troubled Jarrod warns against the transaction, the ranchers stand firm. And Breckenridge becomes a hero for a brief time, especially in Audra's eyes.
Later, when it's time to repay the loans or forfeit the land, Scott Breckenridge becomes the man in black, both literally and figuratively. By then Audra has learned of his less than honorable intentions toward her, and she now despises him. When Breckenridge refuses a bail-out offer from the Barkleys, Audra makes a trip to town to visit him in his hotel room. (She knows the way upstairs, because she did much the same thing when Heath first arrived in Stockton.) In a scene reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara's trip to an Atlanta jail to convince Rhett Butler to save Tara, Audra offers herself as collateral for the ranchers' loans.
We have to assume it's Audra's bold gesture that softens Breckenridge's heart. He claims he never thought he'd see "so much courage in someone so young and so beautiful" right before he takes his leave. By the final scene, of course, the rains have come and Breckenridge has gone.
This is probably my favorite episode of Big Valley. It's a great showcase for both the Barkley women, and the actresses rose to the occasion with performances that were both passionate and restrained. Audra is young and idealistic, but her transformation at the end is inspiring. She probably never looked more beautiful than she did standing proudly in that red dress in Breckenridge's hotel room. And Victoria Barkley is the perfect matriarch, appropriately concerned about her daughter and unafraid to engage in intellectual battle with Breckenridge. (It's Victoria who reminds him that King Midas eventually lost everything he loved due to his double-edged golden touch.)
Yes, this is one where the women are the winners. When Victoria tries to disarm her disgruntled neighbors with her courtly hospitality, she nearly succeeds in shaming them. But it's Audra who finally does.
And what can you say about guest star Tom Tryon, aside from the fact he commanded every scene with his notable physical presence? (At 6'3", he dominated the series regulars in height, at least.) His Breckenridge was mysterious and completely transparent at the same time. And he had the show's best male wardrobe, with jaunty hats, smart suits and nice black leather gloves. Oh my. Long before Tryon revealed his homosexuality to the world (well, he never really revealed it, did he?) and started writing very successful novels under the name Thomas, he enjoyed some limited success in motion pictures (nominated for a Golden Globe in 1963). Supposedly devastated in the early 60s by his experience with the autocratic director Otto Preminger, the educated and well bred actor finally quit the biz shortly after this appearance. When he played Breckenridge he was 40 years old, so his years as a romantic lead were probably numbered anyway.
But while Tryon was often ill-used in episodic TV (a couple hayseed appearances on westerns like 'The Virginian' and 'Gunsmoke' are cringe-worthy), this role deserves to go down in guest star history. It isn't too surprising that the episode writer was a woman, Margaret Armen. She really got it--understood that the Rhett Butler-ish rogue is appealing--and in the end bad guy Breckenridge was hardly that. (The description of Breckenridge as a "shady character" that appears on the first season DVD set is infuriating.)
We have to wonder what might have happened to the burgeoning romance if Victoria hadn't stepped in. Considering this is episodic TV, we know there really couldn't be another outcome. Audra's beaus mostly died, so all-in-all Breckenridge has to be considered to have had a good result. But still . . .
I for one have always chosen to believe that after the series ended, an older and even wiser (and probably richer) Scott Breckenridge showed up in Stockton to finally claim Audra Barkley as his wife. Hey, a girl can dream!