The Big Valley

Season 1 Episode 11

The Way to Kill a Killer

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Nov 24, 1965 on ABC
out of 10
User Rating
23 votes

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Episode Summary

When one of Nick's old friends, Mariano Montoya, comes through town on his way to sell his cattle, trouble hits in the form of deadly anthrax. The man's cattle begins to die off and it seems as though they will have to shoot them all, killing as well, Mariano's dreams for the money. Until Eugene tells them of something called immunization, which he believes will work. Mariano isn't so sure however and tells them that to prove it works, the Barkleys must first try it on their own prize bull! The bull collapses and it looks as though it has been killed but then it moves and gets up, it works! Mariano's herd is saved!moreless

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  • Full of Bull

    Nick learns that no good deed goes unpunished with a snakey-faced bandito he once did a favor.

    Nothing in this episode makes sense. Mariano's a punk from the beginning, riding into town shooting bullets into the air and causing chaos. He somehow happens to know that the Barkley boys are dining at the Cattlemen's Hotel at precisely that hour, and rides up with his buddies and brings a calf into the restaurant as a gift to Nick. Nobody seems to have a problem with this gesture, but rather everyone sees it as a great joke.

    Moments later, when Mariano tells the tale of how Nick saved him from jail by covering his misdeed to the sheriff, Mariano lies to the brothers about what really happened. This is evidence that he really is a bad dude through and through - unchanged. Then, when the anthrax diagnosis is given and Mariano is completely unreasonable, Nick still tries to show him mercy, saying that Mariano is justified in his deadly decision not to destroy the infected cattle because he had a tough growing up. Bull. Nick by nature would have shot them dead on the spot, as would any good cowboy.

    Then, there was the whole goofy thing with the anthrax vaccine. When Mariano insisted that they sacrifice their prize bull, and Victoria said "Go for it," I wanted to hurl. The doctor should have stuck the needle in ol' Mariano and sent him out to pasture.

    What was most irksome about this episode was Mariano's racist ingratitude. Referring to Nick's kindness as "gringo hospitality" was a bit repulsive. There's an old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." The Barkley's don't seem to mind what a dirtball Mariano is, they insist on keeping company with him even up to the last scene.

    One last item to add to this tale of nitwittery: the anthrax vaccine wasn't invented when this episode aired (but close enough); however, what's really funny is how it's administered. Anthrax in the 1800s was a preventive vaccine. The shot would have been given BEFORE the animals were subjected to the infection.

    But, one positive: we get a glimpse of Nick's well-furbished bedroom - very rich, masculine Victorian digs!moreless
  • A rather authentic episode.

    This episode has a good combination of real-life details, related to the history of diseased animals and immunizations. Plus, we see the merging of the Anglo and Latino cultures in California. The plot is not too rushed, nor is it really dragged out. We get a chance to see the friendship among Nick and the ex-thief Mexican (played by Martin Landau); and we get to see how the Barkley family must be willing to sacrifice their own prized bull in the name of science. It's a risky episode, but it pays not only educates, but entertains.moreless
  • Nice story, good characterization and a believable plotline. One of the best of the series.

    Nick's old friend Mario returns to the valley with a herd of cattle of his own.

    This is among my favorite episodes of the series, I liked it when the program stretched and tried to include elements of the Mexican culture that were so integral to 19th century California. And while Martin Landau is not that convincing as a Mexican, he delivers his dialog sincerely, with a good sense of emotion. Noteworthy scenes include the opening, when Mario "pays" Nick back with a calf to symbolize the help he received long ago, and the steer roast at the Barkleys where Mario expresses his emotion to Victoria. I like Victoria best in the first season, still as tough as nails but better drawn as a more feminine matriarch rather than the woman in leather riding gear and a cowboy hat.

    Eugene actually has something to do in this episode, showing off his "college-boy" knowledge of anthrax and the new idea of immunization, and Audra gets at least one good line asking her half-brother Heath to dance. Best of all is a story that centers on the cattle so important to northern California and Nick as a tough guy that once gave another a chance in the world.

    This is one of the programs that shows interesting production clues, with constant switches between real outdoor footage and scenes shot on a soundstage - it's not always convincing but it's fun to see the mixture even when it's not successful.moreless
Martin Landau

Martin Landau

Mariano Montoya

Guest Star

Rodolfo Acosta

Rodolfo Acosta


Guest Star

Arthur Space

Arthur Space

Professor Hawthorne

Guest Star

Charles Briles

Charles Briles

Eugene Barkley

Recurring Role

Napoleon Whiting

Napoleon Whiting


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • Nick says that he grew up with Mariano, and that they played together as boys. Apparently, Mariano's mother scrubbed floors and worked in the Barkley home.

    • When Mariano asks his men, and later Nick, to look at the herd and see whether they look sick, the exact same shot is used three times of a few cows with two mounted hands riding in the background. Previously in the episode, Nick states that all the herd is comprised of calves; however, in this shot, they are full-grown cows.

    • When the anthrax vaccine is administered to the bull, it's given after he's shown signs of infection. However, when Pasteur's vaccine first came out in the 1800's, it was given as a preventive measure by injecting a small dosage of microbes into the livestock before they were exposed to the infection, and thereby giving their systems time to build resistance. In reality, the way it's administered here would have zero effectiveness and the bull would have died.

    • This episode acts as though immunizations are brand new, untried things. The smallpox immunization was developed in 1790, almost 100 years prior to this episode! British physician Edward Jenner tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunization for smallpox in humans for the first time. By the 1830's, a generation had been inoculated, and there was a marked decline in smallpox cases within the United States. Most soldiers were given inoculations or vaccinations, and with all the boys having been in the army, they couldn't have not known.

  • QUOTES (0)

  • NOTES (0)


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