The Wild Wild West (1969)

Season 1 Episode 21

The Night of the Puppeteer

Aired Friday 7:30 PM Feb 25, 1965 on CBS

Episode Recap

Jim is at the house of Supreme Court judge to guard him because two other SC judges have been killed. The judge, Chayne, is holding a party for his nephew. Both judges were killed at 2 p.m. after receiving a small model casket in the mail, and Chayne admits he received one as well. The clock strikes 2 and nothing happens, and Chayne goes to see the birthday party. Jim prepares to leave but Chayne's wife mentions that they're holding a puppet show and Chayne didn't arrange one. Jim investigates and sees that the puppets are holding a mock trial with Chayne as the puppet judge. A ballerina puppet dances out and the puppet judge releases her. Another defendant comes in and a miniature clock drops down showing 2 p.m. The defendant is sentenced to hanging but brings out a gun and fires it at the real Chayne. Jim shoves him aside just in time, but the second shot his Jim while he shoots the puppet.

Jim recovers and Artie shows up to examine the puppets that were left behind by the killer. The doctor reveals the second shot was a poisoned dart and Artie takes it to the lab for analysis. Chayne thanks Jim, who notices that the defendant puppet was taken away by the killer. Chayne admits the killer is probably Zachariah Skull, a sculptor who appealed his sentence for murder. He wasn't cleared, and he escaped from a speeding train on his way to execution. Jim notices that all of the remaining puppets have some deformity except for the ballerina, who has a tag referring to the Triton's Locker.

Jim goes to the locker and exchanges pleasantries with the waitress, then notices a puppet arm holding back a stage curtain. The waitress tries to warn him off and then the men come after him. Jim fights them off and runs through the stage. He runs through the back and into a trap elevator, which starts descending deep into the earth.

The elevator finally comes to a halt and Jim goes out to find himself in a vast subterranean chamber. A man at a diner table greets him: Zachariah Skull. A puppet butler (deformed) drops down and serves wine, and Jim marvels at Skull's skills. Skull reveals the puppets are steam-driven and fed via microscopic wires. Skull admits that all of his creations are deformed to represent the real world, except for the ballerina, Vivid. Vivid dances out of the darkness for Jim's entertainment and Skull offers Jim her hand for a dance. They dance as Jim is swept up into the pretense and releases her. Skull has Vivid dance away and Jim accuses him of playing God. Skull just laughs then shows him a puppet recreation of his new plan: the death of President Ulysses S. Grant who didn't grant him clemency. When Jim advances on Skull, he summons life-sized toy soldier puppets to "arrest" Jim.

Artie returns to Chayne's house and finds where Jim was going. Jim is let out of his cage to go before Skull who is presiding over his own court, with Jim on trial for shooting his puppet-self. Skull reveals Jim's (literal) puppet jury, including Vivid, and Jim tries to mount his defense. Skull lets him and Jim tries to make a break for it without success. Jim continues and continues with his case.

Artie goes into the bar as a drunk and runs into Jim's waitress from earlier. She tries to warn him off as well then tells him that Jim went through the stage curtain and never came out. Artie strikes up a song then goes backstage.

Skull reveals that Jim's appeal has had no effect but suggests a trial by combat. Jim is forced to fight a caveman puppet but someone on the jury tosses him a blade. Jim defeats the puppet but another one with a whip shows up to disarm him. Jim defeats that puppet as well and Skull grants him a new vote. All of the puppets vote against him except for Vivid who abstains. A squad of toy soldiers comes to execute Jim.

Artie finds the trick elevator which opens for him then descends. Skull halts the execution to bring in Artie. Jim starts a fight with him and they make a break for it. Jim suggests they cut off the steam powering the puppets, and they find the cutoff valves. The puppets attack but grind to a halt as they shut down the steam. They return to the courtyard to find Skull still seated on his judges bench. However, he's just as inactive as the other puppets. Vivid emerges moving on her won and she reveals that she's actually a real person, but a protégé of Skull's dressed and wired to look like one. Skull told her there would be no killings but she turned against him when she heard Jim's testimony. She reveals that Skull is lurking in the ceiling and tells them to leave.

Jim and Artie go up to the puppeteer's platform and confront the real Skull: a hideous deformed figure running his world of puppets from the nerve center. Skull proclaims his innocence and how he was pushed from the train, leaving him disfigured. Skull goes for his gun and opens the seacocks: the ocean starts to rush into the cavern. When the water hits the boilers, everything will go up in an explosion. Vivid arrives and asks Skull to release them. He asks if she'll turn against him after he mended her broken legs and taught her to dance, and when she still goes against him he shoots at them. He opens up a pipe, boiling himself when the team hits. They flee back to the elevator and make it to the surface just as the caverns go up in an explosion.

Later at Chayne's, the judge thanks them while the birthday party continues on. Jim notices that there is a new puppeteer and goes to investigate. The puppets kiss then stop moving, and Artie goes back to find Jim and the puppeteer, Vivid, kissing.