A very nicely done location shoot. The location:  out in the middle of nowheresville, desert, sun, sand and a fort stuck out in the middle of a big empty. There's not a lot of levity here, it's a serious story from start to finish, and we get a glimpse into Jess' tragic family past.
Jess and a marshal have been on the trail of the Bannister gang for a couple of weeks. They're following a trail of murder and destruction. It's already apparent that it's been a tough trail. Both men are worn, weary and more than a little on edge.
The marshal reckons that the gang is headed toward Fort Defiance out in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Fort Defiance is a civilian fort, used as a trading post for wagon trains heading for Santa Fe.
The action goes back and forth between the men on the trail and the fort for the first part of the story. At the fort, we meet the men who live there. Their leader is Clint Gentry, and there is an assortment of other characters, many of whom served together in the war and came out west as trappers and traders. One of Gentry's best friends is Reb, a scout and rather an individualist. The fort seems to house a hundred or so. Gentry and Doc read in a paper that the Bannister gang may be headed their way. Gentry sends Reb out to scout the area for any signs of them.
Meanwhile, out on the trail, Jess finally tells the marshal one night how he's been looking for Bannister since he was fifteen and Bannister burned them out, killing five members of his family.
Later, the marshal and Jess are about to catch up with the gang at a river crossing, but the gang is waiting. As the marshal and Jess get to the middle of the deep river, the Bannister gang opens fire. They lose their horses and rifles and barely make it to the other side. Reb who is nearby, hears the shooting and comes to their aid. He is high in the rocks and holds the gang off long enough for Jess and the marshal to get a running start to the fort. Jess is shot in the shoulder, but they both manage to get to the fort alive. Reb however, is not so lucky. He is caught by Bannister.
Inside the fort, while the doc is patching up Jess they tell Gentry and his men what has happened and ask Gentry for his help getting Bannister. Gentry is not interested in getting Bannister for anything else he's done, only to get Reb back.
Meanwhile, outside the walls of the fort, Bannister has tied Reb to a cactus and wrapped wet rawhide around his head which will tighten as it dries. Gentry and his men devise a plan to load a wagon down and to use it as a shield while they drive it out there and place it between Reb and the Bannisters. Jess isn't in any shape to go and Gentry knows it. Gentry has the doc give Jess some laudanum to keep him asleep for awhile so they can go get the job done. The marshal and Gentry ride out, fight it out with Bannister and rescue Reb.
Jess wakes up just in time to help with the shooting from the fort, but it's Gentry, not Jess who actually gets the pleasure of killing Bannister.
The last scene has Jess riding up to the Sherman ranch. We only see him from a distance as Andy, Slim and Jonesy watch him ride in, comment on his arm sling, all the work they've had to do while he's been gone and generally pretend like it's about time the boy got home.
Annie's Favorite Moments:
There are several things I really liked about this episode. First and foremost, always, is Jess. He was rough, he was tough, he was on the edge and just a hair wired. His look and his voice matched his attitude. He was on a vendetta and he wasn't going to rest until he saw blood. Well, at least not until Doc zapped him with his joy juice. I've always thought that there needed to be a fic written to tie this one up at the end after Jess gets home.
I also liked the original music. I liked how, when we first meet Reb, he is whistling the same melody that is playing in the background. I liked how they used Reb's cat threaded throughout the story, and the letter from home.
My favorite scene, the one I always go back to, is the scene between Jess and the marshal where Jess finally tells the marshal what's eating at him. He tells how the Bannister gang killed his family. Fuller has never been better.
Jenny's Favorite Moments:
My favorite scene is also the one where Jess tells the marshal about losing his family.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for more background on Jess.  Another plus, Jess does look wonderfully rugged throughout this episode.
Notes of Interest:
This was the last episode of the first season, and was intended as a pilot for a new series. Jess was almost a secondary character. My opinion of what that series would've been like has evolved over time. I like the idea more now, than I used to. There were a lot of men (always a plus), a lot of cameraderie and a lot of loyalty. That combination could have produced a good show. Guess we'll never know.
Gentry was played by Don Megowan who was also the fighter in "Bare Knuckles". Reb is played with likable sweetness by Bing Russell. A pre-Wagon Train Denny Miller played Toby. Edgar Buchanan, always wonderful, played Doc and perennial character actor, John Anderson, played Bannister. Who knows, if this series had taken off, Denny Miller might never have been on Wagon Train.
The Owie Factor:
Poor Jess. He gets shot in the shoulder once again. This time though, he does the most graceful twist and fall you ever did see. Goes around for the rest of the episode in that ever-present arm sling. Sometimes I wonder if he and Slim just passed that thing around.
A good two stars, two and a half if I knew how to make a half a star (Oh! Thanks, Jen). Not enough Jess, no Slim at all to speak of, but what we do get of Jess is choice. A glimpse at his sad family past.
Two stars.  I liked the glimpse of Jess' past, but I want him to share his past with Slim.