A mildly predictable, but decent second season story with Jess and Slim on equal footing through out. Both have some good scenes in which to shine, and together, they're magic.
The Story:    A group of men are watching the stage through binoculars. There’s a driver, a shotgun and one lady passenger. They say the stage won’t be any trouble, but the two men at the relay station might be a problem.
Meanwhile, at home, Jess is jawing with old Smudge, the driver of the logging wagons for the local logging company. He’s a crusty old curmudgeon who’s been around for years, and Jess obviously enjoys his banter with him.
The stage comes in and Jess goes out to meet it. Slim comes out of the house and they both spot the pretty lady on board at the same time. Jess gets there first and escorts her inside. Slim knows her, and she’s rather snotty and acts like she’s not happy to see him. Jess is puzzled, but Slim doesn’t explain.
It’s dinner time and the stage stays for supper. Inside, everyone is eating dinner. Fran Erickson is flirting with Jess and pointedly ignoring Slim. Slim speaks up and she slaps him down with a verbal barb. The tension is high, but Jess continues the flirting.
Outside, the driver and shotgun are working on the stage when the group of bad guys ride up. They bully their way inside and start a fight for no particular reason. They push the dinner table over and dump Jess on his butt. The fight is on and Jess, Slim and Smudge are outnumbered. They all get beat on while Fran watches. Several of them have ganged up on Jess and beat him until he falls unconscious. Just as they’re leaving, one of the bad guys tells Slim that there will be a man by to see them and he’d best listen to him or this could happen again.
The next day, Jess is repairing furniture damaged in the fight when the sheriff walks in. Jess is still jumpy and draws on him. Slim comes in and teases Jess by telling the sheriff Jess is as jumpy as (something-heck, I don’t remember) and he’s drawn on him twice since yesterday. The sheriff, Lon says that the bunch that visited them have been working the area, jumping the other relay stations, intimidating them and the owners won’t talk. Lon tells them to listen to the man when he comes and then come tell him. They reluctantly agree even though all they really want to do is fight back.
Jess goes outside and is practicing shooting at cans to work off some pent up anger while Smudge kibitzes. Smudge is a teller of tall tales and he and Jess have a good time. A man in a buggy with an armed escort rides up and imperiously demands to see “the owner”. The hired gun, Tracy, demonstrates his prowess by shooting the cans that Jess had left. Smudge leaves on his run and, Slim goes inside with the dude. Jess goes off with Tracy so they can show off their skills to each other.
The boss man is Bakker and he makes Slim an offer. He wants Slim to join his new stage line exclusively and cancel his contract with the Great Central Overland Mail. He “suggests” Slim sign his contract. The not-so veiled threat is that what happened yesterday could get worse. He says that all the other owners had signed with him. Slim throws him bodily out.
Jess and Tracy are having a pissing contest, well, with guns anyway. They’re both good and admire each other’s talent. Tracy is what Jess could have been if he hadn’t gone straight, and Jess recognizes it. They both shoot at cans and do equally well, and wonder which one of them got that last one. Tracy’s boss calls him and they call it a stand off. One day they’ll have to break the tie. (Oooo, forshadowing folks!)
Tracy and Bakker leave and Jess and Slim ride into town. They ride up to Lon’s office who comes out and tells them to follow him. He leads them to the doctor’s office where the owner of another relay station is there with his wife. She has been cut on the face with a knife and the doctor is sewing her up. The distraught husband tells the sheriff he came home and found her. He won’t say who did it. It wasn’t Bakker, he says. He tried to fight them and his wife got hurt. He has two kids and he doesn’t want the same to happen to them. He won’t sign on with Overland, he’s going over to Bakker’s company.
Slim tells Lon about the pressure tactics that Bakker is using to get a monopoly on the stage line. Lon is incensed and they go off to find Bakker. We see Bakker in a hotel, kissing Fran. She’s his partner. She doubts that Bakker will get the Sherman station because she knows Slim. He’s stubborn and he’ll fight. Bakker is cocky and assures her that they all come around eventually.
Lon, Jess and Slim knock on the door. Slim is surprised to see Fran, but she tells him that she and Bakker are partners. Lon recognizes Fran as the daughter of the founder of Overland. She’s bitter because his partners took the line away from her father legally, and he ended up killing himself. Slim and Lon both tried to help her father, but were unable to. Her mission is to destroy the Overland. Slim tells Fran about the woman whose face was cut. She asks Bakker if that’s true and he denies it. Jess calls him a liar but Lon stops him from jumping him. Threats are thrown back and forth, but Slim, Jess and Lon finally leave.
After they leave, Fran confronts Bakker. He still denies the killing and the attacking of the woman. She seems to believe him.
Lon decides to go to Denver to check up on Bakker. He warns Slim and Jess to stay out of trouble and leaves town.
In the saloon, Jess and Slim go in for a drink. Jess spots the thugs who beat them up yesterday. Jess is trying to drown his frustration in a bottle, when one of the thugs comes over and tries to be friendly saying yesterday was nothing personal. No hard feelings. He thinks Slim and Jess have already signed with Bakker, and now they’re all one big happy family. He tries to be friendly, but Jess and Slim will have none of it. Slim starts the fight and does pretty well. Jess watches and keeps the others at bay. Tracy comes in and starts to draw on Slim, but Jess shoots a warning shot and stops him. The fights over anyway, and Slim is the one left standing. Tracy and the others fade away and Slim, feeling rather pleased with himself, leaves with Jess.
Bakker comes in and tells his men he’s branching out. He’s offered protection to the logging company that hauls the logs. They refused his “protection” and he sends them out to stop Smudge’s wagon.
On their way home, Slim and Jess meet Smudge on the road. He’s just been to the ranch and says he had to borrow a horse. They exchange pleasantries and ride on. Jess calls Smudge a cata-rankous old goat, horribly mispronouncing the word. He doesn’t know what it means, but he seems to like it. They ride on home together.
Later, the horse that Smudge borrowed has come back alone, always a sure sign of trouble. Jess and Slim saddle up and go out looking for Smudge. His wagon is wrecked on the road, and he’s lying under a pile of logs. Smudge says it was Bakker’s men.
Jess goes back to the ranch for a team and Slim goes into town for the doc. While in town, he busts into Fran’s room and forces her to come with him and the doc back out to where Smudge is. She has no choice and accompanies him. Back out on the road, Jess and Slim work feverishly to free Smudge. Smudge tells Fran about what happened, and she’s finally convinced and tells Slim she’s been a fool. After Smudge is freed and the doctor takes him to town, Fran rides back to town to tell Bakker there’s a witness who will talk.
As they ride home, Jess and Slim talk about what’s about to happen. Slim is looking forward to a fight with Bakker. Jess is rather surprised that Slim is taking the law into his own hands. Slim is just mad enough after all that’s happened to not let a detail like that bother him.
Fran confronts Bakker in the hotel. She demands to see the contracts he's gotten from all the relay station owners. She says he’s lied and cheated and she now knows all about it. He says if his men did something it was without his knowledge. Bakker shows her that the contracts are only in his name, he doesn’t need her. She tries to buy him out, but he threatens her with the same thing that happened to the other woman. He beats her and demands to know where Jess and Slim are. Down on the street, Lon rides in and sees Bakker hitting her through a window and runs to help. Bakker takes a shot at Lon, but he gets away. Lon finds Fran on the floor, she’s badly beaten, but she tells Lon that Bakker is after Slim.
At home, Jess and Slim are waiting. Tracy tells his men he wants them to save Jess for him. In the dark, Slim and Jess pick off the thugs one man at a time. Finally, it’s down to Jess and Tracy while Bakker is in the distance watching. Jess has the drop on Tracy, but Tracy won’t go down this way. He wants to fight it out. Jess warns him not to go for his gun. He goads Jess into a fair drawing contest, for real this time. Jess has to agree because his only alternative, as Tracy has laid it out, is to kill Tracy in cold blood. Tracy draws, but Jess is just a hair faster and Tracy falls. His last words are “I guess that last bottle was yours.”
Bakker shows his cowardice and Slim ends up shooting him, but Bakker begs for his life. Slim lets him live.
A few days later, Fran is leaving town in the morning to go back to Denver. She asks Slim’s forgiveness. Smudge is going back to work and she’s given a big check to the relay station owners who got hurt. She really seems to be genuinely sorry and says she can never pay enough to make up for what she's done.
Lon drives up in a buggy to pick Fran up for their date. After she leaves with Lon, Slim comments that she has everything- looks, brains, money but she sure is unlucky. Jess wonders why and he says, “If she’da played her cards right, she coulda had one of us.”
Annie's Favorite Moments:   I love all the scenes that Jess has with Smudge. Smudge is a scene stealer and Jess is playful with him.
I also like it when Jess has his back to the door and Lon walks in and Jess turns and draws. It's instinct and reflex and it's soooo good.
Jenny's Favorite Moments:
I've always loved Dub Taylor as a character actor and that certainly continued here. He's great! My other favorite moments are the Tracy and Jess scenes. I liked it when they were shooting the cans and talking about the cost of bullets and such (Of course, I knew Jess got that last can). Despite the situation, there's a respect between the two throughout this episode. Yeah, it was predictable that Jess had to kill him, but still sad. Tracy was a decent sort given his profession. You could really wonder if that might have been Jess some day if Slim hadn't 'saved' him. I think it was rather unique that the writers didn't make Tracy a completely callous uncouth bad guy.
Notes of Interest:   Smudge is played by Dub Taylor, father of Buck Taylor who played Newly on Gunsmoke.
The Owie Factor:   Both boys take a beating at the beginning of this one. There's a couple of good fight scenes in this one.