The Lawmaker

Writer: Dick Nelson  Story: John A. Johns
Director: Christian Nyby
Air Date: 11 March 1962
Guest Stars: Arthur Franz (Asa Moran), Charlie Briggs (Charlie Fitch), Les Tremayne (Judge George Jackson), Ray Teal (Sheriff Roy Coffee), Rosalind Roberts (Vicki), Roy Engel (Dr. Paul Martin), John Mitchum (Lou Palmer), Bob Miles (Ponderosa Ranchhand), J.P. Catching (Bank Robber)

The episode begins with Sheriff Coffee breaking his leg while preventing a robbery from the Express Office.  He needs somebody to replace him as he has to go to San Francisco to get his leg treated and asks Ben to be temporary sheriff.  Ben refuses for himself and his sons with the excuse that people might think the Ponderosa is taking over the town (he’s obviously forgotten about the time in season 1 when he and his sons were deputies and has no problem with it in future seasons).  Roy then agrees to Ben’s suggestion that Asa Moran be given the job.

Asa Moran is a struggling rancher and initially hesitates before accepting the offer.  Moran is humble and unsure but this changes as he begins to realise the power he holds.  This is further enhanced after Moran kills the two Express Office robbers when he receives a reward and the town’s admiration.  He ends up believing the badge gives him the right to do anything he wants including settling an old score with the Cartwrights.  His hatred for Cartwrights impairs his judgement and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his revenge.

Ben at first thinks that the right decision was made but after Adam begins to have doubts about Moran and the way the robbers were killed, he starts to think that maybe it wasn’t.  When ranchhand Lou Palmer is pistol-whipped by Moran and Adam is arrested, Ben realises that he has made a mistake by letting a weak man become sheriff.

The one person to realise that Moran’s vendetta against the Cartwrights is even a bigger mistake is Charlie Fitch, the man Moran has chosen to be his deputy on the basis that he not very intelligent but a good man.  Charlie expresses his thoughts in the following way…

I wouldn’t go hunting no trouble with a Cartwright. They’re a pretty close family. You take on one of them you gotta take on them all.

This sentiment is one that many people had during the run of the show.  Many people go up against the Cartwrights only to realise that have hit a formidable obstacle.  This family dynamic is one of the reasons the show remained popular for so long.  The Cartwright family ties are strong and they are there for each other when it matters (other examples of where the family dynamic is the strongest in season 3 are The Tin Badge, The Gamble and The Crucible).

Out of the three Cartwright sons, Adam gets to do the most in this episode.  Even though Hoss is the first one to see a potential problem (which Ben brushes off), it is Adam who is the first one to have real doubts about Moran’s ability to be a good sheriff.  Ignoring his father’s request to stay put, Adam decides to find out what really happened with Lou Palmer and this gets him into trouble with Moran.  When Ben admits to Adam that he made a mistake, Adam is pleased to hear it.

The Lawmaker is a study on how quickly power can go to your head and how it can change you.  Moran’s downfall happens when he is convinced that since the law is on his side, no-one can stop him.  When the truth is revealed and the townspeople realise that like Ben, they too have made a mistake (or at least have doubts), Moran takes a drastic step which ends his life.  It is a tragic ending and one that leaves Ben regretting that he suggested Moran in the first place.

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