The Secret

Writer: John Hawkins
Director: Robert Altman
Air Date: 6 May 1961
Guest Stars: Stephen Joyce (Jerome Bell), Patricia Michon (Betty May Wood), Crahan Denton (Jake Parson), Russell Collins (John Hardner), Dayton Lummis (Hiram Wood), Morgan Woodward (Deputy Sheriff Rick Conley), Sherwood Price (Pete Parson), Bob Harris (Bill Parson), Roy Engel (Dr. Paul Martin), Bill Edwards (Man)

“Never thought owning a paint pony and being left-handed could get a fellow in so much trouble.” – Joe

Trouble is just what happens to Joe and the rest of the Cartwrights when Joe is accused of the murder of Mary Parson.  Unable to prove Joe’s innocence, it is left up to Adam and Hoss to find the evidence they need.  However, the murderer is eventually uncovered by the daughter or Hiram Wood – the Cartwright’s lawyer.

One of the major themes of this episode is jumping to conclusions.  It begins with John Hardner seeing Mary and the man she is with riding in a buggy.  Seeing a paint horse and noticing that the man was left-handed, Hardner immediately concludes that it is Joe.  The second jump is when Jake Parson assumes that Joe and Mary have eloped because she said that was going out with Joe the previous afternoon and hasn’t returned.  The next jump occurs when the Parson brothers find their sister’s body and they accused Joe (who has been protesting his innocence about courting Mary) of murder.  Another jump occurs when the jury finds Joe guilty at the Coroner’s Inquiry solely based on what Hardner (and possibly Jake Parson) says with no real evidence to back it up.

A tool used both visually and audibly in this episode is implication.  Director Robert Altman uses the visual queue of seeing both Mary and the man she is with on top of Indian Leap before panning to the horse tied to the buggy.  The viewer then hears a scream and the reaction of the horse to it before the camera pans back to the lone man now standing on the cliff.  This scene forms part of the episode prologue and features no speaking except for that of Hardner (shouting out to Joe and Mary as they go by).

Where the audible implication is used to great effect is in the scene after Dr. Martin as performed the autopsy on Mary…

Joe: Oh it was an accident then.
Dr. Martin: It could’ve been. Or it could have been suicide.
Ben: Suicide? What makes you say that?
Dr. Martin: She wasn’t married, was she?
Ben: Well you know she wasn’t.
Dr. Martin: She should’ve been.
Ben: Now son…
Joe: No, Pa. I was never even alone with her.

This dialogue implies to the audience that Mary was pregnant without the characters actually saying it.  The show was set (and filmed) in a time when unwed mothers were a social taboo.  Doctor Martin jumps to a conclusion that suicide might have been the cause of death based upon this finding.  Ben (knowing his son better than the audience does) for a moment thinks the Joe may have been involved ends up not pursuing it and taking his son’s word.

Meanwhile, Mary’s father and brothers have already decided that Joe is guilty and go about taking the law into their own hands.  First up is Mary’s brother Pete, who turns up at the Ponderosa with a gun ready to kill Joe.  After a brief scuffle, he shot in the arm by Ben which leads to more trouble with the Parson family.  Later on, they take Ben, Adam and Hoss hostage as part of their scheme to break into the jail and hang Joe.  Adam and Hoss present Jake Parson with hard evidence that Joe is innocent and even then he has a hard time believing it.

The sub-plot of this episode involves Hiram Wood’s daughter Betty May and her romance with her father’s law clerk Jerome Bell.  Bell is an ambitious man and seems to be more interested in where his career is going and how he can further it.  Betty May begins to have doubts and speaks about her concerns to her father which leads her to go to Bell’s room at the hotel and discovering more than she bargained for.

The Secret is a story of two families and how they deal with a tragedy that was instigated by a third party unknown to all of them.  It shows the lengths men will go to protect those and the things they love without any regards for the consequences.

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