Way Out West

"You people make me ornerier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!" — Mr. K.

Review by Mike Truman


Saddle up, partners! It’s long past time we returned to the Wild, Wild West, complete with ridin’, gamblin’, and more unnecessary gunplay than you can shake a stick at. I reckon we’ve gone soft during this current run of stories about gadgets, virtual saloons, and these internets I keep hearing about. Tonight we put it right. Break out your riding chaps and hitch up your spurs, you doggies; we’ve got a range full of clichés ahead! Yeeeeee-ha!

Man, do we ever. “Way Out West” is a loving tribute to all the old westerns that ruled the media in the middle of this century. From Rembrandt declaring himself jumpier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs to Quinn’s laconic yups, this is as stereotypical a view of the Old West as you’re going to find. It’s got all the old saws: the widow homesteader, the murderous villain, the greedy businessmen, and the handsome stranger who puts it all right with his trusty Peacemaker.

In another dimension, we’d call it The Good, The Bad, and the Wealthy.

Before going forward, we might find it instructive to ruminate on the last trip our cowboys made to the days when gunslingers ruled the land. In The Good, The Bad, and the Wealthy, Quinn found himself in a tug-of-war when he apparently shot the fastest draw in all of San Francisco. It featured a widow, her angry son, and a convoluted plot to take over a company. In “Way Out West,” things are much different; the widow has an angry daughter and the convoluted plot is to take over land! To build resort casinos! In what is essentially 1850!

In truth, there is a significant difference that cannot be ignored. Corporate considerations mucked the story all up, but the lesson of The Good, The Bad, and the Wealthy was clear — real men don’t need guns to solve their problems. This story turns that moral on its head as we discover Drexel Bullock recruited the wrong Mallory.

Finally in his element, Farm Boy makes us question why anyone would mess with him back home. He’s stunningly adept working with a pistol and proves himself more than a match for the deadliest gang of outlaws in the county. After being shot during a stagecoach robbery, Colin is nursed back to health by widower Amanda Starr (Karen Austin) and her daughter Ellie (Courtney Earlywine). He learns her husband had been shot by a gunslinger known only as Mr. K, the same man who attacked the stagecoach. Except Mr. K is no stranger to Colin; it’s Kolitar.

Wait, Kolitar the Kromagg? From Slidecage?

“No, Kolitar the Care Bear.”

Thanks, Maggie.

As the others uncover Mr. K’s plan to collude with local authorities to steal the homesteaders’ land, Colin teaches a young girl that violence is not the answer — before he commits some serious acts of violence. With Kolitar using Ellie as leverage to gain the property deed, Colin shoots it out with his gang and drives the outlaw back. Encouraged by Colin’s sharpshooting, Ellie decides she’ll avenge her pappy herself. Jamie Hardaway would have approved.

Like Jamie, Ellie’s too yellow to kill anyone. The same cannot be said of Colin. Riding in to town to rescue Ellie, he finds his friends swinging from the hangman’s noose. He expertly cuts them loose with two quick shots and guns down the sleepy deputies before they can react. Mr. K has had enough, and challenges Colin to a duel. Unlike his brother, who threw down his gun some two years earlier, Colin draws and cuts the big man down. His final body count is at least three dead and two wounded. New moral of the story? Sometimes you gotta fight to be a man.

So is it fair to say we’ve gone back to the third season playbook of picking a movie and then dropping our characters in it? Teleplay writer Chris Black says no, explaining the characters are driving the action, and it just so happens the action involves a lot of punching, shooting, and kneeing people in the groin. But certain aspects of this production just reek of flawed storytelling, particularly the introduction of sudden abilities in characters. Colin knowing how to handle a pistol isn’t as shocking as Rembrandt in the navy or Wade launching a musical career, but it comes out of left field. He’s been in plenty of gun fights since joining the team and not once has he mentioned he was a crack shot.

More importantly, Colin has always presented himself as an exceedingly moral man. While it’s not difficult to justify his actions, I found it surprising Colin could shoot men without any ambiguity. I cannot accept the argument that character drove his actions. The plot forced his hand, and now he must live with the consequences or pretend it never happened.

If you can’t handle Colin’s transformation, you may be able to better accept Maggie as a cabaret singer. I suppose deep down we knew she was an exhibitionist, rapidly moving from the traditional folk song “Camptown Races” to a Maggie Beckett original, “Tight Pants.” Sample lyrics: “Put ’em in the wash/ Put ’em in the dryer/ shrinking them tighter/ I can sing higher!” Loopy as it all is, it is still somewhat refreshing to see the show return to its musical roots. Even the cues are more distinctive than usual, recalling how every show had its own sound back in the beginning.

Of course, those cues are all twangs and tumbleweed, exactly what you’d expect from an episode hell bent on exploiting every bit of Western genre you can stuff into an hour. It is so boilerplate that Quinn declares they have an advantage; between he and Rembrandt, he figures they’ve seen enough movies to know every trick in the book. This sort of meta-reasoning is foiled as Mr. K is also a huge fan of the genre. His favorite film? “The Man Who Shot Kaleeth-Tar.” This raises all sorts of questions about Kromagg history, but this is not really the place for it. Take the throwaway joke, and by all means, throw it away. Unfortunately, it serves as a metaphor for the entire episode. Fun, but expendable.

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