"The Joker" opens with Barney Tremain and his partner just outside Laramie, fleeing a posse. When asked what his plans are for Laramie, Tremain gleefully says he'll be looking for a new partner as he shoots the old one dead. In the meanwhile, Dan and Johnny are eating their mid-day meal at the cafe. When Dan compliments Dru on her "Kansas cooking", she retorts that she learned to cook in Ohio. Johnny chimes in that the Marshal's right, Dru cooks just like his Ma. In the ensuing conversation the viewers learn that Johnny was raised on farm outside Lawrence, Kansas where his father was killed by raiders during the war. When he was about 10 years old, he and his mother joined a wagon train. His mother was buried by the trail in Nebraska.
Dan will be leaving to transport a prisoner to Larkspur. He comments in a kindly voice, "Well, Johnny, nothing but yourself to fuss over since you was ten. Now you've got a whole town." As Dan and Johnny leave the cafe, Tremain comes in. When he compliments Dru's "Missouri" soup, the conversation turns to Dan's and Johnny's compliments on her Kansas cooking. When he finds out that Johnny was from Kansas, Tremain mentions to Dru that he knew a family by the name of McKay in Lawrence. When he finds out that's where Johnny is from, he reckons that could be very interesting.
Johnny's first task that evening after Dan departs with the prisoner is to respond to the saloon where Tremain has slipped an "upchucker" into an old drunk's drink. When Johnny calls him on it, he makes a semblance of an apology and turns the subject to Johnny's family. Johnny is clearly taken aback, but then curious about Tremain's knowledge of the family he barely knew himself. He goes to supper with Tremain who talks about how people in Missouri and Kansas were forced to choose sides during the war, with raiders from both sides killing and burning barns. McKay, he says, tried to remain neutral. "Never did see a man so eager to turn the other cheek." Johnny responds defensively, "Pa ought to get a lot of credit. That's a hard thing to do." Tremain comments that from what he's seen Johnny wouldn't react that way, because he appeared to be a "mighty feisty young fella" as different from McKay as "chicken feathers and porcupine quills." Dru glares at Tremain during their entire meal. At the end, Tremain fakes a pain spasm from a war wound and asks Johnny to see him to his hotel room where they can talk some more, in private. That conversation takes place off screen.
Johnny asks Mr. Tate
about Quantrell's Raiders
Dan finds a troubled Johnny
Johnny says he's not
made to be a lawman
Dan is shocked and puzzled
While delivering his prisoner, Dan runs into the Larkspur posse. They've found Tremain's murdered partner. The sheriff thinks the other robber was headed for Laramie. As Dan rides back into Laramie, Johnny asks newsman Harry Tate about Quantrell's Raiders. Tate tells him they were murderers, cut throats and thieves, hiding behind a flag, raiding their own people when they could get away with it. When Dan rides up, a troubled Johnny tells him he has something he must tell him.
In the office, Johnny tells Dan its meant a lot working for him, but he's turning in his badge. Dan is shocked. When Johnny tells him it's because he has bad blood in him, Dan's disgusted. He tries to talk him out of it, but Johnny is adamant. When he leaves, Dan turns to the office cat. "People think of more fool ways to make themselves miserable."
Dan sets out to find what got into Johnny. He finds out he had a private talk with Tremain but neither Harry Tate nor Dru Lemp knew what they talked about. Dan thought he had a memory of Tremain from the glimpse he got of him at the cafe but couldn't place him. When Tate mentions Johnny's question about Quantrell's Raiders, Dan remembers where he knows Tremain from and realizes he's also the robber they're looking for. He asks Tate to find out where Johnny is. Dan goes to Tremain's room and finds out that he told Johnny that he's Johnny's father. Supposedly Johnny's mother married McKay when she left Tremain. Dan then tells him he's under arrest. Dan recounts the day back in Kansas when Tremain killed a soldier waving a flag of truce. But he's under arrest for a more recent crime: the murders of three people in the Larkspur hold-up.
In Tate's office Dan finds out Johnny is in the Blue Bonnet saloon. He tells Tremain that before he takes him to Larkspur to be hanged he's going to give him the chance to make up for the worst thing he ever did, "telling that boy you're his father, whether it's true or not." Tremain tries to strike a deal, a promise he won't hang. Tate tells Dan, "I'm not hearing any of this Dan. Sometimes a man has to do things that he . . . ." (Tate is the same man who in the previous episode agreed with Dan that you can't compromise with evil) Dan will make no deals. So Tremain tells him that he at least has to take the cuffs off or Johnny won't believe he hasn't been forced to retract his claim. In the saloon, Tremain tells everyone he has a funny story to tell about Dan Troop's baby-faced deputy. He tells them he had Johnny believing he was his father when in fact he was the one who killed Johnny's real father. At that point, things don't go quite as Dan planned.
Johnny gets up and tells Tremain to draw. When Tremain reveals he's unarmed, Johnny grabs another man's gun and tosses it on a table. When Tremain goes for it, Dan pushes Johnny out of the way and kills Tremain. Tremain's last words were, "Didn't hang."
As filmed, it's not clear whether or not Tremain is Johnny's father but we admire Dan for going to such lengths to make sure Johnny believes he is not. In the end, when Dan pushes Johnny aside and kills Tremain himself, it appears he's making sure that whatever information may come out later, Johnny will never have to wonder whether he killed his own father.
In a nice final shot, Dan takes Johnny's wrist, turns his hand palm up and places his badge in it. Johnny curls his fingers around it, nods ever so slighty and hefts the badge in his hand as though it had some significant weight.
Tremain says he killed
Johnny listens to
Dan pushes Johnny aside
then shoots Tremain
Dan gives Johnny back his badge
Production Notes: According to John Russell, prior to filming the episode it was decided to play it on the assumption that Tremain is actually Johnny's father. The script supports that assumption more than does the episode as released. In the script, when talking about his father's murder by raiders, Johnny tells them, "Don't recollect much, 'cept what Ma told me. He was shot by raiders." (He puts down his fork and frowns, bothered a little by something he must have thought of before.) "Funny in a way. I must've been four going' on five. Think I'd remember that, wouldn't you?"
NiteOwl Review: This episode is a must have for Lawman collectors who want the episodes that tell the back stories of the characters. And, of course, Peter Brown fans will want it on general principles. Our favorite scene is the last one described above in which Dan puts the badge in Johnny's hand. This was not the scripted final scene. We're glad it was added because it made for subtly affectionate moment and such moments were not frequent in this show.
SCRIPTED FINAL SCENE FOR "THE JOKER"
INTERIOR: TROOP, DRU LEMP - DAY
Troop has just finished his dinner and sighs contentedly as he looks across the table at a smiling Dru.
TROOP: Best cookin' west of the Mississippi.
The words have a little echo in Dru's mind. She looks down, faintly troubled, then up again.
DRU: Dan, I guess I ought to tell you. Heard a little talk. Some people think you could have handled Barney Tremaine some other way.
DAN (nodding) Maybe. Let him cheat the hangman. Half of what he wanted. Spoiled the rest of his joke, though.
DRU: What do you mean?
DAN: Thing he wanted most was Johnny going through life wondering if he'd killed his own father.
DRU (shocked) Dan! Do you think he really was Johnny's father?
Dan gets up and heads for his hat.
DAN: Doesn't matter, does it . . . long as Johnny knows it doesn't?
He looks out the window (or door) and beckons Dru over. She joins him and, looking out, smiles.
EXTERIOR: STREET, JOHNNY'S P.O.V.
Johnny is riding slowly past on his horse. Easy. Confident.
Johnny looks toward CAMERA, apparently spotting Troop and Dru, waves. His deputy's badge is again in place. The horse suddenly shies, but he effortlessly controls it.
JOHNNY: Easy, boy. Easy.
As CAMERA PULLS BACK - FADE OUT
Comment: This scene is effective when read but we think the scene used, in which Dan puts the badge in Johnny's hand in an uncharacteristically affectionate gesture, played better. We're not quite sure what was meant by Dan's line "Doesn't matter, does it . . . long as Johnny knows it doesn't?" Presumably this means "long as Johnny knows it doesn't matter." Of course, that was something that was never resolved in the show because Johnny was led to believe Tremain was not his father. There was no resolution of his belief that if he came from "bad blood" he wasn't cut out to be a lawman.
The Office Cat: We were sorry that the office cat disappeared after the first season. The stage directions for him could be amusing. In this script when the two lawman enter the office for the talk which ends with Johnny leaving without his badge, the cat is directed as follows: "The cat is stalking something (and whether that means he's moving slowly, close to the floor, or just staring intently OFF FRAME will depend on the actor). SOUND OF OPENING DOOR and the cat looks up, indignant (if he can manage it)."
Troop entering, sees what's happened and addresses the cat.
TROOP: Buttin' in on your business again, eh?
As Troop hangs up hat, cat moves elsewhere -- preferably showing its wounded feelings.
Later there's a close shot of the cat on the desk.
Original air date Oct 19, 1958
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Written by Finlay McDermid
John Russell as Dan Troop
Peter Brown as Johnny McKay
Bek Nelson as Dru Lemp
Jeff York as Barney Tremain
Jon Lormer as Harry Tate
Emile Meyer as Sheriff Giles
Dub Taylor as Larry
L. Standand Jolley as Gil Breck
Official Peter Brown Fan Site