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on February 15, 2012
Here are capsule impressions of episodes aired during the bumpy path of season four.
A LITTLE LEARNING -- Guest stars, Albert Salmi, Susan Oliver
Illiterate, trouble-prone hayseed creates dangerous misunderstandings when he approaches an attractive schoolteacher. Initially unpromising episode turns suspenseful and ultimately gripping. Salmi makes his inarticulate character quite moving, and child actor Craig Hundley earns high marks for an emotional scene with Drury. Bruce Dern is meaner than ever as Oliver's possessive former husband.
THE CLAIM -- Guest star, William Shatner
Trampas quits Shiloh in a huff and goes gold prospecting with a shiftless buddy and a derelict. Obvious rehash of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," with McClure, Strother Martin and Shatner channeling Tim Holt, Walter Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Captain Kirk beams out of Bogey's shadow with a striking performance. The crew of the Enterprise was no stranger to Shiloh; Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan also appeared during season four.
THE AWAKENING -- Guest star, Glenn Corbett
Betsy Garth falls in love with an ex-minister who sides with miners during a labor dispute. Roberta Shore bids a graceful farewell to Shiloh in memorable episode. Blue-eyed heart throb Corbett performs with becoming restraint, making him a fit partner for the modest Shore. Betsy's swan song was an island of tranquility in the choppy seas of season four, which would only get more turbulent.
RING OF SILENCE -- Guest stars, Earl Holliman, Joyce Van Patten, Royal Dano
A stage with Sheriff Emmett Ryker aboard is waylaid by Mexican marauders bent on vengeance against a passenger. Character-driven tale, reminiscent of the John Ford classic "Stagecoach," becomes a philosophical struggle pitting Clu Gulager's passionate commitment to justice against Holliman's cynical disregard. Good acting, especially by the alert, tightly focused Van Patten, and a bracing climactic shootout compensate for preachiness.
JENNIFER -- Guest star, James MacArthur
Judge Garth's lonely niece moves to Shiloh and is miserable until becoming attached to a young fiddlefoot who is actually a wanted killer. The eternally boyish MacArthur is in top form in deft episode that introduces Diane Roter's character to the series. Her Jennifer is appealingly shy and vulnerable, but the series' writers could think of little more for the complicated character to do, and Roter was shunted into the background of most of her remaining episodes.
SHOW ME A HERO -- Guest star, Richard Beymer
Trampas becomes unwillingly involved in a small town's struggle to preserve its integrity against the forces of corruption. Tired plot is refreshed by observant direction by Leon Benson and thoughtful acting by McClure and Beymer. Character actor Douglas Fowley is a joy to watch as a dignified old sheriff on his last legs. This episode was one of two that season scored by the great composer Bernard Herrmann, of "Psycho" and "Vertigo" fame.
THE HORSE FIGHTER -- Guest star, Harry Guardino
An aging bronco buster generously mentors Randy but is tempted to turn outlaw. Guardino, who usually played big-city roughnecks, is amazingly real as the fading horsebacker. Randy Boone's mild-mannered character has his edgiest scene in the series, decking the astonished Drury during a bunkhouse meltdown. This episode was as good as it got in season four.
NOBODY SAID HELLO -- Guest star, James Whitmore
The parasitic former despot of Andersonville prison is determined to sink his hooks into Judge Garth. Ridiculous story, haltingly directed, makes a monkey out of Whitmore. Only the foolproof Cobb, Drury and McClure emerge from the muck unscathed. Cobb's imminent decision to bolt the series makes more sense after viewing this turkey.
MORGAN STARR -- Guest star, John Dehner
The gruff and demanding ways of Shiloh's new operator spark friction with The Virginian as a locust invasion looms. Robust episode builds to exciting climax, but Dehner's hardboiled character turned off viewers and was gone after a handful of episodes.
HARVEST OF STRANGERS -- Guest star, John Anderson
Morgan Starr and The Virginian try to quell racial animosity in Medicine Bow after a posse of heavily armed Canadian half-breeds hits town. Pointed attack on mindless bigotry is rare for a series that approached social issues with caution. But noirish, wind-tossed episode that strives for artistry as well as relevance founders. Flailing script is poorly plotted and tone-deaf, hamstringing the actors, including the normally surefooted Drury and Anderson.
RIDE A COCK-HORSE TO LARAMIE CROSS -- Guest star, Nita Talbot
Trampas encounters outlaws and hostile Indians while transporting two children to their mother. Disappointing episode, every bit as awkward as its title, saddles McClure with a twerpy child actor (Clint Howard) and an unresponsive leading lady (Talbot). The series was beginning to leak oil as it creaked toward the conclusion of season four. There would be big changes in season five.