Young Riders deserves a whole series of articles, and I may just manage to give it that. It started airing in 1989, and chronicled the adventures of a group of Pony Express riders in the old west. Even though it was a fast-paced action show, the writing always managed to convey character and motivation, rather than relying on conventions and stereotypes as shortcuts. The women were no exception to this rule. Each of the female regulars – Emma, Lou and Rachel – could easily take an article.
But today I’m just going to look at one snapshot from an episode called “Hard Time”. A greedy bastard has taken over a small town with a valuable mine. Everyone who opposes him ends up dead or working the mine. So the man who owned the mine before Greedy Bastard sold it works in the mine, and his wife is forced to work in the saloon and help GB trick strangers, like one of our Pony Express Riders, into getting arrested so he can put them to work in the mines. Toward the end, GB promises the wife that if she becomes his lover, he’ll release her husband – and even though she’s not positive he’ll keep his word, he doesn’t give her much choice. She becomes his lover.
So GB goes and tells her husband about this. She pleas to her husband to understand that she only did it for him, and he does seem to understand. But he kills himself anyway. The wife asks herself in a tone of horror, “What have I done?” And because she really didn’t have a better option, I find myself sympathizing instead of thinking, “You trusted a total bastard, you silly tart.”
By the end of the episode, everybody’s gunning for Greedy Bastard, and many of them have very personal reasons to want justice. But it’s the wife who uses her personal access to GB to corner him in his own bedroom with a gun. He laughs and says she won’t go through with killing him. Then one of our regulars bursts through the door, and I expect him to talk her down with the usual “you’d be no better than him” speech or something.
Instead, she shoots the old bastard before anybody can stop her. Right there, in cold blood. And everybody understands and supports her, because in the lawlessness of the west, revenge was a respected custom. Even, in some cases, when it was served by a woman.