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A Tribute to
One of TV's
Finest Shows

Birth of a Legend
The last season's first episode, "Genesis," finally told the story of Paladin's origin. In flashback, we see that a somewhat callow Paladin-To-Be has incurred a huge gambling debt. To obviate it, he is forced by his IOU-holder --a truly evil land baron named Norge -- to challenge an outlaw called "Smoke" to a gun duel. Norge claims Smoke is terrorizing the townsfolk of a settlement owned by the land baron, and he's threatened to kill Norge if he ever sets foot there. The man later to become Paladin (we'll never know his given name) seeks out Smoke, but Smoke finds him first, sneaks up on him, and knocks him unconscious. When Paladin awakens, he finds himself in a kind of "pen," imprisoned by a steep cliff on one side, unscalable rock-faces, and a wall of long, pointed wooden poles.

Smoke (played by Richard Boone, with gray hair and no mustache) is dressed completely in black -- the future Paladin's outfit -- and looks down upon his prisoner from a ledge above. He questions Paladin-To-Be, and remarks that he is merely the

latest in a long line of assassins sent by the land baron. Impressed, however, with P-T-B's passion to fulfill his sworn obligation and kill him, Smoke muses that "in the books, there's a name for someone like you... a paladin...." From then on, he sarcastically addresses our hero by that name every chance he gets. Smoke tells his "noble paladin" that he'll get his duel, but the latter's gunfighting skills are so feeble that Smoke feels compelled to give him some tips for the upcoming event.

While Paladin practices his quick-draw, he can't help but notice Smoke's persistent cough; he obviously suffers from some serious respiratory ailment. Eventually Paladin shouts that Smoke is haunted by imminent death, one way or the other. The night before the big event, Paladin sits before a smoky fire, and gets an idea.... The next morning, Smoke tosses him a few bullets, which Paladin eagerly loads into his gun. Then he places some bushes into the smoldering fire and fans the flames, producing a cloud of irritating smoke which drifts upwards. The two men prepare to draw, then the smoke hits Smoke (so to speak), and he begins coughing and shaking. Realizing Paladin's ploy, he draws quickly, but his aim is affected, and he only wings Paladin.

Meanwhile, the late-drawing Paladin scores a critical hit, and Smoke tumbles off his ledge to the ground below. Paladin rushes over to the dying man, who manages "now you think you've slain the dragon?... You know what you've done?... You've turned the dragon loose.... The one decent thing I ever did in my life was... chain him away from these people... Who's gonna stop Norge now?... You?... Oh, your armor does shine brightly, and your arm is... strong enough... but, where is righteousness, noble paladin?... where is your cause?... You remember, there's always a dragon loose... somewhere --" Paladin closes the dead man's eyes, obviously not proud of what he has done.

The townspeople hold a memorial service for Smoke, while Paladin stands in the background. It's clear from the words spoken that they valued him and considered him their protector, while they regard his hired killer as a contemptible subhuman bastard. Paladin, weeping, is stricken with grief... and with resolve.

The next scene shows Norge riding up the trail in a horse-and-buggy. Suddenly we hear Paladin call out "Norge! Stay there!" At the top of an overlooking hill stands Paladin, now dressed in the clothes of Smoke. He slowly surveys the land below, focuses on Norge, sneers in disgust. A new hero has emerged, and a new era has dawned.... We leave the flashback and return to the present. Paladin is asked if Norge ever returned to the settlement. Paladin replies "only once."