Bonanza: Volume Three, Bitter Water, VHS version
Five out of five stars
It is a basic premise of the Bonanza series that the Cartwrights are wealthy and honest and upright citizens. They are respected by most of the other members of their community. Which naturally leads to the recurring plot device of others being jealous and resentful of their wealth and prestige.
That is the basis of the plot of this episode. One of the neighbors of the Cartwrights is an old friend of Ben’s and by mutual agreement, they share water rights to a stream that runs through both properties. Todd, the son of the friend, is now an adult and determined to make his own way in the world. One thing he wants to do is to sell off his father’s land to the father of his fiancé, an unscrupulous man that is interested in mining silver. If this were to be done, the stream would be poisoned and there would be no water for the Ponderosa cattle.
The jealousy in Todd for Adam Cartwright runs so deep that it comes to a fight between them, despite the fact they grew up together. Not for the hand of the woman, but simply because Todd feels inferior and considers it necessary to engage in acts of false bravado. The mining man is so unscrupulous that when he discovers that some of his cattle are infected with the deadly Texas Fever plague, he has his men drive them onto the Ponderosa so that the Cartwright cattle will also be infected.
While there is gunplay, the focus is on the interrelationships between Todd, his father, the fiancé, her father the mining man and the Cartwrights. Of course, when they are challenged, the Cartwrights stand their ground, even when the odds are against them.
One of the outstanding features of the best television westerns is that while there is the standard western action of guns firing and fists swinging, the focus is on the relationships. The viewers care about the main characters, forming bonds with them through the screen. In this episode, it is easy to understand why that is the case for this popular series.