For some reason this episode falls between ‘Requiem
for a Hero’ and ‘Judgment Day’ but confusingly, there is no mention of Hezekiah
Horn and Cody’s depression over his death (which is explored in the next
episode, Judgment Day). According to the episode guides at ‘Rider’s Coming’,
'The Play’s the Thing' was originally scheduled to air much earlier. This
episode is also interesting because it show’s Cody’s keen interesting in
performing. As you probably know, the real William F. Cody eventually became
a performer in his wild west show.
The episode opens with a scene of a play where two male actors (one a bad
character, the other good) are fighting over a woman. Guns are drawn and
the hero is shot. The woman then shoots the ‘bad’ man and the play ends.
Cody is in the audience and applauds enthusiastically. He later waits outside
with flowers wanting to meet the actress in the play. It is the third night
he has waited there. He instead meets the leader of the acting troupe and
her husband (Margaret and Edmund Herrick). Margaret says that he has "a light
in his eyes that only one mistress could inspire - the theater" Cody goes
inside the theater and looks around. The actress ‘Jenny St. Clair’ is not
there so Cody throws the flowers out the window. Unbeknownst to him, they
land beside a man’s dead body out in the street below.
In the meantime, Jimmy is trying to read a children’s book out loud, Noah
hears him and teases him. Hickok gets angry and says it’s a stupid book.
Noah tells him that "not reading would be stupid", and that "reading can
open up the mind". Kid arrives back from a run and tells Lou, Jimmy, Noah,
and Ike that General Freeman’s chief of staff was killed outside a theater
in Ransburg and that Freeman may be next. They talk about now the war is
Cody is alone and reenacting scenes from the play with his horse when he
hears gunshots. He investigates and finds that the acting troupe are being
shot at by a group of men. The lead actor (Jonathan) is shot is the leg.
Cody intervenes and shoots their attackers. After it is over, he finds an
unusual rifle. Miss St. Clair thanks him for his help and puts out her hand
for him to kiss. Cody doesn’t realize what he is expected to do so he shakes
Teaspoon examines the rifle and concludes that a government official probably
owned it. Teaspoon is introduced to the acting troupe and asks them about
the murder at the theater in Ransburg. They act surprised and claim to know
Cody is still excited about the theater and watches them rehearse for their
performances in Rock Creek. Jonathan cannot perform because of his wound
and Cody takes his place. There are some amusing rehearsal scenes and Cody
hams it up too much (he keeps getting back up and refusing to die after he
has been shot).
The next scene is of two men who are discussing how they are going to round
up the actors, gather evidence, and bring them in.
Ike and Buck watch Cody in rehearsal and laugh. Margaret (the director) pulls
a real gun on Cody to help him ‘believe’ in the material saying "Nothing
can get in the way of what you truly believe". Buck comments that Cody will
probably learn pretty fast with a teacher like that. Buck and Ike leave.
A man is seen hanging around the theater. Teaspoon sees his rifle and realizes
that it is the same type as the one Cody found. He questions the man about
it but he will not explain because he doesn’t know which side Teaspoon is
on. Teaspoon then sees Margaret sending a young boy to deliver a message
and he gets suspicious.
All the riders go to the play. They cheer when Cody comes on. As a part of
the play, he kisses the actress (Jenny). Rachel comments on how well he is
performing. Cody is a huge success and receives much applause.
Margaret and Edmund are discussing how they are going to kill General Freeman.
They plan to set Cody up to take the fall for the murder.
The same man (with the rifle) who had talked to Teaspoon earlier, approaches
Cody and Jonathan who are talking in the theater. He introduces himself as
‘Eastman’ and says he is a fan of Jonathan’s and has seen him perform before.
Jonathan then introduces his 'temporary replacement' as "William F. Cody-
Pony Express Rider, Marksman, and Thespian", Cody snaps back "Who are you
calling a Thespian?". Eastman asks them where they are headed next. Cody
gets suspicious and asks him a few questions which he refuses to answer.
Back at the station, the riders are sitting around listening as Jimmy reads
from 'Last of the Mohicans'. A book that Noah bought him. He reads only the
last page saying "Enough things happen in my life where I’ve gotta worry
about what’s gonna happen next, and often I can skip the anticipatin’ and
get on with it." They then start talking about how Cody is neglecting his
duties. Cody enters and they confront him. He apologizes and thanks them.
He then tells them that he is thinking of leaving with the theater group
the following afternoon.
Later, Teaspoon talks to Cody about his decision. He tells Cody how he once
fell in love with a Shakespearean actress. He said that she was the one that
got away. He tells Cody that he needs more life experience to be a good actor
but Cody is not convinced.
Cody has a fight with Jenny St. Clair. She is angry at Cody’s natural talent.
Cody says that she is just jealous and then explains to her how much he loves
the stage. They bond.
In the meantime, Margaret goes to Teaspoon to convince him that it would
be best if Cody went with them. She pleads with Teaspoon to give Cody his
The riders farewell Cody. It is interrupted by Margaret who has shot Eastman
(the stranger with the rifle). Cody says that he didn’t trust Eastman. Teaspoon
finally gives his blessing for Cody to leave and the troupe head off for
a town called ‘Apple Creek’. Eastman slowly regains consciousness and tells
Teaspoon that the actors are assassins and that they plan to kill General
The troupe changes itinerary and head to Fort Laramie (where Freeman is).
Cody gets cozy with Jenny. The theater in fort Laramie is packed and Cody
gets nervous because General Freeman is in the audience. Margaret tells him
"Mr. Cody, after tonight no one will forget your name". The next scene shows
Margaret and Edmund discussing Cody backstage.
Edmund: "Too bad, he would have made a fine actor."
Margaret: "He’ll make a better scapegoat."
Because of what Eastman told them, the riders and Teaspoon go to Fort Laramie.
They are not allowed to enter so they sneak their way into the theater by
dressing up as soldiers. The last act of the play is in progress and General
Freeman is shot. Edmund points at Cody in shock and says that Cody’s gun
was real and he shot the General. (Actually, it was Margaret who shot him
from the wings). Cody is about to be shot when the riders enter. Teaspoon
has to shoot Margaret. As she is dying, Cody asks her why she did it. She
echoes her word "Nothing can get in the way of what you truly believe". Cody
looks up to see Jenny with a gun, she is about to finish Freeman off. He
shoots the gun out of her hand. She is arrested and taken away.
After the excitement, the theater empties and Cody sits alone on the stage,
angry at being used and at not being able to see the truth. He’s worried
that he really wasn’t a good actor after all. Teaspoon tells him that after
the war, the theater will be waiting for him. Cody asks him "What’s gonna
happen when war comes?" and Teaspoon replies "God only knows son but it seems
to me we’ll all be involved." Cody leaves Teaspoon alone in the theater and
he stands on the stage and recites Shakespeare. (Something to do with Dogs
of War, I can’t identify the piece.) The last scene is an indication of how
the war is going to affect them which it does in later episodes.