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Eugene Barkley, we hardly knew ye. The youngest of the Barkley sons (quick--who portrayed him? That's right; Charles Briles) is nowhere to be found in The Big Valley's sophomore season. But lawyer Jarrod (Richard Long), hot-headed Nick (Peter Breck), soulful "bastard son" Heath (Lee Majors), and coltish daughter Audra (Linda Evans) get into all the trouble and two-fisted action they can handle. And there's nothing the close-knit Barkleys, headed by matriarch Victoria (regally billed as "Miss Barbara Stanwyck") can't handle, whether it's defending the family name against the false accusations of an unscrupulous, grudge-bearing politician, rescuing Heath from a Mexican prison, or being abandoned in the desert. The drama of Heath's heritage, a focus of season 1, is settled once and for all in the season opener, "The Lost Treasure," in which a con man claims to be Heath's father. By episode's end, even Nick is calling Heath "brother." Season 2 boasts an impressive roster of character actors, several at the beginning of their careers. Buddy Hackett, sporting a Lucky Charms leprechaun brogue, is the con man in "The Lost Treasure," with Bruce Dern as one of his marks, and Dub Taylor tending a ghost town bar. Colleen Dewhurst guest stars in the episode "A Day of Terror, as outlaw Annie Morton, who holds Victoria and Audra hostage while her injured son recuperates in a church. James Whitmore is the mud-slinging candidate in "Target." Warren Oates heads a band of bumbling brothers trying to open a stubborn railroad station safe in "The Great Safe Robbery." And that's the future Jan Brady, Eve Plumb as a little girl trapped in a well in "Hide the Children," an excellent episode that deals with intolerance as gypsy-hating Nick gets a change of attitude when he accompanies a gypsy bride and her family to her wedding. The Big Valley was never a ratings rival to the venerable Gunsmoke or Bonanza, which still ruled the prime time roost in 1966. But Western buffs will feel right at home with this sprawling family saga and its larger than life characters. Buyers, though, will be paying a higher premium for the Barkley property this time around. Priced the same as the season 1 set, this collection contains only the first 15 episodes of season 2 and no extra features. --Donald Liebenson
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Big Valley - Season 2, Volume 1 Price List