Both Lucas McCain and Marshal Matt Dillon went temporarily blind for one episode
The common trope shows up in everything from M*A*S*H to Mannix.
At first glance, classic television is chock-full of tropes. But in many cases, shows from the 1950s and '60s invented those ideas. These plot points only became stereotypical after numerous modern shows copied the same scenes.
But that's not to say that certain storytelling techniques didn't get reused across a number of mid-century shows, especially if it involved an obstacle for the main character to overcome. One such trope seen in both The Rifleman and Gunsmoke involved someone losing their eyesight.
"Dark Day at North Fork," from season three of The Rifleman, starts off with a bang. Literally. In the opening scene, Lucas McCain accidentally ignites a barrel of blasting powder. The bright flash blinds him instantly and sets off a dramatic story of courage and perseverance. Not only does Lucas have to cope with his new reality, but an old enemy also comes to North Fork looking for revenge.
Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke finds himself in a similar situation in the episode "Blind Man's Bluff" (not to be confused with the later episode "Blind Man's Buff" which has more to do with amnesia than blindness). In "Bluff," Matt tracks a wanted man to the rough-and-tumble town of Elkader. While there, Matt is attacked and beaten so badly he loses his eyesight. The dark story begins to brighten when Marshal Dillon is nursed back to health by none other than the accused murderer he was intending to bring in.
Of course, both Matt and Lucas regain their eyesight by the end of their episode. But they aren't the only classic TV characters to suffer this unfortunate fate. It happens to Murdock in The A-Team, and to the title characters of The Fugitive, MacGyver, and Mannix — just to name a few. It even happens to Spock in the Star Trek episode "Operation – Annihilate!"
The trope isn't just exclusive to action-dramas either. Hawkeye loses his eyesight temporarily on M*A*S*H ("Out of Sight, Out of Mind"), as does the Fonz on Happy Days ("Fonzie's Blindness").
While certain uses of the "temporary blindness" plot point may not be entirely medically accurate, it certainly makes for both dramatic and comedic scenes. Can you remember any other instances where this trope was used? Let us know in the comments below!