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The Ape is the fourteenth episode of the second season of Bonanza, and the forty-sixth episode overall.
At one of Virginia City's saloons, a giant-sized man begins making an unwanted advance on the barmaid, and when Little Joe and Adam get roughed up trying to fight off the man, Hoss gets involved in what proves to be a long, drawn-out fight. Hoss and the giant, ape-sized man (named Arnie Guthrie) eventually battle to a draw, earning Arnie's respect.
Hoss realizes that Arnie might suffer from some sort of mental disability, leaving him with few social skills and limited ability to care for himself. After consulting with Ben, and going against the advice of Joe and Adam, Hoss sets out to rehabilitate Arnie and turn him into a productive member of society. Ben reluctantly goes along with Hoss and gives Arnie a job on the Ponderosa.
Arnie is doing well in his job, and states a plan to spend his wages on buying a farm someday near Lake Tahoe. But there is one major problem, and that is the people who are employed by and frequent the saloon where Arnie and Hoss first met. Arnie is deeply attracted to the beautiful barmaid, Shari, and Shari realizes that she can manipulate the slow-witted Arnie into doing anything she wants and buying her expensive gifts. But behind Arnie's back, Shari and the others make cruel jokes about Arnie and his "pea-sized brain." Hoss has met Shari and her cronies in the past, and knowing they mean nothing but trouble, advises Arnie to stay away from the saloon. Arnie repeatedly doesn't listen, and trouble soon follows. At one point, Hoss confronts Shari and the saloon owner, warning them to back off.
Hoss soon realizes that Arnie also has a violent temper he never learned to control, and this leads to complications on several fronts. First, one of the ranchers who makes fun of Arnie is found dead. Later, when Hoss once again tries to counsel Arnie on controlling his hormones and turning his attention away from Shari, Arnie - believing that Hoss wants Shari for himself - hits Hoss over the head with a large rock, rendering the Cartwright unconscious. Arnie goes to the saloon to present Shari with an exclusive set of beads, but when he clumsily tries to put them on her, Shari slaps him away and lets slip that Arnie is just an ape and the butt of her jokes. Arnie explodes into a violent rage and breaks Shari's neck, killing her instantly.
Arnie realizes what he's done, and runs just as Shari's companion finds her dead on the floor. A posse is formed, and Hoss tells his father that he needs a head start so he can convince Arnie to surrender peacefully. Arnie, not wanting Hoss to get killed trying to defend him, again knocks Hoss out and it isn't long before he threatens several lives by picking up a big log to hurl at the posse. The ranchers have no choice but to shoot Arnie, and he is fatally shot in a hail of gunfire.
Hoss recovers and, after grieving Arnie's death, tells Ben he plans to take his corpse to the riverview area where Arnie was to buy his farm.