I caught the tail end of "The Dare" yesterday and what grabbed my attention was how tense the last few moments were. Ben Matlock, Cliff, and Jerri all had stunned, defeated looks on their face. But why? Did Terry O'Quinn's character (who was on the witness stand) buy all of the hot dogs Atlanta? Did Ben's entire wardrobe of cheap gray suits get destroyed? What happened? Fortunately, there's a thing called The Google, so I looked the episode and found this summary.
Basically, O'Quinn plays some rich guy named Malcolm Engle who swore revenge against Matlock because the latter successfully defended a psychotic (and got him institutionalized) who later murdered the former's wife. So in return, Engle gets payback by murdering a character named Bob Brooks, a police lieutenant who appeared in the first six seasons of the show, then fell off the face of the Earth until season 9 when he was Murder Death Killed in this ep. Engle not only murdered Brooks, but told Matlock that he was going to do it and that the victim was going to be somebody close to the aged lawyer.
Let's jump to the ending because it makes the whole thing kind of amazing. Matlock gets Engle on the stand and comes close to proving him guilty when the bombshell drops: Engle has cancer and will likely die regardless of the outcome of the trial. The final line in the episode are Engle asking "What are you going to do, Ben? Get me the death sentence?" That's some straight up Law & Order shit right there. What caught my attention was just the expression on Matlock's face. There's no look of horror or shock, but he just stares at Engle as the realization that he'll almost certainly escape punishment for his crime, that Lt. Brooks will never have justice. Matlock failed, he lost.
Season 9 was the final season of the show, so I guess the writers wanted to do something bold before the show wrapped up and I think they nailed it.