I Got You, Rabies
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: The Racoon [sic]
Airdate: November 20, 1974
Written by Joseph Bonaduce
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Laura adopts a pet raccoon, but faces certain death when it turns out to be rabid.
RECAP: Our kids Olive, Roman and Alexander joined my wife Dagny and me for this one.
Another typo in the title, the second this season. I wonder if anybody got fired? A friend of mine used to work for the son of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. She tells how when the Humphrey School of Public Affairs was first launching its website, they gave Humphrey’s son a preview as a courtesy . . . only to have him notice they’d spelled it “PUBIC AFFAIRS” in the site design. You can never be too careful.
We open with the girls playing outside the Little House. Laura’s holding a big doll she calls “Janet” when Mary asks if she’ll help her practice pitching for Three O’Cat. As we’ve observed in the past, Mary is a terrible pitcher, but she acknowledges herself she needs the practice.
Well, Laura weeps and holds Janet while Mary nicely apologizes, though it really wasn’t her fault. Olive said, “Look how thick that grass is. That doll would be fine.”
That night, Pa tries to glue the fractured head back together, but too many pieces are in smithereens. Ma asks if they could swing replacing the doll, but Charles says money’s tight and WINTER IS COMING. (I know I’ve previously noted the wheat and mining money they made earlier this season. But subsequent events prove it’s been at least one year, and maybe as many as five years, since that happened. Yes, I know, they are all still the same ages.)
Charles is kind of sarcastic to Caroline when she tries to help with the repair, but of course they both crack up laughing, so no harm done. (I wish my own parents responded that way to each other’s sarcasm.)
The next day, Mary goes to the Mercantile to see about ordering a new doll head. Good old Nels brings out the good old Sears Roebuck catalog. (According to this timeline, the first proper catalog was issued in 1893, and this one, identified as “No. III,” is probably from 1896.)
But unfortunately, the “bisque” heads (defined as “unglazed china that is not to be glazed but is hard-fired and vitreous”) range from 59 cents ($11.80 in today’s money) up to $1.20 ($24) . . . and all Mary has is 11 cents ($2.20).
There are some really terrifying vintage bisque head pictures out there:
Afterwards, Mary is coming down that shady hill everybody’s always coming down when she sees Jack barking at a bush. She crouches down and finds a baby raccoon hanging around the corpse of its mother. The first thing she does, of course, is pet it! Quite unwise.
Then she brings it home and gives it to Laura as a pet! She’s smart enough to know better. Then Laura practically hands it to Carrie!
Ma is sitting there the whole time snapping green beans. I’m not sure where the fresh beans came from, since we’ll see in a bit it’s the cold-weather months.
Caroline doesn’t seem to have a problem with the raccoon development; all she says is not in the house. Having grown up in the country myself, I can tell you that, despite TV stereotypes, rural folk generally a) are not very sentimental about animals, b) are specifically not fond of raccoons, and c) do not see wildlife as potential pets. Generally speaking, that is; there are of course exceptions.
Anyways, then Pa comes in and pours cold water on the whole idea, saying wild animals make dangerous pets. (That’s more like it.) The girls both sass him pretty boldly, which shocked my kids. Laura says if they leave the animal, which she calls “Jasper,” in the woods, they might as well do the same to Carrie. (“Laura’s a real dunce in this one,” said Dags.)
Mary snarks too.
The girls take Jasper out. Once they’re gone, Ma improbably takes the girls’ side, and Pa equally improbably gives in.
ROMAN: I would believe this more if it was Pa talking Ma into a bad idea.
DAGNY: Yeah, he has no problem steamrolling her.
WILL: They can all share the blame equally for what happens.
DAGNY: Yes. Except Carrie.
So Pa says they can keep the thing, but it has to be out in the barn. Laura babytalks Jasper, but because he’s a wild animal and has seen a lot he isn’t frightened of her teeth.
Some time later, Laura takes Jasper to school. Before leaving, she practices some tricks with him on a leash, including his signature party piece, standing up to beg for an egg.
We see by the girls’ coats it’s cold. Melissa Sue Anderson does not seem super-comfortable working with the raccoon; she is careful to keep him at arm’s length at all times.
Then we get a nightmarish sequence where Jack and Jasper snarl and attack each other. It goes on for a long time.
OLIVE: This is awful to watch.
WILL: Yeah, think how many times they filmed it. They probably used three different raccoons and the first two died of trauma.
Then the girls drag Jasper away by the neck. They really couldn’t get away with these things today.
At school, Miss Beadle and the kids all gather round to see the raccoon. Everyone who was here last week is here again, except Mean Harry and the Midsommar Kid.
Cloud City Princess Leia just has regular braids today. In addition, we have a tall boy we’ve never seen before who looks so much like Leia he has to be her brother (we’ll call him “Luke”), another Nondescript Helen (four total!) and a quite fussy-looking little boy.
Olga and Cassie Not-Laura are also absent. I’ve decided to assume if a child has been absent for three consecutive school episodes, they’re probably dead. (In fact, this was the official policy of rural schools in the 1800s.) So, R.I.P. Poor Fat Kid (PFK) and Johnny.
As for Dumb Abel, I think we can assume he was such a talented student the Bead awarded him an honorary degree and pushed him out of the nest.
Laura is lecturing them on the raccoon’s diet. Willie asks if they eat toes, and when Laura says no but they do eat meat, he says “Toes are meat!” and Miss Beadle shushes him. Heh. I love Willie.
Miss Beadle compliments Laura on doing such a great job raising the raccoon, and then assigns the class an essay on “what kind of wild animal you would like to have as a pet.”
Then all the kids try to pet Jasper at once and he snarls at them.
Laura appears to be stupefied and mutters to herself, “Jasper never bites. . . .”
More time passes, and then one morning Pa is getting the wagon ready to go to church. Laura runs out to the barn, where we see Jasper has grown huge. This whole story is starting to resemble Little Shop of Horrors at this point.
Laura makes Jasper play peekaboo, then feeds him another egg.
DAGNY: I hate when they make animals do tricks for TV shows. It’s like when they had that chimpanzee on The Love Boat.
ROMAN: Yeah, can you imagine if they added an orangutan to this show?
The family departs, then we get more animal terror as Jasper chases the chickens around.
Jack barks at him from the other side of the creek. I’m not sure why he doesn’t swim over. I suppose maybe he has swimming PTSD from being abandoned in the river in the pilot.
Jasper climbs up a pile of firewood and gets into the Little House through a window. Only once he’s inside does Jack come over to investigate. He’s about as useful a watchdog as our dog, who will bark if someone rings the doorbell but not if the visitor just lets themself in.
Jasper immediately starts knocking shit over in the house.
Time lapse. The Ingallses are coming back from church, Laura blathering like an imbecile. “How many baby raccoons do raccoons have when raccoons have baby raccoons?” she asks.
OLIVE: God, Laura, talk about something else.
WILL: You were the same way about horses.
OLIVE: I don’t like hearing that.
Laura wants to become a raccoon breeder and sell the kits (?) to all her friends. “Capitalist Laura!” said Alexander.
Pa informs her that Jasper’s a boy so he can’t have babies. This is pure idiocy. From the delight she took in looking at the horse’s penis in the pilot, Laura knows full well the difference between male and female physiology.
When they get back, Jack is barking at the door so hard his voice is cracking, but Charles just laughs and says, “Be quiet, Jack, we’ll let you in!”
They open the door and Jasper runs out. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like he’s knocked over the milk, salt, sugar, possibly flour, and a blueberry pie.
Pa rants while Laura runs out to the barn to scold Jasper. She makes the same mistake some adult dog owners do, thinking explaining your views to the animal is as good as training it properly. It isn’t.
Pa comes out and puts Jasper in a sack. Laura starts in with her “but him’s a widdle baby” routine again, but Pa’s not having it this time.
He’s not gonna shoot him, just let him loose in the woods. My own dad would probably tell us he was going to let him go and then shoot him. A favorite family story is that when Olive was little, my dad caught a wasp inside, and she made him swear not to kill it. He promised he would let it go, then took it outside, dumped it on the ground, and stomped on it . . . in full view of Olive, who was watching him out the window, shrieking. That’s country justice for you.
If you wonder why Cloud City Princess Leia changed her hairstyle, it’s because this week Laura has Cloud City Princess Leia hair!
So Pa drives Jasper out in the woods and lets him go – but by the time he gets back to the Little House, Jasper is already back. Quite unbelievable – maybe if Pa was on foot, but even then. But Pa just laughs and says he’ll build him a cage.
But now things start to get good. One day Laura and Mary go out to feed Jasper, who’s in his cage. “Now that they gave the cage to Jasper, where’s Carrie sleeping?” said Roman.
Jack starts barking like crazy, frightening Jasper, who nips Laura on the hand. Then Jasper and Jack fight for a while and the raccoon runs off.
Mary notices Jack’s been bitten as well. Laura asks her not to tell Pa. Mary, who we all know is as square as a hay bale, whines that they’ve gotta tell him.
But Laura guilts her into silence and cooks up a story so Pa won’t find out what happened.
Then Laura wanders the woods screaming for Jasper.
After the break, Jack scratches at the door to come in the house. Pa lets him in and he jumps up on the table in the common room. Our dog does that too sometimes. (Look, I didn’t say I was a particularly good dog trainer.)
Pa says Laura shouldn’t worry so much about Jasper, since she’s still got Man’s Best Friend, Jack. Laura hisses that it’s Jack’s fault in the first place. There’s a thread in the script about Jack being the sole voice of reason in this story but nobody pays attention. It’s kind of a riff on Lady and the Tramp, with Jack standing in for Tramp and Jasper for the rat. But Claxton doesn’t give it much emphasis in his direction.
Anyways, Mary panics and blurts out that Jasper bit Jack.
Pa says it’s lucky Jack wasn’t hurt worse. He tells Laura he doesn’t want to hear about the effin’ raccoon anymore, and I can believe he’d be pretty sick of it.
That night, a raccoon who for the moment we’ll refer to as “Jasper” raids the henhouse. Hearing the barnyard commotion, Jack starts barking again. Now we all know if Mr. Edwards were there, he’d go “Chicken thieves!” and shoot the stove or something.
But Charles is his own man, and handles problems his own way; that is, going out shirtless in his stripper suspenders to investigate.
He heads out to the barn. The camera assumes his point of view, then “Jasper” springs at him from the dark.
ROMAN: This is scary.
WILL: Yeah, John Carpenter guest-directed this scene.
Ma, Laura and Mary come running out just in time to see Pa PITCHFORKING LAURA’S BELOVED PET TO DEATH.
I think that beats my wasp story.
Charles comes back in and gives Laura the refrain of dads everywhere: What I just did was unavoidable, and the outcome would have been the same no matter what I did.
Shockingly, Laura doesn’t blame him (or Jack), but rather herself. “You were right, you were right!” she sobs whilst being cradled by Bed-Head Caroline.
Later that night, Charles is out in the barn staring grimly into Jack’s face. He’s wearing heavy work gloves. Caroline comes out to check on him but he warns her to keep back. He says “Jasper” had rabies and ties Jack up.
OLIVE: Is Pa going to strangle him?
ROMAN: Could be. It is rated seven-plus.
The next morning, Mary is gathering eggs when she hears Jack barking inside the barn.
WILL: I swear to God, Jack’s barked enough to last us the next three seasons.
DAGNY: I know, I hate Jack.
Mary goes over to untie him. It’s a credit to the showrunners that it is actually scary to see her touching the dog. Because even if you’re seeing this one for the first time, you know none of the principals are really going to die!
Charles appears from nowhere holding the Gory Pitchfork of Death.
He tells Mary to get away, then decides she’s old enough to learn the Facts of Rabies.
Very quickly, however, Mary begins to dissolve into a puddle of Jell-O. Her face distorts, her lips quiver, and her aquamarine eyes look wet enough to fall out of her head.
WILL: No question this is the best Mary scene so far.
ROMAN: You can see why she’s the only one who got an Emmy.
Pa doesn’t even notice, though, until she throws her arms around him and tells him Laura also was bitten. Needless to say, he’s horrified. Fade to black.
When we come back, Mary and Carrie are waiting in the wagon outside Doc Baker’s office. “What’s the matter, Mary?” slurps Carrie. I think that’s the first time she’s said more than one or two words. Oh, actually, she said “Mush Meat Mary” once.
Inside, Doc underplays the seriousness of Laura’s bite and gives her some gumdrops to take out to her sisters. Once she’s out, he grimly tells Charles and Caroline it’s too soon to tell if she’s got rabies, but if Jack develops it that’ll be a bad sign for sure. Caroline asks what the treatment is. (“Amputation!” said Alexander.) But Doc leaves it to Charles to tell her there isn’t a treatment. (There still isn’t, really.)
DAGNY: I heard about a girl who got rabies and survived.
WILL: I don’t know about that. Only like two people have ever survived rabies.
DAGNY: She was one of them. I think they gave her an experimental treatment. I read about it, don’t mansplain rabies to me.
WILL: This whole blog is me mansplaining things.
The family drives home; the day is unusually misty.
WILL: I bet Charles wishes he’d coughed up the twelve bucks for that doll head now.
DAGNY: Do you think this is all an elaborate trick to get Nels to give them one for free?
Back home, Ma puts on a brave face and tucks Laura into bed. She and Pa try to bluff Laura, but by some miracle the latter’s brain has begun functioning again and she puts it all together.
Then Charles brings Jack some water in the barn, but he doesn’t drink it. As anybody who’s seen Old Yeller, an obvious inspiration for this story, knows, rabies is sometimes called “hydrophobia,” because sufferers lose their ability to swallow and often develop a fear or hatred of water.
That night, Ma and Laura are playing a word-association game whilst Mary reads Carrie a book. I can’t see the cover and wasn’t able to find a match for the text, but it’s about birds and I bet it’s Dicky Bird Land again.
Later, Charles wanders outside in a depressed funk, and we see Caroline inside at prayer. “She’s like me praying for the bamboo plant in my room to come back to life,” said Olive.
In bed, Mary turns to Laura and says, “Do you hate me?” “You mean on this show, or in real life?” says Laura. Just kidding.
Laura says she doesn’t blame her. In fact Mary has behaved less stupidly than most of the characters this week. But I guess she was the genius who brought the raccoon home in the first place, so it is principally her fault.
Unable to sleep, Caroline has gone out to the barn. Charles finds her raking hay.
WILL: Why would she go hang out with a rabid dog?
DAGNY: She’s hardcore. She’s from Wisconsin.
Mary appears to tell them Laura’s thirsty. “It’s a sign!” shouts Caroline, nearly hysterical. “It’s not a sign!” Charles yells angrily.
The whole family goes up to bring Laura some water, when they hear Jack barking. AGAIN. Thinking the dog’s finally gone mad, Pa gets his rifle while the others all look tragic. (Dagny said, “I think they were aiming for an Emmy with this one. It’s a lot of heavy emoting.”)
Out in the barn, Michael Landon acts for a few minutes and then raises his rifle . . . only the real Jasper suddenly appears and performs his peekaboo trick!
Simultaneously realizing that Jasper is healthy, and that his presence explains Jack’s night-barking, Charles bursts into tears. He cries “Jasper!” three times, tosses the gun aside and runs to tell the others everything’s okay.
WILL: This should have ended like The Mist.
OLIVE: I can’t even think about the ending of The Mist.
The four Ingallses weep and hold each other. Laura runs outside to untie Jack, bringing us to a very well-earned Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
THE VERDICT: This is my favorite Season 1 episode. Equal parts ludicrous and merciless, this is what Little House is all about.
STYLE WATCH: Caroline wears a plaid cape of some sort.
Charles appears to go commando again. His hair is also short (for him) and pretty black. You can always tell when Landon’s freshly dyed it.
UP NEXT: The Voice of Tinker Jones