Charles Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: Child of Pain
Airdate: February 12, 1975
Written by John Meston
Directed by Victor French
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Charles makes an abusive drunk go to rehab.
RECAP: Our story’s a dark one this time (with a dark title), and we open in literal darkness, looking at a small and shack-like but far from ugly house.
A man comes riding up on a horse, which he takes into the barn. Before he’s even tied the animal up, he starts rooting around in the hay for something.
The man finds what he’s looking for . . . and oh dear, it’s a nearly empty booze bottle hidden in a trough.
The man polishes off the bottle. He wears a brown fedora-type hat, and looks a bit like Indiana Jones might, if Indiana Jones was a rock-bottom alcoholic just fantasizing about being an adventurer.
(The actor is Harris Yulin, a prolific performer who’s still alive, and was still acting in things as recently as last year! His decades-spanning resume includes such things as Ghostbusters II, Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order, Veep, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ozark, and Billions, among many others. I remember him from a fairly offensive – but scary! – horror film about Santería from the eighties called The Believers.)
Inside the house, a little boy of about ten is peeling potatoes. The man comes in, managing the neat feat of actually slamming a door open.
“Hello, Pa,” squeaks the kid. The dad pats the kid’s shoulder briefly, and, addressing him as “Graham,” asks if supper’s almost ready. The kid squeakily asks if he brought the meat, and the dad smashes his fist down on the table, realizing he forgot.
Sweating and shivering, the dad starts digging through cupboards, slamming stuff around and knocking things over. He says he’s looking for his whiskey, but Graham squeaks he thought he’d given up drinking.
The dad starts screaming at the kid to tell him where the whiskey’s hidden. Trembling, Graham squeaks he’s broken both bottles that were in the house.
The dad grabs his (own) head, sobs, and gurgles, “Why?” (We shall see this is not the subtlest of episodes.)
Then he grabs a belt from where it’s hanging on a hook and advances on the cowering child.
Like most of the men on this show, he’s wearing suspenders. Did men ever actually wear belts in those days, or were they just used for beating family members?
“So who is the first one to get worked up about this?” asked my wife Dagny. “Is it Beads?”
She called it. We cut then to Miss Beadle doing her favorite kind of beating: Beating the school’s new bell to summon the kids in from recess, that is!
(The subject matter in this story is no laughing matter, so I hope you’ll pardon me for any jokes seeming to make light of it. I’m like the scorpion riding the frog, or the leopard that can’t change his spots, or whatever.)
Graham is the first kid we see in the school scene. We haven’t seen him before, but a few times there have been other unnamed boys in class who look pretty similar (he actually looks like he could be one of the Ambiguously Ethnic Kids). So let’s pretend for once he’s an established student and not a brand-new face.
Graham has a black eye, and all the other kids gawk at him.
This is the first school story we’ve had in some time. The other students today are (in order of appearance):
- Nondescript Helen
- The Midsommar Kid (who has a new bowl cut)
- A girl we’ve seen before who wears a green tartan dress (another fake-Irish person, no doubt – we’ll call her “Sweet Colleen”)
- A dirty, skinny, Muppety-looking boy who looks like he’s probably related to the Cloud City family (the Nelsons – an inbred cousin, maybe?)
- Not-Joni Mitchell
- Cloud City Princess Leia’s brother Luke (Nelson)
- Cloud City Princess Leia (Nelson)
- Nondescript Helen
- Ambiguously Ethnic Kid (AEK) #2
- Not-H. Quincy Fusspot (Not-Neil Diamond’s son)
- Nondescript Helen
The Kennedy kids, Mean Harry, the real H. Quincy, Lice-Infested Arnold, AEK #2, and Shirna the other blond alien are absent.
“I’m going to be out of the classroom for a while,” Miss Beadle announces. Is she going out to have a smoke like teachers did back in my day? No, she just wants a private confab with Graham, and the two step outside together.
We don’t get to see their conversation, however, because we immediately cut to Doc Baker’s office. (If you ask me, Beadle’s been getting short shrift as far as storylines go the last several episodes.)
She did get to say “Oh, no” once, though.
Anyways, Doc is pouring himself a cup of coffee, and Kevin Hagen does some fun actorish business where he pretends the pot is too hot to touch. (“Ooh, Doc, be careful!” said Dagny.)
Charles pops in to say hi, and to give Doc a wad of bills. He says:
It’s for all those trips you made out to the house last winter when the girls were sick. Hanson’s doing better, ’n’ he was able to give me some of my back wages. You’re the first one I wanted to pay.
“Hanson’s doing better,” I guess, since Peterson the rat-infested corn chandler died, thereby taking himself out of competition with Hanson Universal Industries. (I’ll point out we hardly got the sense from Hanson’s comments that things were so dire he couldn’t pay his employees.)
But we haven’t seen any of the Ingalls kids get sick since Laura put such a fright into Mr. Edwards. It would of course work better if he said, “It’s for all those trips you made out to the house last fall when Freddie was dying,” but that probably would be too much of a bummer for characters and audience alike.
Nevertheless, Doc accepts the payment, and nicely offers Charles a cup of coffee. But before he can pour it, Miss Beadle appears in the doorway with Graham in tow. (“It makes sense she would come to him,” said Dagny. “He’s the other mandated reporter in town.”)
Doc asks Graham how he got the shiner, and Miss Beadle tells him to take off his shirt. (Graham, that is, not Doc.) Charles makes to go, but the Bead asks him to stay, presumably because he’s now well established as the One True Father Of This Community.
Graham removes his shirt, and we see his back is covered with stripes from a whipping. (How did Miss Beadle know about them? She must have had him take it off for her in the street?) His wounds are not especially realistic, but since this show is rated 7+ I guess that’s okay.
Doc shoots Charles and Miss Beadle a look, but keeps his manner casual, as we’ve seen him do with patients before.
DAGNY: Is he going to pull the glass-jar trick?
WILL: He should knock over the coffee pot.
He disinfects the kid’s injuries while Graham squeaks that he fell from a tree. (Little does he know Charles is familiar with that type of injury and can smell his bullshit from a mile off.)
Miss Beadle sends Graham out so she and the other two busybodies can unpack things. (“I think it’s hilarious how often they actually use Doc’s curtain as a privacy screen,” said Dagny. “He’s just in the next room, he can hear every word.”)
Apparently the kid’s been getting monthly beatings like this. Doc and Charles disapprove, but express doubt anything can be done, especially given the boy’s father is “a drunk.”
(Interestingly, there’s been far more study of corporal punishment as a tool of American law than on children in the home, and the matter remains controversial. You can read interesting articles on the subject here and here. It is true that today, many countries have banned violent punishments against children – with the notable exception of the United States.)
(I’ll also point out that while in this story the Walnut Grovesters stand as a body against Graham’s father, later in the series Nels punishes Nellie with a beating . . . and it’s played for laughs.)
Anyways, Miss Beadle is not happy with their response.
WILL: She has a cold streak. She’s blaming them now?
DAGNY: She’s a schoolmarm.
Doc says he wishes they could give Graham’s dad a “public horsewhipping.” I understand the sentiment, but that’s hardly likely to reduce his violent tendencies, Hiram.
Charles notes individual outreach to the guy has failed, but says, “What about the whole town? What if we all got together?”
Charles proposes organizing a town meeting after the next church service. (Because the last meeting he chaired went so well.)
Charles says they have no choice, as Graham needs help. “His father needs help too,” says Doc. Charles makes frowny-face and says he doesn’t care about the father.
I’ll just point out I’m not sure where Charles’s moralistic attitude about alcoholism was when Mr. Edwards was beating up barflies back in Mankato.
Anyways, if you think a group intervention of the sort proposed sounds more 1970s than 1870s, you’re right. They really weren’t a thing until the 1960s. However, I was surprised to learn the 1870s was actually when institutions started viewing addiction as a disease needing treatment rather than a vice deserving punishment.)
Cut to the church. The only vehicle outside is Reverend Alden’s buggy, distinguishable from Doc’s phaeton only because it’s driven by Brown Jehoshaphat rather than Black Bunny (or one of Bunny’s clones). (That’s the only Brown or Black representation we’ll have on this show for a while.)
Surprisingly, when we get inside, the church is full of people, so I don’t know if they all walked from home today or what. Attending are the Rev, the Bead, Charles and Caroline, Doc and Mr. Hanson (separately), Mrs. O and Nels, Mr. Kennedy (oh boy), Not-Neil Diamond, and Tom Carter, as well as a younger man and three ladies I don’t recognize.
Charles is in the middle of describing his idea, using authentic Nineteenth-Century language like “[let’s] all get together” and “[let’s] make it a community matter.” (Walnut Groovy, man!)
He adds that the Grovesters “don’t have a constable or a jail here,” and I often wonder why they don’t, or at least access to some police jurisdiction.
The real Walnut Grove is in Redwood County, which was established in 1862 and had a courthouse by 1873, so the region wasn’t completely lawless. Apparently as early as 1867, a court there tried a case known by the jolly name of “the New Ulm Christmas murders.” Sadly, the story never made it into a Little House on the Prairie episode.
(Nothing to do with the show, but I visited New Ulm a number of years ago for work, and a nice lady cheerfully told me that in 1904, a dentist was murdered in the very room we were standing in. The case was never conclusively solved, but another dentist was suspected of the crime. New Ulm, which the show did mention by name a few stories back, is some town.)
Anyways, in the next breath, Charles says if necessary they could take Graham’s dad, whose name we learn is John Stewart, to the police in Springfield (25 miles away). (Not to bog this thing down with Minnesota trivia, but apparently the town of Springfield, Minnesota, was actually known as Burns, Minnesota, until the 1880s.)
But Charles is interrupted by the arrival of Stewart himself, with Graham in tow. He’s drunk, and slurs, “You talkin’ about me? Well, here I am.” (Who would have told him about this meeting? And even if someone did, why would he come?)
Caroline, notably, looks away in disgust. And we have never seen the Ingallses drink alcohol, not even at the fancy Mankato restaurant or at Amy Hearn’s crazy party (where even Doc got drunk). We hardly ever will, though I seem to remember being shocked to see Charles drink wine in one episode; can’t remember which.
(I’m not going to dwell on it, but obviously the fact that Michael Landon was known for drinking vodka all day long every day lends this story an interesting irony.)
Anyways, Stewart struts about and yells that he’d love to hear what they think about him.
WILL: I’m not sure Harris Yulin’s acting is really all that good.
DAGNY: No, but he is intense.
No one says a word, not even the more aggressive Grovesters like Mr. Kennedy and Mrs. Oleson. (Mrs. O does clutch a handkerchief to her mouth as if about to puke, though, which is a great touch.)
(It’s actually kind of funny Mr. Kennedy is there, since neither of his surviving kids were in school this week, and since last time we saw him we suspected him of wife-beating himself.)
Eventually, Charles manfully steps forward and says, “You’re welcome here. It’ll save us a trip out to your place.” He isn’t wearing Pinky today, so clearly he means business.
He asks Stewart to send Graham outside, but Stewart forces the kid to stay. I don’t remember seeing this one when I was little, but if I had, the character would have scared the piss out of me.
“All right, suit yourself,” says Charles. “We know you mistreat your son, and we’re here to decide what to do about it.”
(“Victor French is really in love with Michael Landon,” said Dagny. “You’d have to be to do such an extreme close-up of his face.”)
Stewart literally hoots with laughter, and the sad thing is, Graham laughs too.
“What gives you the right?” Stewart hollers, and Charles says, “It’s not just me, it’s everybody, the whole town,” which really isn’t much of an answer.
But little Graham jumps up, hugs his father, and pleads that they not take him from him. “I’m bad sometimes,” he squeaks, “and he has to whip me!”
Stewart gives Charles one more nasty look, and he and the kid exit the church. You know, he reminds me quite a bit of an actual dad I knew growing up in Wisconsin. Dreadful man. Good drummer, but a dreadful man.
Then we cut to Caroline in bed, pondering the matter to the moodiest music we’ve had so far in the series. (Good score this week, David Rose.)
Charles comes in, and the two shake their heads sadly at the situation. Caroline asks how Graham can still love his father, and Charles says, “Even a dog stays with a master that beats him.”
On Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright once quoted an old axiom:
“That’s not a very satisfactory answer, Charles,” says Caroline.
Caroline says it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can, and suggests Charles pray for Stewart’s wellbeing. Seriously bummed, he gets into bed.
Back at school the next day, the kids spill out of the doors for recess. Miss Beadle pulls Laura aside and puts her in charge (!) while she goes over to the mill to talk to Charles.
WILL: I never noticed as a kid how often you can see . . .
DAGNY: Bead’s nips?
She finds Charles wearing the shirt both Mary and Caroline made him for Christmas.
Miss Beadle tells Charles Graham didn’t come to school today and she’s very alarmed. Um, I can say with a high degree of certainty that kids are absent from this school ALL THE TIME, often for extended lengths of time, and the Bead never even seems to notice.
Charles literally drops what he’s doing and heads out to the Stewart place. I guess he figures if Hanson can be loosey-goosey about his wages, he can be loosey-goosey about his hours.
Arriving there (pulled by the Chonkies), Charles pauses to give a look of contempt to the Stewart property, which is quite run-down, with a broken fence.
The house is nestled amongst some high, domed hills that look more like an alien planet than they do like Minnesota.
Going inside, he finds the place a complete wreck, with everything smashed or knocked over.
Then he notices a pair of small feet sticking out from behind an overturned table. It’s Graham, of course, unconscious.
But they aren’t. Charles scoops him up and puts him on the bed, which fortunately is right in the middle of the living room.
Then Charles wraps him in a blanket and puts him in the back of the wagon. He makes kissy-noise and it’s Chonkies, away!
As he drives off, we see John Stewart passed out in the barn. And commercial.
When we come back, a horrible spotted hand is wrapping itself around Graham’s throat! Have we accidentally put on Creepshow, and it’s a waterlogged corpse about to wreak a terrible revenge? No, it’s just Doc Baker checking the kid’s pulse.
Charles and Doc are nervously discussing what to do next when Stewart starts shouting at them from outside. “Quick, close the curtain!” said Dagny.
And Charles does, after angrily going out to meet Stewart in the foyer.
Apparently the first place Stewart went was the Little House, because he says Blabbermouth Caroline told him where he could find Graham.
Stewart starts trying to shove past Charles, who grabs his shirt and gives him a push back. Charles says Graham is still unconscious – which surprises his father. Stewart tries to pass again, and Charles grabs him and slams him against the wall.
Charles describes the condition in which he found Graham. “I don’t believe that,” says Stewart. “You don’t remember!” Charles shouts back.
Stewart puts his hand to his head and cries. “I can’t remember,” he says. Charles grabs him again and throws him through the privacy curtain to see what he’s done.
Graham is completely covered with a blanket.
DAGNY: He doesn’t look that bad to me.
WILL: Well, it’s not really a gory show. They did shoot that snake that one time.
Stewart strokes the child’s hair and says his name tenderly. Then he weeps.
“Oh, help me, will you,” he says. “Oh, please God . . . in the name of God, help me.”
Charles and Doc look at each other gravely. Pretty good scene.
Then we get another meeting in the church. Johnny Cash Fusspot has joined the interventionists, as has Mrs. Foster and her paramour du jour, whom of course we’ve never seen before.
Mr. Hanson informs the mob he’s got Stewart locked up at the mill, passed out.
Mr. Kennedy, who didn’t get to say anything in the previous scene, screams, “A horsewhip would be good for what ails him, with some tar and feathers throwed in!”
Caroline, who of course hates Kennedy, says, “We came here to help the boy. All I hear is talk about punishing the father.”
“He’s earned punishment!” Mr. Kennedy screams back.
Caroline keeps her cool. “Hurt the father and you hurt the boy,” she says. She’s really been wearing that stiff red bonnet almost exclusively since Freddie’s death.
Rev. Alden calls on Doc Baker, as if he’s Grand Maester or something and can sort it out for everyone.
Doc says, “John Stewart is a sick man,” and Mr. Kennedy instantly screams, “Right out of a bottle sick!”
Caroline snips at Kennedy that he’d show more compassion for an animal than he’s showing for Stewart. “Save him,” she says, “and you save two people.”
“You’re askin’ for the impossible!” screams Kennedy.
Doc stands up and screams right back at him, “No, Kennedy, it’s not impossible!” Then he goes on to say Stewart needs to be isolated from alcohol and from the community, with supervision, if he’s to have a chance at recovery.
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!” says Mrs. Oleson. (Both these expressions are period-appropriate; in fact the “sow’s ear” metaphor had been around for 400 years by this point.)
“It’d be a waste of time to try!” screams Kennedy in the tenor register.
“Yes!” Mrs. O screams, taking the soprano line. Their relationship has come a long way since we last saw them together. You almost expect them to link hands and launch into “O soave fanciulla,” or something.
Caroline gives them both a look of hatred.
Anyways, then Kennedy, who’s an established misogynist, mockingly asks Charles what he thinks of Caroline’s opinion.
Caroline looks around, unsure what his response will be. But of course, he smiles at her and says, “I’ll give it a try.”
Cut to the Little House, which is naturally where Graham is going to stay. Wrapped in her scarlet shawl, Caroline says, “It’s very good of your father to let you come and stay with us for a while,” but Graham knows this for the gross mischaracterization it is.
Caroline wants Graham to come in and eat something, but Graham would rather stay outside and sing “Castle on a Cloud.”
Caroline asks how Mr. Stewart would feel if he knew Graham was going without supper. “He wouldn’t know,” says Graham. “He’s always drunk by suppertime.”
Caroline realizes the kid has Stockholm syndrome. “You can always tell when she’s really upset,” said Dagny, “because she does this gulping mouth like a fish.”
Mary calls from within that the pot pies are ready. I love savory pies! An excellent way to dispose of leftovers.
Ma goes in to supper . . . and Graham follows soon after.
Back at the Stewart shack, Mr. Stewart is handing his booze bottles over to Charles. Charles, who’s monkeying around with a wooden spoon, doesn’t believe he’s turned them all over.
Stewart dissembles, but Charles gives him a daddish lecture, occasionally smacking the spoon on the table for emphasis. Stewart produces another bottle from a hiding place in the wall.
The bottles are all half full or better, which I’m not sure I believe. Someone once said that at parties, you can always tell the alcoholics because their glasses are either empty or full. (I want to say it was Kingsley Amis. Who would know.)
(It’s also unclear how much time has passed since the first scene when Stewart was wailing over his broken bottles. Where do you buy spirits in Walnut Grove, anyway? There’s no saloon, as Charles pointed out to Mr. Edwards once. It’s hard to imagine Nels and Harriet feeding Stewart’s addiction . . . but I suppose they kept selling Caroline the laudanum. . . .)
Charles makes Stewart take them outside and dump them.
What kind of spirits did the pioneers drink? Well, in the Nineteenth Century, it was mostly corn-based whiskey – that is, basically bourbon, but not necessarily with the wooden-cask aging required to use that name.
This fascinating article puts Nineteenth-Century drinking in context; in 1830, the average American consumed the equivalent of roughly five alcoholic beverages a day, every day. (Today, the average American consumes just 1.35 such drinks per day.)
On the other hand, this graphic shows just how varied are the drinking practices that combine to make this average. Today, 60 percent of Americans drink very little or not at all; the difference is made up by the 40 percent who drink more heavily. Things were different back in the old days, but it’s certainly true that then, as now, a lot of people didn’t drink at all.
Anyways, now we get the best scene in the entire story. It’s night, and Stewart gets a bout of the DTs, hallucinating that bats are flying at and crawling on him. Apparently hallucinating about scary animals like snakes or bugs is quite common in alcohol withdrawal patients; in fact, one nickname for the DTs is “the bats”!
Stewart starts screaming and hollering, and he knocks Charles over and tries to escape. Charles tackles him, screaming, “John! John!”
WILL: This really would have scared me when I was a little kid.
DAGNY: It is scary. The music is great.
Eventually, by smashing him into the wall a few times, Charles is able to get Stewart to calm down . . . only then he just leaps up screaming again, and they start all over.
DAGNY: Jeez! Glenn Close much?
My stepson Roman said, “This is the second scariest Little House I’ve ever seen. After of course the one where Nels chops Mrs. Oleson’s head off.”
After the break, we see the kids getting ready for school back at Casa dell’Ingalls.
WILL: Has Carrie forgotten how to talk? She hasn’t said a word since Christmas.
Laura and Mary are having a preposterous conversation about how Laura’s unprepared for her geography test because she’s obsessed with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and can’t stop reading him.
(Tennyson isn’t all that kid-friendly, if I remember rightly from college . . . not to mention Laura couldn’t even read C-A-T at the beginning of the season.)
Probably John Meston just read Anne of Green Gables at some point, and lazily figured because Anne is gaga about “The Lady of Shalott,” all Nineteenth-Century girls must have had Tennyson Fever and no one would ever question this reference.
But Anne is a very different kid than Laura; she has literary aspirations/pretensions herself (and is a much weirder person than Laura generally).
Then again, what ten-year-old girl doesn’t love a good fly-egg-laying metaphor?
Ma hands the girls their lunch, but Graham won’t take his. He says his dad never made him lunch, and he doesn’t like having to walk to school with other kids either.
Laura starts to get in his face, but Ma cuts her off and says Graham’s way is fine.
He leaves for school, and Ma says the whole situation is embarrassing for him so the girls should be sensitive. She gives them the lunch she’s made for him and says they can just share it with him if he’s hungry later.
The scene has a slightly weird ending where the girls kiss Ma goodbye, but something’s off about the timing and they seem under-rehearsed.
No matter. Back at the Stewart place, Charles has Graham’s dad working on home repairs. Still suffering withdrawal symptoms, Stewart is shaking terribly, and Charles brings him some water.
Stewart observes that water doesn’t taste like anything compared to the hard stuff. “A lot of people like it!” says Charles. What a Pollyanna.
I wonder why he doesn’t enlist Mr. Edwards to lend a hand with Stewart’s recovery, given his, um, expertise in addiction and recovery. But on second thought, maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Back at the Little House, we get a stupid conversation where Mary tries to tell Graham the difference between male and female chickens, only she doesn’t really know herself. Yes, we’re in a topsy-turvy universe again this week, where Laura’s reading Tennyson and Mary doesn’t remember chickens and roosters look different even to the layperson.
(Actually, given the interest in horse penises Laura showed in the pilot, perhaps it would be better to ask her.)
Anyways, Mary gives Graham a chicken as a present, tossing her hair and smiling rather flirtatiously as she does it.
WILL: Well, they’re idiots, like their father.
Back at Sobriety Camp, Stewart is shaking so badly he collapses. Charles helps him into the house.
That night, after supper in the Little House, Laura tells Ma that Graham has gone out to muck the auld byre as a surprise for her. Touched, Ma goes out to thank him.
Graham asks Ma if he can build a cage to keep his chicken in. He’s in chipper spirits tonight. Ma says certainly he can.
Graham says he can easily figure out how to put a cage together, and I believe he can too. After all, like many a child of alcoholic parents, he’s been doing all the work to keep the house together to this point.
Then Graham stops and asks if he can go visit his dad. Ma sadly says the time isn’t right yet. Then she says, “You know, you and I have the same problem. You miss your pa . . . and I miss my husband.” Yeesh, Graham is having to fight these Ingalls women off, isn’t he?
Then we get a “work” montage back at the Stewart place.
Afterwards, Charles and Stewart have a fairly friendly conversation. Charles says he’s made black-bean soup and cornbread for supper. I don’t think I’d ever eat cornbread again after what we saw two weeks ago.
Back in the Ingalls barn, Ma is helping Graham finish making his cage. Ma gently asks some questions about his home life. Graham tells her his dad gets drunk to forget Graham’s mother, who died in childbirth. He says his dad blames him for her death, but only when he’s drunk.
It’s a pretty likeable performance by the child actor. Doesn’t look like he did much acting after this, though.
After the break, Rev. Alden, that Prince of Busybodies, shows up at the Stewart place. He bungles his palaver a bit, irritating Stewart, who huffs back off to work.
After he’s gone, it’s revealed the Rev’s true purpose was to share Caroline’s gossip about Stewart blaming Graham for what happened to his wife. These two pillars of the community have kind of a nice moment.
Eventually, Aldi fucks off. Stewart complains about the minister’s “snooping,” but Charles won’t hear it and orders him back to work.
CHARLES: I sure miss my wife. When’d you lose yours?
STEWART: A long time ago.
CHARLES: What was her name?
CHARLES: How’d she die?
STEWART: What’s the difference?
CHARLES: None to me, I just wondered. What’d she die of?
STEWART [sadly]: She died giving birth to the boy.
CHARLES [triumphantly]: I guess that’s why you blame him for her death, hah!
Smoothly done, Charles.
Genuinely surprised, Stewart says he doesn’t blame Graham.
“Well of course you blame him!” Charles starts shouting in a loud hectoring voice. “You tell him that every time you beat him! Every time you’re drunk, you tell him that! You tell him he is why his mother died!”
Stewart is horrified and denies the accusation, but Charles says Graham himself told them. I thought Charles was speaking more figuratively, but maybe not.
Stewart makes a nauseated face and says he wants to be left alone. Charles is happy to oblige him.
That night, Stewart gets up and creeps outside. But Charles, who’s a light sleeper ever since Red Buttons screamed bloody murder every night in the yard, wakes up and follows him.
Stewart goes out to the barn and pulls one last hidden whiskey bottle from the hay. He pulls the cork out . . . and dumps the liquor on the ground. Charles watches from the doorway.
Stewart turns and lightly says Charles was right, he was unconsciously blaming Graham for his mother’s death. He says he dumped the bottle because he loves the boy and is changing.
Charles smiles and says he’ll be going home the next day. It’s a common enough trope in fiction: that acknowledging a past trauma will be enough to free a character from that trauma and all its side effects.
Unfortunately, in real life it’s not so easy.
But this isn’t real life, is it? It’s Little House on the Prairie, and that means pictures painted in bold strokes. By some TV magic, it works.
Anyways, that’s not quite the end. The next morning, Caroline and the kids are having breakfast, and we get this conversation about the day’s plans:
MARY: I’d like to start sewing on my new dress, Ma.
MA: Well, all right, then perhaps you can join us later.
MA: Well, I thought we might have a little picnic and go down to the creek, and maybe take a little fishing line along.
Suddenly Charles appears in the doorway. He’s warmly greeted by his family (“Caroline should do her floppy-hand run across the room,” said Dagny), then he turns to Graham and says, “Your pa’s outside.”
Graham goes running out, hugs his pa and grabs his chicken. Stewart gives Charles a nod of thanks, and the two walk up the driveway, never to be seen again. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Unusually, Pinky does not make an appearance. Not so unusually, Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: A simple but effective melodrama, with some genuinely emotional moments, “Child of Pain” succeeds despite (or because of?) Yulin’s eccentric performance and a perhaps overly optimistic resolution. The regular cast is strong across the board.
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