The Load of Bull
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: Founder’s Day
Airdate: May 7, 1975
Written by John and Ward Hawkins
Story by Byron Twiggs and Ward Hawkins
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: A huge insane old idiot is an asshole to everyone, but Charles feels sorry for his wife, so he lets him win an ax-chopping contest. Meanwhile, everybody parties like it’s 1879 while a band plays incessantly.
RECAP: The first thing you may notice about this episode is that the first shot and the music accompanying it are exactly the same as what was used for the opening of “Country Girls.”
Since writing is a terrible chore, I’ll just cut and paste what I said about it at that time:
We open on Jack the dog drinking out of the creek to an easygoing seventies jazz flute piece. It’s really a standalone song, with a proper ending and everything.
Wow, my gift for perfectly describing minutiae from Little House episodes was in evidence even then, wasn’t it?
Actually, my description wasn’t perfect. Because in the earlier episode I failed to notice that if you looked closely when Charles called Jack to the house, you could see he was shirtless and wearing his stripper suspenders.
But when he came into the house, a shirt had magically appeared on him.
Well, the exact same thing happens now!
The second thing I’d point out is there was a two-month gap between the broadcast of this story and its immediate predecessor (“To See the World,” March 5, 1975). Did Michael Landon spend two months reinventing the show because audiences hated the Johnny Johnson episodes so much?
But in fact, I’m not sure what it was. The final end of the Vietnam War happened during this period; Vietnam was known as “the first televised war,” but with most U.S. involvement having ended much earlier, I doubt there was so much primetime coverage that Little House on the Prairie would be preempted for eight weeks.
Well, if anybody has any answers (or theories), I’d love to hear ’em.
Oh, one other noteworthy thing happened during this period: I was born!
Anyways, the script for “Founder’s Day” was a collaboration between the Hawkins boys and somebody called Byron Twiggs, which sounds more like a Little House character name than a writer. (I picture him being a stuffy lawyer or some such from the big city.)
But our story proper begins inside, with Mary and Laura teaching Carrie how to say “Founder’s Day.”
The girls jabber about some sort of competition coming up, but Ma, who seems tired and a little crabby, tells them to shut it.
Mr. Edwards has become an important enough character by this point for them to note up front why he’s absent from this story. Pa says he’s gone to Minneapolis to pick up some machinery for Hanson Universal Enterprises.
Even though they’ve been told to stop, the kids start going on again about “Founder’s Day.”
Melissa Sue Anderson’s teeth are quite nice – I wonder if that’s one reason Melissa Gilbert hated her so much?
Charles and Caroline explain in conversation that Founder’s Day is a local festival. Though they don’t say so explicitly, reading between the lines it seems this will be the first such event they’ve ever had.
Charles complains that gullible Grovesters will be taken advantage of by carnies coming to town to prey on them. (You would know, Chuck.)
Caroline is of the view the festival will stimulate the local economy and as such shouldn’t be pooh-poohed.
Pa’s smug response is “That’s the Women’s League talking.” Like Johnny Johnson before him, he looks to Laura and Mary for endorsement of his sexist comment.
But Caroline signals through her tone she disapproves of this line of thought, and Pa admits he doesn’t really object to the festival.
DAGNY: Charles has a really close shave in this one.
WILL: Where do you suppose he shaves?
DAGNY: Out by the outhouse, I bet.
WILL: I’d think he’d have a shaving bowl in the bedroom. He must use a cutthroat razor, huh?
DAGNY: Nah, just an ax.
Laura says there’ll be lots of competitions at the festival, and asks Pa which he will enter. He says he’s just going to watch the fun.
DAGNY: This is so out of character for Charles. Him not wanting to be the center of attention . . . it’s actually quite unbelievable.
Pa heads out the door to work. The three girls all say, “Bye, Pa!” and then Carrie looks to her sisters for approval.
When Charles arrives at the mill, Mr. Hanson is talking to a huge old man.
WILL: Where do they find all these huge old men? You never see men like this on any other show.
Anyways, Mr. Hanson introduces Tucker as Jim Tyler. “Just call me Jim,” Tyler says bluffly.
But when Charles suggests Tyler use his first name as well, Big Jim just scoffs, like the idea of learning somebody’s name is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.
Charles makes prune face at this.
DAGNY: Why hasn’t Charles met this guy before?
It’s a good question, especially since in “The Voice of Tinker Jones” Reverend Alden says a “Mr. Tyler” (presumably Big Jim) was one of the community leaders he consulted about the church-bell controversy.
We cut to Charles and Tyler in a wagon, headed out to the woods to saw some trees, or logs, or something. Blustering about his many accomplishments, which include overseeing all lumberjack operations in the region for thirty years, Tyler says his great strength earned him the nickname “Bull of the Woods.”
As it turns out, he is a major-league asshole. He’s patronizing and insulting to farmers, and basically treats Charles like some newbie pantywaist who needs to be taught how REAL MEN’S WORK is done.
Charles responds to these boasts and insults with withering looks (a trick out of Kingsley Amis); but it goes quite unnoticed.
The two continue in this vein when they arrive at the logging site.
OLIVE: Charles is going to give him an ax in the head if he keeps this up.
Eventually, communication breaks down altogether.
ROMAN: This is the second most intense staring contest I’ve ever seen. The first, of course, being Scanners.
The silent treatment having achieved nothing, Charles then tries a different tack and the two snipe at each other for a while.
WILL: They could start a vaudeville act with these bitchy quips.
DAGNY: Yeah, or a drag show.
Finally they begin to work together sawing a log.
DAGNY: This is very homoerotic.
WILL: Yeah. It’s like the wrestling scene in Women in Love.
When the men return to the mill, they can’t even give Mr. Hanson their report without turning on one another. Hanson, amused, suggests they compete against each other in the Founder’s Day wood-choppin’ contest.
WILL: Now why is Mr. Hanson egging them on? That’s not like him.
DAGNY: It’s all for Founder’s Day. He wants the two best loggers in the township to compete. He’s the founder.
And indeed, Mr. Hanson is the founder of Walnut Grove, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been established yet. No one mentions it in this episode, and if they did in a previous one I missed it.
Mr. Hanson says he’s personally donating a new watch as a prize for the contest. He also mentions Walnut Grove is in “Hero Township” for the first time!
(The actual name of the township in which Walnut Grove is located, incidentally, is North Hero Township.)
Charles and Tyler walk home in the same direction. VERY odd they live so close to each other but have never met.
Tyler continues to belittle him, under the guise of giving him a little folksy “helpful advice.”
WILL: God, I hate people like this. I’ve known them all my life. My hometown is full of men like this.
Tyler doesn’t listen to a thing Charles says – it’s pretty clear he’s losing his hearing, in fact.
Eventually they go their separate ways. We follow Tyler home, where he lumbers to the horse trough and splashes water on his face (yuck). He wears the expression of someone who has done a long run with a partner who’s used to a faster pace.
Back at the Little House, Charles comes limping in, exhausted. He blows off everybody and goes straight to bed. We’ve seen this whole routine before, in “A Harvest of Friends.”
DAGNY: Mary’s got a big-ass plastic barrette in her hair.
Later that night, Caroline rubs an aching Charles down with liniment, rubbing alcohol, mineral oil, or the like.
OLIVE: Caroline’s hair is different here. It’s not her usual bed-head look.
DAGNY: It is. I don’t like it. It might be her real hair, actually.
Her massage technique inspired some conversation.
DAGNY: She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s just rubbing his skin.
OLIVE: I don’t think either of them mind.
Charles starts bitching about Tyler, and Caroline says he’s already told her all about him. I like when Caroline points out Charles is repeating himself. It’s a fun detail of their relationship.
Charles says he can’t wait to kick some Huge Old Man ass in the contest. Caroline says Laura feels the same way about Nellie, and Charles of course does a 180 and says Laura should know the pleasure is in participating, not winning.
Meanwhile, at Tyler’s place, his wife, a kind-looking elderly lady named Helen, is also rubbing him down.
DAGNY: He should suggest they role-play and she should be Charo.
Plus, she appeared with our own Dabbs Greer in a 1950s bug-eyed monster movie called It! The Terror From Beyond Space.
Mrs. Tyler tells her husband he’s an old fool for competing against a younger man like that.
She appears to know how to give a massage better than Caroline does, to the point where Tyler says, “I oughta marry you.” Which is kind of cute. (It’s his one moment of semi-charm. Enjoy it, because it’s all we get, and it ain’t much.)
DAGNY: Now, her boob support isn’t period-appropriate. I mean, her boobs look great. That’s how you can tell her underwear is wrong.
Tyler says he “made the Swenson Lumber Company what it is today.” I don’t understand, did he use to log somewhere else and just moved to Walnut Grove? That can’t be, since he was mentioned in “The Voice of Tinker Jones.” So why is he just starting with Hanson now? Where the hell is Swenson Lumber?
[UPDATE: Gee whiz, am I stupid. I just realized this was probably a mistake on Forrest Tucker’s part – he meant to say “HANSON Lumber Company,” but accidentally said “Swenson” because he was thinking of Karl Swenson, who PLAYS Hanson!]
Anyways, Tyler falls asleep mid-massage. Mrs. Tyler’s face communicates a blend of concern and fondness.
WILL: She’s totally my mom.
DAGNY: And he’s totally your dad!
The next day, we see the Olesons have decorated the Mercantile with patriotic buntings and stuff. Many kids are running around in the schoolyard, to a neat arrangement of “Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum” (better known as “the Little House on the Prairie end credits music”).
Caroline arrives and gives Nels a thrill on the porch by complimenting his decorating.
Inside, Mrs. Oleson is humming weirdly to herself. When Caroline comes in, out of nowhere Mrs. O starts boasting about how Nellie and Willie are going to win all the games, and says it’s a pity Laura and Mary are no good at them.
ROMAN: This is bizarre. Nellie isn’t good at sports. She doesn’t do the “boys’ activities.”
We learn these two frenemoms are also competing against each other in a bake-off. They make passive-aggressive comments to each other and Mrs. Oleson implies her recipe has a special secret that makes it superior.
There’s not much to this little scene, but Katherine MacG is hilarious in it.
That evening, the Ingallses are taste-testing some of Ma’s pies. Pa’s wearing his Christmas shirt and his hair needs a color treatment.
Nervous about the contest, Ma starts grilling the kids about whether Mrs. Oleson’s pies are really any good.
WILL [to OLIVE]: Does your mom still get like this before bake-offs?
OLIVE: She totally does.
(My ex, the girls’ mom, is a champion baker herself.)
Notably, Mary says they’ve had Mrs. Oleson’s pies at birthday parties “three or four times.” Let the “Season One Takes Place Over a Single Year” crowd put THAT in their pipe and smoke it!
That night, Laura tosses in bed with excitement, for Founder’s Day is tomorrow. “Please go [the fuck] to sleep,” says Mary.
LAURA: You know, Pa’s right.
DAGNY [as LAURA]: “You’re a bitch.”
No, what she actually says is it doesn’t matter who wins, blah blah blah.
The next morning, everybody’s getting ready to go. Laura notes Pa’s bringing two axes – a sharp new one, and an older one as backup.
DAGNY: Remember this for later, everybody.
Then Ma comes in and we get an adorable moment where Pa makes a little joke about eating pie and he, Laura and Caroline laugh gleefully.
WILL: They should have frozen the shot and gone to commercial.
Meanwhile, at Tyler Towers, Big Jim is also chortling to himself. Only he’s laughing about how great he is and how he’s going to mop the floor with young punk Charles.
Mrs. Tyler says at his age, he doesn’t need to prove how strong he is, but he rudely ignores her.
DAGNY: My dad was just like this.
WILL: Mine too. “I’m seventy, but I’m going to carry this old TV myself anyhow.”
Mrs. Tyler says she thinks he secretly has butterflies (or bumblebees) in his stomach (an expression that didn’t appear in print until 1908).
Then, in a sad moment, she says it doesn’t matter if he wins the contest, she’ll love him just the same either way. But Tyler looks away and you can tell that isn’t good enough.
DAGNY: I think the question of this story is how much he’s aware that he isn’t up for it anymore. He doesn’t admit it to anybody . . . but he does know it. He admits it to himself, and he’s terrified.
I really don’t think Forrest Tucker is much of an actor, but I agree with Dags, this is what the script’s trying to communicate.
All right, now it’s the festival at last! It starts off with a breakneck horse race right down the thoroughfare.
There is a brass band playing – and it will continue to do so incessantly through the whole rest of the episode. Literally, through the whole rest of the episode.
At first I thought the winner of the horse race was the much-missed Mustache Man (a good tongue-twister to teach the kids).
But actually it’s Not-Neil Diamond, who has regrown his mustache. This makes him look less like Neil Diamond, of course.
For the first time, he’s identified by name; Mr. Hanson, who’s acting as emcee, calls him “Abner Wilson.”
Beside him and the regular cast, a lot of our favorite Season One Walnut Grovesters are in attendance. I can confirm the appearances of (in no particular order):
- The Midsommar Kid:
- Cloud City Princess Leia:
- Her brother Luke:
- Not-Joni Mitchell;
- Lice-Infested Arnold Lundstrom:
- Sweet Colleen:
- At least five Nondescript Helens:
- Mrs. Foster:
- The Dirty Skinny Muppety-Looking Kid:
- Vorg the blond alien:
- And its counterpart Shirna:
- Not-H. Quincy Fusspot:
- Mr. Kennedy:
- Mrs. Grandy:
- The Studly Bearded Stranger:
- The Kid With Very Red Hair:
- Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude:
- The Ambiguously Ethnic Kids and their Ambiguously Ethnic Mom:
- Mrs. Foster’s Paramour from “Child of Pain”:
- Tom Carter:
- And Carl the Flunky:
Notably missing (apart from Mr. Edwards and Mustache Man) are Miss Beadle and Grace Snider. (Less notably missing are Mrs. Whipple, Hans “Rubberface” Dorfler, Mean Harry Baker, the Fusspots, Johnny and Hector Johnson, Amy Hearn, Ole Olafsen and his family, Olga and the Nordstroms, “Tinker” Jones, “Dumb” Abel Makay and his dad, the Cobb-Fudges, the Big Big and Little Big Gray-Haired Farmers, John and Graham Stewart, the Widow Peters and Not-Jodie Foster, the Jacobsens, Eric Boulton – though he’s probably in a madhouse now – and the Late Mrs. Nelson’s Identical Twin Sister Mrs. Johnson.)
(Also, it’s worth noting that while Mr. Kennedy is there, neither his wife nor his two surviving children are. Pray for them, readers.)
Mr. Hanson announces the rope-skipping and pie-baking contests are up next. The band launches into John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post” march, which, while a fun and famous tune, wasn’t composed until 1889.
Doc Baker fires the starting gun for the rope-skippers. The contestants include Mary, Willie, Cloud City Princess Leia, and two Nondescript Helens.
Mary’s strategy is to skip slowly and pace herself.
Willie, on the other hand, just skips like a fucking maniac.
One of the Helens just sort of stops skipping and Doc gives her the boot.
Meanwhile, at the bake-off, Caroline and Harriet are hangin’ with Mrs. Foster, who seems to have come to the festival without a date. Quite unusual, for her.
Reverend Alden is judging the contest, and clearly thinks he’s a Big Effing Deal.
The three finalists, he says, are Caroline, Harriet, and fan favorite Mrs. Grandy, whom you’ll remember from her sparkling repartee with Nels in “Country Girls.”
After much hemming and hawing (and hamming) from Aldi, he awards Mrs. Grandy the blue ribbon for her pie, which appears to be pumpkin.
DAGNY: Did you know that in Canada, the red ribbon is the winner, and the blue ribbon is second place?
DAGNY: It’s true.
Caroline and Harriet are disappointed but clap politely. Oddly, Mrs. Foster makes a snobbish face as if she can’t believe the result. I don’t know why she would give a shit, particularly.
(“The three of them should conspire to kill Mrs. Grandy,” said Olive.)
Back amongst the rope skippers, we see Mary and Willie are the only two competitors left, with Michael Landon and Richard Bull ad-libbing encouragement from the sidelines.
Mr. Kennedy is also watching, standing next to Mr. Hanson. He may have beaten his family to death, but he seems to be enjoying himself hugely.
Suddenly Mary jumps on a large stone and twists her ankle. It’s a little weird they actually put a stone there, since I’m sure Melissa Sue Anderson could have convinced the audience without putting her real-life ankle at risk.
Doc gives her a cursory inspection, then declares Willie the winner. Mr. Kennedy actually tousles his hair. (Willie’s, not Doc’s.)
Mrs. Tyler reports back to her husband that her pie lost.
DAGNY: She entered a pie?
WILL: I guess. I’m surprised. She hates how competitive her husband is, I’d think she’d hate all competitions. She should hate fucking Founder’s Day.
Mrs. Tyler points out Mrs. Grandy as the winner, and Big Jim pretends to lech after her.
Seconds later, Doc is ready to start the hoop-rolling race.
DAGNY: Who organized this? It’s very efficiently run for such a huge event.
WILL: Mr. Hanson, I guess. I find it hard to believe he and Doc would agree on anything, though, especially after their breakup.
The hoop-rolling race has five competitors: Laura, Nellie, Not-Joni Mitchell, Nondescript Helen, and Sweet Colleen.
Mrs. Tyler declares she’s betting on the girl in blue with red ribbons in her hair (i.e. Nellie). So I guess there goes my theory about her not being competitive.
Big Jim says he’s rooting for “striped dress.” Presumably he means Sweet Colleen, though her dress is actually plaid, not striped. However, given he’s a senile, stupid, half-deaf, and probably half-blind old idiot, I’ll cut him some slack on that. (Which, we shall see, is sort of the moral of this story.)
Doc fires his pistol and they’re off. Nondescript Helen takes an early lead, with Nellie and Laura neck-and-neck right behind her, and Not-Joni Mitchell and Sweet Colleen lagging.
(Incidentally, the contestants just roll the hoops with their hands instead of driving them with sticks, as is traditional. I bet the stick way was simply too difficult for the actors to learn to do quickly.)
Within seconds, Laura and Nellie have passed the leader (in that order). Helen, Not-Joni, and Colleen all drop their hoops briefly – a collision?
Nellie pulls out ahead of Laura. Meanwhile, all the children AND adults are running along with the racers, screaming. It’s actually kind of fun.
DAGNY: I bet this episode was fun to film.
WILL: Maybe. The camerawork and compositions are quite complex. The whole second half has literally everybody in town in every shot. I bet this race was quite hard to set up and shoot. . . . It’s pretty ambitious for this show.
DAGNY: Well, it LOOKS like everybody’s having fun.
And it does!
As the pack comes around for the second lap, Nellie is WAY out ahead, with Not-Joni jumping onto the leaderboard in second place, and the other three some distance behind.
But then Laura makes a sudden advance, nearly catching Nellie. She cuts the corner rather fine while Nellie stays in an outside lane.
Charles screams something from the sidelines that sounds like “Look, Mary, she went the wrong way!”
DAGNY: I thought he said “Mary, you’re going the wrong way!” You know, foreshadowing her blindness.
But in the end, Laura can’t catch Nellie, who’s first to cross the ribbon.
After the finish, Laura pouts and says Nellie interfered with her hoop. It’s a little annoying the show won’t even let Nellie have an honest win at something as minor as this.
Besides, at no point in the race (as it’s depicted on camera, anyway) are the two close enough to bump each other in the first place.
Well, everybody breaks for lunch, but soon, Mr. Hanson announces the men’s tug-of-war. He’s clearly loving everything about Founder’s Day.
The Olesons, we see, have been eating lunch in front of the Mercantile.
WILL: Why would they bring a table out into the yard? Just to have lunch on Founder’s Day?
DAGNY: Harriet’s extra like that.
Nellie and Willie feel it would be fun for Nels to join the tug-of-war. He doesn’t think much of the idea, but Harriet makes him. He’s wearing the nice suit he wore to Miss Maddie’s funeral and everything.
The tug-of-war is conducted over a rather deep mud pit. Nels’s team includes Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude, whereas Charles joins Abner Wilson and Mrs. Foster’s Paramour From “Child of Pain” on the other side.
WILL: It’s a little odd Charles is doing this, isn’t it? Right before competing in the chopping contest? He’ll tire his arms out.
DAGNY: It’s just Michael Landon needing to be in every scene.
The contest begins, and the crowd goes proverbially wild.
WILL: Caroline’s really squeaking.
DAGNY: She uses the “orgasmic thespian” method. That’s probably why John had such a crush on her.
(John, of course, being a good friend of mine who had wild sex fantasies about Karen Grassle throughout high school.)
Nels falls in the mud, and everyone laughs their fucking heads off.
In fact, Charles’s team is so distracted, Nels’s teammates rebound and Charles goes head over heels into the mud as well.
The two mud-covered friends laugh and hug each other.
WILL: Good Ol’ Nels, I love that people like him. He’s such a dweeb, and his wife can be such a bitch, he could easily be hated.
I’d also point out that the mud coverage on Nels and Charles’s faces is VERY inconsistent between shots.
When we come back, the band is still marching and playing. Seriously, there’s a lot of fucking marching-band music in this one. The only thing that makes it redeemable is that every time she’s in the shot with the musicians, Katherine MacGregor covers her ears.
Nels and Charles come out of the Mercantile, completely clean. Charles thanks Nels for “the change of clothes and a chance to wash up.”
WILL: Did they take a bath together?
DAGNY: The Olesons probably have a shower.
WILL: A shower? That can’t have been invented yet.
DAGNY: Well, they washed each other off with a watering can, then.
(Actually, the shower was invented, but it’s unlikely the Olesons would have had one. Not many Americans did until the early Twentieth Century.)
Now Mr. Hanson announces the three-legged race, but Mary’s ankle is sprained from her terrible rope-skipping accident, so Ma takes her place.
Nellie begs Mrs. Oleson to join as well, and Nels gives the latter some of the same guilt trip she laid on him. (Nellie giggles at this – heh.)
So Harriet does join. But in a field mostly made up of Nondescript Helens, Laura and Caroline come in first.
Nels yells at Harriet, and then, because she and Nellie are still tied together, all three of them fall down. Haw haw.
Finally it’s time for the big chop-off. Doc waves his gun around alarmingly.
DAGNY: He’s having too much fun with that.
WILL: Probably had a little nip at lunch. He’s gonna shoot a kid if he’s not careful, like in Decline and Fall.
The contest begins. I know it’s a Walnut Groovy running gag, but Charles is quite clearly commando under the trousers he borrowed from Nels. I think that’s bad menswear etiquette for a borrowed or rented garment, actually.
Apart from him and Big Jim, the only guy we know in the contest is Mr. Kennedy.
In a funny moment, the Gray-Haired Dude seems to be having a gossipy side conversation with a woman instead of watching the chopping.
The contestants chop on and on.
DAGNY: This episode wastes a lot of time having us watch wood getting cut. It would be at least half an hour shorter without it.
Tyler wins the first heat, so I guess he’s not all talk. After a breather, Charles wins the second, so they’re the two finalists.
I don’t know about you, but we all felt they were building up for Tyler to have a heart attack and die on the spot like John Henry. Spoiler alert, that doesn’t happen. Might be a little dark, even for Little House.
Before the final heat, Charles goes inside somewhere to get a file to sharpen his ax with. (It’s not clear where he goes – to the mill?)
But while he’s there, Mrs. Tyler comes in, and this is the scene that keeps the episode from being 100-percent fluff.
Mrs. Tyler, who actually even looks like my mother, says:
Mr. Ingalls, my husband’s tired. . . . No, I mean really tired. Oh, he wouldn’t admit it, not even to me, but . . . well, that never happened all the years he was “Bull of the Woods.” Oh, you should have known him then. He could out-saw, out-chop, out-work any man. Any two men! Never an ache or pain. . . . But that’s not true anymore . . . and he knows it. Every day he feels like he has to prove himself, and every day it gets just a little bit harder. A blue ribbon and a watch . . . not to push under somebody’s nose; but to . . . to have. To touch. To give him back something that the years have taken away from him. That’s what he wants. A watch. A watch that tells him he is still Bull of the Woods!
Charles stops sharpening during this speech and sees Mrs. Tyler’s eyes have filled with tears. It’s an unexpectedly lyrical speech (nice job, Hawkins Bros), and Ann Doran absolutely nails it.
I think the implicit message behind this speech is that if Jim wins this stupid prize, that’ll shut him up, and he can retire and not bother anybody with his bullshit (Of The Woods) any more.
Anyways, without a word, Charles resumes sharpening. “Thank you for listening,” says Mrs. Tyler, holding her head high and turning away quickly.
WILL: She’s the best thing about this episode.
ROMAN: Yeah. That, and Pa, Ma and Laura all laughing together.
Charles comes back and the final heat begins. Laura braces herself for the gun to go off, which is a nice touch.
Charles and Tyler chop and chop.
WILL: Do you think all the men will get drunk together tonight?
DAGNY: Well, Charles won’t.
WILL: And Reverend Alden is a recovering alcoholic.
DAGNY: But let’s see. Mr. Edwards would, if he was there.
WILL: He probably already did, that’s why he isn’t. Minneapolis was just an excuse.
DAGNY: Doc will. Mr. Hanson will, but this is the only day of the year when he does. Nels will, but on just half a pint of cider.
Mrs. Grandy and the Nondescript Helens scream encouragement to the choppers . . . but Mrs. Tyler looks like she’s going to die of fear, or is maybe having a stroke.
But any fears she had were in vain. Big Jim not only wins the contest, he also survives it. Charles smiles, and the two sincerely congratulate each other.
Afterwards, Charles goes up to Mrs. Tyler. They smile at each other and he caresses her cheek, a surprisingly intimate gesture. They both know the score.
So does Laura, who can be ax-sharp herself when she’s not acting like a little fool. She catches Pa, and tells him quietly she noticed he used his duller backup ax.
Charles says having thought about it, he realized he had an unfair advantage over Big Jim because of the latter’s age. He thought using his old ax would make it a fairer contest.
WILL: So the moral is, “If somebody’s an obnoxious old ass, let them win so they can go on thinking they’re the greatest”?
DAGNY: Nah. Charles is looking at it through the lens of equity. It’s actually quite contemporary.
Pa and Laura hug fondly. Then we see the band marching through again; the Chonkies come round the corner with the Ingallses’ wagon; and the party generally breaks up.
DAGNY: Everybody’s heading home. I guess maybe they don’t have a beer garden after all.
And that’s Founder’s Day, ringing down the curtain on Season One. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum! See you in the fall (or next week, or whenever).
THE VERDICT: I think this is a fun middle-of-the-road story, elevated by Ann Doran’s knockout performance. Everybody else in my family hated it, though, and the ultimate message is a little . . . well, muddy.