The Richest Man in Walnut Grove

The Return of Lemon Verbena

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Richest Man in Walnut Grove

Airdate: September 10, 1975

Written and directed by Michael Landon

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: After getting laid off, Charles panics because he can’t pay his bill at the Mercantile, even though Nels says it’s no big deal. That’s the whole story.

RECAP: Welcome back! Another fun thing about the late Twentieth Century was how the agonies of back-to-school were offset slightly by the launch of the fall TV schedule. 

And the excitement was kick-started by the arrival of the TV Guide fall preview issue! This was like a double- or triple-sized issue that not only told you which of your favorite shows were returning, it wrote up every new series that was about to premiere. (They all debuted in the fall, more or less . . . hence “season” versus today’s more usual series, I guess?) 

They still do this special issue, apparently, but kids’ excitement around it can hardly be the same. Thanks for nothing once again, internet.

Anyways, I would grab the issue right away and read it cover to cover in the privacy of my room. (Various other magazines and catalogs got this treatment too, as well as an old copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but that’s another story.) 

Many new shows would be canceled almost immediately, so it was fun to try to predict which would have longevity and which wouldn’t. Some, like ALF, you knew would be runaway hits.

Others were simply too brilliant for the primitive audiences of the time. 

Sorry, Manimal

Well, Little House on the Prairie was indeed written up in the fall issue in 1974, the year it premiered; and here’s what it looked like. 

If you ask me, it’s strange it included the whiff of scandal about the Michael Landon/Ed Friendly power struggles

Original Little House executive producer Ed Friendly (with you-know-who)

But I guess post-Watergate, even TV Guide was digging to expose the dark truths behind the veneer.

Well, this is what the preview cover looked like in the fall of 1975, which is where we are at this point in the series.

We’ll start the story proper in a moment. (Once we do, you may wish we hadn’t.) 

But the other thing worth mentioning is that, for a show that barely touched its opening and closing credits through its entire run (even as its child cast aged into adulthood), it’s notable the house composer, David Rose, provided us a fresh arrangement of the theme tune, I think every season.

The Season Two arrangement

The new rendition changes the key from F to G, ditches the funky guitar, and adds the familiar melodic swoop when Carrie falls. 

We sometimes sing along: “It’s CARR-ie!”

(At some strategic future point I’ll reveal the lyrics we came up with for the entire theme, but I don’t know if the outside world is ready for them yet.)

Notable about this arrangement is that when we get to “The Town,” the orchestra starts doing crazy syncopated jumps up the circle of fourths. 

WILL: Well, that’s unique. I like it better than the first season version, I think.

DAGNY: I don’t. Uh-uh.

The madness starts at :47

This one’s called “The Richest Man in Walnut Grove,” and if that phrase sounds familiar to you from something else, you’ll find out why soon enough. 

We open on Pa in the barn, teaching Carrie to milk the cow. (Does it have a name?)

DAGNY: That is not Michael Landon’s arm.

WILL: What? I don’t know about that. . . .

DAGNY: No, it’s a stronger, hairier man wearing Pinky. It’s hard to milk a cow!

ROMAN: Plus I bet Michael Landon shaved his arms.

When the camera cuts to the real Michael Landon’s face, he beams at Carrie with what seems like genuine pride – I know he was a good actor, but I think he must have had a special fondness for the Greenbush sisters. You can always tell he liked them. 

Or one of them, anyway!

Pa even lets Carrie carry, ah ha ha, the milk up to the house. Which is more than I’d do, especially as it and all other food staples are about to become precious commodities. But I’m getting ahead of things again. 

Whoops

DAGNY: You can tell that’s paint. If it was real milk the dog would have gone for it.

When the two arrive in the common room, Carrie slurps joyously “I got to milk the cow!”

Laura, who remembers when she was also young and stupid enough to be made to think chores are fun, tells Carrie she’d enjoy shoveling chickenshit even more. But Carrie’s hip to her jive.

They all have breakfast, and Ma and Pa discuss a large lumber order Charles has been working on at the mill for some faraway customer. The order’s apparently been a pain in the ass in ways, but Hanson Universal will be handsomely compensated – AFTER the delivery.

Ma says cash on delivery seems a sketchy policy, but Stupid Charles says that’s the way Corporate America works and it’s just fine by him.

Charles Ingalls, capitalism’s stooge

He also says he, Mr. Hanson, and all the other workers are counting on this payment, because business has been slow recently.

“We’ll be rich, Pa!” says Laura; poor, stupid Laura. In fact, the wild swings of the Ingallses’ financial stability are frankly just impossible to assess from the televised episodes. The first season saw them go from dirt-poor to flush, back to poor again at Christmastime, then be seemingly stable (more or less) through the remaining stories. 

But since Season One covered anywhere between one and nine years of Little House Universe Time (LHUT), we can’t conclude much from that. 

Anyways, Pa points out the first thing he’ll do once paid is settle the family’s bill at the Mercantile. Ma says good, Mrs. Oleson’s been nagging her about being in arrears. 

Are you imagining something might prevent that from happening? You’d be right, and that’s basically all there is to this plot. Yes, it DOES sound a lot like “A Harvest of Friends”; I also thought that. So if you would rather clean the house, or resume your workday, or do something else productive at this point, I wouldn’t blame you.

For those of you continuing on the tour, I am glad you’re here. On with the story: Mary (the Nerd) complains she has no paper or pencils for school anymore.

DAGNY: Probably she had to erase and rewrite everything a thousand times because she’s going blind.

Blindness foreshadowing?

Also, I thought they used slates and scratchers? I guess whatever year it is, paper-and-pencil technology has finally reached rural Minnesota at this point.

I do understand her frustration, though, considering the difficulty I have finding a working pen in our own house. It sucks. 

Grr

But Ma just shrugs and says TS.

TS, Mary

Laura interjects that her paper supply is fine. 

CHARLES: Well, it wouldn’t be if you did as much homework as your sister.

WILL [as PA]: “If she studied any harder, she’d go blind, ha ha!”

I know, that’s probably too many blind jokes for this early in the series, and they’re quite offensive, so I’ll try to keep myself and the rest of the gang under control from now on. I promise.

The scene concludes with Laura biting into a very dark something with her terrifying fangs.

DAGNY: What the hell was that? A beet?

WILL: A mushroom, maybe?

Cut to Jack chasing chickens whilst the flute player in the orchestra practices scales. 

The whole family drives into town, and Caroline takes Carrie into the Mercantile. 

Nels perks up immediately when she appears, naturally.

But Mrs. O is in a bad mood, complaining about back pain almost before Caroline gets to the counter. 

First her bum appendix, now this

Then we get the first in a long series of running gags. 

MRS. O: My back is killing me again.

NELS [sotto voce]: And again and again. . . .

MRS. O [sharply]: Did you say something, Nels?

NELS: Oh, no, dear, I was just checking these shoe sizes: “And a ten, and a ten!”

Forgive me if I don’t fall off the couch laughing, this first time or any other. In truth, I absolutely HATE these “Rhymin’& Rappin’ Nels” jokes, despite loving most everything about The Harriet and Nels Show otherwise. I know a lot of people find them charming, but not me. 

Longtime readers will know if there’s one thing I try to do, it’s keep my personal biases out of these recaps; however, I may omit some of the “raps” if they get too much for me to bear.

Unless the plot resolution hinges on them, of course, but that happens fewer than five times.

Rappin’ Nels

Caroline says she’s come to sell eggs. Mrs. Oleson rolls her eyes and starts making loud nasty remarks “to herself” about how all the eggs in the world will never pay off the Ingallses’ debts. 

Caroline is apologetic but also annoyed. (Before she gets too mad, she should recall that at this point last season, Mrs. Oleson wouldn’t give them credit at all.)

Mrs. O keeps talking over Caroline, finally saying it’s clear the Ingallses are “taking advantage of a friendship” by continuing to charge items despite a big bill already. 

In college, I had a friend who was 18 but looked older and was never carded at the liquor store. (This was in Wisconsin, where clerks notoriously don’t give a shit about such things.) 

Being also of some means, this friend would buy everyone’s booze for us up front, and then print up these little “invoices” to remind us to pay him back. 

I can’t tell you how many times he made similar speeches about “taking advantage of a friendship” and demanded payment before he’d buy us any more root-beer schnapps or Mad Dog or whatever. Some people are just mean-hearted that way, is what I’m trying to say.

Anyways, Caroline coughs out a puff of breath in shock and says, “I can hardly take advantage of something that doesn’t exist!” 

Puff

Mrs. O spins around, and the two scream at each other for a little while. Boy, their relationship has deteriorated since the days when Caroline wanted to invite Nellie and Willie for sleepovers, just to be nice.

Previously on Little House

Unfortunately, Caroline overplays her hand, dooming herself and her family by shouting triumphantly they’ll be paying their full bill on Friday, so there! 

Caroline stomps out . . . but I think if you look closely, it appears Karen Grassle is fighting a smile. I bet these two had fun with these “frenemy” scenes.

Next, we see Charles at work on the river wheel at the mill. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they expanded the mill set. We can now see where the water is dammed to build up the current (or whatever). 

The dammed mill

Mr. Hanson comes out with a letter in his hand, “from the bank in Mankato.”

Hanson tells Charles their big corporate client, “Baines Construction Company,” has declared bankruptcy and will be unable to pay. All the Hanson employees are to be laid off, and the milling shall cease.

Mr. Hanson actually seems pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.

He goes inside, and Charles sits down and rereads the letter in shock. 

Why would Mr. Hanson leave it with him?

Anyways, then Charles punches something, so you can tell it’s a big deal to him at least.

Later, he arrives home, where Caroline laughs merrily about telling Mrs. Oleson off. 

WILL: She’s wearing her Boo Berry blue bonnet again. It’s by far her favorite at this point. She’s wearing it a lot more often than Floppy or Stiff these days. 

Boo Berry bonnet

But she stops mid-sentence when she notices Charles has wandered away to fret. 

So it didn’t take long to get to it, but yes, this is right out of It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey is unable to recover Uncle Billy’s lost deposit and comes home panicked and suicidal. 

All that’s missing is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Just like Donna Reed in the movie, Caroline follows him to find out what’s the matter.

We segue briefly to Pa fake-fiddling a sweet, sad folk tune at night in the common room. 

At first I thought Laura was clapping along, but she’s just petting Jack.

Then in a shock cut – and please turn away if you’re easily nauseated – we see Laura in bed, eating her own toenails straight off her foot!

[gag, barf]

WILL: Did they really DO that in the olden days?

DAGNY: Sure, it’s how they got their protein.

And speaking of toenails, Laura’s nightgown in this scene is just one toenail’s width shy of wardrobe malfunction, FCC finage, and instant cancellation. God, the seventies!

Anyways, there’s nothing else of interest in this scene.

Downstairs, Charles is so upset he won’t even lie down – he’s just sitting on the side of the bed worrying.

Hauling out the big guns, Caroline offers him some warm milk.

This is getting serious

Charles says he’s more bothered by their debts than he is about the loss of income. “First time in my life I couldn’t meet a debt,” he says – a ridiculous claim, since we saw it happen twice in the first season alone. God knows how many times it happened before they fled Wisconsin with their tails between their legs!

DAGNY: Charles is a seriously revisionist historian. He just edits everything bad out of his personal narrative, that’s how high his opinion of himself is.

To Caroline’s credit, she doesn’t burst out laughing at her husband’s absurd lie. 

Then Charles says they were better off starving in Kansas than here, a statement that surely sends a spike of fear into Caroline’s heart. Will they be moving again? 

DAGNY: She should suggest Charles have sex with Mrs. Oleson to keep her quiet.

WILL [as MRS. OLESON]: “I don’t like bacon with my eggs, Mrs. Ingalls. I like SAUSAGE.”

Previously on Little House

Or they could just volunteer for Squid Game.

After all, Charles already has the tug-of-war skillz.

Previously on Little House

Then the two of them have a theological conversation about whether God is punishing or testing them. The Lord’s personal investment in this family might explain why He ignored the havoc around the rest of the world at this time.

Caroline talks Charles down off the wall, then pushes the milk on him again. Rationing will be difficult for her, I think.

The next day, Charles and Caroline are in sunnier spirits as they head to town to face Mrs. Oleson. They’re even laughing a bit about how she gets so worked up.

You rarely see anybody brushing the horses, but the Chonkies’ tails look really nicely maintained.

At the store, Mrs. O sarcastically says she can’t believe they’ve come to pay their bill so early. Trying to shut her down, Nels says they know about the mill closing, so the Ingallses shouldn’t worry about things. 

Charles ignores Harriet, speaking only to her husband.

My sister’s late father-in-law would do the same thing when she tried to converse with him. 

That’s why she killed him.

Mrs. Oleson begins to shriek about how insulting Caroline was the day before, and says their account will only remain open if she gets a formal apology. 

I guess Charles doesn’t find the Harriet Oleson Raging River Ride so funny after all, because he shouts angrily that she isn’t going to get any apology and drags Caroline out the door.

DAGNY: They’re always saying “We’ll never shop here again!” It’s so stupid, it’s the only store in town.

Mrs. Oleson screams after them, “Pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall, Proverbs 16:18!” Somebody on the production team must have thought Proverbs 16:18 was hot stuff because they also used it last season, in “Country Girls.” 

Charles turns around and yells that it’s “goeth” rather than “cometh.” A pedantic distinction, and one which doesn’t exactly negate Mrs. O’s argument.

Plus if you want to be absolutely correct, it’s also “AN haughty spirit”

Besides, as everyone remembers, in “Country Girls” Caroline misquoted this verse herself, and Charles said nothing. 

Previously on Little House: Favoritism much, Chuck???

When we return after the commercial break, Charles is begging Hans “Rubberface” Dorfler for a job. You’ll recall Dorfler runs the town livery as well as being a blacksmith.

I get a kick out of Hans. When we arrive, they’re in mid-conversation, and Dorfler is laughing, “I like the idea of having the stables clean and the horses cared for,” as if this is some novelty. Um, are the stables not clean and the horses not cared for now? 

What kind of livery stable are you running, Rubberface?

Whatever the current state of affairs at Dorfler Rent-A-Horse, Hans says he can’t afford to take on new help, and throws in a “dad burn it” for good measure. (Looks like this phrase was around since the 1820s.) 

But when Charles gets that Landonly urgency in his voice, Dorfler says he could give him 25 cents a day to “clean and curry” (currying meaning horse-grooming).

Based on what Charles tells us and the historical exchange rate, this boils down to $2 an hour in today’s money, which I suppose could be worse considering it’s a non-job Dorfler is creating as a favor. And Charles accepts gratefully.

As he takes off, he tells Dorfler to give his best to his wife. I wonder who she is? The only time we’ve ever seen Dorfler in a non-work context, he was sleeping in church, and that was alone.

Previously on Little House

Then we see Charles walking down a hill towards what appears to be some children’s playground equipment in a lake.

But in a surprise twist, it turns out it’s actually the submerged pugmill of brickmaker Baker Makay (Dumb Abel’s dad), whom I never dreamed we’d see again in a million years.

Mr. Makay emerges from his house to empty a bedpan. 

Number one only, thank God

Seeing Charles, he comes down to say hi, and I will point out he’s much friendlier in this episode than he was the first time we met him. Of course, given the extra help and attention Caroline gave to Abel, and how well that turned out, I expect he would like the Ingallses now.

They shoot the shit a little, and and in fact, we learn Dumb Abel is now off at college! Kind of nice to know.

Dumb Abel goes to college

Mr. Makay says an “underground spring” suddenly welled up out of nowhere and drowned his pugmill. I have no idea if such things really happen, but that doesn’t matter.

Charles offers to help him build a new mill, but Mr. Makay says he wasn’t planning to do that till the following spring. (The time of year is once again unclear.)

Just like Caroline with the milk, Makay twice offers Charles a drink of cider during this conversation. 

DAGNY: Somebody on this production team loved pink. All the men’s clothes have a pinkish hue. Michael Landon must have thought it looked good on film.

Charles says he will invent a way to drain off the water if he can have the job now. Mr. Makay agrees, saying he’ll only be able to pay if Charles’s ideas actually work.

That night, Charles sits wasting precious paper and pencil lead (presumably Laura’s) doing math.

Apparently his horse-currying and drainage ditch income doesn’t add up to much. Caroline quietly says she knows Nels will keep their account open regardless of what Harriet wants, but Charles shoots this line of thought down and huffs the magic words, “cash on the barrel!” 

Bizarrely, Caroline then actually smiles and says that’s “what we hoped you’d say.” She’d also have her family starve rather than grovel to Mrs. Oleson, apparently.

Pride goeth before destruction, Ma

DAGNY: Look at that red string. Is she secretly a Kabbalist?

Kabbalist Karoline

Then Mary announces she’s going to drop out of school and go to work full-time at Mrs. Whipple‘s sweatshop. She says the Whipple fingers aren’t as nimble with a needle as they used to be.

DAGNY [as MARY]: “Not to mention when she masturbates!”

Laura says she and Ma will earn extra income by “planting a double-size potato crop” to sell to neighbors. (In Minnesota, potatoes can be planted in the spring or fall and are harvestable at six to eight weeks. So I think we’re probably in the early fall of 1879?)

Then Carrie slurps, “And I can milk the cow!”

They all look to Charles expectantly.

DAGNY: It’s an obvious choice, why are they waiting for his approval?

WILL: Not so obvious. Remember what an asshole Almanzo is when Laura tries to get a job.

But Charles is no Almanzo. He mists over, rises from the table, and says, “What a family!”

Group hug.

It’s mawkish for sure . . . but as someone who’s been known to mist over and say “What a family!” himself whilst watching the opening credits of this show, I can hardly criticize.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is will-kaiser-watching-little-house-2.jpg

Then we get a musical montage of them all doing their various jobs.

Next, we see the reflection of a one-horse buggy in Makay’s fen.

WILL: Any bets on whether it’s Doc or Aldi?

ROMAN: It’s Doc. No, it’s Aldi! Look at his cuffs!

“Look at the cuffs!”

It is Aldi. Not noticing he’s arrived, Charles throws a shovelful of dirt on his shoes. It would be funny if the Rev yelled “Jesus Christ!” But he just laughs.

“Jesus Christ, Charles!”

Charles then offers him some water. Good heavens, Michael Landon must have been thirsty when he cranked this script out.

The Rev makes a reference to his full bladder that I found, well, distastefully biological.

Alden does his usual thing of pretending he’s just popped over to say hi, then immediately coming out with his real purpose.

He says Nels has been losing sleep over the rift. Charles says Nels has nothing to worry about.

Then Alden asks Charles’s pardon for Mrs. Oleson’s behavior, and Charles nicely just kind of shrugs it off as no big whup.

Later, Charles checks in with Hans Dorfler, who rather stupidly says he’s glad he only has one job instead of Charles’s two.

Charles makes a face indicating this would be a nasty thing to say if Dorfler were any sharper than cornmeal, which he isn’t.

Then he rounds the corner of the smithy and runs headlong into Mrs. O, who squawks in horror at his unkemptness and sweatiness.

It’s interesting these two bump and grind as much as anybody else on the show, isn’t it?

Back at the Little House, Caroline tries to conceal from him that they’re running out of pantry goods. Charles of course makes it all about himself.

Then Caroline says they’re also out of coffee, a revelation that would turn me instantly to a life of crime in the same situation.

After another break, we see Carl the Flunky walking a team of horses past the school. 

The doors open, and some schoolchildren pile out, so I guess it isn’t summer.

Which kids have matriculated back for Season Two? Well, not many, if this scene is an indication. Besides Laura, the Midsommar Kid and one of the AEKs are the only returning characters.

Of course, many of their fathers are also part of Hanson’s labor force, so probably a lot of our regulars are also dropouts like Mary. 

The kids all run away, but Laura lags behind and gets ambushed by Miss Beadle. Through her crack interrogation techniques, the Bead quickly learns that Laura’s out of paper now too.

Miss Beadle proposes some cockamamie scheme in which Laura gives her some chalk so she can give her free paper and they’ll both pretend it isn’t a charity situation.

Then we see Nellie and Willie throwing the ol’ pigskin (literally) at each other on the Mercantile porch.

Willie gets the smell of blood in the water as Laura approaches.

But their victim is attended by a severe and powerful guardian, Miss Beadle.

We get a weird Michael Myers-ish POV camera shot as Laura approaches the Oleson kids.

Unfortunately for Laura, Miss Beadle abandons her at the promise of shopping.

Nellie and Willie draw in, and have a loud “side conversation” about how Laura’s family is poor, her pa is good for nothing but doing shit jobs, and he stinks to boot.

Laura flees in horror.

Anyways, a little later Charles and Miss Beadle meet in the road. It’s the first time these two have had a scene alone together, I think . . . and correct me if I’m wrong but there’s a certain charge in the air.

Michael Landon did like blonde women, if memory serves
First wife Dodie
Second wife Marjorie
Third wife Cindy

Miss Beadle ultimately says Laura gave away that the family’s struggling, and confesses she bought Laura some tablet paper. She worries that her gesture upset Laura and caused her to run off.

This is one part of the story I can’t understand at all. Miss Beadle is mystified why Laura’s upset, despite knowing a) Laura was with Nellie before she ran off, b) Laura and Nellie hate each other, and c) Nellie has extraordinary capacity for evil.

Stupid Bead

Charles says he’s sure it had nothing to do with Miss Beadle, and invites her to join them for supper. 

Hope she doesn’t want coffee, tea or sugar

She declines, and then Charles gives her a really nice compliment.

Aw

Miss Beadle activates her horse, named Pat or (as the subtitles suggest) “Pap.”

And off she goes, into a landscape that for a moment looks very much indeed like the part of Wisconsin I grew up in.

When he gets home, Charles is hanging up all his horse stuff in the barn when he hears a sort of sniveling whimper coming from the hayloft.

To his credit, he doesn’t assume it’s a rabid raccoon and come up with pitchfork blazing.

Previously on Little House

Because in fact it’s Laura. There follows a rather awkward scene in which Pa essentially guilt hers into telling him all the bad things people are saying about him. 

It’s all handled in weird sideways fashion, with Pa saying things like “When a person doesn’t want to tell another person something like that, it generally means that it was about that other person.”

Good Lord, man, just leave the child in peace. It doesn’t have to be about you.

I mean, I know from personal experience that when somebody’s talking shit behind your back, you want to know what they said, but doing so rarely helps anyone or anything.

Hilariously, out of nowhere we get a revisit of one of my favorite Season One running gags: Pa says after cleaning the livery stable, he can’t be expected to smell like lemon verbena!

Then he tosses off a couple of aphorisms about hard work and snobbery, blah blah.

Despite the fact that he seems to have actual horseshit smeared on his face, Laura hugs him. Aw.

Horseshit huggin’

And although I compared my own father to the giant blowhard asshole Jim Tyler in the previous story, in “good dad” scenes like this Charles reminds me of my dad too. Pa Kaiser is sort of halfway between the two, actually.

Commercial break, then Mary and Laura are walking around, and Mary says half of her dressmaking earnings are rightfully Laura’s, since she’s covering for her chores at home. 

It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s very Little House.

Little House logic

Then we’re back at school, and a few more familiar faces pop up in the schoolyard: Christy, Cloud City Princess Leia, and Not-Albert are there. (Thank God, I’m not sure what we’d do without Not-Albert.)

Nellie, Cloud City Princess Leia, and Christy
Not-Albert, Laura, and an unknown child

Given our three-absences-and-you’re-dead policy, this means we can assume Mean Harry Baker è morto, and in fact we never do see him again. This means we won’t ever find out if he was really Doc’s illegitimate son or not, though that would make sense if it was Doc and Mr. Hanson’s split which caused him to run away.

In real life, Melissa Sue Anderson said the actor who played Mean Harry (Jimmy McNicholKristy’s brother) was a difficult kid to work with, in fact once injuring her whilst fooling around on the set of “The Voice of Tinker Jones,” and was ultimately let go.

So go with God, Mean Harry.

Anyways, in the schoolyard, Nellie starts going off about Charles again, and without wasting much time, Laura calmly steps over and punches her, hard, in the face.

WILL: This is how I should have handled that guy at the State Fair.

Laura says Nellie can expect more of the same medicine if she doesn’t watch her step. She shakes her sore hand as she walks away, which is a nice touch.

Back at the ol’ pugmill pit, Charles is hard at work when Mr. Makay approaches. YET AGAIN he offers Charles some cider. 

For the love of God, Landon!

Makay then pulls a merry trick where he makes Charles think he’s being fired, then says just kidding, I’m actually going to help you get done faster.

Charles says this time he’ll join him for that cider after all; this is one of the VERY rare occasions when it’s implied Charles drinks alcohol.

Hard cider was in fact an extraordinarily popular beverage in the Nineteenth Century, when it was more commonly drunk than water (even by children). 

Then we get a Mrs. Whipple scene, which is always a treat. 

Mrs. Whipple says Mary’s been working too hard and gives her the rest of the afternoon off. Mary protests, but Mrs. Whipple says, “Mary, you mustn’t argue with old people. It’s not good for ’em, and anyway, you can’t win.”

Ha!

WILL: I like Mrs. Whipple.

ROMAN: Me too. I also like how the writers were like, “You know that nice old lady? Let’s give her a drug-addicted son and ruin her life!”

Mrs. Whipple forgets to pay her, but after some idiotic (but very Mary-ish) internal agonizing, Mary reminds her.

Agonizing Mary

Mrs. Whipple gives Mary her agreed-upon wage ($1.45 – $29 in today’s money) with an extra 25 cents ($5) thrown in for a tip.

If Mary actually is working full-time, this means she’s getting paid about 73 cents an hour in today’s money, so don’t go nominating the Whip for CEO of the Year anytime soon.

CEO of the Year 1879

Walking home, Charles sees Caroline plowing the field. “What a woman!” he thinks to himself but does not actually say.

You know, they do a lot of plowing on this show. Correct me if I’m wrong, but plowing isn’t something that’s done on a daily basis throughout the growing season . . . is it?

Anyways, Caroline looks sweaty and fairly foxy, and the two express love to each other in a way that’s suitable both for the farm field and for a 7+ television series.

Though I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some additional plowing done after dark tonight

Charles and Mr. Makay finish the drainage ditch, and the Ing-Gals harvest an enormous quantity of strangely white and impossibly CLEAN potatoes in the field.

Clearly the showrunners have never dug potatoes in their lives

Charles counts up the family’s earnings and find they’ve exceeded the mark. He says they should get spruced up and go pay the Mercantile together. 

In addition to bathing, he says, “I might even put on some lemon verbena!”

HA!

The family arrives at the shop. Forgive me for saying so, but Caroline looks rather splendidly . . . perky in this scene.

The Ingallses pay Mrs. Oleson off and she declares them “old friends” again. 

At the end, Nels pulls Charles aside, apologizes for Harriet’s personality. Richard Bull has developed his iconic “Nels look” by this point.

Nels compliments Charles on his family and declares him “the richest man in Walnut Grove.”

Now, these It’s a Wonderful Life ripoffs are maybe a more pardonable than they would be today, since that film, despite having been released in the 1940s, wasn’t really well known by the public until the late seventies, when it began being shown regularly on TV.

If obvious Frank Capra wannabe Michael Landon wasn’t familiar with it, though, I’ll eat my bonnet.

Anyways, you’d think that was it, but if you look closely as the Ingallses begin pulling away, you notice Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude having a conversation with Mustache Man . . . the REAL Mustache Man! 

And just when you think the surprises are all through, we see the Gray-Haired Dude is also way up ahead of the wagon on the road as well!

WTF, LHotP?

WILL: Another identical twin

ROMAN: Nah, I bet he just said “Gotta go, Mustache Man!” and then ran up ahead of the wagon.

Tune in next time to find out. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum! (Which gets a new arrangement too.)

STYLE WATCH: Dags liked Carrie’s “cute little outfit” and Mr. Makay’s “old man pants.”

She also noticed Mrs. Oleson’s brooch and wondered if it contained real prairie flowers.

Mary’s hair looks like shit throughout.

And Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT: A weak season opener. Take “A Harvest of Friends,” mix with an equal part It’s a Wonderful Life, drain off everything that’s fun or interesting about either and this is what you’re left with. The lemon verbena references are the only saving grace.

Well, that, and Mustache Man. See you next time.

UP NEXT: Four Eyes

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

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