The Problem is, Laura Isn’t Really This Stupid; or
Nels Doesn’t Deserve To Be in This Dream Sequence
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: At the End of the Rainbow
Airdate: December 10, 1975
Written by Arthur Heinemann
Directed by Michael Landon
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Laura strikes gold (she thinks) and hallucinates hillbillies.
RECAP: Having eschewed the “Vomiting Schoolhouse Opening” device last time, the production team returns to it now.
But today’s spew is just a trickle. Only Not-Linda Hunt and another little girl (Alicia?) come down the stairs.
You can’t tell if it’s Alicia because for some reason we’re seeing them from above – the first time such a technique has been used, I think.
As the title comes and goes, we see all the other kids have already been puked out. We hover over them.
OLIVE: Oh, did they film this one with a drone?
(By the way, it was just Olive and me who watched this one. My own little Half-Pint!)
In addition to Mary, Laura, Nellie and Willie, we appear to have Cloud City Princess Leia, Not-Albert, and an Ambiguously Ethnic Kid attending today.
Nellie is seesawing with a sort of non-binary-looking kid we’ve seen a number of times now.
They’re quite distinctive in appearance, and actually made their debut all the way back in the OG school episode, “Country Girls.” But they’ve always been in the background and haven’t really taken part in the action until now.
We see this one was written by Arthur Heinemann, who previously contributed the infamous script for “Doctor’s Lady.”
Michael Landon Himself directs. Not sure if he’s steering the drone, though.
Speaking of which, without a cut, the camera zeroes in on a blindingly shiny coin in the dirt.
Meanwhile, on a bench, Mary is fiddling in her apron looking for something.
In the background, we see Willie Oleson and a similar-sized boy we’ve never seen before. They’re throwing gravel at a tree stump.
Turning to gather more rocks, the other kid notices the coin and says, “Willie, look, a nickel!”
A nickel? In the opening shot it looked as big as a dinner plate.
(The actor, Shane Sinutko, looks awfully familiar to me, perhaps from The Shaggy D.A., one of a bizarre series of werewolf movies for children put out by Disney.)
Anyways, Willie shoves the kid to the ground and rushes to grab the coin.
The other boy springs on him, and the two grapple for the shiny nickel.
WILL: Well, if it isn’t The Lord of the Rings.
All the kids rush to watch the fight.
Nellie jumps off the seesaw, dumping Non-Binary on their ass.
As the fracas continues, we see little H. Quincy Fusspot is also there, and that he has a new wavy hairdo.
Hilariously, no one tries to break things up. Instead, everybody screams for the boys to beat the shit out of each other.
In particular, Cloud City Princess Leia seems possessed by a bloodlust. She’s really showing her true colors this season.
But really, everyone is equally overtaken by the mob mentality, including the Ing-Gals.
Anyways, all the excitement reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics:
I went to town the other night
To hear the noise and see the fight.
Everybody was jumpin’ around,
Cryin’ “OLD DAN TUCKER’S COME TO TOWN!”
Get out the way, etc.
Finally, Miss Beadle sticks her head out the window. She makes her Jesus-Christ-not-again-with-these-fucking-kids face and disappears.
Soon she rushes out. You know, with form like hers, I’d say the Bead should challenge Caroline in the Advanced Flailing event next Founder’s Day.
Well, Miss Beadle tears the little pugilists apart. Willie immediately claims the nickel fell out of his pocket.
Mary pipes up and says if the nickel has “a nick on the edge and some tree gum stuck on it,” it’s actually hers. And of course it is.
OLIVE: Why does her nickel have all that crap on it?
WILL: I’m sure Pa decorates every piece of money in the house for situations like this.
The Bead sets her laser beams to Guilt Mode, but Willie runs off before she can blast him.
Miss Beadle orders everybody back into school, and comments that the fight reminds her of Sutter’s Mill. Laura asks for clarification. Beadle says why doesn’t she give the class a lecture on it this very afternoon.
Apparently she can decide to teach whatever the hell she wants on the spot. I guess that’s why it was called the Wild West.
Laura stops to tell Willie’s opponent, who if you were listening carefully during the fight you might have heard is called Jonah, she was rooting for him. Then she invites him to go fishing and puts her arm around him.
OLIVE: Who is this kid? She’s awfully buddy-buddy with him.
WILL: I know. Another “best friend” we’ll never see again after this.
OLIVE: I bet she secretly murders them all, one by one.
Fortunately, we are spared Miss Beadle’s history lesson about the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, Laura recaps it word for word for Pa later in the wagon.
“Thousands and thousands of men,” she says, “braved the wilderness and the high seas, and they took incredible risks and endured terrible hardships to get to the place where the gold was.”
WILL: What is she blathering about?
OLIVE: I have no idea.
Laura and Mary savor the gory details of gold-motivated murders.
Pa-llyanna says there might have been some of that, but the Gold Rush was a net positive. He says if it weren’t for the mass migration, they wouldn’t be in Minnesota at all. And what a terrible thing that would be!
Of course, Pa says, they didn’t come “looking for gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Despite a lot of bullshit online, I could find no reliable origin for the “leprechaun’s gold at the end of the rainbow” story. I mean, leprechauns are one thing. However, it seems pretty clear the rainbow concept grew not out of Irish legend, but rather American marketing. I don’t know if Hollywood or Big Cereal was the first to come up with it, though.
Anyways, Charles drives the Chonkies across a random field, off-roadin’ it, it seems.
We then cut to Laura and Jonah fishing.
Perhaps smarting from Walnut Groovy’s suggestion that Cattail Lake is an overused location, this week Michael Landon has them at some sort of rocky stream instead. (Plum Creek, I assume, but some distance from the house?)
Apparently this is the kid’s preferred fishing spot. Laura cackles that Jonah’s fishing and his Biblical namesake was swallowed by a whale.
Jonah catches a fish but can’t reel it in, so Laura plunges in to grab it by hand.
But it doesn’t work, and Jonah yells at her for scaring his fish away. Does she ever go fishing with anyone who isn’t a complete asshole to her?
But then, Laura looks down and sees something sparkly in the riverbed.
OLIVE: Oh my God, did they really find gold?
WILL: You’ve gotta be kidding, child.
Well, Laura certainly thinks so. She calls Jonah over.
OLIVE: I wouldn’t tell him. He fights over a nickel.
The two jump around in the water, splashing idiotically and screaming, “Gold, gold, gold, gold!”
Melissa Gilbert looks slightly embarrassed I think.
Then Laura says gold makes people crazy, so they “dasn’t tell anybody.” (This made me smile. My grandmother, a lovely and wonderful rural Wisconsin woman, used to say “dasn’t.”)
Despite it being sunny out, we suddenly get a crash of thunder.
OLIVE: Gimme a break.
Rain begins pouring from the sky, creating a rainbow over the creek. “There really is gold at the end of the rainbow!” cries Laura, and the two grin like imbeciles.
WILL: This one’s pretty stupid, isn’t it?
That night, Laura reads about gold-mining whilst sucking her finger in bed.
OLIVE: What is she doing? She’s never done that before. It’s disgusting.
Mary says she’ll never get to sleep if Laura stays up all night reading.
WILL: Oh, stick it, Four-Eyes. At least she never burned down the barn.
Laura eventually falls asleep, and this episode suddenly redeems itself by giving us the first of several fantastic dream sequences.
The first person we see is somebody I’d never expect would show up in Laura’s dreams: Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude. He’s wearing a top hat and extra-long mustaches and driving a carriage driven by white horses.
Laura and Mary sit in the carriage in blindingly white dresses.
Then we see Miss Beadle in front of the school, waving ecstatically. She’s standing next to Nellie and Willie, who are dressed in rags and don’t look happy about it.
Nellie’s hair is limp and more dishwater-blonde than golden. Willie doesn’t look too different from usual, actually.
Every time we see the Oleson kids, David Rose gives us sad hillbilly music on the soundtrack.
The Bead suddenly gives us a thrill by running straight toward the camera, bosoms a-bouncing.
Laura presents her with a basket of huge apples.
Then Nellie approaches with a rotten apple, which Miss Beadle throws over her shoulder in disgust.
Laura bares her gopher fangs and laughs uproariously.
Back in the real world, Mary wakes Laura up because she was laughing in her sleep.
OLIVE: If I was Mary, I’d smother her with a pillow.
After a break, we see Nondescript Helen and an unknown boy running wildly through the thoroughfare.
Laura and Mary walk to school, closely shadowed by the real Gray-Haired Dude.
Carl the Flunky also passes by at one point carrying a shovel.
Laura asks Mary what she’d do if they were rich, then runs away in the middle of her answer.
OLIVE: You do that sometimes.
In the schoolyard, Cloud City Princess Leia is pushing a girl on the swing whilst Non-Binary sits on the ground looking surly.
I never noticed it before, but there’s a fucking grave right in the middle of the playground!
WILL: Seriously, who’s buried there?
OLIVE: It’s gotta be the people who are on the show once and then never seen again. They’re just in one big mass grave.
Laura and Jonah discuss their find in low voices. Nellie, who’s been lurking behind a bush, approaches with her arms-behind-the-back walk (which I love).
“Here comes Big Ears,” Laura whispers.
Nellie shows off an apple she’s brought for the Bead. “Oh, Nellie, let me look,” says Laura, and takes an enormous bite out of it.
WILL: I can see you doing that.
OLIVE: Oh, come on.
WILL: I can.
“Laura Ingalls!” screams Nellie in shock. “Nellie Oleson!” Laura laughs back in her face.
Nellie runs off to tattle, and the two gold-hoarders share their fruity booty.
Back in school, we see the class’s ranks have expanded by three more Nondescript Helens as well as Midsommar Kid and the Kid with Very Red Hair.
Beadle has Jonah recite some crap about converting ounces to tons, or something.
Then he asks how much an ounce of gold is worth. Miss Beadle guesses $20, which is almost exactly right! In 1881, it was worth $20.67, or about $570 in today’s money.
(The value of gold has apparently increased over time. According to this source, today, January 26th, 2022, an ounce of gold is worth $1,820.)
The Bead, who you’ll recall can sniff out secrets like a pig finds truffles, asks why he’s so interested. Laura whips her head around to give Jonah a warning look.
But he comes up with a quick lie about his uncle having a gold tooth.
OLIVE: He’s good.
After school, Laura and Jonah tear off, leaving Mary to do her arm-swingin’ walk in solitude.
At the Little House, Ma, whose part REALLY isn’t worth shit this week, is peeling an enormous quantity of apricots. (They do grow here in Minnesota, but are pretty rare.)
It’s worth mentioning, though, that their harvest time here is July and August – when school wouldn’t be in session.
I suppose Ma is making preserves, but I don’t know why she’s peeling the apricots, which seems like a huge pain in the ass, and would give the jam less texture besides. I suppose some people prefer jam that way, though.
Anyways, Laura grabs a pie pan she’s hidden in the barn and heads to the creek.
She and Jonah wade back in with the pie pan.
But they don’t have much luck.
OLIVE: Look at Jonah blink. He looks like a puppet.
WILL: He was. Jim Henson created him specially for this episode.
Jonah says he has an idea, and rushes off.
The next day, at the Mercantile, Nels yells at his kids for grabbing candy, but Willie says to take it up with Harriet.
Mrs. Oleson tells Nellie and Willie to “have a nice day” – as we previously noted, an anachronistic phrase.
I never noticed, but the Olesons have some thick decorative cords with tassels hanging around an inner doorway.
As they’re leaving, Willie reports their screen door has been stolen.
Laura arrives at school to find Jonah being interrogated by Nellie. When she tries to intervene, Nellie says “Mind your own beeswax” – another anachronism (the phrase dates to the 1920s and 1930s). (There’s a hilarious story that people in the olden days would fill in their smallpox scars with wax and say “Mind your OWN beeswax!” to each other if anybody noticed, but it isn’t true.)
After school, Laura arrives at the creek, where Jonah is using the Olesons’ screen door to pan the stream. I really doubt he could have removed the door and dragged it all the way there without attracting anyone’s notice.
In fact, he himself says he was tailed by Willie, but managed to lose him in “the swamp.”
But almost immediately, Nellie and Willie appear, conveniently screaming at each other first so Laura and Jonah have time to hide the door.
They only find Laura and Jonah fishing quietly. “Why, it’s Nellie and Willie!” says Laura, so I guess that isn’t just a phrase she reserves for her love objects.
Blinking like a maniac, Jonah says, “How’d you get so muddy, Willie?”
And indeed, he is muddy. Nellie must have rescued him.
Disappointed, the Olesons depart.
Laura and Jonah discuss the need to keep their find secret and their stories straight.
WILL: This is turning into Shallow Grave.
At the Mercantile, Mrs. Oleson is hunting flies.
In a loud, passive-aggressive voice, she says to Nels, “Oh, when is somebody going to do something around here about that screen door, that what I’d like to know!”
She accuses Nels of failing to solve the mystery, saying the thief isn’t just going to reveal himself. Katherine MacG then delivers a hilarious impression of such a thief confessing.
Then she swats a fly on Nels’s head.
OLIVE: This one’s very silly.
That night at the Little House, Charles gets out his fiddle.
OLIVE: Oh good, Pa hasn’t played in a while.
Laura asks Ma and Pa what they would wish for if they had lots of money. Pa says a bigger house.
In a thick, strange voice, Ma says, “Well, I’d wish that just once I could go into Oleson’s Mercantile and buy everything I wanted.” Sure hope she isn’t back on the laudanum.
“I wish Pa could play the fiddle!” slurps Carrie.
I think she means she wishes Michael Landon could play the fiddle. Pa can, and does.
Somebody noted that although Charles is left-handed (like Michael Landon), he plays the fake fiddle right-handed.
It’s a sharp observation, one I hadn’t noticed, though in real life I have actually known left-handed musicians who play their instruments that way. And it seems it probably would have been even more common in the old days.
Anyways, while he’s sweetly playing, a slide whistle takes us into Laura’s fantasies again.
DAGNY [passing through and hearing the slide whistle]: Oh, is this one set in outer space?
Not for long it isn’t. Almost immediately the harpsichord comes in to give things an Eighteenth Century vibe.
Dags paused to watch this scene with us.
In this dream, Ma and Pa, also dressed in white, have joined the girls.
OLIVE: Look at Ma’s bag. Would that have been accurate to the time period?
I don’t think so.
Caroline at least looks pretty, but Charles’s suit is more a seventies distortion of old-timey menswear. It’s just like Boss Hogg’s outfit, actually.
Carrie is there too.
DAGNY: Oh, Carrie looks nice for once.
The five of them approach the same carriage from Laura’s earlier dream. In a nice touch, we see it has CI painted on its side in gold.
DAGNY: I like how they still live in Walnut Grove.
OLIVE: Right, is this really where anybody would invest a fortune?
Then the music changes as the Olesons reappear, this time with Harriet and Nels too.
OLIVE: They look like the hillbillies in Pete’s Dragon.
And just like in Pete’s Dragon, Southern jug-band music is used to characterize them, despite that film being set in New England and this show in Minnesota.
WILL: Poor Nels. He didn’t deserve to be in this dream sequence.
OLIVE: No, I agree.
DAGNY: He has a big hole in his crotch. Better not pop a stiffy, Nels.
The Olesons load up the carriage with goods.
OLIVE: I also don’t understand how the Ingalls being rich makes the Olesons poor.
As the dream concludes, Laura grins while biting a candy cane.
OLIVE: Laura’s teeth – ugh.
Then we’re back at the creek again, with Laura panicking because she can’t find the “gold” she hid. Jonah says he moved it for safety. Laura snarls that he had no right to move it, since it belongs to both of them.
OLIVE: Laura’s gonna pull a Deadwood on him, that’s why we never see him again.
She settles down, though, and we see they’ve filled what looks like a five-pound bag. Laura says they have a lot more work to do, though.
That night, Charles gets into bed, after first taking the unusual step of checking on Carrie down at the foot of it.
WILL: It’s weird to think that every time they talk in bed, Carrie’s in the room the whole time.
OLIVE: Yeah. Especially on popcorn night.
Charles and Caroline talk about how Laura’s had her head in the clouds recently. Charles suggests it’s “a touch of spring fever,” but Caroline points out it’s August. So I guess the apricots make sense. BUT SCHOOL DOESN’T!
The next day, Laura is muckin’ the auld byre whilst Pa paints a new sign for the mill.
OLIVE: Why are they having Pa make the sign?
WILL: Well, Mr. Edwards couldn’t.
Laura and Pa have a conversation that’s really devoid of interest. There’s a lot of filler in this one.
Then we go into another dream in which we see her family now owns every business in town, which is now named “Ingalls Grove.”
They also live in an enormous castle on the horizon.
OLIVE: What style architecture is that?
WILL: I’m not sure. Like, a French chateau?
OLIVE: It looks like a page torn out of a children’s book.
It does. And while it bears some resemblance to actual French and German castles, its primary model seems to be the “Cinderella Castle” at Disney World in Orlando.
She snaps out of it, and heads back to Plum Creek, where we see she and Jonah have filled a very large number of the bags. I’m not sure how much time is supposed to have passed, but I’m very doubtful they could have done it in less than three months.
In fact, they have so much “gold” collected, they decide it’s time to take it to Mr. Sprague at the bank. Yes, Ebenezer Sprague, so I guess one of Laura’s fishing besties did survive after all.
Laura says Mr. Sprague is unlikely to have enough money to buy all their gold up front, but she knows he’s good for it.
OLIVE: The problem with this one is, Laura isn’t really this stupid.
The two plan to come back early tomorrow and load up a wheelbarrow with the gold.
The next day, we again see Nellie and Willie departing for school. In a witty touch, the dialogue is repeated almost verbatim – candy lecture, “you tell Ma that,” “have a nice day” and all.
Then we descend into cruder comedy as Nellie somehow has managed to break through the now-replaced screen door.
OLIVE: Gimme a break.
The kids haul their “gold” to the bank whilst David gives us a whiff of “Over the Rainbow” in the score.
[The fantastic ALISON ARNGRIM HERSELF notes David Rose was once actually MARRIED to Judy Garland!]
And sure enough, out comes Ebenezer Sprague himself. He doesn’t get much to do in this one, but it’s nice to see him again.
Sprague informs them – quite kindly and gently – they’ve spent their time collecting iron pyrite, or “fool’s gold,” which is worthless.
There really are pyrite deposits in Minnesota, though they’re not necessarily in Walnut Grove’s neck of the woods.
He says if it’s any comfort, many adult prospectors have also been fooled by the stuff.
OLIVE: They should just kill him and rob the bank.
So they lug their wheelbarrow back to the creek and dump it all back in. I don’t understand, why wouldn’t they just dump it at the side of the road? It’s just dirt.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sprague rushes out to flag down Charles, who’s passing in the Chonkywagon.
OLIVE: Look at him, being nice.
And Charles, who apparently doesn’t care that he’s supposed to be at work and Laura at school, heads down to the creek to talk to her.
He says he knows about the whole thing. Laura says she wishes she had enough money to fulfill all their dreams.
OLIVE: God, her ear looks huge!
Pa caresses her and says their lives are more than satisfactory.
OLIVE: He’s like, “Let me cover that up for the shot.”
And where, you ask, did Jonah go? I have no idea. That’s it, the end! Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
OLIVE: I actually liked that one, but it was a pretty cheesy.
WILL: Well, there are very few Little House episodes that have no entertainment value whatsoever. It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?
OLIVE: It is.
UP NEXT: The Gift