I’m Un-Adopting You; or
HOLY SHIT A BEAR!!!!!
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: His Father’s Son
Airdate: January 7, 1976
Written and directed by Michael Landon
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Macho Mr. Edwards and sissy John Junior struggle to understand each other, and HOLY SHIT A BEAR!!!!!
RECAP: Lots to talk about in this one, so let’s go! We open on that familiar long shot of the Sanderson place.
This will be the first Sanderson-Snider-Edwards episode since the operatic wedding at the end of “Remember Me.”
Two things are apparent before we even get to the title.
Number One, this new family is now living on the Sanderson property, which John presumably inherited after Patricia Neal’s death.
This is evident because, well, why else would we be looking at it? Unless this story is about them trying to sell the estate to some big land developer. But we know Michael Landon is saving that idea for the series finale. (Spoilers.)
And while both Grace and Mr. Ed previously had their own homes, moving in with the kids makes sense I suppose, since their house we know for sure is big enough for five people . . . that is, being a TWO-BEDROOM.
As I’ve mentioned before, my mom grew up in a small country house with nine siblings. And it was small; technically, it was a ONE-bedroom!
My grandparents had the one bedroom (which was tiny), and the kids of whatever ages all slept in the same “room” – essentially an attic crawlspace under the rafters. Just like You Know Who!
Now imagine ten kids in the same space. I can only imagine what conflicts, compromises, embarrassments, smells, and worse had to be endured by all of them. I shudder to think, actually.
Anyways, the SECOND thing we observe about the Sanderson property is the geese in the pond. I didn’t mention them last time, because I wasn’t sure if they actually came with the joint or were just passing through on the way to Mankato like everybody else.
But now it seems clear they are Sandersons themselves.
What are these geese for? Eating? Possibly, though goose has never been especially popular in America, not even in the olden days. (I cooked a goose during the holiday season once, and while it was good, I’m not sure it’s worth the expense.)
They say geese make good watch-birds, since they’re so noisy and aggressive. But the Sanderson geese are pretty far out from the house for that. Plus they didn’t seem to make any fuss over the various comings and goings in “Remember Me.”
Of course, his mother being so ill, John probably set them to silent mode.
Geese mostly eat grass, so if you have them, they basically mow your lawn, which I guess is nice. But they also shit all over it, which isn’t.
The biggest reason country people in those days kept them was for feathers. Some were used for pen quills, but mostly they were for stuffing pillows and mattresses.
I never really thought about it, but apparently the geese in those days were plucked alive, which I suppose makes sense. This would be done up to three times a year, and was not a pleasant experience for the birds, much worse I suppose than a sheep being shorn, since the feathers are actually pulled from the skin.
I doubt it was much fun for the plucker either.
Anyways, these days down for your comforters and the like mostly comes from farmed geese slaughtered for food in Asia. Whether the geese are better off the first way or the second, I leave for you to judge.
So, 400 words about geese in, let’s get to the actual story.
The camera floats like a balloon away from the geese and towards the treehouse.
OLIVE: Were treehouses even invented then?
You’ll recall Mr. Edwards recently installed this treehouse, then tried to encase himself alive inside it, like a character out of Poe.
We can see through the window somebody’s reading inside. So we know it can’t be Mr. Ed . . . but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Oddly, rather than finding out exactly who this is, we first zero in on the text, which we can see is “Melampus,” by George Meredith. This poem was published in 1883, and so is just a smidge anachronistic. (Judging the events of the stories in sequence, I deduce we’re now in the spring of 1881 – though Walnut Grove being situated on a rift in the time-space continuum, we will soon find ourselves knocked backwards in time a bit.)
It’s not fashionable to say it these days, but I love Victorian stuff, as certain elements of this blog might suggest. I read some Meredith in college, but I don’t remember if we ever did “Melampus.”
I’m not sure who selected it to be featured here, but I will say the poem’s theme is extremely relevant to the story we’re about to get. (I’ll talk more about that later.)
It’s a good read, and a quick one (for a Victorian poem); you can check it out here if you want.
In case you haven’t noticed, some really smart people worked on this show. This episode was written and directed by one called Michael Landon, by the way.
We hear Grace’s voice calling John, and so, if you haven’t guessed, he is the reader.
John has snuck out to the treehouse to gorge on poetry before breakfast, a fact which charms Grace but puzzles Mr. Ed. The latter shakes his head sadly as the kid nearly trips trying to walk and read at the same time.
Now that I think about it, John is lucky he doesn’t get attacked by a goose while he isn’t paying attention. I was once; though that incident was not poetry-related.
Anyways, John says he loves the book he’s reading, and asks Mr. Edwards if he likes Lord Byron. (I don’t know why the hell he asks about Byron when he’s reading Meredith, but we’ll let that pass.)
Edwards dodges the question to complain about flim-flam European noble titles.
John says Byron was John Senior’s favorite writer.
WILL: He was a sex maniac.
DAGNY/OLIVE/ROMAN: Victor French?
WILL: No, not him.
OLIVE: Who? John?
No, Lord Byron! In case you don’t know him, Byron was a notorious bad boy of Nineteenth-Century literature.
A bisexual hereditary baron who may or may not have fathered a child with his own sister, Byron was a celebrity with a huge cult following (known as “Byromaniacs”) during his own lifetime.
He kept crazy animals like bears as housepets, was an alcoholic, collected human skulls (some of which he drank out of), and was considered insane by most people, including his own wife.
He also loved the spooky stuff. He once hosted a summer-long horror-themed sex-and-drugs party that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, and another writer to create what we still think of as the classic vampire archetype, which was based on Byron himself.
Anyways, they don’t really dig very deeply into his stuff here . . . but it is interesting to imagine John Senior as a Byromaniac on the Prairie.
John urges Mr. Edwards to read Byron at some point. Mr. Edwards unhappily assures him he will. But as everyone reading this will remember, he can’t.
Then we cut to Edwards blowing off steam by shooting at a target that belongs in a school Thanksgiving pageant.
Then he turns around and we see he’s actually been test-shootin’ the gun. He and Charles are hanging out with a watery-eyed old codger who’s selling rifles out of a wagon, door to door I guess.
If the old codger looks familiar, and he does, it may be because he was on Little House six times, not always as the same character.
You may also recognize him from many other things. The actor is E.J. André, who appeared on Dallas, in the bedrock westerns Bonanza and Gunsmoke, and, as a young man (well, 48 – I’m not sure he ever was young), in The Ten Commandments.
If the side of his wagon can be trusted (they can’t always), his name in this one is Amos Thoms. Mr. Thoms informs the audience the rifle is a Winchester 73 – a famous gun indeed, and, you’ll remember, the one Mr. Edwards meant to purchase in Mankato, if that fucking idiot Johnny Johnson hadn’t gone and ruined everything for him.
Mr. Thoms says he’ll sell Edwards the rifle for $7.50 (about $200). Mr. Ed balks at the cost, but shouldn’t, since he was prepared to pay twice as much for the same rifle in the earlier story. (Then again, the dollar was actually worth a little more in the 1880s than in the previous decade.)
Mr. Thoms says he also has a “government Springfield” (that is, an army rifle made at the federal Springfield Armory) that’s cheaper. (That’s Springfield, Massachusetts, not the Springfield, Minnesota, that occasionally gets mentioned on this show.)
Mr. Edwards and Charles cross the meadow to see where he hit the target. Edwards expresses frustration he and John have no interests in common.
WILL: Just introduce him to alcohol, everybody likes that.
Mr. Edwards picks up the plywood turkey and finds he hit the bullseye.
OLIVE: Come on. That’s obviously printed.
WILL: Yeah, he got it at Cabela’s.
Apparently thinking his bullseye is a sign, Mr. Edwards buys the rifle and returns home in a wagon pulled by Bunny (for those of you keeping track of that).
(And I think the other horse is Jehoshaphat, Reverend Alden’s steed.)
Grace is frosting a cake and tells Mr. Edwards the kids are still in school. (For the record, we haven’t seen them in that school once yet.)
Mr. Ed shows Grace a gun-shaped package, but she fails to guess what it contains.
Mr. Edwards doesn’t tell her, but he does say it’s for John’s birthday, which Grace informs us is today.
I find it bizarre neither John nor Mr. Edwards said anything about the birthday in the first scene. Just like nobody said happy birthday to Rev. Alden last week, despite everybody running around like it was a freaking national holiday! Is there some town ordinance where you can’t say happy birthday to anyone except at a formal event?
Actually, they might not have said it at all. There doesn’t seem to have been much actual research done on this question, but the dominant theory on the internet is that while birthdays were celebrated, people didn’t actually start saying “happy birthday” to each other until the song “Happy Birthday to You” came together, which wasn’t until 1912. (The tune and lyrics were written separately.)
“Many happy returns” was apparently the most common birthday greeting in English until then.
Then we cut to John, Mary, Laura, Carl and Alicia walking either to or from school. John is reading poetry aloud to them.
I don’t know which would be worse on a walk, this, or Mary giving you math problems to answer, which as we’ve seen is a frequent alternative. I’d choose to endure the former. I realize some might disagree.
Laura should just bring along a book of knock-knock jokes next time.
John finishes, but Childe Harold gets a chilly reception from the gallery. “My feet are sweating,” says Laura. Not what you’d call a rave review.
The three smaller kids run off, but John and Mary continue on. John says he aspires to be a poet, and asks to borrow Charles’s Ralph Waldo Emerson book.
DAGNY: Oh yeah, Pa loves Emerson. At least that’s an established fact.
Cut to John’s family birthday party. Grace has written Happy Birthday John Jr. on the cake, and she says it, too, when she carries it out. So much for my bullshit theories, I guess.
DAGNY: How many candles are there, a hundred?
ROMAN: Happy hundredth birthday, John.
Actually I count fourteen.
And I was able to verify, people were putting candles in cakes by this point. They were doing it in Germany by the mid-Eighteenth Century, and some people argue it started centuries earlier in some European countries.
By the way, David Rose is plucking delicately at a harp in this scene. Quite lovely, actually.
WILL: I said it before, but Radames Pera is well cast. He really does look like Patricia Neal. The other two don’t.
DAGNY: Oh, I think Alicia does.
Speaking of Alicia, as others have pointed out, she pouts throughout the entire scene, for reasons that are never explained. She doesn’t even clap when John blows out the candles. Maybe because she doesn’t get a present? Some little kids are like that.
John opens his first present, which is from Carl and Alicia. Carl protests that they didn’t get John anything, but Grace is like YES YOU DID.
DAGNY: That’s a classic mom move.
It’s a quill pen, ink, and writing paper.
DAGNY: They’re actually good presents too. Total mom.
(You should hear a goose shrieking as he looks at the quill.)
Anyways, John is thrilled. “I knew you’d like it,” says Carl hilariously.
Then John opens a present from Grace. He’s delighted to find it’s a book of poems by John Keats.
WILL: Keats is good. I like Keats better than Byron.
Keats lived a milder, sadder life than Byron, dying at age 25 of tuberculosis in 1821.
Alicia continues sulking brattily through this entire bit.
And speaking of sulking brattily, Mr. Edwards suddenly becomes jealous of the thanks and praise Grace is receiving for her brilliant gifts.
In a nice touch, John notices there’s no card on the final present. “I forgot about that,” says Mr. Edwards.
John opens it . . . and finds the gun. He’s horrified, and doesn’t hide it well.
Mr. Edwards thinks John is disappointed because he just doesn’t realize what a high-quality gun it is, and points out it’s the famous Winchester 73.
John, who couldn’t care less what kind it is unless it’s the rhymed-couplet-producing kind, very politely thanks him, and says he shouldn’t have spent so much. Mr. Edwards laughs and says let’s go huntin’ this weekend.
Carl, who on the other hand clearly finds the gun the coolest fucking thing he’s ever seen, asks if he can come too. But Mr. Edwards says this weekend is just going to be about him and John.
In the night, Mine the dog (who has grown to resemble his father, Jack), scratches at the door to go out. Jack did the same thing a couple episodes back. I’m really surprised they keep the dogs inside overnight (we didn’t when I was growing up in the country).
Plus it’s weird that they would need to be let out to pee after everyone went to bed. Our family’s current city-slicker dog, Nyssa, doesn’t.
Grace doesn’t seem to mind, though. She notices a light’s still on in the kids’ bedroom.
Inside, John is burning through the Keats book.
I mean, not literally – unlike some people.
David gives us a stark melody on that strange reedy instrument he sometimes uses that sounds kind of like a bagpipe, but probably isn’t. I think it’s a synthesizer again, actually, just set to “Scottish.”
Bonnie Bartlett has really settled in to the character of Grace by this point, and I’ll be the first to say she’s great in this one.
With a face full of emotion, John confesses he wishes Mr. Edwards hadn’t bought him a gun. He says he can’t imagine killing anything.
OLIVE: He’s so close to her. He just breathed and it blew her hair around!
John adds Mr. Edwards knows this, he just wants him to be someone he’s not. Grace says she’ll talk to Mr. Ed and things will be fine.
OLIVE [as JOHN]: “Eff my old mom! This one’s much better.”
WILL: My dad never pressured me to hunt. I sometimes wish I had learned. I just didn’t like the Wisconsin gun culture. I wanted it to be more Britishy, with dogs and guys in kilts flushing out the partridges for you to shoot, or whatever.
DAGNY: You wanted it to be like Two Fat Ladies.
WILL: Yeah, basically.
The next day, Pinky-clad Pa is out in the barn sawin’ a two-by-four. Mary comes out and starts screaming about how John wants to borrow Pa’s Emerson book.
WILL: I hate when Mary shouts like that. It’s very annoying.
She asks some questions about what makes a poet, and Pa, citing Emerson, says, “There are two classes of poets: poets by education and practice – those we respect – and poets by nature – those we love.”
OLIVE: Pa is a thinker.
This is almost a direct quote from Emerson’s preface to Parnassus, in which he goes through a list of his favorite writers (and shit-talks some others).
Mary practically goes cross-eyed with lust and says, “The last one – that’s John.”
So things must have fallen through between her and Lice-Infested Arnold? Probably inevitable I suppose.
Anyways, Pa giggles.
The next morning, presumably, Mr. Edwards is hooking up Bunny and Jehoshaphat to a harrow, plowin’ and harrowin’ being the full extent of farming anybody does around here, no matter the time of year.
When the kids come out, Mr. Ed reminds John about the trip.
Carl again begs Mr. Edwards to come along – notably, addressing him as “Pa.”
Mr. Edwards states he’s already taken Carl on individual trips in the past. So now I don’t feel so bad for him.
When the kids are gone, Grace takes Mr. Edwards aside and has a conversation with him about how John doesn’t want to hunt.
Mr. Edwards seems surprised, saying all boys love hunting. Then he turns very surly and says he’ll just take Carl instead, since it’s clear John doesn’t care about him at all, just wants to stick his nose in a book and think about himself.
WILL: I’m sure my dad had a million conversations like that about me. “All he likes to do is read, watch TV and listen to classical music.” This is the Will and Grandpa Kaiser Story!
Mr. Ed shuts down Grace’s protests and starts to harrowin’.
(For the sake of continuity, I will note that Edwards’s character is somewhat inconsistent here. In “To See the World,” he goes to great lengths to ensure Johnny Johnson returns to school, and argues to his poker buddies that their lack of book-learning contributed to them turning out a bunch of dissolute drunks.)
(So it’s a little odd he’s so threatened by John’s studiousness here. But never mind that, it’s a good story.)
Later that day, I guess, Mr. Edwards stops to talk to an Amish-bearded guy and his son, who are putting in some fence-posts or the like.
The kid is the exact same one who gave Mary the advice about how to pick out a good Bible last week, though then Miss Ames addressed him as “David” and this time he’s called “Tad.”
The Amish-looking guy, who is an asshole, says since school’s for losers, he’s pulled the Bible-Purchase-Advising Kid out to help with the fence, so then they can go deer hunting over the weekend for fun.
The actor, Bing Russell (another Bonzanza/Gunsmoke veteran), once owned the Portland Mavericks minor league baseball team. As owner, he opened doors for women and Asian Americans to work in the organization, and did some other cool things, including wearing pinky rings and fathering Kurt Russell.
The Amish-looking guy says he heard about the Winchester 73, and Mr. Edwards is too embarrassed to tell him his son’s a sissy who hates guns.
Angry, Mr. Ed returns home and orders John to ready for the trip tomorrow. John, who thought he was off the hook, is distressed.
Grace tries to talk to her husband, but he says “the matter’s closed.”
“If I’m going to be a father to that boy he’s gonna have to be a son to me,” he adds harshly.
Then he’s off a-harrowin’ yet again. Jesus Christ, how many times a day does it need to be done?
Grace looks after him in frustration.
OLIVE: Well, you married him, idiot.
After a break, we find Charles milking the cow.
He brings the bucket in, and goes on and on about what a good producer the cow is.
But Ma is smarter than I am, because she’s hip to the fact Charles is angling to make some ice cream.
As many of you I’m sure know, in the olden days, ice cream was made using a hand crank to turn the cream inside a container surrounded by a salt-ice mixture (salt keeping the ice semi-liquid even at below-freezing temperatures).
Pa says he’ll immediately head to the ice house, and Mary asks if she can bum a ride to the Sandersons’ so she and John can work on homework together.
DAGNY [suggestively]: Ohhhhhhhh . . . !
WILL: Grow up.
“I thought you hated John,” says Pa. “Nah, that’s just in real life,” says Mary.
Laura smirks and asks Mary why she isn’t bringing her glasses.
Mary stiffly replies Dr. Mixter said she can do without them sometimes.
I’ll note that, a certain blogger’s juvenile Four-Eyes jokes notwithstanding, she’s barely been wearing them at all recently.
Once she and Pa have gone, Laura says Mary just wants John “to see her beautiful blue eyes.”
“What’s wrong with that?” says Ma.
“Nothing,” says Laura with a sudden melancholy. “If you have beautiful blue eyes.”
Now THAT’s what I call using the banal Little House device of having a character explain what they just said to the audience, and achieving an unexpected moment of emotion with it. This script is really good.
Out at the Sanderson place, Pa and Mary find John’s been taken hunting after all, even though he told Mary he got out of it.
Grace takes Charles aside and explains her concerns about the whole situation. Charles listens but says this being Little House on the Prairie, he’s sure everything will turn out okay.
Meanwhile, out in the woods, we find John scribbling away on a piece of paper. This kid is a fucking poetry junkie, isn’t he?
John brings the paper to where Mr. Edwards has been making them breakfast, and hands it over. “I had some things to tell you,” he says, “but I didn’t know how to say them. It’s easier for me to write the way I feel.”
Mr. Ed tries to stick it in his pocket, but John won’t let him off with that.
Mr. Edwards pretends to read it, which is painful for us to watch.
Then he says, “All right, I read it, now let’s finish up so we can get started huntin’.”
John stares at him with hurt and astonishment. Mr. Edwards won’t look at him. Both these actors are absolutely terrific in this one.
And then we see them tromping through the woods without speaking, to very moody music.
WILL: Notice what we haven’t had yet.
ROMAN: “Old Dan Tucker”!
WILL: Yep. This is a serious Edwards one.
OLIVE: Yeah, they just had serious arrangements!
DAGNY: David Rose probably just refused to do any more. I would have.
We can see John’s breath, so it must have been a crisp morning.
Then we get some weird sinister electronic music.
ROMAN: What is this, “Doctor Who and the Silurians”?
WILL: I think it’s the same music they played when the crab was coming after Nellie. That can’t be good.
THEN SUDDENLY MR. EDWARDS GETS ATTACKED BY A BEAR!!!
OLIVE: Oh my God!
The attack is VERY gory and frightening. For a 7+ TV series, anyways!
Mr. Edwards screams “Shoot him!” over and over, but John is too petrified to move.
Edwards loses consciousness, and the bear eats some King’s Hawaiian buns out of his pack and departs.
Mr. Ed is VERY bloody. It’s the scarlet Dario Argento-type seventies movie blood. It doesn’t look real but was absolutely terrifying for children, as anybody my age can attest.
Shuddering with horror, John runs to Mr. Ed’s side.
OLIVE [as EDWARDS, weakly]: “I’m un-adopting you.”
Actually, all he can say is, “Get help.” And John runs.
WILL: It was actually Michael Landon in the bear suit.
DAGNY: No way.
WILL: Yeah. There are pictures of it.
ROMAN [looking it up]: It’s just like Midsommar!
WILL: Yes. I’m sure that was Ari Aster‘s homage to Little House on the Prairie.
And we’re back. At the Sanderson house, the mood is grim. Grace is nervously making coffee. John is sitting in the rocker, but you can tell he’s still stunned because he’s NOT rocking.
And of course, ol’ Butt-In Chuck is there too.
Doc Baker comes out of the bedroom.
WILL: Watch, he’ll say “I just feel so POWERLESS!” and then leave without doing anything.
Actually, Doc says, “If it were anyone else, I’d say there was no chance . . . but that man’s as strong as they come.”
Call me crazy, but John appears to have gotten a HAIRCUT since the incident. That’s unlikely, isn’t it?
Unable to bear it anymore (sorry), John rushes from the room.
Grace starts to go after him, but of course fucking CHARLES stops her so HE can take care of it.
Charles finds John in the barn.
With a box of cartridges placed ominously in the shot, John tells the story of the attack, including his terror and being unable to fire the gun at the bear.
With kindness and sympathy, Charles says he can’t blame himself and anybody could have frozen the same way.
And I suppose it could be worse. Laura will shoot Pa in the chest one day.
Sinking to the floor in agony, John cries that something’s wrong with him and he’s not a real man.
In a hokey-ish shot (but come on, people, it’s Little House), Charles kneels to comfort him . . . and yet John is LITERALLY IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUN.
But John cannot be comforted; sometimes you just can’t after all. He begs Charles to leave him alone, so he does.
And at about this point in the episode some funny sounds start to be audible on the soundtrack, at least in the streaming version we’re watching. Kind of a whup whup whup whup whup like a dryer or a ceiling fan or something in the next room. It’s not very loud, but it is a little distracting once you notice it.
Anyways, this scene is not over yet. Suddenly the music changes to horror stylings, and John starts hallucinating that he hears Mr. Edwards screaming “Shoot him!” over and over again.
In a mad panic, John grabs the rifle and some ammo. And we’re back at another commercial, grrr.
The next morning, the sun is shining on the Sanderson place, but the cellos and basses are rumbling by themselves, so things are not fine.
But inside, Mr. Ed starts moving. I’ll say, Victor French’s “comatose” acting is not as good as Barney’s was when Jack got run over by the Gray-Haired Dude.
Doc, who apparently stayed overnight (for what?), rushes out to tell the others Edwards will be okay. Really, all he did was move his hand, but whatever, it’s TV.
Mr. Edwards starts talking weakly. He makes a joke about how he isn’t really as tough as a grizzly, like he’s sometimes claimed.
Now, the bear we saw on camera was not a grizzly. But of course, it’s possible the character the bear was playing is one, if you follow me.
While the grizzly bear was extinct in Minnesota by 1900, there’s a slim chance some stragglers might have been around in the 1880s.
Then Edwards asks after John. Grace reassures him he’s fine.
WILL [as EDWARDS]: “Charles, I want you to go to that other family and tell them they can have him after all.”
But no, Edwards starts saying he was a fool to force the boy to go along when he didn’t want to, of course.
Doc says they should leave the patient to rest, and once back in the living room, Grace finally breaks down.
DAGNY: Is she holding his bloody clothes?
WILL: Yeah, she’s gonna wring them out into the stew. Waste not want not.
Charles comes up behind her, pushes his crotch against the back of her chair and starts massaging her throat.
OLIVE: Oh my God, Charles! Charles!
DAGNY: That’s too much. That’s too close.
Charles goes to fetch John, and then she finds the letter in the pocket of Mr. Ed’s ripped shirt.
Charles comes back in saying he doesn’t know where John is. I don’t know if we’re supposed to think John came back in for the night after going crazy and loading the gun? It doesn’t seem likely, but then again neither does him running off immediately and nobody noticing.
Grace hands Charles the letter. Charles is surprised John didn’t know Mr. Edwards can’t read, and Grace says Isaiah asked her never to tell the kids, he was so ashamed.
WILL: She should have told them anyway. I mean, I can see why she didn’t. He didn’t want Laura and Mary to know.
DAGNY: Yeah. Plus, how was it ever likely to come up?
OLIVE: Um, how about if one day John wrote him a love letter?
Please enjoy our own astonishing Ketty Lester singing “Love Letters” live!
Anyways, Charles says he’ll hunt for John. (Whoops, sorry again.)
Then we get a treehouse view of a tiny pink figure walking across the field.
DAGNY: Is that Willie?
But John’s not there, nor is he in the barn. Charles notices the missing gun, though.
And yes, John is back at the scene of the mauling.
WILL: Is he going to sacrifice himself to the bear?
DAGNY: Yeah, like Anthony Hopkins.
WILL: I never saw that movie. I did see the bear scene from that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. It wasn’t as scary as this episode, though.
We talked about bear movies for a while at this point. Our family favorites are the sad and disturbing Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man, and, obviously, the Christopher George vehicle/Jaws ripoff Grizzly.
John wanders the woods.
WILL: This music is terrifying.
ROMAN: Yeah, well done, David.
Charles pursues him riding Bunny.
John happens upon a deer, which terrifies him.
John takes aim, tries to shoot, but can’t, so he turns the gun to the ground and fires in frustration.
Charles hears the shots, and follows them fast to the beat of a rat-a-tat snare drum.
He finds John alive, and relaxes a bit. He tells him Mr. Edwards is going to be okay, and John heaves a sigh of relief.
John says he just tried to shoot a deer, but couldn’t kill an animal. They don’t really go into it, but the theme of all the poetry John’s been reading is man communing with nature rather than considering himself superior to it and destroying it.
So in other words, parents, this is what could happen to your kids if you let them read propaganda like “Melampus,” Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and the preface from Parnassus.
(I shouldn’t joke, there’s quite enough talk about banning books these days as it is. Don’t want to give people more bad ideas. The solution to our world’s problems is not everybody getting stupider, people.)
Charles says Mr. Edwards loves John and wants him to come home. John says sadly he knows for a fact Edwards doesn’t love him.
Charles says he knows about the letter. “Then you know I’m right,” John says.
“He can’t read,” Charles says bluntly, shocking John.
Suddenly understanding, John says he wants to go home. And so he and Charles hop on Bunny’s back and home they go.
They arrive back and John and Grace embrace. John asks for his letter and goes in to see the patient. He sits on the bed.
DAGNY: Is he going to smuffocate him?
WILL: Yeah, then when they come in, he’ll be like, “He just slipped away.”
Edwards starts out by saying he’s sorry for not listening to him. John says he knows about the illiteracy, and Mr. Ed gets tears in his eyes.
Then John reads:
Dear Mr. Edwards,
It seems so funny writing that: “Mr. Edwards.” I want so much to just say “Pa” or “Dad” or something, but I can’t – not unless I know that you want me to, and I just don’t feel like you do. I guess it’s because I can’t be the kind of son you’d want. Maybe I could be someday. I’ll try. I’ll try as hard as you can to make you proud of me, but I’m afraid now, because I know in my heart that I can’t do what you want me to do. Please try and understand; please love me anyway.
DAGNY: What the hell IS that sound? A washing machine?
The two of them are both crying by the end of John’s speech. Mr. Edwards holds John in his arms and says, “Son . . . my son.”
WILL: This is like my dad too, actually.
And now, the epilogue! John (and the geese) are wandering around one day.
John calls “Pa! Pa!” and finds Mr. Edwards in the treehouse . . . where we see he’s been working on a McGuffey, just like the little schoolkids.
And just when you thought there were no more surprises, the piano player in the orchestra plays a simple scale out of nowhere.
WILL: What the hell was that?
DAGNY: It was somebody learning to play the piano, just like Mr. Edwards is learning how to read.
WILL: Huh! Kind of a stretch, David Rose.
That’s it – hope you had enough tissues on hand. Longest recap ever . . . but thanks for reading.
STYLE WATCH: Mr. Edwards wears a new outfit (so it can get drenched in blood).
Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: This story is really sad and delicate, with a script that’s subtle enough to catch both John AND Mr. Edwards’s pain authentically.
One reason I adore it (and this show generally) is because it’s bighearted enough to love manly-men like Mr. Edwards (and my dad), as well as sissies like John (and me). The Little House perspective is that, whatever our differences, we should still try to understand each other, and even if we can’t, really, love is possible.
We could all learn from it. Even if learning is hard.
UP NEXT: The Talking Machine