The Pride of Walnut Grove

The Crochet One; or

Is This Rated Thirteen-Plus Because Charles Has Sex With Mrs. Whipple?

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Pride of Walnut Grove

Airdate: January 28, 1976

Written by Arthur Heinemann

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Mary is sent to a math competition in Minneapolis, where she experiences a psychotic break.

RECAP: I know it’s absurd to talk about serious things in the context of a silly blog like this, but I’ve got Ukrainian-born people in my life who are very dear to me.

I’m not a religious person, as you might know if you’re a regular reader, but I’m literally praying for them, their families, their friends, their people, and all of us in this world. I pray for an end to brutality, selfishness, and stupidity. And I pray for peace.

I hope you’re reading this at some not-too-distant future date when things are looking better for our planet. If you’re not, I hope you’ll pardon me for writing and posting my nonsense when important things are happening on such a scale. I’ve never been accused of having especially good taste; but I truly believe making jokes isn’t necessarily an indicator of callousness. Some of us just have to get stuff out of our system that way.

Anyways, thanks as always for reading. Off we go. 

WILL: This is the crochet one I’ve been telling you about.

DAGNY: Oh yeah?

WILL: Well, I shouldn’t really call it “the crochet one.” I don’t want you to get too excited.

DAGNY: Because the crocheting’s in it for like thirty seconds, right?

WILL: If that.

A note before we begin: this episode didn’t air until two weeks after “The Talking Machine.” On January 21st, 1976, Little House was preempted for Jonathan Winters Presents 200 Years of American Humor, a special in which the comedian impersonated Francis Scott Key, Mark Twain and the like. 

They started with the bicentennial crapola right away that year, I guess

And perhaps this project is finally beginning to drive us crazy . . . because Dags and I both felt the opening theme sounded different during the credits. It wasn’t a new arrangement, just a slightly different mix, with a little more bass throughout, and a lot less violin section in the main melody.

Don’t bother writing in if you think we’re insane. We probably are.

The madness begins. . . .

Anyways, we open on some sort of little scamp or urchin racing down the thoroughfare at breakneck pace.

Don’t get your hopes up that it’s Willie, like I did, because it isn’t.

As the haze clears, it actually appears to be one of the Ambiguously Ethnic Kids (AEKs). 

The other AEK, we see, is idling in the roadway as his brother passes. Possibly about to urinate, from the look of it.

Thankfully, Haskell B. Boggs pans away before this can occur. You can always trust Little House to make the right call where such matters are concerned.

The AEK holds in his hand a piece of paper. He’s going so fast you expect him to be screeching “SPECIAL DELIVERY!” or “EXTRY EXTRY!” or something like that, but he isn’t.

DAGNY: He runs funny. Actually, maybe it’s just the cut of his shirt and pants. He’s like Popeye on the top and toothpicks on the bottom.

When the AEK hits the school, he does start screeching.

School’s not in, but we see both Laura and Mary are there, erasing the board together.

The AEK hands the letter over to the Bead with a rather thorough report of its provenance. 

Beadle declines to tip him, though. A job well done is its own reward, in her book.

Miss Beadle reads the letter and immediately cries out for Mary. It’s clearly some sort of honor for the Brainiac, and the Bead congratulates her heartily.

You thought I was exaggerating, didn’t you?

Laura says they have to tell Ma and Pa right away, and asks if they can finish erasing the blackboards tomorrow. Miss Beadle says sure. (This school has a total of TWO boards, meaning the task of erasing them, shared by two people, should take no more than thirty seconds total, so I don’t know why it needs delaying. But whatever.) 

Unusually, the AEK gets a credit (“Small Boy”) in this episode. He’s Ricky Segall, who would go on to contribute voices to Shirt Tales, Monchhichis, and other wretched Saturday morning cartoons readers my age will remember. 

Speaking of Shirt Tales, we then cut to the Little House, where Caroline is using Charles as a dummy to make a shirt.

Astonishingly, she’s fitting his new shirt over Pinky and not his bare flesh. As everyone reading this knows, it’s quite unlike Michael Landon to miss an opportunity to go shirtless. 

Previously on Little House

Your guess is as good as mine why he kept his top on this time. (Bacne outbreak?)

Caroline tells Charles to hold still a couple times, meaning she’s already had more dialogue here than in the last three stories put together. I think there’s hope for the character yet.

And in fact, the two of them are quite flirty and frisky for the first time in a while.

But the chances of physical love are slim at the moment, since Charles is covered with pins, and the girls are expected home soon besides. And actually, here they are.

Carrie comes running in with them. I don’t know what she was doing outside alone. She isn’t covered in water or blood, so it wasn’t falling into a well or being mauled by a bear.

Mary breathlessly says, “Remember that test we had to take three weeks ago in mathematics?” And in fact, she did mention a math test last time.

“It was the worst test I ever took in my whole life!” Mary shouts, even though all she gave us then was the throwaway remark “I got an A on the math test.” 

Previously on Little House

Mary jabbers her uncommonly high score means she’s been invited to Minneapolis for a state honors math competition.

Hilariously, Laura and Carrie sit down on the fireplace fender together in Rodin-ish attitudes.

Mary immediately ascends to the loft to start packing. 

Meanwhile, Charles and Caroline are frowning as they read Mary’s letter. “It doesn’t say a thing about paying for transportation or the hotel,” says Ma; “It sure doesn’t,” replies Pa.

DAGNY: Uh oh, cash on the barrel.

Charles says if the family wasn’t in such terrible financial circumstances, it might be possible, but they only have $2 (about $50) to their name at the moment.

WILL: Everything always turns out okay for them moneywise at the end of every story. What the hell do they do with it all between episodes?

Pa goes up to give Mary the bad news. 

DAGNY: Why doesn’t he have a nickname for Mary?

WILL: He does. “Four-Eyes.”

DAGNY: No, I’m serious. It’s weird, right? She must really resent Laura over that.

Pa is still wearing the unfinished shirt pinned to Pinky, which gives this serious scene of a touch of absurdity.

He tells her. Mary starts gagging with unhappiness, then says, “Well, to be honest, Pa, I really didn’t want to go in the first place.” Voice shaking, she goes on for a long time about how horrible it would be to actually make the trip, then flees Charles’s presence.

Gaggin’ Mary

WILL: Why doesn’t he go back to Sprague at the bank and get a loan?

DAGNY: Yeah, he’d be sure to give him one now that they’re besties.

Previously on Little House

Later, Charles goes outside to brood. Caroline follows him out.

DAGNY: This conversation isn’t going to go well. He’s going to be an asshole and bite her head off.

But Charles actually just says how sad he is he can’t send Mary on the trip. He even compliments Caroline on always having such a good attitude in the face of scarcity.

DAGNY: He’s actually being nicer than I thought.

Caroline tells him to come back inside to the family, and they go together, arm in arm.

DAGNY: Wow, an outside nighttime conversation that ends well. That is rare.

In bed that night, Laura admits she was jealous about something so good happening to Mary, and apologizes for it.

WILL [as MARY]: “It’s okay. Don’t worry, there are very bad things on my horizon.”

Mary says she gets jealous of Laura too, sometimes worrying that she’s Pa’s favorite.

DAGNY [as LAURA]: “Well, he does love me more. He doesn’t even have a nickname for you.”

As the conversation’s fizzling out, Mary says not to tell Miss Beadle, because she doesn’t want her to think they’re poor.

WILL: Oh, good Lord, Mary, she knows. This is like the eighth time something like this has happened.

DAGNY: They should just go out selling drugs again.

WILL: Yeah, or they could do like in Les Miz.

[DAGNY gasps.]

WILL: God, I meant selling their hair, not prostitution. Is that what you thought?

DAGNY: No, I was gasping because there’s finally a new Geico commercial.

The next day, we join the schoolkids just as class is letting out. Attendees today include Not-Albert, the AEKs, Not-Quincy Fusspot, Not-Linda Hunt, and a little blonde girl we’ve seen a couple times who surely must be the smallest Nondescript Helen of them all.

Mary tries to bolt, but freezes when she hears the Bead’s voice sounding like the Hammer-Strokes of Doom.

She must heed the call, and turns to face Beadle the Great and Terrible.

The Bead fixes Mary with her eyeglasses-y stare, then stabs her with some questions about why she decided not to compete in the state honors math thing after all.

Mary, forgetting Miss Beadle knows the precise smell of her bullshit from two times past, says she just doesn’t like math, and other ludicrous lies.

Ludicrous lyin’ Mary

(Speaking of math, there’s some really bizarre stuff on the board behind the Bead.)

(Why are there two fours? Why are there two fives, and two sixes? And are elementary-school kids really doing math problems in the tens of billions?)

Miss Beadle, still peering skeptically through her glasses like Larry David, eventually says, “Well, if that’s the way you feel, then your alternate will make the trip instead.”

DAGNY: Wait a minute. If it’s an invitational for all the best students in the state, why would she send an alternate? It’s based on test scores, right?

WILL: It’s a bluff. She thinks if she says Nellie gets to go, Mary’ll start wailing and confess.

But Mary, often a tough customer, doesn’t crack, just stumps out.

The Uncrackable Mary Ingalls

Clever Laura, though, makes up an excuse to run back to school, which she does to some of the wackiest music we’ve had on the show so far. It’s hard to describe in words, of course. Maybe it sounds like what you’d have in a scene with the elves in Santa’s workshop or something? Or dancing toadstools in a ballet?

Actually, Dagny found the right words as usual:

DAGNY: This is some weird fucking music, David.

Anyways, so Laura blabs to the Bead.

Bead-blabbin’ Laura

That night Pa is fake-fiddling. 

DAGNY: He could sell his fiddle!

WILL: Oh my God, how could you ever suggest such a thing?

DAGNY: If it was Laura he would.

Mary is smiling as she listens, so she’s doing okay, but the tune is slow and sad. Pa’s folk-tune selections are like a mood ring.

Then hark! A knock at the door!

It’s Miss Beadle and Mr. Hanson. Hanson says when he found out about Mary’s financial sitch he called a special meeting of the school board, who agreed to give her a full scholarship for the trip.

Charles looks down, then starts to decline the offer.

DAGNY: UGH!!!

WILL: Come on, do the right thing, Chuck.

Hanson and the Bead say they won’t take no for an answer, since it’s great publicity for the town.

DAGNY: Yeah, I’m sure it’ll boost tourism. People will flock to Walnut Grove to stare at Mary.

WILL: “Look, the famous Four-Eyes!”

Charles looks around the room hopelessly.

DAGNY: Actually, they’re taking a page out of Charles’s book with their meddling. It’s a taste of his own medicine.

Finally Pa grins, turns to Mary and says, “Looks like you better start packing!”

DAGNY: Whew. I’m really glad the whole thing isn’t about them trying to scrounge up the money. There have been too many like that already.

Everyone hugs. Miss Beadle even squeezes Mr. H’s arm. (Remember, she has competed with Doc for his affections in the past.)

Squeezin’ Bead
Previously on Little House

Oh, and Laura and the Bead wink at each other.

The clever people gotta stick together in this town

The day of the trip arrives, and Mary brings her carpetbag down. 

WILL: So Charles is never gonna fix that wall in the bedroom?

DAGNY: No.

Ma is getting ready to go too, and says Mrs. Whipple will be coming to help in her absence. 

WILL: The Whip, huh?

DAGNY: I guess Grace wasn’t available.

WILL: Well, she’s got her hands full now.

DAGNY: I guess. They could have had Laura stay over there.

WILL: But Pa isn’t GOING on the trip. Why do they need a woman to come at all? He knows how to cook, he does it all the time when they’re camping. It’s weird, right?

DAGNY: It is.

WILL: Do you think it’s for sex?

DAGNY: Yeah. “Now, the popcorn’s over here. . . .” 

WILL: [snorts with laughter]

DAGNY: But Caroline gets to pick the woman so there’s no competition. That’s why it’s Mrs. Whipple.

But then Ma mentions it’s a school day, so I guess it does make sense because Pa will be at the mill and can’t watch Carrie. We sort of assumed the contest would be over a weekend, but maybe not, because of church.

Then, there’s a sweet little Pa-and-Half-Pint bit where Laura says she feels bummed out because Mary’s so accomplished, and Pa says to Ma, you know what, Mrs. Whipple doesn’t need to come, because Laura is old enough to run the house by herself.

See? He really does love her more

Nicely, Ma agrees, and Laura says she won’t see them off to the stagecoach, since she’s got so many things to take care of at home.

DAGNY: This would be Olive for sure, pretending to be Ma, being the boss of the house.

WILL: Oh, you should have seen her when she was little, making us play restaurant every night at dinner.

Charles gives us a rare kissy-noise/giggle combo and off they go in the wagon to more weird music on the slide whistle.

DAGNY: Where is Jack? Why isn’t he going nuts like usual?

Jack does eventually appear out of nowhere, but Laura won’t let him in, saying “I don’t want you tracking up my house.”

We don’t get to see Caroline and Mary on the stagecoach, sadly, but we do see them get on the train. Mary marvels at how luxurious it is.

WILL: There should be a murder on the train they have to solve.

Everyone’s a suspect.

I enjoy train travel myself, only you really have to be prepared to arrive at your destination anywhere from one to twelve hours after the predicted time.

Then there’s a very cute exchange when Ma whispers to Mary that there are toilets on the train, which shocks her.

With any questions Mary had about Number One and Number Two now answered, off they go on the Number Three. (Sorry.)

DAGNY: I bet the train was the single most expensive thing they used on the show. I bet they had to plan the order of the episodes around it.

WILL: Maybe. But they used it when the homeopathic medicines were delivered. That seemed gratuitous – just to deliver a package?

DAGNY: Hmm, I suppose. Well, maybe it actually needed to be started every few days, like an old car in the winter.

That night, Laura is getting Carrie ready for bed, reading her “This is the House That Jack Built” (a period-appropriate choice).

Melissa Gilbert’s performance is rather adorable, and she tickles Carrie at the end.

Then she tells Carrie to “scooch down” into bed – an expression I wasn’t sure about, but it looks like it’s probably okay.

Then she goes out to the common room, where Pa is working on . . . I don’t know quite what.

WILL: What is that, a giant dried eggplant?

DAGNY: Oh my God.

Laura orders Pa to get up to finish his shirt fitting. He suppresses giggles throughout this activity.

Once finished, he returns to stitching the whatever-it-is.

WILL: Seriously, what is that?

DAGNY: He’s making a bagpipe, obviously.

Laura sits in the rocker to work on the shirt, and soon falls asleep.

We get a different view of the whatchamacallit.

WILL: I’ve got it. It’s a toilet seat for the privy.

Pa gently wakes her and sends her up to bed. She pauses on the ladder to make some closing remarks as “The Love of Willie Oleson” swells in the score.

DAGNY: I like that they had Laura stop halfway up the ladder so she’s eye-to-eye with Charles. Like, she’s growing up.

WILL: I didn’t catch who directed this one. Landon? Seems like a Landony visual idea.

DAGNY: Yeah, I thought the final shot when they’re talking outside had a Landony flair too.

(Actually, it’s Claxton!)

Finally she goes up, and Charles blows out the lantern, quite Landonishly.

DAGNY: Hm, this one’s rated thirteen-plus.

WILL: That’s because Charles really is going to have sex with Mrs. Whipple now.

Meanwhile, Mary and Caroline are trying to sleep in their Minneapolis hotel room, but finding it difficult. Mary is worrying about the test, and Ma is overstimulated by the voices and horse noise out in the street.

Today, Hennepin Avenue is thought of as downtown Minneapolis’s main drag, but in the 1880s it was Washington Avenue, according to the fascinating Historyapolis Project

Washington Avenue is still a major artery in the city; here’s a picture of it today, compared with an illustration of the same block that was drawn in 1882.

At least Ma seems to be enjoying the adventure, though. I’m glad they don’t have her barricading the door against the sadistic brutes of the evil city. 

Mary says she hopes there aren’t any fractions on the test, because she hates them. Ma, to her credit, resists the urge to make her trademark never-say-hate-not-even-as-a-joke speech.

Fraction-hatin’ Mary

Then Mary says she feels a terrible pressure to win the contest, since the taxpayers of Walnut Grove are financing her participation. She’s frightened she’ll let everybody down.

DAGNY: It’s realistic she’d feel that way.

WILL: Do you think so?

DAGNY: Yes, she totally would think that. It’s kid-thinking, feeling responsible for all the money they’re spending. You and I know they’re just proud of her for making the cut, but she wouldn’t.

Is-This-a-Good-Use-of-Tax-Revenue-Worryin’ Mary

The next morning, Laura struggles to get Carrie dressed, and burns the pancakes. Carrie also plays with the freshly gathered eggs and breaks a bunch of ’em. 

DAGNY: Ah, this is where it falls apart. This is just how it would be with Olive, the first day would be fine and then she’d get overwhelmed. And Carrie’s behavior is very believable. She’s pulling all the shit she knows she couldn’t get away with if Ma was there.

Plus the coffee boils over.

DAGNY: My God, what is happening there? I’ve never seen coffee foam like that.

WILL: I know, it’s still boiling over even after she moves it to the table. Now that’s some hot coffee.

All this is accompanied by on-the-nose comedy music from the bassoon.

Back in the metropolis, Mary is pacing the room muttering numbers.

Mutterin’ Mary

DAGNY: Oh, Mary, calm down.

WILL: She’s gonna have a breakdown and not be able to do it at all.

DAGNY: Totally. I have a friend that happened to, actually.

Me too. For many years into adult life I participated in musical competitions and performances, finally taking a step back in middle age because the stress was getting to be too much for me. I don’t miss it exactly, even though I enjoyed doing it. (What I miss, you see, is enjoying it.)

Anyways, Ma is putting her (stiff) bonnet on, obviously loving the large mirror in the hotel room – a luxury they don’t have at home. 

Mary suddenly screams, “Ma, I can’t remember anything!”

WILL: Slap her, Ma!

DAGNY: I don’t think she’s at that level of hysteria yet. Maybe just spray her with seltzer water.

Low-level-hysteria Mary

Mary finally puts on her Mario Mushroom/Holly Hobbie/Strawberry Shortcake bonnet.

Mary also puts on a heavyish coat, confirming we’re still in the fall of 1881.

Back in Walnut Grove, Laura comes into the Mercantile to sell eggs to Mrs. Oleson.

DAGNY: Hahaha, this is going to be good.

Mrs. O tries to screw Laura, ostensibly because the eggs are so small.

Laura says then she’ll take them to Mr. Hanson, who’s making a trip to Springfield and will sell them there for her. 

WILL: That’s pretty improbable. Stick to your guns, Harriet. 

But Mrs. Oleson gives in, uttering her catchphrase, “For Heaven’s sakes!”

Laura smirks, and gives her a Caroline-y “Good DAY, Mrs. Oleson.”

Ha!

At the testing site, the place is crowded with kids and parents. Mary looks sick to her stomach.

WILL: Hey, do you recognize that kid?

DAGNY: Is it Johnny Johnson?

WILL: No, it’s Amy Hearn’s grandson! Remember, the one Olive said looked like a leftover Gibb brother?

Previously on Little House

Speaking of the Gibbs, this next picture is probably my all-time favorite image of the Bee Gees:

Mary gets checked in by a dark-haired woman.

WILL: Do you recognize her?

DAGNY: I’m not sure. . . .

WILL: Picture her throwing straws everywhere.

DAGNY: Oh yeah, from Alice! You know, I actually felt like she was missing a hat – I knew she was a waitress or a nurse or something.

Mary enters the test room and a stout man steps onto a stage at the front.

We hear somebody call him “Mr. Potter,” and he’s played by John Howard, a movie actor of the thirties and forties who notably starred in The Philadelphia Story with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart.

John Howard (at right)

Howard was a naval hero in World War II, and then later a familiar TV bit player, typecast as authority figures like principals and doctors. (And he actually became a teacher in real life.)

Back in Miss Beadle’s classroom, Laura is thinking about Mary’s contest and chewing on her finger.

DAGNY: That’s gross, since when does she do that?

WILL: She did it in “At the End of the Rainbow.” It’s canon.

Previously on Little House

The Bead is stalking the perimeter of the classroom, and asks why the War of 1812 was called “Mr. Madison’s War.”

James Madison

Noticing Laura’s attention has wandered, the Bead pounces. 

But she just toys with her prey a bit, then lets her off the hook.

DAGNY: I really like the Bead’s hair. It’s always so puffed up.

Nellie eventually answers the history question.

Back in the testing zone, Mary puts on her glasses.

WILL: Her secret weapon.

DAGNY: Yeah, with the answers written inside.

The test begins, to spiny harpsichord accompaniment.

DAGNY: God, that woman’s wearing a sleeveless dress! Minneapolis, huh?

WILL: No, her sleeves are just the same color as her face.

Meanwhile, out in the hall, Caroline is crocheting.

DAGNY: Oh my God! Grassle has never crocheted in her life!

In the test room, David gives us the “Mary the Nerd” theme from “The Award” again – a very nice touch.

DAGNY: Is that a real harpsichord or a synthesizer? Is it too early for synthesizer?

WILL: No, they’ve used one a couple times. Late sixties/early seventies was the dawn of the synthesizer. Prog rock, you know, plus Switched-On Bach and the Moog.

Eventually there’s a lunch break, and Mary tells Ma she has no idea how well she’s doing. Ma says it doesn’t matter.

DAGNY: It’s a very Ma response. “Just drink your milk and let it go, because it’s not important.”

WILL: But she’s been there herself. She was a schoolteacher. She’s educated. She isn’t some bumpkin.

DAGNY: Yes – so she also knows it can all be wiped out in a blink. “It doesn’t matter, Mary, because someday you’ll probably be a farmer’s wife and it’ll all be for naught.”

WILL: Yikes, that’s a depressing interpretation.

DAGNY: Well, you try being a woman in the Nineteenth Century.

Anyways, Mary goes back in. Ma hangs out in the hallway.

DAGNY: Wow, her boobs look great here.

Eventually the test ends, and the, um, testees reunite with their parents.

DAGNY: That kid in the front is so seventies.

Back in the common room, Laura’s put her hair in a bun. Pa says it looks nice, and it does.

They’ve just had supper, and Laura takes a cake out of the oven.

DAGNY: It’s an angel food cake, isn’t it?

WILL: She did buy cream of tartar in the last episode!

But the cake doesn’t turn out, and she’s disappointed.

Back at the hotel, Ma sleeps, but Mary stares psychotically into the night. She hears Miss Beadle’s and Mr. Hanson’s voices ringing in her head.

Psychosis Mary

WILL: God, sedate that kid.

DAGNY: This is totally birth order at work. Amelia would be exactly the same way, worrying into the night about a test, and Olive would be at home, kicking ass but thinking she’s fucking everything up. Whoever wrote this one has a good understanding of siblings.

WILL: It’s actually the guy who wrote “Doctor’s Lady.”

DAGNY: Hmm. Well, he didn’t understand dating, but clearly he had sisters.

Previously on Little House

The next morning, Laura is like gah, I was right, I can’t do anything properly.

Pa looks her square in the eye and says she did a great job. Then he adds, “Why, any man would be proud to have you for a wife.”

DAGNY: Here we go again. 

WILL: I know, last week I wrote about them always validating Laura for traditional “woman things,” even though she’ll go on to become famous for her thoughts and writings.

DAGNY: Well, they try to have it both ways. It’s a show where the girl is the lead, and there’s a little seventies feminism under the surface. But it’s also man-driven and sexist, like, all the time, and the attitude is, “We can get away with that, because it’s the 1800s.”

In Minneapolis, everybody reassembles in the test room. At least they took a day to check the answers. Miss Beadle would be announcing the winners like five minutes after the test.

Mr. Potter says, “The Minnesota mathematics champion is Miss Mary . . . O’Donnell!”

Our Mary claps, but vacantly.

Vacantly-clappin’ Mary

Then Potter says the first runner-up is Mary Ingalls!

WILL: Wouldn’t they announce the runner-up first?

DAGNY: I don’t know. Maybe building suspense before a big announcement was a Twentieth-Century development.

WILL: Yeah, and it was invented by Richard Dawson.

Third place goes to a “Master Jonathan Wiccan.” Call me crazy, but I suspect he used witchcraft, and thus should be disqualified, or at least put in the dunking stool to find out for sure if he cheated.

I’m JUST KIDDING, of course. Wiccans are just like anybody else and I love ’em. Blessed be, witches!

Back on the train, Mary is too depressed to eat and goes walking around the train recriminating herself.

DAGNY: That’s totally Mimi.

Self-recriminatin’ Mary

She stands staring off the platform on the back of the train. The mood is ominous.

WILL: Oh my God, it’s Anna Karenina.

DAGNY: Yeah, or like Vicki from Love Boat called it that one time, “El Dive-O.”

Anna Karenina, by Ekaterina Pozdnia

Speaking of Love Boat, I know we’re late in the game for digression like this, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to work it in. Regular readers will know Dagny and I sometimes unwind in the evening watching the Love Boat marathon channel on Pluto TV.

Love Boat is both excruciating and addictive. The plots are universally stupid, usually offensive by the standards of our time, or any time, and often baroque in their sheer oddity.

For instance, in an episode we watched recently (“The Misunderstanding,” 1983), a young woman (Morgan Brittany) hates her washed-up movie-star mother (Arlene Dahl) because Mom was nowhere to be found when the daughter underwent a traumatic eye transplant years earlier. Only Morgan Brittany learns when she encounters her on the cruise that her mom was actually the donor. More than that, losing her “sparkling eye” was what destroyed her mom’s acting career!

(Like, the fuck, right? No, I’m NOT making it up.)

Once everything is explained, the two become reconciled. And in truth, we’ve never seen a Love Boat where a passenger’s behavior is so bad it can’t be forgiven by the writers by the finale, up to and including a man (Pernell Roberts) beating his wife (Gayle Hunicutt) (“The Mallory Quest,” 1980), and another (Jack Carter) trying to patronize a prostitute (Caren Kaye) behind his wife’s (Jayne Meadows’s) back ON THE BOAT (“The Business of Love,” 1978). It’s quite horrible, actually.

By the end of each Love Boat, you’re so sick of the guest stars and their idiotic storylines that you wish you could remove the part of your brain that contains any memory of them. And yet, when the next episode starts, you hear the awesome theme, your brain starts to produce a kind of amnesiac chemical, and by the time you see that familiar Guest Stars in Alphabetical Order title, you can’t help but think, “I wonder who’s going to be on this one. . . .”

Well, I suppose there are worse addictions to have.

Anyways, even if you don’t remember The Love Boat, you’ll probably know many Little House cast members and guest stars made appearances. In a previous recap, we discussed the one where Alison Arngrim plays the spoiled star of a Disney Channel-type Y/A show. (“America’s Sweetheart,” 1981.) 

Alison Arngrim (at right), with Vicki

So, judge of our excitement the other night when the opening credits announced Melissa Sue Anderson as one of the passengers!

The setup is this: Gopher is expecting his sister, an overweight teenager he nicknamed “Chubs,” to join him on the cruise. (In fact, the title of the story is “Chubs.”)

This sister is coming because she’s approaching her eighteenth birthday. (Those of us who lived in the late Twentieth Century will remember people often went on singles cruises with their siblings to celebrate this rite of passage.)

But when she arrives, we learn Chubs is no longer fat, but rather has metamorphosed into the slender form of Missy Anderson. 

But our delight quickly turned to horror when we got into the story. Chubs is dying to lose her virginity on her eighteenth birthday, and sets her sights on Doc Bricker (Bernie Kopell), who fans of the series will remember is presented as irresistible to women for reasons unknown to the audience. (The Love Boat Universe operates by its own rules, as much as or more than Little House does.)

Doc (Bricker, not Baker)

Chubs behaves as little like Mary Ingalls as can be imagined. She drinks, disco dances, and attempts to seduce Doc every time she encounters him, saying suggestive things like “Dancing with you is a real turn-on” and “I’m not in the mood . . . for ice cream.”

But it wasn’t until she appeared in a black bikini and threw herself at Doc in a stateroom, saying “I want to learn from someone who has a lot of experience . . . I want to learn from you!” that we began literally screaming in horror.

The “worlds collide” element was simply too much to bear, not to mention the fact that Bernie Kopell was 45 when they filmed it and MSA was actually only sixteen. There’s a lot of offensive shit on Love Boat, but 16/45 crosses a line even for them. Especially when the sixteen-year-old in question is Ol’ Four-Eyes herself!

The storyline ends with a fizzle, thank God. Doc, who despite having the reputation of a libertine actually rarely gets laid on the show, tells her she should save her virgin-knot to be broken by her true love. (It’s a Shakespearean expression, don’t blame me for making it up.)

Her first time, Doc says, should not be a middle-aged sleaze of below-average attractiveness wearing blast-shield glasses, like himself. (Paraphrase.)

But by that point it’s too late, and the show can’t really make up for the fundamental prurience of the storyline.  

The episode is from 1978, and you can watch all the MSA parts here, if you dare:

Oddly, a couple days later we saw another episode that featured an identical plotline, only this time the girl was Kim Richards (Olga Nordstrom), and she was trying to seduce Gopher, not Doc. (“Hyde and Seek,” 1982.)

Dags and I were both small children when these episodes aired, but if anyone with better memories can answer the following question, we’d love to hear from you:

What the fuck was wrong with people during this period in pop-culture history?

Anyways, now for the exciting conclusion of “The Pride of Walnut Grove.” Of course we don’t get any El Dive-O from the back of the train, and back in school, Nellie is collecting homework assignments. Willie is conspicuously absent from this story, and the Kid With Very Red Hair appears to have been recast again.

For unknown reasons, the Bead decides to publicly grill Laura about how she thinks Mary did in the competition, whilst Nellie stares acidly down at her.

WILL: Why is the Bead being like this? “Guess how she did! Go on, guess! Say it, say it!”

Laura says she hopes her sister won, then crosses her fingers (a custom with ancient origins).

DAGNY: Do you think she’s really hoping Mary lost?

WILL: No. Ever since she prayed for the baby to die and he did, she doesn’t mess around with that voodoo shit.

Now we do get to see inside the stagecoach, as Ma and Mary near home. Mary is still sulking.

Sulkin’ Mary

As they enter Walnut Grove, we hear a band playing and see all the townsfolk are holding congratulations signs and waving.

Mary freaks out. “Ma, they think I won!” she squeals.

DAGNY: Oh my God.

WILL: Shut up, Mary.

DAGNY: Shut up, Mary!

Freakin’ and squealin’ Mary

When the coach stops, Pa comes running up. (We see, I think for the first time, that the coach is called the “Butterfly Stage.”)

Mary bawls, “Pa, I didn’t win! Please tell them – make them go away!”

Pa smiles and says that they got a telegram with the test results, and the celebration is for her fantastic second-place finish.

DAGNY: Ma’s like, “See what I’ve been dealing with this entire time?” She’s practically pushing her out of the carriage.

Bawlin’ Mary

Everybody screams and cheers. Willie’s still missing, oddly. Too bad – I’m sure he would have made a real contribution to the occasion.

Mr. Hanson makes a little speech about how proud they all are of Mary. Mary’s tears become tears of joy.

DAGNY: Oh, Hanson’s such a sweetie-pie. I just want to pinch his little cute cheeks.

Mary turns to face the applauding crowd.

DAGNY [as MARY, screaming]: “I can’t see! . . . I CAN’T SEE!!!”

And on that note, gentle readers, I bid you Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: The wallpaper in the hotel room is a very 1970s notion of a Nineteenth-Century pattern.

Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT:

DAGNY: Well, that was a good one.

WILL: Yeah. Not much to it, but it was. Plus it’s nice they let Caroline come back to life again.

And speaking of which:

UP NEXT: A Matter of Faith (!!!!!)

We’re sharpening our knives . . . how about you?

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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