An Ingall in Time; or
Who Wrote This One, Jimmy Carter?
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Airdate: March 17, 1976
Written by John Hawkins
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL:
An immigrant tries to help people understand what America is really all about. And because it is a fictional story, the people actually learn something.
WILL: Biden’s in town this week.
DAGNY: Oh yeah?
WILL: Yeah, for Mondale’s funeral.
DAGNY: Are you going to invite him over to watch Little House?
WILL: He’d love this one. [as JOE BIDEN:] “Paying taxes is patriotic, you stupid son of a bitch!”
Relax, we’re not going to get bogged down in politics today. In plenty of other things, yes, but not in politics.
We open on a shot of the thoroughfare.
The composition is unusual. A stagecoach drives away to the north, whilst Mrs. Oleson, Mrs. Foster, and a man I’m fairly sure is Tom Carter gather on the Post Office porch.
Mr. Hanson appears from inside, and crosses the street.
Then Tom Carter lumbers off through town.
Mrs. F waits a beat, then does the same with a carefree, “nothing unusual about THIS” attitude.
And then a few seconds later, Mrs. O comes down too.
If you’re like me, you have one question at this point.
WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF CONSPIRACY IS THIS???
From how suspicious they’re acting, I half-expected the Post Office to explode once they were clear, like in Children of Men. (A masterpiece, and very relevant to our times, if you haven’t seen it.)
I suppose my fantasy is just a product of these paranoid times, because despite the showrunner’s known love of explosions, the Post Office doesn’t blow up. This story does deal with anti-government sentiment, but it does not turn four of our beloved Grovesters into terrorists.
Or rather, three beloved Grovesters, and Tom Carter.
We shift away at this point to the mill, where we see Mr. Hanson, “Sharles,” Mr. Edwards, and a hefty-ish bearded guy we’ve never seen before.
If you think he looks like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, you’re not being racist, or at least not just being racist.
The music is a factor, since David Rose is giving us some Eastern European flavors in the score.
But you may also be recognizing the actor as Theodore Bikel, a hugely talented guy who over a long career distinguished himself on stage and screen as well as in the recording studio.
He was not the first actor to play Tevye, nor the most famous, but at the time of his death in 2015 he had done the part more times than any other performer, upwards of 2,000 times. (A record he still holds today.)
Fiddler is a fave in our house. For one, the folk of my hometown still discuss my star turn as the tailor Motel Kamzoil at the age of fifteen with reverence.
For two, we once went as a family to a live performance of the show we enjoyed so much, we wanted to give it the Rocky Horror treatment, dressing up like the characters, singing along, and bringing along things like chickens and sewing machines to throw. (Next time!)
Actually, I know Bikel best from another stage musical, The Sound of Music, in which he created the role of Captain Von Trapp (a part he apparently didn’t like much).
Here he is singing “Edelweiss,” a song specially crafted for him:
Those two roles have resonance with Bikel’s real life, since he was himself an Austrian-born Jew whose family fled the Nazis in 1938.
He would go on to appear in many many things, including The African Queen, The Defiant Ones, My Fair Lady, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Charlie’s Angels, Columbo, Fantasy Island, Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote (three times), Star Trek: The Next Generation (as Worf’s foster dad), Law & Order, and a long-running Patrick Labyorteaux vehicle called JAG.
He also provided the voice of Aragorn in the Rankin/Bass version of The Return of the King, in 1980.
In the fifties and sixties, he palled around with folkies like Joan Baez and Peter Paul and Mary. He even allegedly talked Pete Seeger off the ledge when he wanted to wreck Bob Dylan’s amplifier with an ax at the Newport Folk Festival in 1962.
Anyways, Mr. Hanson, addressing the big man as “Yuli” (which given Hanson’s record may be the guy’s name, a nickname, or the name of the guy Hanson’s mistaken him for), shoves a newspaper into his hand.
Hanson tells him to read it aloud, but Yuli, who has a Slavic-type fake accent, reminds him he can’t really read English yet.
So Yuli hands the paper to Mr. Edwards, which of course makes Charles burst into mean laughter. I wonder if they break into literate vs illiterate volleyball teams for the company picnic every year?
Then Charles grabs the paper away and reads that “Governor David P. Applewood” has announced a statewide road improvement initiative.
In the real world, Minnesota never had a Governor of that name. At the time this story is set (which we’ll get to very shortly), the Governor was John S. Pillsbury, cofounder of the company that gave us Poppin’ Fresh.
But in the Little House Universe, apparently the Governor is named Applewood. I wonder if he’s related to the horrible Hannibal Applewood, recently vanquished from this show.
Anyways, Mr. Hanson practically does a repeat of the hippy-hippy shake he did when Red Buttons cured his headache last season.
Hanson says improved roads will mean expanded business opportunities for Walnut Grove. He tosses off “Yahs” and “You betchas” like a real proper Minnesotan; Karl Swenson’s parents were Swedish-born, which perhaps added a touch of authenticity to his performance.
Suddenly Laura and Mary come running up. In the background we see the Kid With Very Red Hair skulking on the one side . . .
. . . and Cloud City Princess Leia and Not-Joni Mitchell whispering like Skeksis on the other.
The Ing-Gals crash into Yuli, but they all laugh, so we know he’s a good egg.
Laura says, “Guess what, we’re a hundred years old!”
Pa turns to Hanson and says, “Well, I swear they don’t look it, do they,” and everybody shrieks with laughter.
When the mirth subsides, Laura informs them that Fourth of July will mark the centennial of the nation’s founding.
So I know I’ve nodded to this before, but there really is no way in hell we can still be in 1876 at this point in the saga.
And although it is tedious for reader and writer alike, there’s no choice but to examine the timeline to this point, right now, in detail. After all, if Walnut Groovy isn’t for questions like this, what the hell is it for?
I’ll say at the start that we have no choice but to accept Laura’s statement that it is 1876, impossible though it is. As much as it would simplify things if she had a concussion or some other condition that might make her misidentify the year, no one calls Doc Baker, and we will quickly see that the entire community corroborates her claim.
Now, unless I have missed something, and I really think I haven’t, to this point there have been just two specific references to the ACTUAL DATES when these stories are taking place.
First, in the pilot, no one mentions what year it is, but we see Charles has carved 1870 into the mantel at the little house in Kansas.
Then, in “Survival,” where the Ingallses get snowbound with a fugitive Dakota chief, Charles states “it’s been sixteen years” since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
That means “Survival” can only take place as early as 1878, two years after the centennial. (And in fact, as I argued at the time, I believe it’s actually set in late spring of 1879.)
Since “Survival,” the following relevant incidents have occurred, in this order:
- Johnny Johnson left Walnut Grove in the month of July (“To See the World”)
- The Ingallses planted and harvested potatoes (“The Richest Man in Walnut Grove”)
- Walnut Grove held its annual “Spring Dance”
- Mr. Edwards and Grace Snider got married on Thanksgiving Day (“Remember Me,” Part Two)
- The Ingalls and Oleson children collected leaves [over spring break from school] (“The Camp-Out”)
- Rev. Alden and John Sanderson celebrated back-to-back birthdays (“The Gift,” “His Father’s Son”)
- Mrs. Oleson mentioned the weather was cooling; Laura and Nels stated it was the time of year when hens lay fewer eggs (“The Talking Machine”)
- Caroline and Mary wore heavy coats to travel to Minneapolis (“The Pride of Walnut Grove”)
- Charles took the kids swimming at Johnson(’s) Meadow (“A Matter of Faith”)
- Harvest season approached (“Troublemaker”)
- Charles and Mr. Edwards were unable to sell their grain and had to seek other work; the Ing-Gals threw a birthday party for Caroline (“The Long Road Home”)
- Caroline stated it was “a while before the first freeze”; Charles proposed borrowing money from Mr. Sprague and repaying it “at harvest time”; the Ingallses gathered mushrooms in a forest full of fallen leaves (“For My Lady”)
So, adding this information to our previous deductions, we come up with this schedule, which is THE ONLY CONCEIVABLE ONE THAT ALLOWS THE EVENTS OF ALL THESE STORIES TO OCCUR IN SEQUENCE.
No matter how you slice it, the data clearly indicate Laura must be wrong: It cannot be 1876.
So, how to reconcile this? Is it a case of mass delusion?
No, I don’t think so. Because notice one other thing.
While, or whilst, the period detailed above covers a span of thirteen years in what we’ve been calling Little House Universal Time (LHUT), Mary, Laura, Nellie and the rest of the kids certainly have not aged that much. Carrie scarcely seems to have aged at all, in fact!
Faithful readers (and I personally know at least one) will recall I once suggested the fictional Walnut Grove sits on a rift in the time-space continuum.
You should have read the mocking cards and letters I received after posting that . . . and yet now, EVEN THE MOST SKEPTICAL READER MUST ADMIT IT IS A HIGHLY LIKELY EXPLANATION.
After all, what other theory satisfactorily explains . . .
- Why the characters have not aged over the course of all this time passing (and why no one has noticed);
- How the Olesons’ separation, Doc’s (“lame”) courtship of Kate Thorvald, Mrs. Oleson’s recovery from her appendectomy, the typhus outbreak, the community intervention and detox of John Stewart the alcoholic, and Alan Fudge’s trip to Minneapolis (and subsequent disappearance and rescue) could all take place over the course of a single spring before the last (freak) snowfall;
- How Amy Hearn could survive into her mid-nineties in the 1800s;
- Why Caroline would forget her own birthday;
- Why the Widow Thurmond would be SERVING LEMONADE WHILE LEAVES ARE SIMULTANEOUSLY FALLING IN THE FOREST???
I think we can assume a few other things about this crack in time and space. Let’s use the metaphor of a volcano.
As with one of those:
- There may be long periods of dormancy between eruptions.
- Eruptions may be major or minor. What we experience in this story, for instance – Walnut Grove tumbling backwards in time at least six years – would qualify as a “major incident.”
- A minor eruption, on the other hand, would explain how so many events could be crammed into the spring of 1879 (as detailed above). 1880 and 1881 are easier to reconcile, but they are similarly “overstuffed,” suggesting a three-“year” period of moderate disturbances in time.
- Even during dormant periods, we can assume there are minor effects from activity beneath the “time crack” which, while real, are not necessarily perceptible to entities in its vicinity. The scientific term for this phenomenon, as some readers no doubt know, is “timey-wimey-ness.” It explains the Grovesters’ failure to notice anything odd about the kids not aging, or about the mysterious appearances and/or disappearances of “long-standing community members” like the Kennedys, that English’s guy’s mimey wife and Jodie-Foster-looking son, Olga Nordstrom and her whole family, “Tinker” Jones, the Ole Olafsens, John and Graham Stewart, Cobb and Fudge, Jim “Bull of the Woods” Tyler and his wife, the Mumfords, “Mean” Harry Baker, Jonah, Johnny Johnson, Henry Henderson, Sean Penn, the Bovine Growth Hormone Kid, Not-Dwight Schrute, Herman Stone, and the Widow Thurmond. Not to mention the Widow’s husband Arthur, and the late John Sanderson, Sr.!
- It may also explain (though I haven’t quite figured out the mechanism) the close resemblances that exist between Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Johnson, Mustache Man and the Studly Bearded Stranger, Ben Slick and his (two!) doppelgangers in Springfield, the Little Big Gray-Haired Farmer and the Little Big Gray-Haired PIG Farmer, and the three identical Victorian houses; the ongoing fluctuations in the Kid With Very Red Hair’s appearance; why Lice-Infested Arnold Lundstrom is sometimes called “Bert Miller”; why the Sanderson kids are so rarely seen in school; and why Mr. Edwards doesn’t remember meeting the President of the St. Paul Minneapolis & Manitoba line. (Though maybe he was just drunk.)
I know, I know, we must move on. But mathematicians, especially experts in quantum physics, are encouraged to write in with confirmation of my hypothesis!
All right, so zowee powee holy cow, we’re back in 1876, and I won’t mention the time rift again.
Laura says they’re having a party at school to celebrate the Centennial. As in the past, no explanation is given why school is in session in July. (But the time rift would also explain that!!!)
Laura also starts talking about the big Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, but Pa has to go and steal her thunder.
Pa and Mr. Hanson quickly endorse the idea of a town picnic for the Fourth. You’d think they’d be doing one anyway, but whatever.
Mr. Hanson says there’s no reason not to, since “We have the band, and we can get the fireworks!” (Actually, we know Nels keeps fireworks in stock.)
(The membership of the marching band remains mysterious. Previously we guessed they live in an underground cave from which they emerge, like most musicians, only at the promise of money.)
(Incidentally, the celebration of Independence Day with fireworks and bands dates back to the very beginning.)
Giggling, Mary says she’s planning to make a new flag, and asks Pa to make the flagpole; but Yuli pipes up and says he’d love to make it himself.
“That’s an awful lot of work,” says Pa. (Is it?)
But Yuli, whom Mary addresses as “Mr. Pyatakov,” pooh-poohs this concern.
I think it’s likely John Hawkins, who wrote this one, had in mind Georgy Pyatakov, a Trotskyist whose criticism of the Soviet system under Stalin ultimately resulted in his execution by the state. (It does amuse me that people who view Little House as beating the drum for right-wing politics miss stuff like this.)
That night at the Little House, the girls are working on the flag, and Pa is lecturing Ma about how wise they were to move to Minnesota, Land of Opportunity.
Ma, who if you ask me is wearing her Sex Face, tells the girls it’s bedtime. (We’ve seen in the past Pa’s lectures sometimes put her in the mood.)
Ignoring her, Laura starts blathering on about reenactments of the Battle of Lexington and Concord at the Philadelphia Expo. (I think I mentioned previously I once went to a French and Indian War battle reenactment, and oh my God did it suck.)
Laura suggests reenacting the Boston Tea Party. Pa says yeah, we could throw the tea in Plum Creek, and everybody brays laughter again.
ROMAN: Did they give them all laughing gas or something?
We never find out if Ma and Pa had sex (but who are we kidding – they did), because we cut away to the Pyatakov family home.
Yuli’s son is another super-familiar face: Ike Eisenmann.
DAGNY: Is that the kid from Escape to Witch Mountain?
WILL: Yes, it is.
DAGNY: I love that movie.
Me too. And the toothy, likeable Ike was in a lot of other things as well, including Wonder Woman, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Devil Dog: Hound of Hell.
We’ll see him again on Little House too.
The kid, Viktor, is teaching his dad how to read, when the mom comes into the room speaking Russian.
WILL: Now, she was the mom in real life of a recurring cast member. She was really Russian, I think.
OLIVE: The Carries?
WILL: Come on.
DAGNY: Nellie’s mom was Canadian in real life.
ROMAN: Oh yeah?
OLIVE: Oh, I bet it’s one of Mr. Edwards’s kids. Alicia.
WILL: No. . . .
Yep, she’s Lisa Pera, Radames Pera’s mom.
But Yuli tut-tuts his wife, saying he and Viktor have agreed to talk only in English.
OLIVE: Why can’t they speak Russian? That’s ridiculous.
WILL: Your Great-Grandpa López was the same way. He didn’t want the kids growing up speaking Spanish.
OLIVE: I wish he had.
Mrs. Pyatakov just laughs pleasantly and brings out the borscht or what have you.
Yuli says a fairly patriotic prayer, and then, interestingly, the family makes the sign of the cross – from right to left, in the manner of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Yuli then says that despite only being in America for six months and Walnut Grove for four, he’s been given the honor of making the centennial flagpole. As others have noted, it’s odd that Viktor speaks perfect English with an American accent if they immigrated less than a year ago.
DAGNY: What’s he going to make the flagpole out of?
WILL: Wood, I guess.
DAGNY: If it was Tinker Jones it would be solid gold.
The three of them smile and chat happily about how nice everybody in Walnut Grove is, which we know from the sad case of Alan Fudge and Julie Cobb means by the end of this story they’ll be humiliated and ostracized by the community for sure.
We cut to the Post Office, where Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude is delivering something to Grace. “Thank you, Joe!” she says.
That makes him Joe Nelson, huh? Well, that’s quite the revelation.
Mr. Edwards appears out of nowhere and offers to help Grace carrying in the mailbags, though they don’t look very heavy to me.
Grace throws her arms around Mr. Ed, but he says it’s probably against regulations to kiss the Postmistress-General while she’s on duty.
Grace gives her husband a piece of mail to deliver to Pyatakov. She’s gotten pretty loosey-goosey about the rules where that’s concerned.
Mr. Ed takes off singing “Old Dan Tucker” for the first time in a while, which despite Dagny’s professed hatred for the song, cracked her up.
Meanwhile at the mill, Mr. Hanson and Sharles are discussing a bent mill-shaft (or something).
WILL: This is Mr. Hanson’s last story. That thing falls and kills him.
Hanson says business is gangbusters, as he’s got back orders for “Davis, Makay, Parker, Wilson.” Mr. Makay, you’ll recall, is (Dumb) Abel’s dad. The other names are new to us.
Mr. Edwards and Yuli appear from opposite corners, and some of the dialogue overlaps briefly.
DAGNY: Did Robert Altman direct this one? Everybody’s talking over each other. The sound of the millstream is also a lot louder than usual.
Yuli opens his letter, which Charles helps him to decipher. It’s from the [Redwood] County Clerk and says the Pyatakovs owe seven years’ worth of back taxes on the property they just bought.
“Big mistake, no?” says Yuli hopefully.
“It probably is a mistake,” says Charles, once again saying the opposite of what he thinks in a stressful situation.
He advises Yuli to travel to Redwood Falls (the seat of Redwood County – founded 1862, and about 40 miles from Walnut Grove) and ask some questions.
Mr. Hanson, recognizing this as a serious situation, tells Yuli he can have the rest of the day off to make the journey. He says, “You come back tomorrow when the mill is running again,” though it would probably take a full day each way to make the trip.
He leaves, and David brings up some more tragic-sounding “Russian” music on the soundtrack.
WILL [to OLIVE and ROMAN]: I can’t believe you’re doing homework, as if that’s more important than Little House.
Then we see a big line-up at the Post Office. In it are Mr. Makay, Ben Slick, and, strangely, a man who’s identical to J.W. Diamond’s son Herbert.
Could be the time rift, of course, but most likely Diamond just cut Herbert off from the gravy train (HA HA HA!) and forced him to make his own way through life, like Sting with his kids.
Mr. Hanson passes by, and Mr. Makay, who’s just opened his mail, bitterly says he’s going to have to cancel his recent lumber order. His fake Irish or Scottish accent is more pronounced or at least faker than usual, probably due to his bad mood.
Makay gripes to Hanson that he also just received an unexpected tax bill.
Back at the mill, Charles and Mr. Edwards are working on the bent shaft. Mr. Hanson comes stumping back and says he’s going to have to shut down the mill, since everybody’s been screwed by an unexpected assessment to pay for the Governor’s transportation project.
DAGNY: It’s just like the sidewalk on our street.
“What’s the matter with them government people?” Mr. Edwards says angrily.
At a light, facetious fan blog like this (and in today’s ugly climate), I doubt anyone wants me to unpack the politics in this one, and I won’t.
But I’ll just say, in general, I believe in a lot of the values championed by Michael Landon’s Little House on the Prairie: family, friendship, community, kindness, open-mindedness. I think we should try to understand different types of people, try to make ourselves smarter (and if possible, help others become smarter too). I think it’s good to believe in something bigger than yourself (whatever that means to you), to help each other, to forgive each other.
I also hate many things the show holds in contempt: unfairness, acting in self-interest, judging outsiders, bullying, vengefulness, the idea that there’s only one right type of person or way to live, abuses of power.
I don’t make my own views any secret, and I agree with where this episode lands in the end. (Even if I think it’s a fairly shitty episode; but I’m getting ahead of things.)
Anyways, Charles opens his own envelope and finds he’s been hit by the taxman as well. Then he’s like, screw this, and walks away from the mill-shaft project.
It’s always shocking when he gives up, like when he thought the fake funeral scam was ruined and started eating birthday cake with his hands. (I love that this show gives me opportunities to write sentences like that.)
At the Mercantile, Mr. Makay, who has a big part in this one, is complaining to Nels about the taxes. The role of constant complainer might have gone to Mr. Kennedy, but he never returned after last season. I kind of miss him, actually.
All the Kennedys are gone now, in fact.
I think it’s fair to say Mr. K went berserk, finished off Christy, and is now locked up in the local mental hospital with Eric Boulton.
Mr. Makay, who’s extremely stingy in this one (maybe because he’s a Scotsman?), scoffs that he doesn’t understand why they needed better roads in the first place.
WILL: He’s just like our neighbors against the sidewalk who say, “I’ve never seen kids on this street!” even though there’s a fucking elementary school in the middle of the block.
Charles and Mrs. Oleson come in (separately) and everybody talks over each other again.
Mrs. Oleson says she’s sick of people complaining when “they got what they voted for.” Of course, neither she nor any other woman in town voted for anything.
Then she opens her own tax bill and starts screaming her head off, as we see a poster advertising the Fourth of July festival. I wonder who makes them? Not Mr. Edwards.
Back at the Little House, Charles readies an angry letter to “that Seth Pauley,” the County Clerk, complaining about the increase in “my” taxes.
(I used to love crank letters, before public expressions of anger became as common as the wind blowing. Dagny’s dad once sent one to the Canadian Tire Corporation because they wouldn’t let him return a coffee maker. As a PS, he added that, since he had something like $11 worth of “Canadian Tire Bucks” at home, and since he would never be setting foot in a Canadian Tire store again, it was as if they had stolen that $11 from him. He kept a carbon copy of the letter (!), which was treasured by Dags and her sister.)
“Taxation without representation, huh, Pa?” says Laura, which is a Revolutionary War reference, but which also sums up quite well the situation of American women before they got the vote.
Ma and the girls are at work making the flag. Mary says Mrs. Whipple donated the fabric.
DAGNY: God, she’s always going on about Whipple. She’s probably mentioned more than any other character. She’s mentioned more than we see Carrie. You’ll have to add a new permanent feature to the blog, a Whipple-ometer.
But Pa just gripes and grumps. He says he expects the picnic will be canceled, because “the people” aren’t “in the mood” for one. Apparently he thinks Caroline, Mary, Laura and Carrie don’t count as people, when we all know only Carrie doesn’t.
Then Pa huffs out. Ma tries to salvage the enthusiasm for the flag project, but he really harshed everyone’s buzz.
After a commercial break, Laura’s brushing her hair for bed whilst Mary snarks.
Laura contemplates using the power of prayer to make Pa love America again and un-cancel the picnic.
OLIVE: Laura’s pretty cute in this episode.
Cute or not, Mary tells her to go the fuck to sleep.
Mary says it’s stupid to pray about such a thing when God’s got bigger problems to worry about. This attitude seems not only un-Christian, but un-Ingallsy.
Laura quotes Aldi as saying God “marks the fall of every sparrow” (a reference to Matthew 10:29), which she interprets to mean prayers are never wasted.
I don’t know why they’re ignoring the elephant in the room here, which is that Laura has literally USED THE POWER OF PRAYER TO KILL in the past.
Cut to the Bead, sitting at her desk reading aloud to the kids from a magazine.
It’s called The Young Ladies’ Journal, and while there was a real magazine of that name at the time, it was British, so I’m not sure how Miss Beadle got her hands on one. (Strike that, looks like there was an American edition.)
She blathers on about unrelated things like soda fountains, Egypt and beehives, and it isn’t clear what she’s talking about at first. I suppose reading from a magazine was the Nineteenth-Century equivalent of putting on a movie in class, which is what Alexander’s teachers do half the time if you can believe him.
The Bead suddenly activates her scanners, revolving her head around the room and demanding a definition of pagoda, a word used in the article.
Laura and Willie both guess wrong, but the Bead must be in a mild mood because she doesn’t send them to the corner or incinerate them.
Only then does she bring the audience up to speed, telling us we’ve been listening to the sounds of a Philadelphia Centennial Expo recap (snore).
Having come to the end of the article, she moves the class into open session.
In school today we find Viktor, Mary, Laura, the Kid With Very Red Hair, Not-Linda Hunt, Nondescript Helen, Not-Joni Mitchell, Nellie, Willie, Cloud City Princess Leia, and, in a real shock, all three Sanderson kids!
This is literally the first time we’ve ever seen them in class, though we have seen them walking to and fro from school at times.
There’s also the kid who just looks like Carl . . .
. . . and then one more kid who also looks like Carl, but has black hair.
Everyone starts talking about how all the dads in town have turned anti-picnic.
“Well, I’m very sorry to hear that!” says the Bead with surprising anger. Don’t shoot the messenger, lady.
A flag-making faction comprising Mary, Laura and Viktor begins to coalesce, and Beadle takes their side.
Suddenly, she suggests they have their own celebration, in class. Laura told us they were already going to do this, but knowing her, she just said that to trick Pa into agreeing to the picnic.
Then Beadle calls for a vote on it for some reason.
Back in the Little House yard, Charles is banging pegs into logs, possibly just to blow off steam.
Mr. Edwards appears and says Grace asked him to return Charles’s letter. He says a county representative is coming in person, so anybody who wants to can tell him off to his face.
Then we cut immediately to all the Grovester men lined up outside the school, which apparently has been relegated for the town hall meeting or whatever format it’s going to be.
DAGNY: This episode is so depressing.
WILL: It certainly is.
DAGNY: I’m afraid this is what’s going to happen here. Russia’s going to attack our financial system and we’re all going to be begging in the streets.
ROMAN: This show is so fun to watch together as a family.
Yuli is back, saying he went all the way to Redwood Falls but was unable to get an appointment with the County Clerk.
Mr. Edwards arrives late and chit-chats with his friends a bit, then gets in the back of the line, which is quite polite given they probably would have let him butt.
I won’t go into it, but all I can say is, if only all attendees of the 2019 Minnesota State Fair had had such manners!
In the middle of the line, Hanson and Makay are talking about how it’s not even the County Clerk himself who’s come, but only a deputy named Snell.
“Snell?” says Mr. Makay. “That sounds like somethin’ eatin’ me cabbage plants!” I’ll admit I chuckled, even if that does sound like a rejected joke from a Leprechaun movie.
A sad-looking man comes out. You may recognize him as the Alamo Tourist from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, last seen rooting for Sleepy Eye in “In the Big Inning.” Must be another recent transplant to Walnut Grove.
Then the Deputy Clerk calls Yuli in. He looks like he could be Nels’s brother.
WILL: He looks like he could be Nels’s brother.
ROMAN: Maybe he is Nels’s brother. You know, like that circus woman.
The actor is William Schallert, another character actor whose face is familiar from too many TV shows to name. (The Patty Duke Show, Star Trek: The Original Series AND Deep Space Nine, Get Smart, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Sheriff Lobo (remember that?), The Waltons, St. Elsewhere, The Torkelsons, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (yay), Coach, Desperate Housewives, True Blood . . . and that’s just scratching the surface.)
In the line, Mr. Makay continues to whisper anti-government sentiments into Mr. Hanson’s ear. He complains that the Governor of Minnesota gets paid a salary of $5,000 ($100,000 today – I’ve gone back to the 1870s conversion).
I was able to find the Minnesota Governor’s salary from 1876, which was specified in the state constitution at the time. It actually was only $2,500 ($50,000).
Small potatoes compared to this year, when it’s gone up to $174,000.
Inside, Mr. Snell is fairly gently telling Yuli that when he bought his property, he assumed the liability for seven years of back taxes.
Snell advises Yuli to meet with the Clerk himself, and when he says he’s been unable to do so, writes him a note.
Outside, Mrs. Oleson comes running up to join Nels for their appointment with Snell.
DAGNY: Oh, she’s wearing my favorite combo.
We see Mustache Man has joined the line.
Mr. Makay continues his miserable grumbling.
DAGNY: Oh, and we even just got through Tax Week! Is that why you picked this one?
WILL: No, just going in order.
Then we get a scene where Nels tries to hide their assets from the tax guy, but Harriet can’t help bragging about how rich and successful they are.
DAGNY: Oh, she’s not as stupid as this.
WILL: No, if anything they’ve characterized her as having financial sense and Nels as being the naive one. If they need to make her the villain, she should be the biggest tax cheat in town.
They wind up listing all their property, which includes two horses.
DAGNY: They have horses?
Back out in line, the farmers are saying they wish there was an income tax, so a higher burden would be paid by people who earn more. In real life, an income tax had been imposed during the Civil War, but it was repealed in 1872, and it’s true that farm advocacy groups like the Grange did favor reinstating one.
Snell calls Charles next, but instead of following him in, we cut back to the Little House, where Caroline is up on a ladder.
WILL: She’s breaking windows to make their home look less valuable.
DAGNY: That’s smart.
Charles comes walking down the driveway, having gone to town on foot for some reason. (Probably to save money on gas, uh haw haw haw haw.)
Charles apparently got nowhere with the Deputy Clerk, and over the ol’ rainbarrel tells Caroline they were lucky to break even once the bill was paid.
WILL: Good thing he didn’t borrow money for those dishes.
When Caroline tells him it could be worse, he practically splashes her with water in retaliation.
She says, “Why, there was a time when we had to borrow twelve nails from Mr. Edwards.”
WILL: I don’t believe that.
Charles is not placated.
DAGNY: He’s such a pouty baby.
He huffs and puffs and heads out to the barn.
WILL: Is he going to stomp a chicken to death?
OLIVE: Yeah, like Patrick Bateman. Cheers a person up.
Back at the Pyatakov place, night has fallen, and Mama is sitting at the table worrying.
Yuli and Viktor come in; apparently they’ve been to Redwood Falls and back already. (Perhaps it’s the next day, or it could be the You Know What.)
“Fanya,” Yuli says to her, “we lose the land.”
After the commercial, we see Harriet and Nels are grouchily revising their inventory at the Mercantile when Charles comes through the door.
WILL [as NELS, angrily]: “Now what the hell do you want?”
Charles wants some goods, but before Nels can sell them to him, Harriet comes running out to say the prices on everything have gone up because they have to pay their taxes too.
Annoyed, Charles leaves. Hanson flags him down and says he’s reopening the mill. They’ve got some new orders, including one from Makay, who’s apparently simmered down a bit.
DAGNY: Is he going to marry Mrs. Miller?
DAGNY: You know, Makay and.
WILL: Oh my God, you really do have Altman on the brain tonight.
DAGNY: That was a good movie.
A wagon appears carrying a squat dad, prim mom, and depressed-looking kid.
The dad calls down that he’s looking for the Pyatakov property on “the Butterhill Road.” He says they just bought the place at a tax auction. He says their names are Jule, Martha and Tad (or Thad?) Taylor.
He’s nice, and Charles gives him directions.
WILL: It’s a sad position to be in – evicting people who were universally popular in a community.
ROMAN: Even though we’d never seen them before.
Bummed out, Charles starts walking out to Yuli’s place himself.
DAGNY: Okay, what’s the town social worker gonna do now?
The music swells.
DAGNY: Rose is laying it on a little thick.
Yuli, Viktor and Fanya are sitting around a campfire. Yuli is singing a pretty song, presumably in Russian. Doesn’t ring any bells for me.
SoundHound was no help either, since there’s a band called 400 Lonely Things that sampled this clip and turned it into an experimental 12-minute thing called “100 Years After Death,” and that’s the only thing that comes up when you search the melody.
You can look “100 Years After Death” up if you want. You’ll either think it’s pleasingly nightmarish or musically incomprehensible. (Guess what I thought it was.)
Charles comes walking up and asks what the song’s about. Yuli says, “It means, uh, ‘Eagle, you fly so high, you spread your wings, you free. My soul, also like eagle, want to be free.’”
(That ain’t much help either.)
Charles says it’s an outrage the Pyatakovs have lost their home because of taxes. Yuli says the taxes aren’t the problem; he was simply at a disadvantage because he couldn’t read English yet. (In other words, the system is biased against newcomers.)
He says blaming taxes themselves is wrong, because they pay for things like infrastructure and education that can’t be done without.
“I got along fine in Kansas without roads or schools!” says Charles, though I’d hardly describe the harrowing incidents of that episode as “getting along fine.”
Yuli says that’s ridiculous, because if it weren’t for schools Viktor wouldn’t have learned English, and then Viktor wouldn’t have been able to teach his parents English either. (Miss Beadle must have given Viktor her crash course. After all, she did teach Laura to read in like ten minutes.)
Yuli picks up a book that he just happens to have sitting beside him, and starts talking about the Bill of Rights, even quoting it a bit. Viktor corrects him slightly.
DAGNY: This is what it was like when you helped me study for my citizenship exam.
Yuli says taxes are part of the political structure that keeps American citizens free, and more than that, that makes those freedoms accessible to people (i.e. refugees) from around the world. He says America also educates kids without cost to families, which isn’t the case everywhere.
Charles is amazed, staring at Yuli for some time without speaking.
DAGNY: Does Charles have any lines in this scene?
WILL: He’s deferring to the famous guest star.
Then Yuli says the U.S. government is even offering “free homestead land in South Dakota,” which he intends to take advantage of.
DAGNY [as YULI]: “I mean, sure, they exterminate First Nations people, but who care about them.”
(Others have noted South Dakota wasn’t called “South Dakota” yet at this point in history.)
Charles is moved, and persuaded. He wishes the family good luck.
DAGNY: And we never see them again.
WILL: At least there’s a reason this time.
DAGNY: Yeah, not like Mrs. Whipple, where she disappears forever but they keep talking about her.
WILL: Oh, we see her next week.
ROMAN: What? Is it the Granville one?
Roman loves “Soldier’s Return” for some reason.
And now, the thrilling final act.
Charles is back home, and of course the first thing he does is lecture Caroline, doing a 180 from his previous lecture.
Caroline drily says her original position never changed.
Charles says he’s changing his vote to Team Picnic.
WILL: This is what my dad’s like. He’s really getting liberal in his old age, though he’d never admit it. This is what America means to him. He’s a real patriot.
Caroline says Charles should tell his daughters that, since from the bitching of all the asshole dads in town they think Minnesota’s going to secede.
She tells him they’re finishing the flag “out at Taylor’s Lake.”
I realize our state is the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” but honest to God, do we really need three separate ones within spitting distance of the Little House?
There is in fact a Taylor Lake (no possessive) in Minnesota, but it’s 250 miles from Walnut Grove.
Here’s a recent photo of the area:
Also, show a little imagination, Fat John, you just used the name Taylor for the farm-stealers who arrived in town like five seconds ago.
Out at the lake, the Ing-Gals are sewing.
DAGNY: Ooh, the harpsichord. And Mary’s there.
WILL: Her signature instrument.
The girls are unsure whether to put 37 or 38 stars on the flag, since Colorado isn’t a state yet but will be in a month.
Charles appears, and the girls tear into him, screaming that he doesn’t understand what America’s all about, and citing Bead-approved history factoids to prove it.
Pa pretends they’ve convinced him, and says they’ll do the Centennial picnic after all this coming Sunday. (This doesn’t match up with the calendar, though. The poster indicated the celebration was to be on the Fourth itself . . . but in 1876, that fell on a Tuesday.)
They head home fantasizing over all the fried chicken they’ll eat, which I have myself done many a time.
Cut to the holiday church service, where Reverend Alden is attributing a quote to the Book of Ecclesiastes.
In the day of prosperity there is a forgetfulness of affliction; and in the day of affliction, there’s no remembrance of prosperity.
It’s very interesting, though, that this passage does not come from Ecclesiastes, but rather from the Book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as “Sirach”), one of the “Apocrypha” and a book not included in most Protestant Bibles today.
Indeed, it’s unclear whether it would have been included in Rev. Alden’s Bible then; it was originally in the “King James Version,” which is what he probably would be using, but it seems the Apocryphal books began to be phased out of editions around 1825. (In “The Gift,” he doesn’t mention how old Pappy Alden’s treasured Bible is.)
It’s a full house in church today. I suppose Grovesters would feel guilty about showing up for the party without serving their time in the House of the You Know What first.
Yes, the Sanderson kids are there.
WILL: How much do you think they got paid in the episode when they didn’t speak?
DAGNY: Ask Melissa Gilbert on Twitter. Gillie. I’m sure she remembers. They probably had them on contract the whole season, and they got paid the same whether they spoke or not.
WILL: . . . “Gillie”?
The Rev says he’s sick of everyone bitching about their taxes, even though he admits it’s too bad “one of our number” lost his home. (It’s interesting he says the Pyatakovs are “of our number,” considering they don’t seem to be Congregationalists, but rather Russian Orthodox Christians, as we noted above.)
Then again, Aldi takes a surprisingly ecumenical approach to things. He even spends Thanksgiving with a Catholic rather than one of his own parishioners.
Alden says the current tax situation is painful, but if everyone sticks together and does their part, they’ll be just fine.
WILL: Who wrote this one, Jimmy Carter?
Then, rather improbably, the Pyatakovs interrupt the church service to say goodbye.
Mr. Makay punches Mr. Hanson in the arm and starts complaining about the government again.
Mr. Hanson puts his hand to his head. Either he has another migraine, or he’s just as sick of this fucking guy as I am.
But Yuli says no, and gives a quick summary of his earlier speech to Charles.
Stirring strings accompany his speech.
DAGNY: God, the music.
Quivering Aldi says, “I think that concludes our service for today.”
WILL: I like when Aldi gets all misty.
Then they go out to raise the new flag, and Mr. Hanson invites Yuli to make a speech.
WILL: He just made a speech! God, they’re gonna exhaust the guy, then kick him out of town anyway.
“America the Beautiful” swells on the soundtrack.
Then, finally we get stock footage of some fireworks, with close-ups of the Ingallses enjoying them.
DAGNY: Carrie looks normal there.
DAGNY: Well, actually, no.
And that’s it, thank God. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum.
ROMAN: Hey, a new arrangement of “Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum”!
And it is. Same key, a little more fully orchestrated, prominent flute. Weird to make a change this late in the season.
STYLE WATCH: Eagle-eyed viewers may notice Yuli wears “Jonathan’s” big tartan coat from “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
Charles appears to go commando again.
DAGNY: He looks pretty good in those pants.
THE VERDICT: Well, I was afraid we were going to break WordPress, this recap is so long, but I guess we didn’t. This episode’s heart is in the right place, but it’s also heavy-handed and quite dull. (I can guarantee you, reading this recap was twice as fun as watching the episode, even if it also took twice as long to do so.)
UP NEXT: Soldier’s Return
5 thoughts on “Centennial”
I have an alternate thought/theory on the timeline and wouldn’t mind your opinion. Is it possible these stories are meant to be random memories and not necessarily in chronological order? Or some could even be concurrent – which would be an awful lot of suffering by the way. I’m sure it’s happened to you where you relay a story and think it happened at a certain time and then are corrected by someone else’s memory of the same events. Maybe Laura thinks this all happened when she was a certain age and has condensed them or just isn’t sure what year? For an example, I remember being sure I was 5 years old when my grandpa passed away, but when I looked it up and did the math, I was actually 8. Never really had a need to know for sure and was wrong for many years.
Anyways, another great recap! Thanks again for all your hard work.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Whoa! This has never occurred to me as an explanation. It’s quite possible: I picture Laura on her deathbed, telling her tales and getting them jumbled up. Maybe she could even drop a snowglobe, like in ‘Citizen Kane.’ I will have to ponder this idea further. (Btw, Dags LOVES this theory.)
I’m glad you enjoyed the theory! I thought it was too simple an explanation, but sometimes that can work too! Of course Dags loves it! Great Canadian minds think alike! Lol
I thought this episode was a little forced. Yuli was a dumbass not at least having an English speaker look over the contract. But a sudden tax increase that comes close to bankrupting everybody is still oppressive.
It also feels like very familiar Cold War propaganda. A Russian comes to America and teaches all the resentful natives about what “freedom” really means? It’s Moscow on the Hudson 10 years before its time with Theodore Bikel in the Robin Williams role.
In reality “big government” would have been very familiar to Minnesotans of 1876, especially considering the Dakota War. Nobody would have questioned the idea of paying taxes for the army. Lincoln was an ex-Henry-Clay Whig, very much a “big government” liberal. Ulysses Grant (who opened the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia) was another “big government” liberal. His administration was also notoriously corrupt. The news of the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872.
What also would have been on everybody’s mind during a Centennial Celebration would have been what happened to the First Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg. They were basically ordered to make a suicide charge against a Confederate Brigade 10 times their size and did it. I think 80% of them died but they pretty much saved the day for the Union Army. So nobody would have been joking about Minnesota seceding from the Union. They knew exactly what sacrifice for your country meant but would have been rightly skeptical about where their tax money was going.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The one thing I did like about this episode was the way people out on the frontier talked about the Centennial in Philadelphia. It must have seemed like another universe back then. I think they exhibited the telephone and some early electric lighting. I wish Mary’s nerdy Brainiac side had come out and she had talked about it more.
LikeLiked by 1 person