Soldier’s Return

Whip It Sad; or

Six Degrees of Granville Whipple

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: Soldier’s Return

Airdate: March 24, 1976

Written by B.W. Sandefur

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: 

Almost in time for Mother’s Day (and Fentanyl Awareness Day), we meet Mrs. Whipple’s son Granville, who loses his life to addiction. A Serious One With Relevance For Today.

RECAP: Last week Dags noted while fan fave Mrs. Whipple is frequently mentioned on this show, she doesn’t appear all that often. 

Well, Whipple lovers, you’re in luck this week. Whip levels are off the charts, as we get not only the Missus, but a brand new Whipple to boot.

We meet him right away, though we don’t know he’s a Whipple just yet.

To us he’s just a dude coming down a hill – yet he distinguishes himself by playing the harmonica whilst driving, no hands.

He’s using one of those Billy Joel/Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen-type harmonica-holder thingies, the precise name for which I’m able to report is a “harmonica holder.”

Some people stick to the traditional approach.

This harmonicist is playing a high lonely sad tune (not a shreddin’ house party number like Mr. Edwards favors).

Previously on Little House

Then, who should emerge from the scrubbery, which looks a little more desolate than usual, than our old pals Laura and Mary Ingalls?

I assumed they were approaching the road, but suddenly the Whipplewagon comes crashing through the brush from BEHIND them. The effect is strange, since we just saw the wagon high on a hill, and the harmonica playing was continuous throughout.

We get a better look at the guy now (or at his stunt driver, anyway). I don’t think his fake harmonica playing will get a prize at the Walnut Groovy Awards.

The man stops the wagon to talk to the Ing-Gals.

DAGNY: Is that Leslie Nielsen?

WILL: No, but he is Leslie Nielsen-like, isn’t he?

Leslie Nielsen
Not Leslie Nielsen

In fact, it’s Richard Mulligan, best known to Dags and me from the Golden Girls spinoff Empty Nest

Richard Mulligan, with Rue McClanahan

He was also on Soap, and a lot of other things, but since I went bananas listing Theodore Bikel’s credits last week I’m going to control myself today.

Mary compliments him on his fake harmonica playing, whilst Laura pulls a Carl Sanderson and starts rooting through his luggage, which mainly consists of musical instruments.

The guy seems nice, introducing himself as Mrs. Whipple’s son Granville. (He also informs us Mrs. Whipple’s first name is Amanda.)

Mary, in one of her grinning goo-goo-eyed reveries for some reason, thinks it’s utterly fantastic to learn this.

Grinning goo-goo-eyed Mary

Granville says it’s been a long time since he’s been back to Minnesota, and Mary gives him directions. 

He speaks to the girls in soft, almost affectionate tones that would surely freak people out today if addressed to teenage girls by a middle-aged man. But Mary and Laura don’t seem worried about him.

David Rose plays Granville to Mrs. Whipple’s door with a fun waltz.

DAGNY: Did people really pot spider plants back then?

(I dunno. I’m not that interested in plants, except to eat.)

Inside, the Whip is seamstressin’ away when she hears the horse.

DAGNY: Should I start wearing one of those lacy things?

WILL: Maybe when you’re sixty-five, yes.

Mrs. Whipple comes out and starts (happily) screaming her son’s name. They embrace as the music builds to a stunning cadence.

DAGNY: Wow, David Rose.

WILL: I know.

If you like happy endings, just turn it off here

One other thing to point out: We notice Granville has a very pronounced limp.

They go inside, where Mrs. Whipple babbles about how great it is he’s back. She sets him up in his old bedroom.

WILL: I love Mrs. Whipple. She reminds me of my grandma – my mom’s mom.

DAGNY: She reminds me of your mom herself, so that’s not too surprising.

This being Little House, we know everything really isn’t great, and they get right to it. Granville, we notice, is barely listening to his mother, because he’s staring at something across the room.

Starin’ Granville

Before we even see what it is, David Rose gives us some weird, anxious trumpet flourishes in the score.

Because what Granville sees is a military bugle with cord and tassel, hanging from his bedframe.

He stares at it, clenching his jaw.

Clenchin’ Granville

The trumpets start doing some little “Reveille”-type arpeggios – but sinister ones.

The U.S. “Reveille” tune (apparently originally called “Troop”) began being used by the United States Army during the War of 1812.

Mrs. Whipple notices Granville’s strange frozen attitude.

DAGNY: Wow, she’s hangin’ low.

Granville forces a smile and asks where Mrs. Whipple got his old bugle. She says the Army gave it to her when he was “in the hospital.”

The Whip, who wasn’t born yesterday, asks him if it’s bringing back bad memories.

ALEXANDER: So he’s a Civil War veteran?

WILL: That’s right.

ALEXANDER: Which side?

WILL: I presume Union. He and his mom both have New York accents.

Granville says of course it doesn’t bother him, but he’s quite weird about it.

During this conversation, Mrs. Whipple’s been unpacking her son’s luggage. Even my mom doesn’t do that.

But she stops short when she discovers a small tin box.

Inside the box is a medal, which is actually quite a good replica of the “Grand Army of the Republic” badge awarded to Union Army veterans.

And under the medal is a little paper packet of white powder.

David gives us horror music in the strings. Mrs. Whipple is holding the packet like it contains a poison, and it does: We see the tin is labeled MORPHINE.

Morphine was discovered in the early Nineteenth Century. (The pharmacist who created it became addicted to the stuff himself.) 

Dr. Friedrich Sertürner, who looked like a Mel Brooks character if you ask me

Its pain-suppressing and mood-altering qualities made it extremely attractive to doctors and patients. These days it’s hard to conceive what surgeries and recoveries were like BEFORE pain-reducing drugs. We can look back and judge, but truly, fast-acting opiates would have seemed a medical miracle at the time of their discovery.

Civil War patients

The problems caused by morphine became apparent after the Civil War, when by some accounts 400,000 veterans came home addicted

Anyways, Mrs. Whipple asks Granville if he’s having leg pain again, but he smiles and says no. He says, carefully, that he just keeps morphine around “so I know it’s there.”

Then he says, “I won’t shame you with it, Ma.”

Mrs. Whipple says she’d never be ashamed of him, that she blames the doctor for giving it to him, knowing how addictive it was. Needless to say, like more Little House stories than you’d think, this one is relevant to our times as well.

Granville says he hasn’t touched drugs in nine months and she doesn’t need to worry about it.

Mrs. Whipple says she’s just glad he’s home, and that things’ll be fine now.

That night at the Little House, Mary says, “I can’t wait to go by Mrs. Whipple’s tomorrow!” (Why?)

Improbably impatient Mary

Mary tells Ma and Pa that Granville has been gone since the war. This implies the Whipples were already in Minnesota before the war began, meaning Granville served in a Minnesota regiment

Officers of Company B, First Minnesota Volunteers, at Camp Stone, Virginia, 1862

“Twelve years is a long time,” says Pa . . . so since the war ended in 1865, can we assume this one’s set in 1877 (a year after the events of “Centennial”)?

Mary blathers on about the gallant Granville. “Mrs. Whipple says he was a hero, at Silo!” she says.

Pa corrects her.

DAGNY: [sings “Shilo,” by Neil Diamond]

WILL: I love that song.

The Battle of Shiloh took place in Tennessee in April of 1862.

Battle of Shiloh, April 6th, 1862

If Granville was there, we can pinpoint his service to the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery – the only Minnesota unit in the battle.

Veterans of the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery

“He even got a letter from General Grant!” Mary says. Surely Mary would think of him as President Grant, not “General,” as he would have been President for the previous eight years at this point. 

Ulysses S. Grant

(Interestingly, U.S. Grant was apparently a distant cousin of the Ingallses.)

Anyways, Mary tells us Granville was wounded in battle. After the war, he apparently taught music and played in an orchestra in Philadelphia. (Doesn’t look like it really had one until the famed Philadelphia Orchestra was founded in 1900, though.) 

The Philadelphia Orchestra with their conductor Leopold Stokowski, photographed in 1912 or 1913

Laura comes over and says Pa should teach her the fiddle. She waves away his pipe smoke as she does. You wouldn’t see that on TV today, which I suppose is a good thing.

It’s cute, though

Then Mary says, “Did you ever fight in a war, Pa?”

Uh oh

Pa says he did not.

And I suppose now is as good a time as any to answer the question Was Charles Ingalls a Draft Dodger?

Okay, since I haven’t stated it in a while, I’m not a Little House expert. Not on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and family, not on her books – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read one of them in its entirety. 

My point of entry to the Little House phenomenon is the TV show, but I’m not even an authority on that, certainly not by established fandom standards. 

I’ve never made a Little House costume, and I’m constantly forgetting the details of episodes. Why, earlier in this blog I forgot that Grace Ingalls even existed, and just recently I said on Twitter that Little House never had a “clips” episode, when in fact they apparently had several (a fact gently pointed out by Melissa Gilbert and several others).

So what do I know?

I’m simply an enthusiast with too much time on his hands, and I definitely invite those who know Little House history better to write in. My feelings won’t be hurt; anything but!

But here goes. From what I’ve read online, in real life nobody can find record of Charles Ingalls serving in any military unit during the Civil War. He was 25 when the war began and 29 when it ended, and from his depiction in the books it seems he was physically and mentally fit. 

He and Caroline were married in Wisconsin in 1860, about a year before the war began. They stayed in Wisconsin for the war’s duration, settling in the “Big Woods” near Pepin (about 200 miles east of Walnut Grove) in 1863. 

The real Charles and Caroline, in a colorized photo

That same year, the Enrollment Act of 1863 required men aged 20 to 45 residing in Union states to register for the draft. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota were part of the Union; and in fact, Wisconsin had passed its own similar state law already in 1862. 

ALEXANDER: Was Charles a pacifist? Maybe they were Mennonites.

No, they weren’t Mennonites – there weren’t any in Wisconsin yet at that time.

And members of Charles and Caroline’s own families were involved in the war. Charles’s brothers Hiram and (Lansford) James both enlisted (in the 1st Regiment of Minnesota Heavy Artillery), as did Caroline’s brother Joseph Carpenter Quiner (in the Wisconsin Light Artillery). 

Charles’s brother Hiram
Charles’s brother James
Caroline’s brother Joseph

Caroline’s brother Joseph was actually killed at the Battle of Shiloh – a fact you’d think the fictional Ma and Pa might mention in this scene, but they don’t.

The internet is full of debate over Charles’s lack of service. Some say he strategically moved his family around during the war to avoid serving – “dancing around the draft” as my friend Calla puts it.

Calla is a fan of the Little House books and the real-life Laura but not so much the TV show. She also hosted parties to watch Stephen King’s IT on TV in 1990, as I recall.

Happy times

Calla recommends Wilder’s memoir Pioneer Girl, which was never published in her lifetime but came out with annotations by Pamela Smith Hill in 2014. Calla says the notion of Charles as draft dodger is consistent with the book’s portrait:

Charles skipped out on his creditors all the time, leaving in the middle of the night with the family and disappearing. That’s why the family moved so much – he was running from creditors! He was actually quite the bum. I was shocked when I was reading it just how honest Laura was about Charles. The annotations really dug into him and his actions. He may have been a great pa but he was overall a real slacker and a poor provider. In this day and age Caroline would have kicked his sorry ass to the curb.

Of course, maybe Charles was just lucky his name never came up in the draft lottery. Some even say the government didn’t do much drafting from the western frontier because then they’d have to send the Army to fight in more border conflicts like the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

Well, it’s a mystery, but certainly it seems funny in scenes like these where the war comes up and Charles is full of wise “war is hell” observations.

But that’s what he does here, saying there’s nothing heroic about war and anybody who’s been in one wishes they hadn’t. He doesn’t claim to have served, but he gives no explanation why he didn’t either.

Then he asks Laura what she’s reading about in her history book. She says, “Same old thing – dead people.” Melissa Gilbert’s delivery is quite funny, but it’s an odd joke to make after a conversation about the costs of war, if you ask me.

I study dead people

Back at the Whipple place, Granville hears terrifying music and starts fiddling with his morphine tin.

DAGNY: My God, it’s like the Jaws theme.

ROMAN: Don’t do it, Granny!

Granville resists the urge and lies down, clutching his medal. But he’s tortured by the bugles in his head.

Then he sees a vision of himself running across a battlefield amidst gunfire and explosions.

OLIVE: Is this a flashback?

WILL: Yes. And it’s exactly what the Civil War was really like. It’s not the sanitized version you got in school.

You Are There!

This time the trumpet in the orchestra plays the famous “Charge” bugle call. I couldn’t find out when that was adopted by the Army, but it doesn’t matter, since it’s not literally supposed to be playing during the battle scene anyway.

OLIVE: This is so unbelievable. Like they’d send the musicians onto the battlefield.

WILL: No, they totally did. Buglers, fifers, drummers . . . in Scottish Highland regiments they’d send pipers in. 

OLIVE: You’re kidding. Why?

WILL: The idea was the music would inspire the soldiers to keep moving.

DAGNY: Not to scare the other side?

WILL: Maybe some of that too. With the pipes, anyway. 

DAGNY: Didn’t they, like, play different songs to tell them which way to go?

WILL: They did, to make them advance, retreat, et cetera. A lot of musicians got killed. Modern mechanized warfare changed everything. So many pipers were killed during World War One, the British Army banned them from playing in battle anymore.

The Spirit of ’76, by Archibald Willard
1800 1860s May 1864 Union Troops Fight Battle of the Wilderness Spotsylvania Virginia
The Campbells are Coming, by Richard Paton Woodville, Jr.

Granville shelters by a tree. If it’s a stuntman, he really does look like Richard Mulligan. Little House is always pretty good at that.

Not-Richard Mulligan?

Suddenly a phantom hand grabs him.

A weird-looking soldier with a pasty face leers out of the mist.

DAGNY: It’s Nic Cage!

The dead-faced soldier chases after Granville for a bit, then explodes. Multiple times.

OLIVE: Wow, that’s a bit much.

WILL: This one REALLY disturbed me when I was a kid.

ROMAN: No wonder it’s rated thirteen-plus.

Back in the real world, Granville wakes up in a sweat.

DAGNY: His eyebrows are well trimmed. They look great.

WILL: You trying to tell me something?

He continues to freak out, curling up and protecting his head and face.

After the break, Granville and Mrs. Whipple arrive at the Mercantile. Granville looks better, and the Whip is dolled up in a fancy purplish dress, no doubt of her own creation.

They’re greeted by Mrs. Oleson.

DAGNY: Harriet looks like Mrs. Butterworth. I never noticed that before.

Mrs. Whipple introduces Granville to Mrs. Oleson. Wouldn’t she know him already? Or maybe not – we don’t really know when the Olesons arrived and opened the store, except that it was before the Ingallses came. (So I guess we can deduce it was between 1865 and 1874.)

Mrs. Oleson of course is impressed Granville comes from Philadelphia, though he’s like, Ma, I haven’t actually been there for a while, because of, you know . . . the D-R-U-Gs.

Mrs. Whipple says nonsense, and talks about his musical abilities. Mrs. Oleson says, “Well, Walnut Grove could use a little culture!” 

Granville says he wants to go back to teaching lessons, and Mrs. O says she’ll sign Nellie and Willie up right away. She says they’re the only family in town that appreciates music anyway, and adds, “I am the only one who has any formal musical training!”

That brings us back to the matter of the mysterious marching band again. They appear at every major event, but the Grovesters act like they’ve never met a musician before. WTF?

Anyways, Carl the Flunky slips silently into the store while Mrs. Oleson is talking.

Gotta love Carl

Harriet goes on to say she’s a trained singer.

WILL: She’s always going on about her singing. I’d love to hear it.

DAGNY: We hear Nellie one time, don’t we? And she’s terrible?

We do, and she is.

Coming soon on Little House

Speaking of Nellie, we cut to Granville teaching her flute. She may sing badly, but today she sounds pretty good, actually. For all her nastiness, she is an overachiever.

We discussed whether Granville’s music stands looked accurate for the period.

Evidence inconclusive

This has all been taking place on the floor of the Whipple sweatshop, but now the Whip comes in with Mary in tow to break things up.

Mary gives Nellie a quick look of hatred . . .

. . . which Nellie returns on the way out.

Once she’s been packed off, Granville rubs his hands together and says, “You know, Ma, Nellie may be right, this seamstress of yours maybe should take some music lessons.”

WILL: There’s something I don’t like about Granville. He’s creepy.

DAGNY: Nah, he’s endorsed by Mrs. Whipple, who we trust. 

ROMAN: Yeah. In Whipple We Trust.

DAGNY: Plus he’s not interested in anything except feeding his addiction.

WILL: Oh yeah, I forgot, addicted people are so busy being addicted they never do anything else bad. 

(As a recovering alcoholic myself, I can vouch for the truth of this.)

Good ol’ Mare flatly tells Granville she doesn’t have money for lessons. But he says he’ll teach her for free if she’ll copy out music for his students.

WILL: I don’t believe for a second he’d ask Mary to do this. 

DAGNY: No, it’s not something a novice CAN do. Even after playing music for years I struggled to make it look right.

ROMAN: Not to mention she already has a job.

WILL: It is true that copying music in the old days was a huge pain. There’s a joke that’s why Bach had twenty children, just to copy out the pieces he wrote. That, and he was a sex maniac.

Johann Sebastian Bach, sex maniac (at the keyboard)

But of course Mary is thrilled and agrees to write out the sheet music.

So Granville gets out this little toy piano of the chickens-play-them variety. (Which WERE commercially available in the 1870s, by the way.)

Count Bessie (at the keyboard), with Betty White

He tinkles a little tune and says he could teach her on that.

“Yes, oh, yes!” cries Mary, which is a little much.

Ecstatic Mary

“Then we begin,” says Granville, and then suddenly he throws his arms around Mary from behind.

OLIVE: Oh my God, Granville!

Granville-groped Mary

Then he starts playing a melody over her fingers.

WILL: That’s not like any piano lesson I ever had.

DAGNY: Probably Suzuki method.

Suzuki Mary?

But Mary finds nothing weird about it.

Meanwhile, back home Laura is sawing away at Pa’s fiddle like Sherlock Holmes.

Laura is highly self-critical (for once). She bares the gopher fangs unhappily and says “Yuck.”

Go yuck yourself

Pa is quite pleased with her initial attempt, however. 

They are interrupted by the sounds of Jack attacking Mary.

Hounded Mary

Everybody goes inside, where Mary tells them about her lessons and shows them the toy piano.

DAGNY: They don’t have room for anything else in that house.

WILL: It’s always very clean, though. The table never looks like it needs wiping down, even.

Then, shockingly, Mary actually plays a melody on the thing, and when Pa asks if she can read the music, she says she can.

WILL: THIS IS IDIOCY!

Magically musical Mary

Pa says he never learned to read music. Maybe Granville can teach him in thirty seconds too.

Ma mentions she’s invited the Whipples for supper over the weekend. Pa is delighted and says he’ll challenge Granville to a musical duel.

Then, in a genuinely fun scene, we get that duel, with Pa on the fiddle and Granville on the banjo.

DAGNY: Michael Landon is a great fake fiddle player.

WILL: I know, he’s my favorite fake fiddle player of all time.

Richard Mulligan is not quite up to that standard, but he’s good enough. 

DAGNY: Carrie is bustin’ a MOVE.

The tune is similar to the folk song “If He’d Be a Buckaroo,” used by western music god Aaron Copland in Rodeo. Given David’s many nods to Copland over the years, I’m sure that’s no accident. 

Pa loses the battle but is clearly delighted.

Weirdly, when they’re done Granville puts one arm around Mrs. Whipple – and the other around Mary.

WILL: See, why is he doing that?

DAGNY: I think touch was viewed differently in the 1970s.

WILL: How ’bout the 1870s? A grown man couldn’t touch a girl like that.

DAGNY: Maybe not.

As the Ing-Gals go to fetch pie, Granville says to Charles, “Mary is far and away the best student I have.” Seriously, it’s been less than a week. How many lessons can she even have had?

Granville goes on to say how glad he is to be back in the country. He seems nice, but also sad and quite nervous.

WILL: Did you like Empty Nest?

DAGNY [very emphatically]: YES!

WILL: I did too. Maybe not as much as you.

Pa and Granny start jammin’ again, and Laura and Mary dance.

After another break, we see Mrs. Oleson run back into the Mercantile’s residence zone and tell Nellie and Willie to start playing their instruments because Granville’s arriving. She implies if you’re playing when the teacher arrives, they’ll think you’ve been practicing hours and hours.

I guess she really has been a music student

Nellie’s got her flute, and Willie, hilariously, is holding a trombone.

Granville arrives and the kids start playing.

WILL: Would he really give them DUETS to practice?

Within seconds they begin bickering, however.

Out in the store, a youngish woman calls out Granville’s name. She’s accompanied by a boy of about Nellie’s age, though we’ve never seen him in school.

Granville stares at her with apparent horror, while Mrs. Whipple prods him and reminds him she’s “Vera Collins . . . Roy’s wife.”

WILL: Roman, do you recognize her? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, it’s a deep dive.

ROMAN: I don’t.

WILL: She’s in Jack Frost. 

[Note: I mean the horror film about a killer snowman, not any of the similarly named and sometimes even snowman-related movies out there.] 

WILL: She plays a mom who gets depressed because her son was decapitated by the snowman. 

ROMAN: Oh, that must have been the director’s tribute to Little House on the Prairie.

(You can probably skip Jack Frost – there are parts that haven’t aged awfully well.)

The actor is Kelly Jean Peters. In addition to Jack Frost, she was in the Dustin Hoffman Western Little Big Man. (Oddly, so was Richard Mulligan.)

Kelly Jean Peters (at right), with Dustin Hoffman
Richard Mulligan (at right, as George Custer), with Dustin Hoffman

Mrs. Collins introduces her son as Roy Junior. She speaks to the kid as if he’s hard of hearing or perhaps has comprehension problems.

DAGNY: Those are some big suspenders.

Mrs. Collins says Granville was “the hero of your father’s regiment.” The kid is very excited to meet Granville, saying his dad described him in letters as “the best bugler in the whole blamed army!” 

I’m pretty sure “blamed,” being a minced oath for “damned,” would have been shocking coming from a child’s mouth in the 1800s, but nobody seems to give a hoot.

Mrs. Collins points out Roy Junior knows of his father only through his old letters. They invite Granville over for dinner so he can share hilarious war anecdotes.

Clearly nonplussed, Granville limps out, but the kid follows him and asks if he’ll give him bugle lessons. The kid adds he’s pretty much taught himself to play already.

Granville says, “The bugle’s not a sound I like hearing anymore.” Pretty direct.

The kid doesn’t take the hint, and blathers on about how cool Roy Senior thought Granville was. The two of them apparently “always stuck together like flypaper.” 

DAGNY: Did they have flypaper then?

Apparently so.

This ad’s from 1863

Roy Junior says his pa, apparently a fellow bugler, took up the instrument because Granville played so well. I guess that’s possible. I wore a bolo tie in high school for like a year because my friend thought they were cool.

But when Roy asks Granville if they were together when his pa died, Granville says they weren’t. 

The kid idiotically says, “Bet if you were there you would have saved him!”

Having had enough of this shit, Granville limps away.

That night, he sweats and thrashes in bed. David Rose layers on terror music like he’s icing a carrot cake. 

DAGNY: Now, he’s clean at this point, right? 

WILL: Yeah, he hasn’t had any drugs in like nine months. That’s what he SAID, anyway.

DAGNY: So this isn’t withdrawal; it’s the pain of being back in the Grove. It’s too much. 

WILL: I guess – his friend’s widow and kid, his old bugle.

DAGNY: It’s emotional symptoms he’s having. It’s believable.

OLIVE: He’s just like Mrs. Garrett on Deadwood.

Laudanum addict Alma Garrett, on Deadwood

Then we cut to Mrs. Whipple walking home – the next day, I guess.

Meanwhile, Granville’s in her kitchen, replacing the morphine he’s just taken from his tin with flour or something. Must have looked up Fannie Farmer’s substitutes for when your pantry’s low on smack. 

Mrs. W gets home, and Granville, who’s high and futzing with his tie, smiles and stammers that he’s got to run an errand.

I do like Richard Mulligan’s stoned acting. I think the temptation would be to overdo it, but he plays it as a combination of distraction, fidgetiness and irritability, all the while trying to seem like he’s not stoned. More authentic than some approaches, I’d say.

We wondered how he administers the morphine. There were a number of ways you could take it, but he probably injected it.

Then Mary comes in with some music sheets, but, the irritability taking over, Granville snaps and snarls at her for having done it all wrong. One might say it was unwise to give a thirteen-year-old non-musician such a task in the first place, but what do I know.

Mrs. Whipple tries to defend Mary, but Granville storms out.

Then we see him pacing around the Mercantile while Mrs. Foster flirts leisurely with Nels. 

Once she’s gone, Granville asks Nels for morphine or laudanum, but Nels says they don’t carry opiates anymore. He says Doc Baker recommended taking them off the shelves over a year ago because of their addictive properties. 

(Doc hasn’t always felt this way. You’ll recall he joked about a patient liking “the kick of that big-city cough medicine” earlier.)

Previously on Little House

(But presumably the addiction Caroline developed after Baby Freddie’s death opened his eyes.)

Previously on Little House: Stoned Caroline

Granville thanks Nels brusquely and limps out in a hurry.

DAGNY: I like how Nels puts his hands in his little pockets.

Good old Nels

Granville’s scarcely out the door when Roy Junior springs on him.

The kid begs for bugle lessons, but Granville grabs him and screams in his face that he won’t teach him.

The kid stares at him in bafflement and terror.

Suddenly filled with regret, Granville hugs the boy to him and says, “I’m sorry, Roy,” over and over again.

WILL: He’s Jimmy Stewart-ing him!

The boy gives him another horrified look and runs.

Then we see Doc examining Granville in his surgery. He’s focused on Granville’s shin, when his limp actually seems to suggest something more like a broken hip, but whatever.

Doc says he can’t see anything that should be causing pain this long after the injury healed. 

Granville’s fingers twitch madly, but to be fair I’ve known musicians who do that constantly even when they aren’t on drugs. At that moment.

Interestingly, Doc implies he also is a Civil War veteran, saying he removed shrapnel from patients himself during wartime.

DAGNY: Doc’s hair looks nice here.

Granville asks for morphine, but Doc tries to give him “a new prescription they’ve been using up in Rochester.” 

This is the first mention of Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic and one of the best-regarded medical cities in the world. (I’ve always found it a nice town.)

The first Mayo Clinic, photographed in 1883
Rochester, Minnesota, today

In the past, Little House has always pointed to Mankato as the leader in this area, even going so far as to relocate William Worrall Mayo there.

Previously on Little House

Rochester is about 160 miles to the east of Walnut Grove, so I’m not sure why Doc says “up” in Rochester.

As for the “new prescription” he mentions, it’s possible he’s referring to aspirin, though that really wouldn’t become available until a little bit later.

Granville becomes angry he can’t have his opioids, saying, “You don’t care . . . you doctors cause it and you don’t care.”

Doc acknowledges the role of doctors in the opiate crisis. If you think Doc’s take on the issue seems modern, it might be, but certainly by the end of the Nineteenth Century some doctors were taking a hard look at this problem.

“You haven’t been there,” says Granville, and Doc shakes his head no, because he hasn’t.

Anyways, Granville, shaking and twitching, refuses the aspirin and leaves.

DAGNY: This is why anti-drug TV specials never work. They make it look like it instantly ruins your life, but people get addicted and relapse gradually. Addicts will point to this and say, well, at least I’m not as bad as Granville Whipple.

ROMAN: I’m sure using Granville Whipple as a crutch is very common among addicts.

Then we cut to sad Mary sitting out at Cattail/Willow Lake, alone. A blue vibraphone links us to her emotions.

Bluer-than-blue Mary

The reeds or rushes or what have you are all dried-out-looking, and nobody’s swimming or fishing, so I guess it’s fall again.

Pa appears.

OLIVE: Charles has hardly been in this episode.

Pa asks why she doesn’t have her toy piano with her, but she says she doesn’t want to talk about it.

Pa’s like, okay, I didn’t really care anyway, when Mary blurts out, “What do you do when you like someone, and it turns out they just don’t like you at all?”

WILL: Oh, shut up, Mary.

OLIVE: Yeah, for real.

She really is going on about Granville as if he’s a love interest. Speaking of which, they’ve dropped the Mary/John love storyline like a hot potato, haven’t they?

Previously on Little House

Pa says veterans often have emotional problems, and says people have to be patient with them.

“I want to be his friend!” says Mary passionately. Why? Is she jealous of Laura and all her old-man besties?

Previously on Little House

OLIVE [as MARY]: “I sure thought he liked me . . . He couldn’t keep his hands off me, actually.”

Pa reassures her Granville was just having a bad day, and of course, she feels better.

DAGNY: I think Melissa Sue Anderson is having trouble getting to the emotions in this one. There’s something blank about her. I don’t think she’s into it.

Emotionally blank Mary

Suddenly it’s night again, and we see Granville breaking into Doc’s surgery!

DAGNY: It’s the Jaws music again.

He quickly steals all Doc’s morphine. Later, we see him lying in bed stoned. 

DAGNY: This music is CRAZY!

Then we see a man creeping out of the bushes.

DAGNY: Is that Doc? Is HE sneaking up to the Widow’s house now?

ROMAN [as DOC]: “Excuse me, I know this sounds LAME . . .”

Previously on Little House

But no, it’s Granville himself. It’s a hallucination.

In his dream, Granville finds the bloody, pasty-face corpse of the Nic Cage-lookin’ guy we saw earlier. I hope I don’t embarrass you with my deduction skillz, but I think he’s probably Granny’s friend Roy Senior.

Roy Senior’s eyes fly open, and he grabs Granville with his bloody hand. Shouldn’t they have cast a younger man as Roy? He looks about the same age as Granville now, but the battle was fifteen years ago, when they would have been in their twenties.

Later, Mrs. Whipple comes to Granville’s door with a cup of coffee, but she finds him asleep on the bed – still wearing his shoes.

She sees all the morphine on his nightstand and backs away in horror.

WILL: They must have had a lot of faith in this actress. I mean, to go from “featured townsperson” to a heavy story like this.

DAGNY: What’s her background?

WILL: She was a ballerina! She danced at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1910s, I think.

DAGNY: She’s pretty good in it.

WILL: Yeah. I like her better when she’s happy, though. Like, “Mary, eat your donuts.”

Previously on Little House

After retiring from the ballet, Queenie Smith had a long career as a character actress. She was even on Love Boat! 

Here she is, literally shaking her maracas

You’re not going to believe this, but not only was Richard Mulligan also in the same Love Boat episode, so was Hermione Baddeley, better known to Little House audiences as the beloved Kezia!

Or at least, as Kezia

Anyways, you can’t make this stuff up sometimes. The game should be called Six Degrees of Richard Mulligan.

First removing Granville’s medal, the Whip makes to throw the drugs into the fire.

But Granville has come out behind her, and he says in a soft voice, “Mama, don’t.”

“Please,” he says, taking it back from her. “I need it.”

They sit down together. Granville tells her she can’t blame herself for anything. He says he’s got to leave again.

Mrs. Whipple demands to know why he sees that as his only choice.

WILL: How old do you think he is here?

DAGNY: He’s young.

WILL: Young?

DAGNY: Yeah.

WILL: You think he’s YOUNG? How young?

DAGNY: . . . Fifty-four?

(Actually, Richard Mulligan was 44.)

Young Granville

Mrs. Whipple says she’ll help him, and reminds him of her medal for courage. 

WILL: Is that a picture of John Wilkes Booth on the wall?

ALEXANDER: That seems unlikely.

Granville breaks down weeping and confesses he actually deserted the day of the battle, and that his medal is a fraud. 

DAGNY: Oh, Granville. . . . This is a good one.

He says Roy Collins tried to prevent him from going. (Senior, obviously.)

The Whip feistily says he should face the truth, that no one will blame him, and that it will make him “whole again.”

Granville seizes on this idea, and says if he tells Roy Junior what happened, he’ll be freed from his guilt forever.

WILL: That’s such a corny trope. “All I have to do is figure out the one thing that will completely fix my mental illness.”

He tells Mrs. Whipple he loves her, and kisses her goodbye.

The camera shows us the bugle again – the evil symbol of war.

WILL: This episode was more topical than you might realize, kids. It aired just after the Vietnam War ended, so all these soldiers were coming back with huge problems. Not only that, because the war was so unpopular, they were treated like shit when they came back – protesters spitting on them, that sort of thing. This episode really takes the view that they were VICTIMS of the war, even though they participated in it.

OLIVE: Wow, Little House. 

After a final break, we see Doc arriving at work. He finds the lock broken, and calls out to Charles, who happens to be passing behind him.

WILL: Did he even know Charles was there?

ROMAN: No. Everyone in trouble in this town just throws their head back and screams for Charles.

We had an interesting conversation on Twitter recently about where the Little House is located relative to Walnut Grove. I’ll just note that we see Charles arriving from behind the mill, furthering the theory the house has to be to the EAST of town. (Curiously, a lot of people, myself included, tended to think it was to the west. Why?)

Anyways, Doc tells Charles Granville broke in and stole his opioids.

DAGNY: Doc has the least respect for patient privacy I’ve ever seen. He’s always blabbing. But I guess Charles is the town social worker, so he’s part of the public health system.

The two head out to Mrs. Whipple’s, where she tells them Granville never came back after going to see the Collinses.

Charles says he’ll go look for him, and Mrs. Whipple asks to come along. Doc, for whatever reason, loses interest and goes back to work. (I suppose maybe he had appointments.)

Along the road, the Whip spots Granville’s horse idling by a grove of trees. Not for the first time, David Rose gives us nervous music that seems inspired by the Barber of Seville overture.

Charles gets down from the Chonkywagon and goes to look for Granville.

But of course, he is dead. So I guess Michael Landon knew the “if I tell him I’ll be free!” concept was too good to be true all along. I never should have doubted him.

Granville’s body, strangely, is sort of under a log and covered with leaves. His little packets of morphine blow in the wind.

WILL: Did he bury himself in those leaves? Or did they blow over him?

DAGNY: Maybe he fell and got submerged in them.

Now we come to my favorite part of this episode, a rare Little House Urban Legend. When I was researching this one online, I found a surprising fan theory saying that during this scene, Mrs. Whipple has a TARANTULA crawling on her arm.

Despite seeing this one many times, I’d never noticed the tarantula, and you’d think you would, wouldn’t you?

Well, looking at the scene closely, I found there’s a moment where the wind blows the fringe on Mrs. Whipple’s shawl. The fringe appears to curl up, and for a split second DOES resemble the legs of a big spider! Kind of. I can’t believe anybody would actually think it was one, though.

The “tarantula”
A real tarantula

The moment comes at 46:16, if you want to look it up yourself.

Anyways, we cut immediately to the burial. Reverend Alden is officiating, and the mourners consist of Mrs. Whipple, the Ingallses, the Olesons, Doc, and the Collinses. Nobody else, which seems strange, given the Whip’s popularity, indeed essential role, in this community.

Aldi does kind of a rambling prayer, closing with, “As the bugler asks, this soldier has come home.” I’m not sure what he means by that exactly.

Then Roy Junior actually plays the bugle – perfectly, I might add. 

I have no idea WHAT he plays. It isn’t “Taps” (which was in fact adopted by the U.S. military by this time). 

Some people have claimed it’s “The Last Post,” which is what they use in the British military, but it actually isn’t that either, unless my ears deceive me. (Listen to enough bugle arpeggios and it all does start to blur a bit.) 

Maybe it’s a David Rose original? Whatever it is, I don’t fault Roy Junior. He probably didn’t know the real “Taps” and just played whatever he’d been working on. They’re lucky it wasn’t “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” or something.

Previously on Little House

And suddenly, we’re done – Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: The Whip looks nice in some new outfits, including her funeral dress.

Caroline has a new funeral bonnet too, I think.

And Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT: 

WILL: So do you think it was an accidental overdose?

DAGNY: No, I think he killed himself deliberately by overdosing. Just like “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

WILL: What? How?

DAGNY: You know, Puff is so sad he never sees Little Jackie Paper again that he ODs on drugs.

WILL: THAT IS NOT THE STORY OF “PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON”!

DAGNY: I always thought it was. I used to argue with kids at school about it.

You can judge for yourself, reader

The first Little House episode with an unambiguously downbeat ending, “Soldier’s Return” is something special. Its success is notable given the regulars, even Charles, stay on the sidelines throughout.

UP NEXT: Going Home – the season finale!

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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