The Murder of Mary Ingalls; or
He’s Getting Ten Years of Songs Out of This One Episode
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: The Collection
Airdate: September 27, 1976
Written by Arthur Heinemann
Directed by Michael Landon
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Aldi becomes the victim of kidnapping and identity theft when he encounters some unethical folksingers. Meanwhile, Nels’s stupid dog from Season One returns for some reason.
RECAP: Welcome back for Season Three! As much as I’d love to shoot the shit about things like favorite shows of mine that debuted in 1976 (Family Feud, In Search Of . . . and The Muppet Show come to mind), we’ve no time for an opening monologue today. Let’s plunge straight in.
David Rose has given us a new arrangement of the theme . . . and I have to say, it’s VERY odd:
Okay, it’s not actually as odd as THAT. That’s actually the theme for the short-lived Alex Trebek game show Double Dare, later used for (the inferior) Card Sharks. You’ll agree I’m sure it would make an excellent theme for most anything, including Little House. (Thanks to Kristofer, a true Friend of Walnut Groovy, for synching it up.)
But this line of talk isn’t mere airy persiflage. In fact, there IS a new arrangement of the theme, and it IS quite odd:
The main difference is they’ve added a swingy, old-timey piano part over the orchestra. I don’t know if you’d call it honkytonk, or “sweet,” or sashay-y, or what.
And no disrespect to those styles by any means, but they don’t belong on top of the Little House on the Prairie theme.
It’s just horrible.
The new arrangement feels slower without actually being slower (quite a musical feat). All the urgency and drive just drains away.
There’s also a new coda, one they’ll stick with for a while (at 00:49 above). And THAT’s just fine. (The Season Two coda was a little wacky, in my humble view.)
Anyways, once the episode starts, David, perhaps aware that living-room debates around the country are not going in his favor, immediately shifts gears. Into high!
And any urgency siphoned off from the theme gets repurposed immediately, as the orchestra, in full tutti, accompanies a covered wagon racing across the plain.
WILL: Now THIS music is great.
DAGNY: Yeah, it’s like Indiana Jones.
AMELIA: It’s better than the theme, I’ll agree with you there.
(Our daughter Amelia, lately home from college, and lured by Cool Guest Star Johnny Cash, joined us again for this one. We’ll make a Little House fan of her yet.)
Anyways, we see that the wagon is driverless.
AMELIA: Look out, it’s a runaway cart, just like in Les Miz.
WILL: A common problem in the Nineteenth Century, I guess.
Suddenly, there’s Cash Himself, on a horse! From atop a hill, he sees the wagon and gives chase.
DAGNY: Now how did he know that wagon was driverless?
WILL [snickering]: Well, he saw it.
AMELIA [snickering]: And there was no driver.
DAGNY: Oh, very funny.
In real life, Johnny Cash, who they say was afraid of horses, apparently did not ride.
This fear did not extend to ostriches, as he kept some of those as pets; and one nearly killed him, in 1981.
Anyways, Cash stops the runaway horses and looks into the back of the wagon.
[DAGNY and WILL gasp.]
WILL: Holy shit, it’s the Reverend Alden!
DAGNY: The Padre himself!
Alden is clearly unconscious, though he flaps his lips a bit.
Now, it’s not clear to me if Alden fell backwards into the wagon whilst driving, or if the horses took off after he passed out in the back. Neither scenario seems all that likely, actually.
Anyways, Johnny Cash takes the Rev, wagon and all, back to his house, where Aldi is tended by none other than June Carter Cash herself.
AMELIA: Do they sing him back to life?
June was Cash’s longtime wife in real life, as you probably know; a singer herself, and from all accounts his inspiration to “walk the line” and evade the darker sides of his personality. He wasn’t always successful at it.
Here they are doing their most famous (and absolutely delightful) duet, “Jackson”:
I grew up listening to Johnny Cash, as my grandmother (the one Mrs. Whipple reminds me of) loved him. When I was in college, Johnny and June came and performed in the summer resort community where I grew up in Wisconsin, but I didn’t go. This was towards the beginning of his “alternative rediscovery” period in the 1990s – the “American Recordings” years.
I’ve always regretted missing that show. I was working a summer job in an antique shop at the time, and I remember everyone was excited that Johnny and June might stop in, since June was apparently quite the collector. They didn’t, though.
His music is still a family favorite of ours. His art is unique in style – curiously square and repetitive, but full of passion, wit, and ferocity; and somehow transcendent.
Anyways, June says her patient has “got the fever bad,” and she and Johnny Forensic-Files Alden’s belongings, quickly deducing his name, occupation, home parish, and that he’s survived a fire. Too bad they weren’t around when Laura and Nellie disappeared on that camping trip.
Cash cynically suggests the Rev’s pockets have so little money because he spent it all at whorehouses (!) He also examines Alden’s watch, inscribed as a gift from the Walnut Grove congregation.
DAGNY: Did we see them give him that watch?
WILL: No, we didn’t.
DAGNY: Oh yeah, that was a Bible.
WILL: No, it wasn’t a Bible. It was an empty homeopathic medicines box!
Addressing June as “Mattie,” Cash comments how the Rev’s wallet and watch would be fair reward for the free health care they’ve been providing.
“Caleb, no!” June says, very much upset. He gives her an annoyed look and goes out to tend to the horses.
Back in Walnut Grove, Mr. Edwards is driving his own wagon through town.
He isn’t singing “Old Dan Tucker,” but you can tell he’s thinking about it, because it’s playing on the soundtrack. David really opens windows into the characters’ minds sometimes.
Mr. Edwards arrives at the mill, where Charles and Carl the Flunky are hard at work.
AMELIA: Oh, Charles should be looking, he’s going to cut his finger off.
WILL: I always worry about that too, but he’s made it through two seasons okay.
Mr. Ed says he’s back from Sleepy Eye, but without his expected cargo, since a delivery from someplace called “Gray’s Corners” never came in. (The real Minnesota has no town of that name.)
Then he says someone called “Old Man Carswell” heard that “something bad happened up that way.”
“A tornado, do you think?” says Charles, suddenly anxious.
DAGNY: God, he’s got PTSD, hasn’t he. I bet he talks about tornadoes in every situation now, and people just shake their heads sadly.
It’s not clear how much time has passed since “Going Home” – set, we figured, in late summer of 1878 in the “B” timeline. But since Charles is still worked up about the tornado, and since there are no indications to the contrary, we’ll go ahead and assume this one takes place shortly thereafter.
Anyways, “Old Man Carswell” seems not to have known what the bad thing was. Mr. Edwards says Rev. Alden is coming to town from that direction, so he’ll probably know.
He says the Rev will be staying with him and Grace – and perhaps this means Amy Hearn is finally dead? It does seem odd they’d put Aldi up at the Old Sanderson Place otherwise, having the three kids and all.
Mr. Ed tells Charles he has to hide all his booze before the Reverend arrives, and they both have a good laugh about that.
WILL [to AMELIA]: When Charles brought Mr. Edwards to town, he was such a drunk he ransacked a bar.
AMELIA: Charles seems cool about it now.
Back in Johnny and June’s modest home, Aldi wakes up coughing. Johnny Cash introduces Mattie, and says their family name is Hodgekiss.
Aldi gives his first name as Robert. The actual Walnut Grove minister in real life, you’ll recall, was named Alden, and did go by Robert, though his given name was apparently Edwin. I guess there’s a reason they called him the Prince of Liars.
Back in the TV universe, Alden asks where he is.
DAGNY: He should ask what year it is. Maybe he was inventing a time machine and it exploded.
Cash tells Alden they’re “half a day’s ride from Walnut Grove.” So if Gray’s Corners is on the other side of Sleepy Eye to the east, as Mr. Edwards suggested, that likely puts the House of Cash somewhere between Sleepy Eye and Springfield on the map.
Aldi chokes off coughing, and June gives him some literal milk and honey.
The Rev relates a harrowing tale of how a wildfire decimated Gray’s Corners. He says the survivors there are badly in need of supplies and so he was traveling to Walnut Grove to gather donations.
Okay, not to be the proverbial turd in the punchbowl again, but since both Sleepy Eye and Springfield are closer to this “Gray’s Corners” than Walnut Grove, and since both those communities are also larger and richer, it makes zero sense Alden would view the Grovesters as critical to any fundraising effort.
Moreover, if Gray’s Corners is in fact east of Sleepy Eye, that would make it closer to New Ulm, an even larger town that’s been mentioned a couple times. (It was one of the places Charles went searching for Alan Fudge when he disappeared.)
Come to that, Mankato, which we know from previous adventures is a metropolis, full of elegant restaurants, theaters, gambling establishments and the like, is probably as close or closer to Gray’s Corners than Walnut Grove is.
But never mind that. Johnny Cash says in his current condition, the Rev can’t go anywhere yet. He suggests the relief effort be left to Walnut Grove’s town elders.
WILL [as ALDEN]: “Harriet Oleson? Are you crazy?”
DAGNY [as ALDEN]: “You haven’t met these people. There’s one guy who’s okay, but he doesn’t have two nickels to rub together.”
Cash comes up with a modest proposal: that he ride to Walnut Grove and undertake the collection for Alden himself.
AMELIA: Why does Johnny Cash look so weird?
WILL: Because he’s wearing blue.
AMELIA: Oh my God, that’s it.
Addressing Cash as “Brother Hodgekiss,” Aldi thanks him, most sincerely.
To some sinister chords from the Rose, Cash picks up the Rev’s carpetbag and exits.
After a little while, apparently, June goes out into the barn to look for him, and he suddenly appears – dressed as a minister, in Aldi’s extra suit.
Cash goes into an impression of a clergyman and says he’ll be happy to collect the Grovesters’ contributions.
June expresses strong disapproval, realizing what he’s proposing.
DAGNY: Her voice is going all Judy Garland there.
She says Cash will “get in trouble again,” and “this time they won’t let you go.”
“Trouble!” Cash exclaims – two or three times.
DAGNY: Right here in River City!
Frustrated, he says the collection is for the needy, and after all, Mattie and he certainly qualify as that.
June says back when they moved into this “shack,” he had promised her “an honest life.”
DAGNY: They should burst into song!
AMELIA: It is a great song title.
Johnny says, “It was a place to keep warm in, Mattie – a place to hide, a place to wait until somethin’ better come along.” He adds, “Then’s then and now’s now!”
AMELIA: These are all good song titles.
Then he says, “You take what you can when you can get it, or it gets taken away from you.”
WILL: That one’s a little close to “While You See a Chance, Take It.”
DAGNY: That must have been Steve Winwood’s tribute to Little House on the Prairie.
Cash explains the rest of his scheme, viz., that they’ll keep Alden recuperating until Saturday, at which point they’ll send him off to Gray’s Corners and abscond with the collection in his absence.
Then he hops on a horse and departs immediately! The hopping and departing is real, so I guess Cash couldn’t have been all THAT scared of horses.
After about half a day’s time, I suppose, who do we see swinging her arms about the countryside but young Mary Ingalls?
WILL: I like Mary’s arm-swinging walk. We don’t see it much longer. This is pretty much Mary’s last season of being a kid.
She hears an unmistakable deep voice in song, floating on the air.
DAGNY: Yeah, it’s like when I did security at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
Cash is singing a song called “Black Jack David.” It’s both a charming choice and a weird one: charming since its lyrics mirror the situation (a singing rider encounters a walking young girl), weird because in the song they become, um . . . intimate companions.
Interestingly, the song itself is a variant of “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” a very old song indeed and one I know better than “Black Jack David.”
Anyways, its use in 1870s America (or whenever) is probably more than okay.
Cash definitely IS riding a horse here as well, by the way.
He stops and, of course, immediately compliments Mary on her prettiness.
AMELIA: Ugh, gross.
Cash drops Aldi’s name, and Charles’s, and the next thing you know Mary is hopping on the horse with him.
“She sways a little bit in the middle,” Cash notes.
DAGNY: Is he talking about the horse, or Mary swinging her arms?
Mary asks if he’s a friend of the Rev’s, and he says yes, laughing, “You might say we’re both cut from the same cloth.”
You may doubt he’d make self-referential jokes like that without anyone around to get them, but I do that, sometimes.
Anyways, they take off, and Cash starts up the song again.
WILL: She should sing harmonies, since she was such a brilliant music student supposedly.
After a break, we see Ma and Pa are giving Johnny Cash some coffee in the Common Room. Pa becomes quite concerned when he hears the wheat crop in Gray’s Corners was lost.
WILL: PTSD for sure.
Anyways, Cash says Aldi’s gone to Mankato to collect relief supplies (which would have made more sense anyway, as I said).
His pronunciation of Mankato inspired some discussion.
He spreads the emphasis out evenly amongst the syllables (think Ho Chi Minh), whereas locals in the real universe put the accent more along the lines of tornado.
AMELIA: Do you think this episode inspired him to write “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man”? He mentions Mankato in that, doesn’t he?
WILL: I don’t know. He might, I’d have to look it up.
He doesn’t, sadly, though there are a couple Minnesota references.
WILL: He didn’t write that song, though.
DAGNY: No, I know that. The original is actually Canadian!
This is something of a running gag in our house. Dagny, as some of you may remember, is Canadian-born.
If you know any Canadians yourself, you may know of the weird phenomenon where they rewrite American patriotic songs to be about Canada, and everyone in Canada thinks the Canadian version is really the original.
Seriously, they’re very famous American songs too, like “This Land is Your Land,” and even Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Dags’s sister, my dear sister-in-law, once even tried to tell me Kenny Rogers was Canadian. It’s an endemic problem.
DAGNY: No, I’m serious this time. Stompin’ Tom wrote “I’ve Been Everywhere”!
Well, in fact, Johnny Cash was not the first to record “I’ve Been Everywhere” – it actually comes from 1996, quite late in his discography. (I wonder if he did it at that show I missed? God, I wish I’d been there!)
There is a Canadian version of the song that’s much earlier (1971), and Stompin’ Tom Connors did record it. So Dags definitely gets points for that . . . though if you listen, what Connors actually does is ADD Canadian-specific verses after the “American” ones (which also include some Canadian place names themselves).
But then here’s a video of Cash performing the “American” version live on his variety show in 1970 (as a duet with Lynn Anderson).
So does this mean the American version really is the original? Actually, no. “I’ve Been Everywhere” was first an Australian song, with Australian place names and everything, written in 1959.
Excuse the digression, of course.
Johnny Cash reads out the list of generous Grovesters Aldi thoughtfully gave to June.
“Most of the names on this list live right in town,” says Pa. (I’m not prepared to endorse that statement at this moment, but never mind.)
Nothing to do with the scene, but what the hell tree is that outside the window?
Also, speaking of Laura, where the hell is she?
Well, anyways, Ma and Pa, who never met a weird stranger they didn’t idiotically trust, say that sounds fine.
Cut to the bank.
DAGNY: Hey, it’s Sprague! My favorite!
Mr. Sprague, Dags’s favorite, hands Cash a couple of bills. He seems to call him “Brother Hoskins.”
Mary, who clearly has a future in nonprofit development, talks Sprague into contributing a little more than he’d planned.
Then they cross the street to the Mercantile, Mary giving Cash a cute word of warning about Mrs. O.
When they arrive, Mary presents Cash to Nels, and shoves Harriet (who’s wearing Pinky) into the storeroom.
Mary proposes Mrs. Oleson let Johnny Cash store the goods he collects at the Mercantile, saying she’ll put the Olesons down for a $50 in-kind donation. ($1,000 today.) After peeking at Mary’s donor list, Mrs. Oleson tells her to value the space at $60, so she can pat herself on the back for giving twice as much as Mr. Sprague.
When they come back, Nels is finishing up a donation he’s made behind Harriet’s back. If all this sounds funny, it isn’t; something about the whole business doesn’t quite come off right.
But that’s not all for the “comedy.” After they’ve left, Harriet says they’ll likely put her name on a pew for her generosity, and Nels mutters, “Now I know why they call it a pew.”
A glance at the resume of Arthur Heinemann, who wrote this one, shows he wasn’t exactly known for comedy, unless of course this is your idea of hilarity:
(It is for some people, after all.)
Then it’s a quick cut to Doc examining Alicia’s puppy, “Mine,” in front of the millwheel.
WILL: Be warned. This show loves to kill babies and dogs.
One thing, though: Why is Mine still a puppy? I make it about five years since she got him, in Little House Universe Time (LHUT), that is. Even if you just go by Real Life Time, it’s been a year.
Anyways, Mine is sick. Doc advises Alicia to keep giving him his medicine, but doesn’t make any promises as to his ultimate fate. For once.
Mary and Johnny Cash approach.
DAGNY: Is he going to sing “Egg-Suckin’ Dog”?
Mary comforts Alicia whilst Doc sizes up Johnny.
DAGNY: Watch, Doc is always suspicious of strangers.
But no, instead he promises to give him everything he has.
WILL: What? Does he not remember the whole Red Buttons fiasco?
Then Doc asks Cash for a favor, saying he needs to visit “Mrs. Bjorneson,” a recent widow who’s fallen into depression.
WILL: Bjorneson, huh.
(Actually, the credits spell it Bjornesen . . . so probably Norwegian?)
Sparing no time, we cut to the bedroom of an elderly lady, presumably the patient. A familiar figure bustles about the room.
WILL: Hey, the Whip!
DAGNY: Oh, I’m glad she’s doing okay.
And she does seem to be doing okay. She’s cracking jokes, and she’s no longer wearing her mourning dress, which makes sense as I figure even if this one does come right on the heels of “Going Home,” it’s been about a year since Granville died.
Mrs. W is apparently doing freelance nurse work these days, since when Doc and Johnny Cash arrive, she immediately rats Mrs. Bjornesen out for not taking her medicine.
Doc addresses the patient as “Addie,” but she refuses to look at him.
Then he introduces Cash, saying, “He’s come a long way to do a great help to a great number of people. He wants to talk to you.”
Doc and the Whip exit, leaving Cash looking a bit sheepish at this grim-looking woman’s bedside.
WILL [as JOHNNY CASH]: “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.”
AMELIA [as JOHNNY CASH]: “I was totin’ my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road . . .”
The lady doesn’t look at him, but immediately tells him he can spare her any ministerial bullshit. (Paraphrase.)
She says she specifically doesn’t want any crap about her late husband, Joe, waiting for her up at the Pearly Gates.
Cash startles Addie by saying he considers the idea of Pearly Gates “a bunch of frou-frou.”
It’s a fun line, but also odd, since he’s mentioned the Pearly Gates at least twice himself earlier in the episode.
She compliments him on this “sass,” and asks about his background. He says he doesn’t have much of one, since “the callin’ came recently.”
Addie asks “What was you before?” and he says, “A travelin’ man.”
DAGNY [as JOHNNY CASH]: “I was a highwayman/Along the coach roads I did ride . . .”
(That’s a wacky fucking video, if I do say so myself.)
Addie then starts talking about how sassy and fun her husband was – a “travelin’ man” himself, as well as a drinker and libertine, but not a bad sort for a’ that.
DAGNY: Johnny Cash should start taking notes.
AMELIA: Yeah, he’s getting ten years of songs out of this one episode.
She then tries to shock Cash by saying Joe even did jail time; but she’s the one shocked when he says he’s done it too.
Then she asks if he was ever a sailor, and he smiles and tells her he spent seven years at sea – “from the time I was eleven till I jumped ship in New Orleans.”
AMELIA [as JOHNNY CASH]: “Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Opelika . . .”
Addie gives up any pretense of not liking Cash now, and starts reminiscing how Joe loved to sing sea “chanteys.”
Cash asks what his favorite one was. Addie says she’s sure he wouldn’t know it, but he grins and says, “Try me.”
Outside, Doc and Mrs. Whipple are waiting on the porch. Sure enough, suddenly from within they hear minister and patient singing together.
DAGNY: Doc won’t like this.
WILL: No, he’s very anti-fun.
The song is “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” It’s an appropriate pick for the time period, but . . .
WILL: This isn’t a sea shanty. It is merely a song of the sea!
AMELIA: Not this again.
Yes, this may shock you, but I was one of those spoilsports who, during the “sea shanty” craze last year, bitched and moaned because “Wellerman” isn’t technically a shanty (i.e., a specifically structured song historically performed by sailors as they worked).
Well, neither is “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” (With its theme of anguished separation from a loved one, it is a well chosen song for this storyline, though.)
Anyways, Doc is actually delighted to hear the improvement in Addie’s spirits. He even hugs Mrs. Whipple.
DAGNY: I thought he was going to plant one on her.
WILL: He might. Remember he almost spanked Amy Hearn that one time.
Back inside, they finish up the song. Addie says she needs her rest now, but makes him promise to come back. Then she lies back, still singing.
AMELIA: And she dies.
WILL: Yeah, crumbles like the Skeksis Emperor.
Naw, she doesn’t really. In fact, she can’t even be that tired, because when Cash comes out, she sasses Mrs. Whipple from inside.
Interestingly, she addresses Mrs. W as “May,” even though Granville told us her name was Amanda.
[UPDATE: On Twitter, Dave Laman pointed out that in the Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase vehicle Foul Play, Hope Summers and Queenie Smith appear together as two old ladies playing a filthy game of Scrabble.]
Anyways, Doc is amazed, saying the Lord must genuinely be working through Hodgekiss, because none of his own efforts with Mrs. B did any good.
DAGNY: Maybe you’re just a horrible doctor, Doc.
Another observation here: Johnny Cash and Doc appear to be pretty much the same height, and if so, how does Aldi’s suit fit him?
Beginning to feel guilty, Cash heads off, and oh my God, it’s THAT SAME HOUSE AGAIN!
Back at the Hodgekiss “shack” (not sure how it’s worse than most of the other houses we’ve seen on this show, but whatever), the Reverend Alden is still recuperating.
WILL: These are not the most flattering shots of Aldi. His liver-spotted neck, shooting up his gumline.
DAGNY: Oh, he’s ill and has had a trauma. It works.
Looks aside, he says he’s feeling better, and he and June smile warmly at each other.
AMELIA: He’s into her.
June fixes him some mush. It looks even less appetizing than Ma’s, if such a thing is possible.
The Rev starts blithering-blathering about how they saved his life, which quickly brings June’s guilty heart to the surface.
By the time he tries to thank her, she’s pert near full tilt boogie with it, and screams at him to fuck off already.
Suddenly realizing he’s in the soup scene in Misery, Alden clams up, and June storms out.
Back in Walnut Grove, Nels is helping Johnny Cash stack up all the goods people have donated. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” he says.
WILL: Oh, Nels, you’re such a dunce!
Then when you think he couldn’t act any stupider, he says with all the stuff piling up for the relief mission, he’s beginning to worry that thieves might target them.
WILL: Dude, it’s your fucking storeroom! It’s always full of merchandise! That’s what it’s for!
Nels next tells Johnny that he also keeps a huge amount of money in the storeroom for emergencies(!), then gives him the spare key (!!!). I sometimes wonder if the cast drew straws to determine which character would be brain-dead for each episode.
AMELIA: Where is Laura? Have we even seen her at all yet?
No, we haven’t.
Mary and Johnny Cash apparently still have potential donors to visit. Where is he staying, anyways?
[UPDATE: Reader Maryann reminded me there are other places on the Sanderson property that might have served as quarters for Aldi and Cash:]
Cash mentions his plan to head to Gray’s Corners on Saturday, but Nels and Mary beg him to stay and preach the sermon on Sunday.
I think he could easily get out of this, since his mission is literally to get supplies to people who are starving. But, apparently tempted by the thought parishioners might give even more money at the church service, he agrees to stay the extra day.
So Johnny Cash and Mary go driving around in the country. Mary is listing off the donations they’ve received, though since they’ve been doing the collecting together, I don’t know why he would need this update.
The generous Grovesters include the usual suspects as well as “the Peabody sisters” who live “in that fine old house.” (Any guesses what it looks like?)
Mary starts going on about how poor people are always more generous than you’d think, because they understand what it means to be needy. Cash says, “Mary, you know, if this suit fit you, I’d let you wear it.”
WILL: She’s really lucky he’s not a worse type of criminal. He could easily strangle her. It would even make a great ballad, “The Murder of Mary Ingalls.”
They arrive out at the Old Sanderson Place, where Mary immediately asks where Alicia is.
DAGNY: Um, why doesn’t she ask for John – you know, her BOYFRIEND?
Mr. Edwards tells them Mine has died, and Alicia is out in the barn. They don’t say what the dog was suffering from. (Presumably foxtails.)
Mr. Ed asks Johnny Cash if he’ll speak some words of comfort to Alicia.
WILL: A surprising request, since he doesn’t even believe in God.
AMELIA: No, but when your kid is sad.
DAGNY: Yeah, plus he’s gaga over those Sandersons.
They all head to the barn.
DAGNY: Poor Alicia!
WILL: I don’t love Alicia.
Cash crouches down and has a little conversation with Alicia. Her main concern is that she won’t see Mine in the afterlife, since dogs don’t go to Heaven.
WILL: This is idiocy! Others have pointed this out too. When she got the dog in the first place, she was like, “Do puppies go to Heaven?”, and Patricia Neal was like, “Of course they do.” So why would she think they don’t now? It’s ridiculous!
DAGNY: Oh, simmer down, it’s because she’s just a little kid.
Cash cites the story of Noah and the Ark (screwing up the details) as proof God loves animals and they do go to Heaven.
Mary and Mr. Ed get goo-goo eyes, but Cash frowns guiltily.
After another break, we see Rev. Alden is out of bed. His nightshirt matches Charles’s, unless I’m wrong.
It’s apparently Saturday now, so the Rev is getting ready to depart, though June tells him check-out time isn’t until noon.
He asks where his spare clothes are, but June just dissembles.
DAGNY: Aldi, these people have got to be stopped.
The Rev notices his watch is also missing, and he puts things together pretty quickly.
WILL: He does look like he’s lost some weight.
WILL: Probably a Method actor, lost it for the part.
June tries to justify her husband’s scheme, but her heart isn’t in it.
WILL: What would they do with five barrels of apples anyway?
Then she breaks down and says all Alden has to do is wait for Cash to come back with the ill-gotten goods that afternoon.
WILL: I wouldn’t like to see Reverend Alden take on Johnny Cash in a physical fight.
Then June begs Aldi not to set the law on them.
The Rev suggests Cash may just abandon her and start a new life, a ploy known in the Little House Universe as “the Cobb-Fudge Doomsday Scenario.”
But June doesn’t believe that.
WILL: This is dark music for David.
Next we see Johnny Cash in Addie Bjornesen’s bedroom again (with Mrs. Whipple too).
Addie’s sitting up in bed and sass-talkin’. She says she’s decided to add some items of Joe’s to the collection, since “he ain’t likely to need ’em” anymore.
Quietly, she adds, “I buried him, finally.” Little House is great with small character moments like this, isn’t it?
The “time to bury the past” theme is really nicely threaded through the script, too.
Then she says, hilariously, that when Cash brings Joe’s clothes to Gray’s Corners, he needs to make sure they don’t go to “no mealy-mouth.” Rather, she wants them to be worn by someone with the right kind of personality – like Joe, or himself.
Then she makes him promise to stop by her house once more before leaving town, to say goodbye. And he agrees.
DAGNY: I bet Johnny Cash loved this script. ’Cause he’s a dark man who goes good.
WILL: Hey, spoiler alert!
AMELIA: I have seen Little House before, Pops.
I bet Landon loved it too.
I’m sure she’s right, though. The story’s very in keeping with Cash’s artistic and personal preoccupations. His memoir, Cash, is an amazing read. His way of thinking has a lot of appeal for me, especially as I get older.
Anyways, I hope you’re prepared, friends, because now we get a weird shock as a not-exactly-beloved minor character unexpectedly reappears. (No, it isn’t Johnny Johnson.)
The scene begins with Cash quietly using the spare key to enter the Mercantile. (Nels had noted earlier the same key opens both front door and storeroom – great security system, Light Bulb Head.)
But Cash stops short when he encounters a surprise guardian – Happy, or possibly “Alfie.” . . . that’s right, Nels’s stupid dog from Season One!
You will recall this dog, a bloodhound, was at that time a new acquisition of Nels’s, and was despised by Harriet for smelling bad and being underfoot all the time. We last saw Happy/Alfie choosing to flee town rather than endure more of the Olesons’ bickering.
Since then, there’s been no indication the dog was recaptured; in fact, if anything, you’d assume the contrary, since Nellie begged to adopt one of the foundling puppies and made no mention of any other dog in their house.
(Given Mine’s mysterious and untimely death, she can probably be glad she didn’t get one. Might have been some terrible genetic syndrome.)
Anyways, like one second later Nels appears in his nightgown, despite the fact that neither Cash nor the dog made any sound.
He even had time to put shoes on!
WILL: Now why is he even wearing shoes?
DAGNY: I don’t know, but I love how Nels wears a cap to bed. Like, what is he protecting?
Stupid Nels assumes Cash was creeping into the Mercantile in the middle of the night to make sure “everything’s locked up tight.”
AMELIA: Oh, Jesus Christ.
Nels then makes a dippy little speech thanking Cash for bringing out the best in the Grovesters. He even tears up a bit.
DAGNY: Yeah, these saps deserve everything they get.
Embarrassed, Cash changes the subject, saying, “Mr. Oleson, that old hound of yours is about ready to whelp, isn’t she?”
WILL: More of Jack’s bastards, I presume.
Two things. First, given the circumstances and the fact it’s the middle of the night with only Nels’s lantern providing illumination (though the light does seem to increase magically as the scene progresses), I find it hard to believe Cash would have observed the dog’s, um, condition.
Second, it was definitively stated in “Family Quarrel” that Alfie/Happy was male. (This per a pedigree!)
So either they were mistaken at that time, or this is a different dog. (It has been six years in LHUT, after all.) But it’s quite weird they’d be identical. Isn’t it?
Anyways, Cash asks that Nels give one of the puppies to Alicia Sanderson when they’re born.
Well, the big day finally arrives, and Charles helps load Cash’s wagon.
WILL: Is Laura just not gonna be in this one?
DAGNY: She must have been on Circus of the Stars that week.
Or maybe Circus, Lions, Tigers and Melissas?
(Sorry, but THAT is a thing I never knew existed.)
Cash has removed his jacket for the loading, and Mary is monkeying around with it for some reason. She finds the Rev’s watch. She is the Hercule Poirot of Little House, as we’ve observed in the past.
When Cash comes to get dressed, she confronts him.
DAGNY: The terrifying blue eyes of Melissa Sue.
AMELIA: Mary’s no dummy.
WILL: No, she’s not. I mean, in some things yes, but not this.
Cash makes up a lie of explanation, but Mary doesn’t buy it.
DAGNY [as MARY]: “The jig’s up, Johnny!”
AMELIA: Now he is gonna kill her.
WILL: Yeah, he has to.
Then we see everybody arriving at church. In the score, David gives us a bit of “In the Garden,” that famous hymn that goes “And He walks with me and He talks with me.”
Not a personal favorite of mine (I always preferred the Seventeenth-Century stuff in my religious youth). Dags notes her mom loved it, though.
Then there’s a commercial break. A weird spot for one, if you ask me.
When we come back, the church is full of people . . . including Laura!!!
There are a number of people there we’ve never seen before, as well as:
- Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude;
- An Ambiguously Ethnic Kid and the Ambiguously Ethnic Mom (seated separately);
- Mustache Man;
- The Smallest Nondescript Helen of Them All as well as two regular-sized ones;
- The Midsommar Kid;
- Mrs. Foster and her Paramour from “Child of Pain” (back together again, it seems);
- The Kid With Very Red Hair;
- Doc Baker;
- Not-Linda Hunt;
- Herbert Diamond (!); and
- The Generic Clean-Shaven Bald Man.
The congregation might be more notable for who’s missing: No Olesons or Edwards-Sandersons, even though we could see Nels, Mr. Edwards and Grace milling about in the thoroughfare before the service.
No Bead or Mr. Hanson either.
When Johnny Cash enters, Mustache Man cries “Brother Hodgekiss!”
WILL: Wow, even Mustache Man knows him by name. He really did conquer this community.
Cash takes the pulpit. Mary stares icily at him, and he frowns.
DAGNY: Now he’s making Florence Pugh Face.
Then somebody screams, “It’s Addie!”
Sure enough, Addie is up and out of bed, and, helped by the Whip, she walks up the aisle.
Doc grins his head off, whilst some of the back-benchers mutter things like “The Hand of God has touched her!”
Hearing this, Addie says, “I don’t know nothin’ about the Hand of God. . . . All I know is I got my sass back, and I know who done that. God bless you, Brother Hodgekiss!”
Doc nicely gives up his seat for her.
Under this pressure, Cash breathes shakily, but remains calm. He says he can’t do what he’d planned. He essentially says he’s been changed by his exposure to the Grovesters’ extraordinary goodness and generosity.
WILL: He’s a good actor, for a non-actor.
AMELIA: He’s better than some of the regulars.
WILL: What? Who do you mean?
AMELIA: Like that little girl.
WILL: Oh, Alicia. Yeah, he’s better than her. He should have taken over the role.
Then he says they should be the ones to take all the donations to Gray’s Corners. “My work here is finished,” he says.
“Not quite!” cries a voice from the back.
DAGNY: ALDI! Talk about a clash of the titans.
Yes, it’s Aldi, accompanied by June Carter Cash.
In a very nice touch, we also see Johnny Cash Fusspot (the Johnny Cash-lookalike townsperson) is amongst the crowd!
A man says “How you feelin’, Reverend?” and Alden (rather coldly) says, “Fine, thank you, Jack.” I assume it was Mustache Man who spoke, since in real life his name was Jack Lilley? I don’t think we can call that canon, though, since he isn’t on camera.
The question doesn’t make sense, though, since Cash never mentioned Alden’s illness. He told them the Rev was collecting in Man-Kay-Toh.
Alden says he’d like to add a few things, and when Cash tries to interject, he spits, “Don’t interrupt a minister when he’s talking to his congregation!”
But of course, in the big feel-good finale, Aldi then says it’s clear Brother Hodgekiss has given a greater gift than anybody in the room except himself can realize.
He calls for a round of applause, first apologizing for the impropriety of clapping in church.
WILL: Wow, he won over everybody. Aldi, that dying old lady, Mustache Man.
AMELIA: Is the dog going to come back to life now?
He turns to shake Johnny Cash’s hand – and Cash slips him his watch.
Out in the crowd, Mary melts.
And so does June, who beams to see her husband recognized in this way.
Cash reaches out to take Mary’s hand and whispers his thanks to her.
As he and June leave the church, Aldi invites Mrs. Foster to sing a solo hymn. From outside, we can hear it’s “In the Garden.” (In the real world, it wasn’t written until the 1910s, though.)
As you probably know, it’s actually June Carter Cash’s singing voice we hear. I couldn’t find a video of her singing it, but here’s Johnny’s rendition:
Johnny laughs how he never would have expected such a change to come upon him, and they decide to return home.
WILL: Does he just get to keep the suit? Why did Aldi even have two suits anyway?
It’s not clear if he’s really going to become a preacher, or what, but I think it’s implied he has a future in legitimate industry.
AMELIA: She’s got quite the rack. Meow!
WILL: There’s no need to make meowing noises.
AMELIA: No, I was meowing at the cat.
And that’s it.
DAGNY: He should sing “Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum.”
Yes, he should! He doesn’t, though.
STYLE WATCH: Unless I missed it, Charles does NOT wear Pinky in this episode!
He does appear to go commando again, though.
Mary wears a nice straw hat.
THE VERDICT: A smashing season opener, with a larger-than-life turn by Cash. June is great too.
The story has an unusual meta element too, with moments like Addie doubting Hodgekiss would know a song taking on extra sparkle (because it’s freakin’ Johnny Cash).
UP NEXT: Bunny (!)