Fucking Bunny, Man; or
Would They Really Hang a Child on This Show?
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Airdate: October 4, 1976
Written and directed by Michael Landon
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Animal abuse escalates the Laura/Nellie war.
RECAP: Fucking “Bunny,” man! All hands on deck, let’s do it!
We open with a shot of a little girl running across a Bob Ross painting.
It’s not clear if it’s Carrie, Alicia, or the Smallest Nondescript Helen of Them All.
The music is “The Island of Misfit Grovesters.” Not one of David Rose’s better numbers, if I can be perfectly frank this far in the game.
Well, the little girl runs straight at us, yet the camerawork is such we still can’t tell who the hell it is. (Landon directed this one, and wrote it.)
We see apples on a tree branch, meaning if this isn’t a flashback or dream, it’s likely September or October.
The mystery child grabs an apple from the bough, then scurries into the shadows. This is really taking on the feel of Don’t Look Now.
But when she finally emerges into the light, good grief, it’s just Laura.
DAGNY: Oh, is this the apple-boob one?
You may wonder why Laura looks so little, but in fact it’s because she’s wearing a new, comically enormous bonnet.
Laura approaches a handsome dark horse behind a fence and gives it the apple.
“Can’t talk to you this morning, Bunny,” she says. “I’m late for school.”
AMELIA: I like the name Bunny for a horse.
OLIVE: I don’t. It’s stupid.
Okay. I know we just started, but already we’ve got a tangled thicket to mow down.
Regular readers know we’ve tracked Bunny’s appearances since the start of the series. Literally the start, since Bunny is the foal born to the Ingallses’ horses in Kansas.
Now, Bunny is actually one of the original characters from Little House on the Prairie, the book. Bunny is specifically stated in the book to be a colt (that is, male).
The adult horses Pet and Patty, on the other hand, are both female.
Pet is the one that gives birth to the colt. It’s never revealed who Bunny’s father was; presumably Pet was already pregnant when Charles acquired the horses near the beginning of the story.
Thanks to Annie at the always entertaining Wilder on the Prairie Podcast for confirming this, since I’m anything but an expert on the books.
I’m anything but an expert on the TV show, either, but I can confirm Patty, not Pet, is the mare who gives birth in the Pilot. The name and sex of the baby is not mentioned.
The other adult horse, whose name the Ingallses pronounce more like “Pat” than “pet,” is said to be male, and is implied to be the father.
It’s worth noting that in the Pilot, Bunny is depicted as plain dark brown in color, with no noteworthy markings.
Since then, Bunny has had three official appearances (or more or less official).
First, in “The Voice of Tinker Jones,” we see Laura feeding Bunny grain whilst fooling around with a sandwich in her other hand.
(Bunny’s name is not mentioned in that story, though.)
Then, in “The Award,” Bunny is among the animals saved by Ma when Stupid Mary sets the barn on fire. (Still no mention of the horse’s name at that point.)
Finally, in “Christmas at Plum Creek,” Bunny gets a proper introduction by name, and is specifically confirmed to be male.
As you recall, through some stupid “Gift of the Magi” shenanigans, Bunny winds up a Christmas present for Nellie, who promises in no uncertain terms not to physically abuse him. (Paraphrase.)
Also, somewhere between the Pilot and “Tinker Jones,” Bunny acquires a white “star” on his forehead.
After the Christmas special, we don’t see Bunny again, but as you may also have noticed, the horse playing him can be spotted at least eleven other times, doing double duty as an equine extra.
But now the real Bunny is back, kicking off a new installment in what we have deemed the Tragical Quadrilogy of Bunny of the Horse.
AMELIA [jokingly]: So, is this such a classic episode because Bunny ends up at the glue factory?
OLIVE: Not this time.
AMELIA: . . . Wait, what?
The first thing we notice is the white star has disappeared from Bunny’s forehead.
Laura turns, and the Bob Ross landscape is revealed to be just off the Walnut Grove thoroughfare. Presumably an overflow lot for Hans “Rubberface” Dorfler’s livery, or something.
Laura runs to school, on the way dropping some crap and stopping to pick it up.
Laura arrives late. Miss Beadle, clearly having one of her Ottessa Moshfegh mornings, peers down blearily and asks for an explanation.
Laura says she stopped at “Stenson’s orchard” to grab an apple, and haw haw of course the Bead assumes it was for her.
Sitting behind Laura (which is unusual), Nellie snorts, “It was for a horse.”
Still seeming hung-over, Miss Beadle says she doesn’t care what the fuck it was for. And just as hung-over teachers did in my schooldays, she directs the kids to study silently for a while, and then there’ll be a quiz.
Nellie leans forward and reminds Laura she told her not to feed Bunny anymore.
“She likes apples,” Laura says, and Nellie replies, “I don’t care what she likes.”
That’s right, she. Like Nels’s stupid dog Alfie or Happy last week, Bunny has reappeared and is no longer of the same sex.
Now, anybody who would like a joke about trans people here can just fuck off already, as far as I’m concerned.
Seriously. You know, the other night Dags and I were watching an old Love Boat where Gopher encounters a passenger who was once his college roommate and who has now transitioned to female. She’s played by Mackenzie Phillips.
Despite behaving professionally for the most part (he is the Yeoman Purser, after all), Gopher is quite freaked out and can’t talk to Phillips or look her in the eye.
Eventually, Captain Stubing takes him aside and tells him he’s being a complete ass – that his old friend is the same person she always was, simple as that. Gopher and Mackenzie Phillips have a good talk and reconcile their friendship.
Now, this was on a mainstream (and not particularly daring) TV show in 1977. If you’d asked me then if I could imagine 45 years later we’d still have so much bigotry and wanton cruelty directed against this tiny slice of humanity . . . well, I wouldn’t have known what to say, since I was two years old.
But today, I can’t believe it.
If you’re not trans, and you really can’t imagine what it’s like to experience life that way, then please just do the decent thing and keep quiet and let other people figure out their own lives. You might even learn something before you’re done. Hey hey hey.
That said, my impression on the topic of farm animals changing genders is that it was not as common a phenomenon in real Nineteenth Century America as it appears to be on this show.
Anyways, at Laura and Nellie’s whispering, the Bead snaps her head up and starts spraying poison at them.
They just shrug this off, though. “I hate you,” Nellie whispers into Laura’s ear. “I hope so,” she whispers back.
Apparently they’ve forgotten what can happen if they behave badly enough.
Meanwhile, Mary is being subjected to flirting by some doofus up by the steps.
Nellie comes running up crying, “Jason, Jason!” Which is funny, because that was the name of the boy Laura stole from her in “The Talking Machine.”
Now, could you tell it was Jason from that distance? I’ll be the first to admit I need new glasses. Maybe if I couldn’t recognize Laura at the beginning and now this, that need is more dire than I thought.
Anyways, with the return of Bunny, Jason, and Alfie/Happy, this season has a sort of blast-from-the-past feel so far. It’s sort of like the twentieth-anniversary season of Doctor Who, when every story featured a classic villain from earlier episodes.
I’m not sure where Jason’s been – he’s been missing for about four years by my calculations – but weirdly, not only does Nellie not seem to remember he’s been missing, she also apparently forgets the denouement of “The Talking Machine,” in which he publicly declared his love for Laura Ingalls.
Because Nellie is flirting with him again, and invites him to come watch her ride Bunny.
Jason is not interested, so Nellie says she’ll even let HIM ride her. (Bunny, that is!)
Nellie guesses Jason is waiting for Laura, which he confirms. She stands up tiptoe and whispers “I hate you” right into his face. “You been eatin’ onions?” he asks.
Laura comes out and Jason hands her some kind of doodad he calls a “floater.” Something for fishing, I guess.
After Jason leaves, Mary comes down and makes a sarcastic comment about his “romantic” present. Oh, not everybody can have Lord Byron for a boyfriend, Four-Eyes.
WILL: Why is this kid going after Laura and not Mary, like every other kid in this community?
DAGNY: He knows Mary is out of his league. He’s smart, unlike all the other boys.
On the way home, Laura and Mary rehash the plot of “Christmas at Plum Creek” for viewers just joining the saga. They make it sound pretty recent, even though it’s been about seven years since that Christmas.
Then again, we dated that story to December 1878 in the A timeline, and now we’re in September/October of 1878 in the B timeline, the whole town having magically fallen backwards in time in “Centennial.”
So I guess if we’re now technically before Christmas in the same year, that’s about as recent as it gets!
Anyways, Mary says Laura was happy enough with the trade arrangement at the time.
MARY: Laura Ingalls! You were so proud at Christmas.
OLIVE [as MARY]: “Even though it was ultimately pointless, and you lost the horse for nothing.”
Well, on we go. We see Nellie riding Bunny in the livery pen, cruelly whipping her as she bucks and neighs. (As Bunny bucks and neighs, that is!)
DAGNY: We’re gettin’ right to the story, huh.
WILL: Yeah, for all the complaints about Twentieth-Century stuff being slow-paced, this show keeps things pretty brisk.
Nellie pulls Bunny over to the fence, where she continues whipping her, seemingly just to vent frustration and/or shock Laura and Mary.
But eventually Bunny will take no more, and she suddenly rockets out of the livery’s open gate.
Laura and Mary give chase.
Bunny runs the screaming Nellie face-first into some tree branches.
Nellie falls off with a (satisfyingly heavy) thud.
Everyone in my house roared with laughter when Nellie hit the tree.
AMELIA: Oh my God!
OLIVE: This should have been like that scene in Hereditary.
To the Ing-Gals’ credit, they actually stop to see if Nellie is all right before going straight to Bunny.
Nellie is unconscious and her face is bloodied.
After a commercial break, we see Doc examining her.
They’re in Nellie’s bedroom, with Mrs. Oleson, Nels, Laura and Mary.
DAGNY: Why are the Ing-Gals even there?
This scene features another unexpected return performance.
WILL: Do you recognize that doll from anywhere?
ROMAN: Obviously, it’s that person in the picture.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, it’s Mrs. Oleson. It’s Harriet!
DAGNY: No it isn’t. It’s Janet.
That’s right, it’s JANET – the doll Laura broke at the beginning of “The Racoon [sic]”!
WILL: Wow, I can’t believe you remembered that.
DAGNY: I never forget a Janet.
Bunny, Janet, Jason, Alfie/Happy . . . My God, who’s going to reappear next?
Nellie might have a broken arm and is still unconscious; Doc says she’s got a slight concussion.
Then Mrs. Oleson says, “Oh no,” and Doc bites her head off. All the regulars are crabby today, it seems.
DAGNY: Doc’s hair looks great in this one. It looks like Roman’s. Write that down, so the readers can imagine what he looks like.
Mrs. O says, “Oh, Nels, why did you ever let her have that horse?” Then she turns to Laura (who, again, really has no reason to be there in the first place), and accuses her of concealing from them how dangerous Bunny was.
Nels tries to placate her, but she continues ranting about how obvious it is the horse deliberately tried to hurt Nellie, even though she didn’t see the incident herself and really has no way to judge.
Then she says Bunny should be “put to sleep” – likely an anachronistic phrase.
DAGNY: She probably just wants to start selling Jell-O!
Predictably, Laura sasses Mrs. O whilst Mary freezes her out with her trademark stare. Janet says nothing.
Mrs. Oleson reels on her, saying, “I know where the fault lies, Laura Ingalls! You traded a vicious animal because you wanted to get rid of it for a stove that cost a great deal of money!” (In fact, at the time we commented how the price of the stove – $7.87, or $160 today – was improbably low.)
Meanwhile, Nellie comes to.
AMELIA: Oh, is she going to be nice all of a sudden?
Strangely, Mary does not react to Nellie’s reawakening, but continues staring at Mrs. Oleson with hatred.
DAGNY: Look at the little lady’s head on top of Mary’s. It’s like How to Get Ahead in Advertising.
Anyways, everyone’s relieved at first, but then Nellie says she can’t feel her legs.
DAGNY: Are we supposed to believe this? The child just regained consciousness, and already she’s come up with this conniving plan?
WILL: I don’t think she’s actually faking yet at this point.
Getting that nervous cast to his face (as always happens to him when he must manage a situation trickier than a sprained ankle), Doc says he’ll take a look at Nellie’s legs.
Nellie’s face is pretty wickedly bruised up. Apparently they didn’t need much makeup for it, since Alison Arngrim had a skateboard accident not long before filming this episode. (Her broken arm is real too.)
Doc pulls out a tool of some sort and starts poking Nellie’s feet.
Everyone in my house started gagging and cringing at this point. Not because of the poking needle, but because of the state of Doc’s thumbnail, which appears to have been torn out, or burned with acid, or something.
He continues to poke his way upward.
DAGNY: How far does he go?
WILL: Oh, stop.
Nellie says she can’t feel anything, and Mrs. O flips out.
DAGNY: Is this what I was like when Alexander was diagnosed with celiac?
WILL: Kind of.
Doc immediately starts talking out of his ass and says it’s just temporary.
DAGNY: He looks young here. He always looks young with short hair.
Mrs. Oleson continues sobbing, then suddenly snarls, “Nels, you go down to the stable and you shoot that horse!”
AMELIA: Come on, lady, this is when you need to be strong for your kid.
WILL: Well, Nels and Harriet have different parenting approaches.
AMELIA: Charles seems like he’d be good in a crisis.
OLIVE: Well, he flips out when Mary goes blind.
WILL: Yeah. He flips out all the time, actually.
ROMAN: He talks the talk, but can’t walk the walk.
Anyways, Nels is shocked by his wife’s suggestion, but Harriet says if he won’t do it she will. Then she turns on Laura again and shrieks, “I hope you’re happy, Laura Ingalls . . . now that you’ve made my little girl crippled!”
DAGNY: This is a very ableist storyline.
Doc sternly tries to take control of the conversation.
“Well, make her walk, Doctor!” Mrs. Oleson says with sudden smugness, as if Nellie’s inability to walk right at this moment proves her condition can’t be temporary.
It’s the same logic that makes people argue climate change can’t be real because it’s cold out today; or vaccines are useless because vaccinated people can still get infected; or that guns aren’t of specific concern because people can also be murdered with cars or steak-knives or whatever. I can’t remember what type of logical fallacy this is, and I don’t really care enough to look it up, but it’s easy enough to understand:
Anyways, Mrs. O turns to her daughter and sobs, “Walk, Nellie!” “I can’t, Mother,” Nellie replies – quite calmly.
“You get out of my house, Laura Ingalls!” screams Mrs. Oleson.
Laura rushes out of the room.
From the doorway, Mary calls after her. Like, does invalid-visiting etiquette require her to stay or something?
Apparently she isn’t obliged, since we then cut to the two of them running in the street.
Mustache Man passes, driving a wagon.
The girls wind up in the livery, where Laura confesses she does blame herself for Bunny not liking Nellie.
DAGNY: Melissa Gilbert definitely has the acting chops for this story. Not every child actor does.
Mary whispers that it isn’t Laura’s fault, but she doesn’t really sound all that convinced.
DAGNY: Why doesn’t she bring up the whipping?
Then, before they’re able to come shoot Bunny, Laura steals her!
Cut to the Common Room of the Little House, where David gives us some spine-tingling, one might even say leg-amputatingly tense music, as Ma and Pa make grim faces.
They start snapping at each other, but we don’t really know what’s going on.
DAGNY: This is stressed Ma and Pa. Pa always stands at the fireplace when he’s stressed. There’ll be no popcorn tonight.
Then they hear a horse outside and run out to find Laura and Bunny in the dark. Apparently Laura’s been out roaming the countryside, and only came home because she realized she didn’t have a solution to the Bunny Problem. Plus it was dark.
She begs Pa not to let them hurt Bunny, and he promises he won’t, though I’m not sure how much value that assurance has. Laura is a HORSE THIEF now, after all.
WILL: She should be worried about her own neck. Stealing a horse was a hanging offense.
ALEXANDER: Would they really hang a child on this show?
During this conversation, David gives us the Little House theme on a sadly expressive cello, or I suppose I should say an expressively sad one.
Laura goes to bed, then Charles lights up and he and Caroline start unpacking the situation.
They sure hope Nellie’s okay, blah blah blah. Again, the implication seems to be if Nellie is fine, there’s no problem, but if she isn’t, it’s Laura’s fault.
DAGNY: This is bullshit. You can’t blame her for a purchase made fair and square years ago.
WILL: Maybe there was fine print in the contract saying “all incidents the first ten years responsibility of seller,” or something.
DAGNY: Yeah. Sprague probably wrote it.
WILL: Actually, it’s more about Laura’s mental health. They’re not worried about getting sued, they want to make sure Laura doesn’t feel guilty for the rest of her life.
DAGNY: I don’t know, they might sue.
WILL: Oh, no. Nels would never allow that.
DAGNY: I don’t know. He’s got a real blind spot for those kids sometimes.
David Rose gives us a poignant arrangement of the Little House theme at this point.
DAGNY: What is that instrument?
WILL: A vibraphone, I think.
DAGNY: The music is great in this one, as always.
Anyways, Caroline is so upset by the whole business that she defies Charles’s command to go to bed and stays up brooding instead.
DAGNY [as CAROLINE]: “Oh, CHARLES!”
They paw each other’s faces for a while first, though, so I think we can assume there’ll be no lasting tensions.
Up in the loft, Laura lies abed worrying, whilst Mary slumbers obliviously.
After a commercial break, we see Charles piloting the Chonkywagon through town . . . and whoa! The Chonkies also look different!
Previously the male Chonky had a plain brown face, and the female a white “star” with a connected “stripe” down her nose.
But now both horses have white “bald face” or “blaze” markings all the way down to their nostrils.
Imagining how the white coloration could have transferred from Bunny’s face over to the Chonkies has some appeal, I’ll admit. But since I’m already behind schedule today, I’m going to accept the most rational explanation, which is that the horses were simply recast.
Anyways, Laura is Pa’s only passenger, and I have to say, David’s music here does not really reflect the gravity of the situation if you ask me.
They arrive at the Mercantile, where they are met by Doc Baker. “How’s the little girl?” asks Pa, in a weirdly detached choice of words. (Nellie? “The little girl”?)
“She’s no better, but no worse,” says Doc.
ROMAN: That’s what he says right before everybody dies.
He again says the condition could be temporary.
ALEXANDER: Death is never temporary, Doc.
ROMAN: Tell that to Jason Bateman.
Doc eventually admits he has no fucking clue what he’s talking about. And so the matter rests there.
Pa makes Laura come inside to see how Nellie is. They find poor Nels a-mopin’ in the storeroom. He’s probably regretting having gotten rid of his laudanum; in the past we’ve seen him dip into it in times of stress.
Obviously distressed, Nels still manages to smile at his friends. He’s so great.
Charles asks how he’s feeling, but Nels waves the question away like a proper Minnesotan.
He says Reverend Alden is coming by to talk to Nellie. Seems a weird idea – we don’t get too many scenes between the two of them.
Charles then starts to confess about Laura stealing the horse, but Nels says Rubberface Dorfler already told him.
Nels surprises Charles by saying Laura had “every right” to take Bunny, though it’s not exactly clear how he’s come to that view.
Then again, he admits, he never could have shot the horse anyway.
WILL: Nah, he couldn’t. He’s a wimp like John.
OLIVE: He’s not a wimp. I love Nels.
WILL: It’s okay to love a wimp. It’s okay to BE a wimp. I’m a wimp.
OLIVE: No you’re not.
WILL: Yes I am.
ROMAN: What about that time at the State Fair?
WILL: Well, there was that. . . .
Then he begs Charles not to tell Harriet he knows where the horse is, and throws in an apology to Laura to boot.
One thing he also says in this scene is that Nellie would like to see Laura. You’d think this would make him suspicious (like it did the last time), but clearly he’s under strain.
Cut to Nellie’s bedroom, where Nellie is in bed eating chocolates, Harriet is sitting angstily at a desk, and David is giving us a hilarious horror chord on the piano.
Laura knocks, and the strings come in with some evil dead-leaves-blowing music. Nellie stashes the candy.
Laura enters, and Mrs. Oleson stares at her in seeming rage and disbelief. David has the piano player strike literally every key on the instrument as she gets up and huffs out. Perhaps he’s getting paid by the note this week.
But Nellie herself is in mild spirits. She invites Laura to come sit on the bed and starts making absurd comments about how, as an invalid, she misses knowing what the weather’s like outside.
Laura instantly breaks down.
OLIVE: Oh, not the tear schmear!
Nellie pulls her head down to her chest and comforts her. (!)
Laura and Nellie exchange words of remorse and forgiveness. Then Nellie asks the guilt-ridden Laura if she would mind helping her keep up with her schoolwork.
Alison Arngrim nicely underplays the irony of her scripted lines. The temptation would be to pour on the phony affection. (See Katherine MacGregor’s “Oh my DEAR” scene with Karen Grassle in “For My Lady” as an example of what I’m talking about.)
Enjoyable as the MacG approach can be, Arngrim keeps her acting very controlled, with a flat, unaffected delivery that suggests a cooler and more calculating brain than her mother’s. There’s a reason Nellie is one of TV’s most memorable characters.
Anyways, then Nellie fakes a spasm and says Laura should leave her to rest.
The second she’s gone, Nellie pulls her legs out from under the covers and, grinning, starts rubbing her feet. Clearly her sensation and motor control are returning.
Laura heads directly to the mill, where Carl the Flunky tells her where she can find Charles. (The subtitles say “Paul,” but Laura clearly calls him Carl – also the actor’s real name.)
Ben Slick is loitering behind them, by the way.
Laura catches Pa up on the Nellie sitch. Stupidly/understandably, he is relieved Nellie doesn’t blame Laura for her condition.
WILL: Charles doesn’t have much of a part in this one. He didn’t have much of a part in the last one either. They must have gotten complaints about Landon hogging the limelight.
We cut to the schoolhouse, which vomits out kids at the end of the day.
Laura is going on to Mary about how happy she is to make things right with Nellie. Mary, nicely standing in for the audience this time, implies Laura is an idiot for thinking any of what happened is her fault.
Then Jason appears and says, “Hey, Laura, can you go fishin’ Saturday?” We all cracked up instantly at his voice. Olive’s right, he does talk just like Goofy.
Mary galumphs off, still annoyed.
Meanwhile, Nellie – on her feet – peeps through her curtains.
She sees Laura and Jason talking, and David gives us “The Love of Willie Oleson” in the score. This tune was previously used, you’ll recall, as the theme for Laura’s fake love affair with Willie in “The Spring Dance” as well as her real one with Jason in “The Talking Machine.”
David then switches to Chimes of Doom music as Nellie stares.
WILL: God, this music is out of a Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe movie.
Later, we see Laura is working with Nellie on her homework. Nellie mentions Jason, saying she loves him, but now that she’s paralyzed, he’ll never love her back. She adds “I would feel so hateful to any girl that would shine up to Jason.”
This statement is strange in a couple ways. First, as we’ve already observed, it acts as if the events of “The Talking Machine” were a dream or something, and the three of them are back to Square One in their love triangle development.
Second, Nellie has “felt hateful” towards Laura through at least 90 percent of their relationship to date, so this isn’t really much of a threat.
Laura, who despite having a clever brain is easily manipulated emotionally, struggles inwardly a bit, then say she understands.
OLIVE: Nellie slays. She’s a girlboss.
AMELIA: No. She’s dreadful.
ROMAN: No, Olive’s right, she’s a girlboss.
Then we cut to a shot of the Little House from an unusual angle – the bedroom side.
Pa grabs a bucket of water from the creek, when Jason suddenly materializes.
AMELIA: Is that Alexander?
ALEXANDER: Oh, haw haw, Amelia.
Jason tells Charles Laura never showed up for their fishing date. Everybody in our house did Eric Shea/Goofy impressions for a while, saying “Gee whiz, Charles!” and “Gawlee, Paw!” and things of that sort.
Despite his doofus voice and annoying Poseidon Adventure role, Eric Shea is quite likable in this part, though.
Anyways, Pa and Jason have a little sexist laugh at how girls frequently get mad over nothing.
WILL: Oh my God, Mimi, that’s so sexist.
AMELIA: Well, sometimes stereotypes are rooted in truth.
To his credit, Charles says the only solution to these situations is to go talk to the girl in question.
In the barn, Laura is in the hayloft laying an egg.
Laura, fairly nicely, tells Jason she was too busy to join him for fishing. He notes she’s just sitting there doing nothing, and she screams, “Well I just finished a few minutes ago!”
They have a big argument about whether she’s lying or not.
Laura seems to have it in her head now that Jason was attracted to Nellie until her accident.
WILL: Did their memories get wiped or what? They dealt with all this in “The Talking Machine.”
AMELIA: No, it makes sense. Relationships at this age are very malleable, and now that Nellie has an in, she can disrupt things and make another attempt. It’s plausible.
(Amelia is a psychology major, so I trust she knows what she’s talking about.)
Well, things get ugly then, with Laura screaming “Go away!” and Jason spewing coarse expressions like “Dad burn it!” and “Shucks!”
David sweeps in with some intense string-writing. Jason tosses off a stinging remark about Laura being a liar and departs.
DAGNY: Do you think he looks a little like Thirtysomething Guy?
WILL: I’m not putting that in.
When we return, the Ingallses are eating dinner. It’s very dark in the room, but that makes sense if it’s October.
But Laura is missing. Pa complains that it’s “third time in two weeks she’s been late for supper.” I wonder if every two weeks he does an accounting of everybody in town to see if they’ve been performing up to his expectations. It wouldn’t completely surprise me.
The mood is grim, and Pa rants a while longer about Laura’s defects.
At this point, Laura arrives home and heads straight out to the barn to feed Bunny. Wouldn’t this be something they would be sure to do even if she wasn’t home yet?
Ma goes out to talk to her.
DAGNY: What’s with this music? Is Ma going to get murdered?
ROMAN: It sounds like the Halloween score.
Laura is worried Ma and Pa are angry, but when Ma says they’re just worried, she relaxes and proceeds to muck the auld byre.
Ma, very concerned, says they’re very worried because Laura is “keep[ing] these hours.” She says it’s clear Laura is not only falling behind on her chores, but on her schoolwork as well.
Laura has another breakdown of sorts, confessing she hasn’t done her own homework.
OLIVE: FELT. When it’s one o’clock in the morning, you haven’t started your homework, you’re like, “Don’t let Pa find out.” . . .
DAGNY: You ARE Laura.
But Laura says helping Nellie is the only thing that alleviates her guilt. She says Mrs. Oleson has even been nice to her because of it.
In the face of this, Ma caves.
Then, we cut to Willie creeping out of his room in the middle of the night and lighting a candle. A privy visit, possibly? Oh what am I talking about of course it is.
DAGNY: Poor Willie. No one’s even checked in to see how he’s doing with all this.
OLIVE: He looks so cute in his little nightgown.
Willie can’t have to go that badly, because he pauses when he hears Nellie’s voice talking and laughing in her room.
He quietly opens her door, and sees she’s out of bed, rocking Janet the doll and chit-chatting with her.
“Hey, how’dja get in that chair?” he asks, then cries, “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with you!”
With a terrifying look, Nellie leaps over the bed, seizes her brother, slams the door and blows out the light in a series of swift moves.
Before Willie is able to blackmail her, Nellie buys his silence with promises of candy.
WILL: They have an interesting relationship. They’re believable as siblings.
DAGNY: They do. They bicker, but they’re a team. It’s them against their parents, the other kids, the world.
WILL: My sister and I were like that.
The next day, Laura arrives at the Mercantile, where Nellie is resisting an inspection by Doc. Harriet and Nels reluctantly ask him to come back another time.
Nellie shows Laura a new (very ugly and scary) doll she’s been given that came “all the way from England.”
OLIVE: Ooh, I like that green outfit.
WILL: Laura’s, or Mrs. Oleson’s?
OLIVE: Laura’s. I’m surprised you can even tell they’re green.
I am pretty color-blind. It’s one reason my graphics for Walnut Groovy always look so terrible!
Laura delivers a report about Nellie’s good grades, and Mrs. O says maybe Nellie should be helping Laura instead of the other way round.
WILL: This brings up an interesting issue. Nellie’s grades are better than Laura’s, and she’s also older. So it seems funny she would extort homework from her. If she was doing this to Mary it would make more sense.
ALEXANDER: Mary would never fall for it.
Once Harriet’s gone, Laura says people are starting to get suspicious, and she can’t keep doing all Nellie’s homework for her.
Nellie fakes a dizzy spell to get out of this line of questioning. Hilariously, she is lucid enough to ask Laura to do her math homework before passing out.
She even coaches Laura to imitate her handwriting. (I was wondering about that – surely the Bead would notice.)
Laura begins working, and Nellie smirks and produces a candy cane from nowhere.
Meanwhile, at the Mill, Doc and Nels arrive with a question for Charles. They want to see if he can fix up an old wheelchair for Nellie before a new one arrives from Minneapolis.
Charles says he’d love to, and shuts Nels down when he offers to pay for the work.
That night, Charles works on the wheelchair to the accompaniment of some moody piano jazz.
DAGNY: Where are they, a piano lounge? This belongs on a different show.
It actually sounds a lot like this!
Her speech is filmed THROUGH the broken back of the wheelchair.
DAGNY: Landon! That is a classic Landon visual idea.
WILL: It totally is. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more commentary in fan circles about the differences between the directors and writers on the show.
Pa tries to tell her not to believe everything she hears in church, but she snaps at him and he shuts up. (Again, a feat nobody else in this family is capable of.)
The next day, Doc arrives in his phaeton to pick up the chair. Weirdly, I guess the Ingallses are all going to go fishing together, and they invite Doc along, but he declines.
When he’s gone, Caroline tells Charles Laura is refusing to come along.
Charles goes in to see if he can change her mind, but she (quite nicely) says she’d rather stay and finish her work.
Pa starts to compel her to come, but bang bang, she shoots him down again!
At the Olesons’, Doc and Mrs. O put Nellie in her new chair. She seems quite happy about it.
Mrs. Oleson says Nels and Willie are in Springfield getting Nellie a new dollhouse. I don’t know who’s minding the store.
Then, also quite nicely, Harriet says she’s grateful to Charles for his work on the chair.
Doc leaves, and then Nellie basically orders her mother to go out to the Little House immediately to thank Charles, saying she can mind the store. Reluctantly (and rather unbelievably), Mrs. Oleson agrees.
Literally the second she’s gone, Nellie jumps out of her chair and does an extremely nutty dance to bizarre witch music from the orchestra.
DAGNY: She’s like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
Mrs. Oleson arrives at Casa dell’Ingalls in a nice buggy with bright red wheels and a reddish horse to match.
Hilariously, David gives us hints of “The Ride of the Valkyries” in the score as she approaches.
Passing the barn, Mrs. Oleson finds Laura brushing Bunny and is shocked, shocked, shocked!
Laura fiercely sasses her.
Furious, Mrs. Oleson says she’ll take Bunny away this very minute. But Laura leaps onto her and rides off again. (Onto Bunny, that is!)
DAGNY: You know what, that’s why Laura’s new bonnet is so big, to conceal the stunt rider. This way you can’t tell it’s some big bearded guy.
WILL: Oh my God, of course.
They race into town. The new animal actor playing Bunny, incidentally, is a male horse named “Ott.” Ott was apparently a minor Hollywood star, also appearing on Bonanza and Lassie as well as in Escape to Witch Mountain.
Laura parks Bunny at the Mercantile, though it’s unclear why. This seems sort of like fleeing Berlin and heading straight for the Eagle’s Nest, doesn’t it?
She peeps through the window and sees Nellie up on her feet and dancing with the new ugly scary English doll.
Very quickly putting things together, Laura knocks on the door of the residence. Nellie jumps back into her chair.
Laura comes in, and, with an almost zombielike sense of purpose, says Mrs. Oleson asked her to take Nellie for a walk. Nellie protests, but Laura pushes her out the door.
DAGNY: It’s Misery again.
WILL: Yeah, it’s pretty clear at this point that was Stephen King’s tribute to Little House on the Prairie.
Nellie asks where Bunny came from, but Laura hilariously says she doesn’t know.
Laura begins pushing her to the top of a strangely high hill in the middle of town. (I think this is probably the shortcut behind the mill that kids are always taking?)
Laura sits down and starts making cold remarks about what a pain in the ass it’s been to do Nellie’s homework all this time. “Are you all right?” Nellie asks.
Looking down on the thoroughfare, Laura sees Mrs. Oleson buggy come rolling through. “There’s your ma,” she says, almost casually. “I bet she’ll be glad to see you walk.”
Then she screams, “Mrs. Oleson, up here!”
Spotting them, Mrs. Oleson hollers, “Laura Ingalls, what have you done with that filthy animal!”
Well, you all know what happens next. In a moment that will live forever, Laura gleefully says, “Nellie, your mother wants you!” and PUSHES HER DOWN THE HILL AS HARD AS SHE CAN!
Nellie screams, and her trip down really is about the funniest fucking thing you’ll ever see in your life.
At the bottom, Nellie bounces out of the chair and somersaults into the millstream.
Nellie rises from the water, snarling and whimpering.
DAGNY: These are my favorite Nellie noises.
Mrs. Oleson, thinking she’s witnessing a miracle, faints.
Interestingly, you can see Alison Arngrim’s braces when she screams, if you look closely.
Then, in a rather charming epilogue, Laura and Nels hang out in the Olesons’ front yard to debrief things.
Laura pats Nels’s hand, saying she’s glad both Nellie and Mrs. O are all right. Nels laughs and they have a nice little moment.
Then Nels says he’s giving Bunny back to Laura, since it was a mistake to give her to Nellie in the first place.
WILL: Nels is like the least showy part on the show, but Richard Bull is always so good, isn’t he? He rarely gets a chance to shine.
Laura hugs him and goes to take the horse home.
DAGNY: Nels is so great. He’s the Will Kaiser of this show.
WILL: Aw, I wish I was as great as Nels.
DAGNY: You are. Happy Father’s Day, my love.
Encountering Jason, also on horseback, Laura invites him to join her family for their fishing trip.
David plays us out with “The Love of Willie Oleson” again, and it’s another one in the can. Bum-Bum-BUT OH NO IT ISN’T!
With a sudden shift back to horror music, we see Nellie has witnessed all from her bedroom window.
She begins screaming “I hate you, Laura!”
Then she trashes her own bedroom, even breaking poor Janet’s head once again!
Her clothes have dried quickly, incidentally.
Nellie starts destroying her gigantic new dollhouse with a hairbrush, when, hilariously, Willie appears and screams, “Don’t break that stuff! Give it to me! . . . I could sell it!”
Nellie knocks the remains of the dollhouse over, and rounds to menace Willie with the brush. He backs out of the room in terror.
Nellie continues her rampage, even breaking the framed embroidery that may or may not be Mrs. Oleson.
Two things about the picture, which we now see in close-up for the first time. One, it says Porcelain, so clearly it’s a representation of Janet and not Harriet.
Second, it’s dated, and the date is 1880! That means we’ve mysteriously skipped a whole year in the timeline! Oh well, whatever.
Then an unusual title appears and informs us that this story isn’t even over, but rather will be continued next week in “The Race.” Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: A lot of new clothes. Laura’s bonnet. Nellie wears a new dress with plaid trim.
Harriet has a new hat.
Charles appears to go commando again.
AMELIA: So seriously, what happens to Bunny?
OLIVE: Bunny has a terrible death.
WILL: Yes, but don’t worry, it’s not for three episodes or so.
AMELIA: Oh my God, three episodes???
Deserving of its reputation as many people’s favorite episode of all time, “Bunny” stands up. (Just like Nellie herself!)
Arngrim, MacGregor, Bull, and Gilbert all deliver classic performances.
There’s one strike against it, though, and that is the lighting is sometimes so dim you can hardly see what’s going on.
UP NEXT: The Race