Another outsider comes to Mayberry and this time she’s here to stay, for a while at least. In “Ellie Comes to Town” Andy meets the new pharmacist, also known as a “lady druggist” in some dialects. Ellie Walker, niece of town pharmacist Fred Walker, has come to town fresh out of pharmacy school to follow in her uncle’s footsteps. She quickly makes an impression; first as an attractive young lady then as a predecessor to the “Soup Nazi” in Seinfeld, except when the pharmacist says “no pills for you,” you die. Or not.
The episode opens with Andy and Aunt Bee doing some shopping in the drug store. The minute they arrive they are faced with an obstacle: the drug store is closed. This is easily solved by using the key conveniently located above the door but the solution creates even more problems. Ellie arrives to find an open door that should be locked and strange people rummaging through the store she has just taken over leading her to assume that she is being robbed. She finds Deputy Fife outside and alerts him to the crime in progress. Even after the confusion is cleared up Ellie is still miffed by the Sheriff’s blatant disregard for rule and law. Nonetheless, the two manage to charm each other.
As Andy is on his way out Emma Brand comes in and asks for the pills that Fred Walker has always given her without question at the low price of ten cents. Ellie refuses to sell any medicine without a prescription, making Emma irate. Andy takes Emma’s side but Ellie holds her ground. Over the next day or two the tension in town over this conflict grows as Emma becomes bedridden but Ellie refuses to bend. Ellie becomes the town villain, so hated that even offering the cherubic young Opie some free ice cream fails to rescue her reputation.
Finally, with all of Mayberry against her, Ellie relents and delivers the pills to Emma, who is on her supposed deathbed. Afterwards, Ellie reveals to Andy that Emma isn’t sick at all and the pills are nothing but sugar; any apparent changes in Emma’s health were just the results of the placebo effect. Even though the pills were harmless she refused to give them away out of a sense of duty and loyalty to the oaths she took as a pharmacist. Andy counters that the “human element” should supersede the rules and regulations, a stance that Ellie then takes to get out of a parking ticket. Finally, in the episode tag Andy comes to Ellie to get more medicine for Emma because she gorged herself on sympathy food and developed a genuine stomach ache.
- Andy mentions having visited France during the war. The confirmation that he is a veteran adds another layer to Sheriff Taylor’s refusal to carry a gun. Perhaps he is committed to pacifism because of his experiences with violence. Or maybe Griffith really just didn’t like the way a gun felt on his hip.
- Ellie is Andy’s first of a few romantic interests. It’s unclear when Opie’s mother died but it’s possible Ellie will be Andy’s first girlfriend since losing his wife. Of course, this being Mayberry, the sadness of the situation is glossed over, only acknowledged when Opie says he “ain’t got no maw.”
- Seeing Emma demand her pills as forcefully as she did is absolutely chilling in the context of the opioid epidemic, right?
- This is the first time a character’s name appears in the episode title. It certainly isn’t the last, considering the show’s frequent character-centric narratives.
- Ellie is played by Elinor Donahue, best known for her role in Father Knows Best.
This episode is about as close as Mayberry gets to a gray area. That’s because the moral questions behind the situation are too broad to have any concrete answers. This episode is defined by the introduction of Ellie, who represents a wildly different moral philosophy from Andy. Andy, proving to be a truly unconventional lawman, believes that rules are essentially meaningless, especially on occasions when they hurt people, whereas Ellie is of the opinion that law and order are necessary for any society and exist for the very purpose of protecting people.
Considering the enormity of Andy’s moral dilemma we might as well take this opportunity to dive into one of the biggest social and political issues facing North Carolina and the United States now: transgender rights. As readers are probably aware, North Carolina has been at the epicenter of the transgender rights debate for over a year now since the passing of the now somewhat repealed HB2, a law most famous for requiring people to use the bathroom assigned to their “biological gender.” HB2 was passed in response to a law by the city of Charlotte to protect transgender people who used the bathroom of the gender they identified as.
Republicans in the state legislature claimed to have enacted this bill for the purpose of protecting women. It is their stance that rigorously maintaining the separation of genders in bathrooms and using the narrowest definitions of gender is necessary to keep the women of the state safe. They fear that if people are allowed to use the bathroom of the sex other than the one named on their birth certificates some will take advantage of that to prey on women. As such, they insist that the rules and norms of bathrooms be followed to the letter as they understand them.
Democrats, meanwhile, claim that the law is discriminatory to transgender people. They believe that anyone who identifies as a woman should be allowed to use the women’s room and those who identify as men should use the men’s room. What’s more, there is a fear among HB2 opponents that forcing transgender women to use the men’s room could result in assault on transgender women by cisgender men. They also point out that no matter which bathroom people use rape and assault will still be illegal literally everywhere in the state, including bathrooms. For these reasons, Democrats insist on a looser interpretation of gender constructs.
Fortunately, this isn’t as complicated as the broader moral dilemma posed by Andy and Ellie. There is simply no evidence of the horrific Bosom Buddies meets Game of Thrones situation Republicans are so afraid of. Of the many places with laws like the one in Charlotte that started all this there has been precisely one known case of a man claiming to be transgender to gain entry to the women’s room and assault women. That was Christopher Hambrook, a man from Toronto who was arrested and now faces life in prison. There were, to be fair, three similar instances in areas without laws protecting transgender people, making a total of four biological males dressing as women and behaving unsavorily. Meanwhile, it might be valuable to consider the number of transgender people who have been attacked in bathrooms belonging to the gender to which they do not identify: A study of 93 transgender people featured eight who had been physically assaulted in bathrooms.
It’s a little uncomfortable to reduce these assaults to numbers and to compare them, no matter the gender of the victim or attacker, but these numbers reveal the “human element” underneath that Sheriff Taylor spoke of. HB2 did nothing to protect women but dehumanizes and endangers the frighteningly vulnerable transgender community.
What would Andy do?
Of course, the topics of discrimination and rape are far too serious to ever be directly addressed in Mayberry, but let’s imagine a gritty reboot for a moment. If the Mayberry town council were to pass a law forcing people to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate, what would Andy do? Considering Andy Taylor’s tendency to find solutions that please everyone he would likely advocate a compromise. Unfortunately, in the real world a compromise is not a guarantee that everyone will be pleased. In late March, the North Carolina congress agreed to a compromise that no one liked. They repealed HB2, in a sense returning to the status quo, but now cities and towns in the state are banned from passing anti-discrimination legislation like the Charlotte law until 2020.
HB2 opponents were upset by the compromise because it stands in the way progress for three years and supporters were upset because it fails to protect citizens from a danger that doesn’t exist. Sheriff Taylor, great mediator that he is, would try to find another compromise that soothes both concerns for the people of Mayberry. Although he could often be very traditional Andy knew you couldn’t stand in the way of social progress, which means he would oppose the restriction on anti-discrimination laws. Change, after all, is very human and Andy is all about the human element.
However, fear of change is also an unavoidable human trait. Emma Brand doesn’t need her pills for any real reason, she just wants them because she’s always had them. I’ve been a bit snarky about the conservative fear of the nonexistent threat of predatory trans people but Andy Taylor, being much more wise than I, would clearly see that what HB2 supporters are really afraid of is change. That’s understandable, but misguided. Andy would advocate for letting the trans community of Mayberry use whichever bathrooms they choose while gently helping everyone else see that doing so does not put anyone in danger. Under Andy’s sage guidance all of Mayberry would come to embrace that human gender is complex and multi-layered, and that failure to understand that complexity is no reason to be afraid of it.