Runaway Kid starts with an old-fashioned Wild West showdown; a metaphor, perhaps, for the internal battle that rises in Andy Taylor. Andy’s son Opie is playing cowboys with his friends when the sheriff rolls in and the Western scene becomes a Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex to be specific. Opie pretends to shoot his father, who simply refuses to die. His reason for willful immortality is that he has too much work to do. He goes into the Sheriff’s office, once again leaving the gang of outlaws to their own devices.
Tired of the Western schtick the boys decide to pull a prank. Tommy, Steve, and a reluctant Opie push Andy’s car up a few feet so that it’s in front of a fire hydrant, creating the illusion that the Sheriff, the very embodiment of law and order, has broken the law. Soon after, Deputy Barney Fife arrives and falls for the deception. He writes up the ticket and hand delivers it to Andy, who is both Barney’s superior and the alleged criminal in question. Andy refuses to sign off on the ticket, forcing Barney to go over his head to the justice of the peace, who is Andy. To settle the matter once and for all Andy temporarily swears in Barney as the justice of the peace, puts himself on trial and delivers a passionate case for his own innocence. Barney finds him “not guilty” and storms out. Andy goes to move the car away from the hydrant before Barney can return and regret his ruling. That’s when Opie reveals that the prank was the doing of himself and his compatriots, despite promising his cohorts that he wouldn’t tattle. Although Andy appreciates the gesture he takes the opportunity to teach Opie the importance of keeping a promise.
Back at the Taylor home Opie introduces his father to a new friend from a neighboring town, a friend who has not yet tired of the cowboy trend. George “Tex” Foley is so committed to Manifest Destiny that he is leaving home for the open range. He only has to choose between heading for Texas or Wyoming. Opie invites him to stay in the Taylor home while he ponders his decision. Andy, of course, feels obligated to get in touch with the Foleys but is bound by Opie’s promise not to tell on Tex. Considering that he had just recently emphasized the importance of keeping a promise Andy agrees to let the boy stay with them in secret until he can find a way out of this moral quandary or Tex departs on his journey, whichever comes first.
At the sheriff’s office the next day Barney takes a call from the sheriff of Eastmont who is looking for a missing child, one George Foley. This pushes Andy to take care of the problem once and for all. He goes back home, where Tex has settled on Texas as a destination. Andy manages to convince him to put off his expedition and return home, at least until his birthday in hopes that he’ll get snowboots as a gift, because he’d likely have to cross mountainous terrain to get from North Carolina to Texas. While Andy and Tex have their conversation Opie is in the kitchen preparing rations for the now canceled journey. He walks in on Andy calling George Foley’s parents, now with the boy’s permission but Opie doesn’t know that. He is furious at his father for breaking his promise. Andy clears things up by explaining moral relativism to the young child. Finally, Andy attempts to get payback by pushing Barney’s police car in front of the hydrant but is caught in the act by his target.
- This is the first episode without Ellie since her arrival two episodes prior.
- Perhaps because of Ellie’s absence and the lack of any lasting, impactful additions to the canon this episode feels like a deceleration in terms of the show’s general momentum.
- Two episodes ago Ellie parked in front of a hydrant but didn’t get a ticket. People are parking in front of hydrants all over the place in Mayberry but no one is being punished for it. There’s no justice in this town. It’s anarchy!
The Moral of the Story
Ellie might not actually appear in this episode but her presence is certainly felt thematically. In her debut Ellie represented the opposing side of a broad philosophical debate with Andy, a debate that was supposedly about the sale of pills or lack thereof when the customer doesn’t have a prescription, but was really about the virtues of moral relativism as opposed to absolutism. Andy represented the former and Ellie, the latter. In “Runaway Kid” Andy revisits that same argument. Unlike “Ellie Comes to Town,” this episode is more focused on the specific dilemma at hand rather than the broader philosophical argument. That dilemma is whether or not the moral rule of keeping a promise supersedes the reality of a family that is under threat of falling apart. Ultimately, Andy decides that it’s more important to keep a family together than to honor a promise.
President Donald Trump is not known for keeping his promises. In his time as a business magnate he developed a habit of hiring contractors but never paying them for their work. Roughly five months into his presidency he has failed to keep many of his campaign promises, for instance the Trump-endorsed Republican healthcare plan meant to replace the Affordable Care Act will cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance despite Donald’s January declaration of “insurance for everybody.” To be fair, there are other promises that he has made a sincere effort to keep. Twice he has tried to ban immigration altogether from at least six majority-Muslim countries, both times for the executive order to be shot down by the justice system.
There is, however, a related area where he has been more successful. Under his leadership Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has seen an increase in arrests of almost 40%. A tent pole of the Trump campaign was fighting illegal immigration, beginning with the announcement speech in which he said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
It should go without saying that there is no evidence whatsoever of a significant connection between immigrants of any source country and crime, but it is also true that not all immigrants are saints. Donald said many times that he would crack down on those few immigrants with other offenses, but arrests of immigrants without criminal records has spiked by over 150%. In 2017 more than 10,800 immigrants have been arrested for no reason other than their immigration status. Thousands of people are being uprooted from their lives for what amounts to little more than a failure to complete the proper paperwork. (You might be thinking “it’s more than that. They don’t pay taxes or social security and they steal jobs.” None of that is true.) Most tragic of all is the fact that many of the people being arrested and deported for breaking this minor rule have families in the U.S. Families, including American-born children, that stay in the U.S. because it’s their home.
What would Andy do?
I don’t want this blog to be all about Donald Trump but he is the President and there’s just a lot to unpack there, morally speaking. The silver lining is that posts about Donald give me a chance to imagine that wonderful alternate reality where Andy Taylor is President.
President Andy, like Sheriff Andy in this episode, would make the preservation of families a top priority. He would certainly see it as more important than any promise he made or relatively minor immigration policies. He would likely treat immigration much like other recent presidents, or like what Donald promised at points, and see that the ICE focuses their attention on violent or otherwise dangerous criminals and leave innocent people to build their lives in this grand country surrounded by their loved ones.