‘Alaskan Bush People’ Recap: Ballad of Billy Brown

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Courtesy Discovery

This week we look back at the origin history of the Brown family; it's a pertinent time to examine their journey, given the real-life events unfolding this month in a Juneau courtroom, in which their status as residents of Alaska, bush or not, has been called into question recently.  

The Brown backstory comes in the form of a special visitor to Chichagof Island; another Bill, and his wife, arrive at Browntown, and we learn that this is Billy's oldest friend, and the only person left who knew him when he lived in "the lower 48 [states]." Despite the distance (this Bill resides in the Forth Worth, Texas, area), the Bills have remained in touch over the years, although the last time they saw each other, the Browns were a family of four — not nine.

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Texas Bill has brought a box of old family photos, and they're used to guide Billy's retelling of his life's tale, and "the tragic accident" we're always hearing about, in particular. We learn that Billy was brought up in a happy, upper-middle class home as he cycles through photographs of his mother, father, and sister, his only sibling. But the happy reminiscence quickly gives way to a photo of a memorial service, a sight Billy hasn't seen save for the day the photo was taken, when he was 16 years old.

With this, he begins to recount the tragic tale of how his entire family perished after getting caught in a thunderstorm while flying a private plane across Texas in 1969. We're presented with a montage of real-life news clippings and headlines from the crash, including this one: "Decision to Stay Home Saved Youth From Death."

After the crash, a young Billy was allegedly tricked into signing documents for an emancipation, resulting in the loss of his family's home and fortune, to others. With no family, address, or money, he wandered the states for the next 10 years.

Billy is visibly pained reliving these experiences, but it has an effect on his brood as well; the children watch intently as their father examines old photographs of the grandparents and aunt they'd never meet.

We don't get much backstory about Bill and Ami's meeting, or why he ended up in Alaska specifically, but there are some funny moments from the family's time before the show that are relived, like the origins of the Brown family wolf howl, which apparently started after a close encounter with howling wolves when the family was living in a tent (the Brown boys, unafraid children at the time, howled back).

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The rest of the episode continues in the present, with the family planning for Billy's upcoming birthday and anniversary of "more than 30 years of living free." He's down and out after having to relive his worst nightmare, so they want to make it a special one. They take him gold panning on a river that they've heard contains trace amounts of gold nuggets — and we see Billy's eyes light up, because, as they explain, he has gold fever. Bad.

A more interesting flashback for this episode would have been for the Browns to explore what they were getting up to not in 1969, but in 2009, when they were living in Seattle, and not Alaska — but it seems those memories might be explored elsewhere.

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