I Wish I Was Dumb Abel!
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: School Mom
Airdate: November 13, 1974
Written by Ward Hawkins
Story by Jean Rouverol
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY: Miss Beadle breaks every bone in her body, so Ma subs for her at the school. Possibly better known as “Dumb Abel.”
RECAP: First things first: When they realized which one this is, my kids showed their maturity (not to mention their compassion and understanding) by chanting “Dumb Abel, Dumb Abel!” They’ve learned nothing from you, Little House. I’m sorry, Michael Landon.
Joining me for this episode were my wife Dagny, my daughter Olive, my stepson Roman, and, in a very welcome addition, my other stepson Alexander.
We open with some music that’s so wacky I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s kinda like one part Sesame Street theme, one part sixties psychedelic organ, one part Christmas bells, one part Tijuana Brass, one part “Sheep May Safely Graze,” and one part Judy Collins. That’s quite the cocktail. I tell ya, David Rose is pretty out there at times.
Anyways, what is this music accompanying? Just an ordinary school scene, with everybody playing in the yard and Miss Beadle coming down the steps. The title comes up, and it’s “School Mom.” Nobody ever calls Caroline “Mom,” so I assume it’s a pun on schoolmarm? Just goes to show not all puns are witty.
(“Seriously, I thought the title of this one actually was ‘Dumb Abel,’” said Olive.)
Miss Beadle is done with work, though all the kids are sticking around on the playground for some reason. She’s untethering her horse (does it just stand there in the sun all day?) when Nellie approaches, saying “Mama” wants to invite her to tea. The Bead makes no effort to hide her disgust for the Oleson women, saying “I’ll try” and rolling her eyes.
Miss Beadle climbs into her buggy. Meanwhile, a dispute involving Mary, Christy and Cloud City Princess Leia about Laura hogging the swing is interrupted by Mean Harry Baker, who sneaks up behind Leia with a snake. (Not a rattler.) All the kids start screaming and running around madly.
OLIVE: I would scream too. And Roman would poop his pants OH MY GOD MISS BEADLE!!!
Because Miss Beadle’s horse, spooked by the commotion, has taken off and run straight down the main thoroughfare! A bearded man on another horse appears out of nowhere and tries to get the animal under control, but Miss Beadle is flung from the buggy and bounces twice on the ground before coming to a stop.
This is an amazing shot and an amazing stunt. The horses run right at the camera, then veer off at the last second while Miss Beadle comes flying out and lands right in front of us. Seriously, I have no idea how they set it up, or pulled it off without killing the stunt double. Not to mention she looks just like Charlotte Stewart! They didn’t even need to hide her face.
[UPDATE: I recently learned that the amazing “stuntwoman” who so resembles Miss Beadle was actually . . . a man! Apparently he was a guy named Bob Miles who was a veteran of Bonanza who went on to do stuntwork for Halloween 4 (my personal pick for the second-best Halloween movie), and who as you can see from his photo below looks nothing in the least like Charlotte Stewart at all. This makes the whole stunt ten times more amazing – well done, Little House!]
Cut to Caroline in front of the little house, being asked by the Walnut Grove school board to serve as substitute teacher while Charles and Carrie lurk in the background. The board says since she’s a former teacher, she’s the obvious choice.
The board, by the way, consists of the Olesons and the Baker-Hansons.
Mr. Hanson says “Yah” a few times in this scene. I know there’s a stereotype people in Minnesota say “Yah” all the time. I can confirm it is completely true.
WILL: How did they assemble this board? I suppose Doc is the only educated person in town.
DAGNY: Yeah, and the rest are all the richies. It’s just like real life.
Oddly, Doc Baker says, “Our children really need you” – odd because as far as we know he has no children himself. (This furthers my theory that Mean Harry Baker is Doc’s nephew, or even illegitimate son.)
The school board says they’ll pay her the same as Miss Beadle, but Caroline isn’t sure. Mrs. Oleson implies this is money for nothing (it is pretty generous), and then she starts asking whether Caroline will favor Laura and Mary over the other students. Caroline gets so annoyed at the suggestion that she accepts on the spot.
DAGNY: It’s a bad idea to take the job just because she hates Mrs. Oleson.
WILL: Yeah, she’s easily manipulated by her. It often gets her into trouble.
The majority of the board (Nels included) are delighted. They thank her, and as they’re taking off Doc yells to Charles “Thank you, Ingalls!” but we all thought it sounded like “Thank you, Anals!”
That night in bed, Caroline frets about her decision. (The shot is strangely set up: The camera is on Caroline’s side of the bed, and although it’s night, there’s a very bright light coming from Charles’s side – that is, the common room side rather than the window.)
Caroline basically explains what we all know, that she took the job because Mrs. Oleson pissed her off. If there’s one thing I would fault this season for, it’s assuming the audience doesn’t understand the jokes or what’s going on in the plot and then explaining it. (Although I suppose this whole blog is me explaining the same jokes and situations, so I’ll shut up about that now.)
Anyways, nothing of interest happens in this scene.
WILL: Do we know Miss Beadle is still alive? Did they say that?
OLIVE: She didn’t die. The mood would be a lot more tragic.
ROMAN: Would it? I’m not sure she’s all that well-liked.
WILL: Maybe that’s why she’s unmarried.
[EVERYONE GASPS IN HORROR AT THIS SEXIST COMMENT, WHICH I FORMALLY RETRACT HERE]
The next morning, all the kids have gathered inside the school before Caroline arrives. (Who unlocked the door? Maybe since it’s also the church they leave it open all the time?) Nellie is trying to get the kids worked up about Caroline’s lack of teaching experience. And Willie is staring into the camera.
“She’s not qualified,” says Nellie. “Mary says she used to be a teacher,” says another kid. “Well, that was a long time ago,” says Nellie, and Willie hilariously adds “Everything’s different now!” Like, what could possibly be different? It’s a one-room school where the students literally use whatever books they happen to have at home as textbooks.
While they’re talking, a big galoot who looks to be in his thirties quietly comes in and sits in the back row.
Then Caroline, Laura and Mary arrive and everyone turns around and stares at them. The Ingallses walk up the aisle, Mary preening her hair.
Caroline takes her place at the head of the class and says good morning. Laura and Mary beam, but the rest of the kids all frown and look down. Caroline says she knows who everybody is already so they don’t have to take names. I highly doubt that, but I get it, we only have an hour.
Since Caroline won’t, I suppose I’ll take the roll: In addition to Nellie and Willie, we have Christy, Cloud City Princess Leia, Kid Hideous and Mean Harry Baker. Oh, and in this image we can’t see Midsommar Kid, but he’s there, standing behind somebody. (He is awfully little.)
Additionally, there is a fierce-looking blonde girl who I think looks like Joni Mitchell (“She does look like Joni Mitchell!” said Olive. “We have a poster of her in the choir room.”) . . .
. . . as well as three other blonde girls one of whom may or may not be Nondescript Helen.
Finally, there are four other boys. One is bigger and looks like Albert.
The other three boys are quite little, and two of them are perhaps . . . ambiguously “ethnic”?
I guess the showrunners get half a point for that (barely). I’m sorry to say, you can’t expect much from this show in that department.
Speaking of which, this week a friend of mine (who is not a Little House fan) said, “I don’t know how you can do a blog about a show made 100 percent by and for white people!” I understand this attitude, and I hope somebody does do a blog viewing Little House through the lens of the social issues we’re all talking and thinking about today. I try to touch on such issues – glancingly, and I hope with some (weak) humor. But I can only speak from my own knowledge and experience, and thus even if I wanted to, I am not the person to do a blog like that. I can’t make it Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Walnut Groovy!
Anyways, absent today are Olga, Johnny Johnson, Cassie Not-Laura, and the Poor Fat Kid (PFK). I’m beginning to think Olga may have been killed in a malfunctioning orthopedic-shoe accident.
Well, the schoolkids are just sitting there doing nothing out of the ordinary except looking unhappy. And as far as I remember from my own school days, that’s not much out of the ordinary.
But Caroline says, “What seems to be the trouble?” “You ain’t a teacher,” says Mean Harry. “I have taught school,” Caroline says, “in the east.” This made us spit out our drinks with laughter: People in Minnesota do not think of Wisconsin as “the east.”
“That was a long time ago,” says Mean Harry. If Caroline were the Bead, she’d simply hit her desk with the ruler at this point and yell “Silence!” But she isn’t, so she plays the game the kids’ way.
WILL: Can you believe elementary-school kids would give a shit about her credentials?
DAGNY: No. Doesn’t she do a cartwheel to impress them?
WILL: No, she plays baseball.
That’s right: She asks Mean Harry what he’s good at, and he says “I can bat a ball farther than most anybody.” So she brings everyone out into the schoolyard to show her stuff. This seems an odd skill for Ma to have. She’s not afraid of hard physical work, obviously, but we never see her playing or frisking about physically with the girls, unlike Pa. But I dunno, maybe she was captain of the softball team at Brookfield High in 1856 or something.
All this is accompanied by the same jazz-flute number we heard in “Country Girls.” Dagny thinks it sounds like the opening of “Daydream Believer” (and it does).
Long story short, Caroline hits the ball and suddenly everybody loves her. “All right,” she laughs gaily, “let’s go back to school!” And all the kids scamper up the stairs. I don’t believe any of this for a second.
I can’t tell if it’s really Karen Grassle hitting, but maybe:
But things get dark immediately, because Ma has decided to make the kids read out loud. Nellie is first, reading this:
Yes, dear children, I wish to teach you the value of per . . . severance, even when nothing more depends upon it than the flying of a kite.
Dagny said, “Per-severance . . . That’s funny, because she marries Per-civil.” There’s a reason I love her, everybody.
Nellie’s recital goes on, but what I really like is that the passage comes from an actual educational primer of the time, McGuffey’s Fourth Eclectic Reader (first edition 1879 – close enough).
It should be quite clear at this point that while Little House was not exactly the zenith of historical accuracy, they did try. That’s more than you can say for a lot of 20th-Century television.
After Nellie finishes, Caroline gives her an insincere-sounding compliment. Boy, she and Beadle have a hard time hiding their feelings for this kid. It’s not professional at all, but I suppose I had teachers like that too. I wonder if the two of them sit around over tea and bash Nellie for hours.
Then Caroline chooses another student at random to read, and it’s Abel Makay, the big guy in the back. She pronounces his surname “Mac-Kay.”
WILL: Is it ‘Mac-Kay’? I always thought it was ‘Mac-Eye.’
DAGNY: It can be pronounced ayther way.
The kids all snicker and stare at the big guy, who looks down sheepishly. I think he looks at least thirty, but in reality the actor, Dirk Blocker, was only seventeen! Apparently in real life, his dad Dan Blocker played Hoss on Bonanza and was a close friend of Michael Landon’s.
I never watched Bonanza, but any friend of Landon’s is a friend of Walnut Groovy. I will note that “Dirk Blocker” sounds like a porn-star name to me.
Abel says nothing and Caroline prods him (not literally). Laura tries to get Ma’s attention, but she pooh-poohs her (not literally).
Abel stands there for a moment like a deer in the headlights while all the kids except Laura and Mary laugh at him. Then he rushes out in shame. Laura and Mary take Ma aside and tell her he can’t read and rarely comes to school because he’s so embarrassed about it. “Ah, shit,” thinks Ma, and we fade to the commercial break.
WILL: This is the fourth episode this season where somebody can’t read. That’s like almost fifty percent of the episodes.
ALEXANDER: It was a common problem back then.
DAGNY: It was a pandemic!
We open in a new location: Miss Beadle’s house! Caroline is visiting, and they are indeed drinking tea. I’m sure they just finished bad-mouthing Nellie for 60 minutes straight.
Miss Beadle says, “I know I didn’t break my ankle. It’s only sprained.” Sprained ankle! From her accident, which we saw, you’d think she had a broken collarbone, ribs, etc. Was there something different about human physiology in the Nineteenth Century that made any injury, however minor or major, result in a sprained ankle?
Soon they’re talking about Abel. Caroline says she would never have asked him to read if she knew he was “backward,” by which I presume she means has a developmental disability.
Miss Beadle sharply says that isn’t the case. She says Abel is highly intelligent, all he lacks is education. She says he showed up out of the blue a month ago wanting to learn, but dropped out due to embarrassment. Caroline feels guilty, but Miss Beadle says don’t fret, she couldn’t have known. (Why didn’t Caroline talk to Miss Beadle before she started the job? Don’t tell me it’s because she was hurt. It’s just a “sprained ankle,” after all.)
Anyways, I like Miss Beadle. She’s never really been a favorite character of mine, but I’m sympathizing with her more this time through the series. All those ghastly kids, you know. Plus at the end of this scene she demands more tea and cookies. Ha! Good for her.
Caroline walks home, where she’s greeted by Carrie and Jack. “The Nelsons took good care of you!” she says to Carrie. We don’t know who the Nelsons are; but this does suggest somebody spilled the beans on all the shenanigans with Mr. Edwards. (Mary, I’m sure.)
Pa, Mary and Laura come out of the house. Caroline says she did a terrible job teaching, and the girls protest that’s not true. “Sounds like we have a difference of opinion; you wanna tell me about it?” says Pa in his Charles The Father voice.
“I lost the pupil that needed me most,” Caroline says . . . and then Laura says, “But Ma, he’s just Dumb Abel.”
We all gasped and jumped back as if burned.
“What did you say?” says Ma, as angry as we’ve ever seen her. (Of course, Carrie hasn’t said damn yet.)
She says she’s ashamed of Laura, and if she ever hears anyone use that name again she’ll wash their mouth out with “the strongest soap I can find.” (And we’re talking Nineteenth-Century soap here.)
I’m surprised Laura doesn’t cry here. But she doesn’t.
WILL: Caroline is a real bundle of nerves in this story.
OLIVE: She’s so hot and cold. It’s not always consistent.
WILL: Yeah, like one minute she’s bad-mouthing Indians and Mr. Edwards, and the next she’s washing out Laura’s mouth for saying “dumb.”
OLIVE: Yeah, like she’s either a saint, or she’s the bad guy to serve the story.
Olive is a smart cookie.
Charles sends the kids inside, and follows Caroline down to the creek. She catches him up on the plot to this point, and they make lovey faces at each other.
WILL: Why is she carrying a doll? Did she bring it as a good-luck charm?
ROMAN: It’s a voodoo doll of Mrs. Oleson.
The next morning, Caroline stops at the Mercantile, where she’s greeted by Mrs. Oleson in an uncharacteristically friendly manner.
WILL: Mrs. Oleson’s really thin in this one.
DAGNY: Yeah, this is a Thin Harriet episode.
OLIVE: She must not have gone out with the crew the night before.
Mrs. O tries to bribe Caroline into favoring Nellie and Willie by jacking up the compensation for the eggs she brings. She implies that in return, she’d like Nellie to be given the role of school monitor.
Caroline condescendingly tells her the monitor job is only given to the stupidest children. It’s a weird scene, since (arguably) Caroline has no recent expertise, and doesn’t really know what she’s talking about; yet she’s characterized as being a better authority than Mrs. Oleson, who is in fact on the freaking school board.
That day, at school, Abel doesn’t show again, but Nellie brings Caroline an apple.
After work, Caroline stops by the mill, where Charles is sawing planks. She tells him she’s going to go out to the Makay place to talk to Abel’s father about him coming back to school.
OLIVE: I wish I could just quit school. I wish I was Dumb Abel!
When she arrives, Abel is sawing firewood.
OLIVE: Dumb Abel’s butt is not shaped, but there’s a lot there. A couple leg days, he’d be fine.
Abel and his father, a large old man, take notice of her arrival. The dad is operating some weird machine that involves a mule walking in a constant circle.
WILL: What is this machine?
DAGNY: It’s stirring butter.
The dad is working at the center of the machine, and Caroline approaches to talk to him. Throughout this scene, she keeps ducking out of the mule’s way as it circles around again. (Eventually she gets sick of this and stops the animal.)
She introduces herself and asks if he could persuade his son to come back to school. He says he “doesn’t hold much for schoolin’” himself, and that it’s up to Abel whether he goes or not.
MacKay I believe is more a Scottish name than an Irish one, but Thorsden’s accent is more fake-Irish than fake-Scottish. (The credits spells their surname Makay, but I’m sure that’s just because the characters are illiterate.)
WILL: There aren’t really that many Celtic people in Minnesota.
OLIVE: No. I know a Ukrainian.
By the way, no one says Mr. Makay’s first name in the episode, but the opening credits told us it’s Baker. I want to know who on the production team was obsessed with that name, as this is the third character in ten episodes who goes by it.
Caroline tells Abel’s dad his son will be set up for success if he gets book-learnin’ in addition to the street savvy (dirt-road savvy?) he’s picked up at home. “Abel don’t seem to learn nothin’ when he does go to that school,” says the dad. “He’ll learn if he comes back,” says Caroline. “I told him he can go back anytime he wants,” says the dad.
Caroline asks him if he will tell his son to go back to school. “No, ma’am,” he says:
You tell him. Then if he wants to go back, that’s all well and good. But if he don’t, then I’ll thank you to leave him alone.
“I think that’s fair,” I said. “It totally is,” said Dagny.
Abel’s dad starts the mule going again.
DAGNY: Another kissing sound for the horse!
ROMAN: You say that every episode.
(I don’t think I’ve mentioned that every time somebody signals a horse on this show, Dagny says, “Why are they dubbing a kissing sound over it?”)
Caroline stops to talk to Abel, who’s fashioning some sort of crude figure out of clay.
ROMAN: Another voodoo doll. He’s making her!
DAGNY [as ABEL]: “It’s you. Look, the boobs are great.”
Caroline says if Abel sticks with schooling he’ll learn a lot. He tells her about his process of making sculptures out of clay.
Caroline says if he can make people and animals out of mud, he can learn to read a book. Fade to black.
When we come back, we’re at school again, accompanied this time by my least favorite Little House music of the season, the “school” theme.
WILL: I hate the school theme.
ROMAN: David Rose’s worst work.
You can hear it right at the beginning here:
The kids are at recess, but Caroline calls them all to sit in a circle on the ground. In a nice piece of continuity, Kid Hideous (whose name, we learn, is “Sandy”) asks to go to the bathroom again.
Nelly reports everyone but Abel is in attendance – I actually think one or two kids are missing but it’s late and I don’t feel like going through them all again.
“I know he’s not here, Nellie,” says Caroline. “He won’t be here until this afternoon. He’s the reason we’re all out here this morning.”
WILL: She should announce they’re going to play a practical joke on him.
ROMAN: Yeah, like teaching him all the wrong sounds of the alphabet.
In a very boring and unbelievable conversation, Caroline talks the kids into helping Abel learn. They happily agree. They turn from good to evil and back again on a dime, don’t they.
Caroline’s idea for teaching Abel to read is simply to give a “refresher” on reading elementals to the whole class. So when they’re back in school and he arrives, they go one by one reading off letters, making letter sounds, building words and the like.
MEAN HARRY: My letter is D.
DAGNY: For Dumb Abel!
It’s not a very interesting scene. And I don’t know how she thinks she’s going to have him reading by the time Miss Beadle recovers. But I suppose if Laura learned to read in two days, why not Dumb Abel.
That afternoon, Caroline tells Charles how happy she is to be guiding someone in the Quest for Knowledge.
Then we’re back at school again in a whiplash edit. Caroline holds up a flashcard that reads FROG. (“I thought it said ‘drugs,’” said Alexander.)
They do a few more flashcards, and even Abel gets one right.
But suddenly Mrs. Oleson appears at the door. She says, “Well! Hm! I declare, when my children came home and told me, I couldn’t believe it!” She actually smiles and talks into Abel’s face at times during this speech.
She then says she’s appalled “that you have stopped teaching the children, to pamper your favorite, to baby one pupil: this, this, this Dumb Abel person here!”
Seriously, Mrs. Oleson’s kind of insane in this one. One minute she’s trying to butter Caroline up, now she’s interrupting class and insulting a student. It’s almost like they wanted this story to have two different villains. But Walnut Grove only has one.
It is hilarious she actually calls him “Dumb Abel,” though.
Abel rushes out. “Why, he shouldn’t even be in school!” Mrs. O goes on. “Look at him! He’s as big as I am!” Actually, I’d say he’s probably quite a bit bigger.
Caroline then makes a highly theatrical speech, with Karen Grassle serving up the Easter ham in hearty helpings.
“Children,” she says, “can any of you spell compassion?” Her voice is choked with rage. “Can any of you spell understanding?” Then she asks what these words mean; the kids are too petrified to answer. “Well, don’t feel bad, children,” she says. “I don’t think Mrs. Oleson knows the meanings of these words either!”
But Mrs. O continues to scratch at her, so she up and quits.
WILL: Caroline’s quite unprofessional. No wonder she doesn’t have a regular job.
DAGNY: No wonder she doesn’t have any friends!
But seriously, we know what this is really about, right? These poor kids are just caught in the crossfire of the Egg Wars.
Anyways, seemingly later the same day, the school board members drive out to the Little House again. They’ve come to beg Caroline to come back to work. Is this the closest thing Walnut Grove has to a city government?
Mr. Hanson (in what might be a bit of improvised fun from Karl Swenson) actually reaches up and removes Nels’s hat to ensure proper respect is paid to Caroline.
Doc Baker asks her to explain why she quit.
DAGNY: God, his lips are so gross in this episode. I can’t handle it. . . . Look how dry they are!
She has a thing about Doc Baker’s lips.
Caroline asks Mr. Hanson what he would do if someone came into his mill while he was grinding wheat and fucked up the works. He replies angrily, “I would take that person by the back of the collar and the seat of the pants, and I would throw him right out into the middle of the street!”
OLIVE: Mr. Hanson’s really upset about this. Does he think it actually happened?
WILL: Doc should give him a sedative.
“Do you want to tell them about it, Mrs. Oleson?” Caroline says.
Mrs. O sputters and stammers. She has no good explanation. The character is written pretty poorly in this one, though Katherine MacGregor makes it fun as always.
DAGNY: Mrs. Oleson looks like Toni Collette here.
Caroline says Mrs. Oleson’s meddling resulted in the humiliation and dropping out of a student. Mr. Hanson starts to tell Nels to physically reprimand his wife, which I could have done without.
Caroline, who is a diva through this entire scene, says she simply can’t go back to teaching after such a devastating turn of events. The Baker-Hansons leave dejectedly.
POPCORN SCENE! Charles is reading some huge book in bed, but Caroline is too depressed to join him in his popcorn-snarfing.
ALEXANDER: Is he reading the Bible?
WILL: Huh? He just said it tells how to make paint.
ALEXANDER: They teach you how to make paint in the Bible?
(The book is actually The Home Mechanic by R.J. Schofield. Not published until 1897, though.)
Caroline tells him to put the stupid book away and turn off the light. He takes no offense and changes the subject, saying, “I saw Christy’s father today.” (Christy’s family is also Irish – the Kennedys. That detail is from On the Banks of Plum Creek, but I will say the show seems under the impression Minnesota was like 50 percent Irish in those days. It wasn’t.)
Then he casually drops that Christy’s dad said Mrs. Oleson is going to be the new sub at school. Caroline sits up and says she’ll never let Laura and Mary go back to that school if Mrs. Oleson’s at the helm. “I agree!” says Charles, who never cared if they went to school in the first place.
Caroline continues freaking out, saying it’s outrageous they’d hire Mrs. Oleson. I’d say it’s downright preposterous, given everybody knows how she behaved at the school, and given the entire school board, including her own husband, hates her.
In this episode, they have Caroline entirely motivated by emotion and swinging back and forth in ways that make her almost seem crazy. And actually, now that I think of it, this is the second Crazy Caroline story in a row. I guess at least it’s two Caroline stories in a row, which is good considering how often we’ll see her play third or even fourth fiddle to Pa, Laura and Mary. But they would never do a plot like this with Charles.
Anyways, Charles giggles secretly to himself through her entire rant, which made me think this whole “Mrs. Oleson’s gonna teach” thread was just a scheme of his to trick her into going back.
This unbelievable scene is redeemed at the end, though, when Caroline hilariously asks for some popcorn and chomps away at it furiously. Popcorn on this show always makes me happy.
(“The lighting is weird again,” said Roman. And it is: It’s coming from the right direction this time, but it’s as bright as day.)
The next day, Caroline stomps away from the Little House with barely a word for Charles. She stops at the Mercantile, where nice Nels dispenses with all the Egg Wars nonsense and says just tell me what you want for ’em. Caroline says Mrs. Oleson had been paying her more when she was a teacher, but now she isn’t. Nels says she never has to worry about that kind of crap with him.
OLIVE: How did Nels and Harriet ever get together? I can’t believe it.
WILL: She had family money, I bet.
Caroline asks for 56 cents, or $11.20 in today’s money. (Today, that would buy seven or eight dozen eggs, but it doesn’t look like she could have that many in her two-thirds-empty basket.)
At the school, Mrs. Oleson comes out ringing the bell, so I guess Charles was telling the truth. But everyone’s kept their kids home because they hate her. This is just stupid at this point. Exiting the Mercantile, Caroline gives her a smug look from afar.
Later, Caroline comes walking down a shady hill where she meets Abel. She greets him warmly and asks what he’s doing. “Waiting for you, Mrs. Ingalls,” he says. “Mr. Ingalls told me you’d be coming this way.”
WILL: He should attack her like Frankenstein. Or make a sexual advance!
DAGNY: Oh, no, that’s too far.
OLIVE: No, Dad, that’s good, write that down.
Abel apologizes for running out of school the other day, and Caroline says she understands. He says he has no plan to return to school. “But Abel!” she says, only he interrupts her.
Abel says he feels guilty for failing her, and gives her a letter A he made out of clay. He says he wants to make her the whole alphabet.
Caroline says this just proves he’s gone crazy . . . for learning! Abel aw-shuckses and says he has no plan to return to school, but he hopes the letters will be useful to her.
Caroline confesses that she’s quit teaching because she failed him. He says it’s not her fault he’s dumb. “You’re not dumb!” she yells at him. “Well you’re not a bad teacher!” he hollers back. If this were a musical, here is where the oom-chicks would come up under the dialogue and lead into their big duet.
Abel says the only way he’ll go back to school is if she will. (How long is Miss Beadle going to be out? By my count this is already a full week since her accident.)
“Yes, yes, yes!” Caroline cries deliriously.
We then return to the school, where we get another educational montage. First, Abel is writing two- and three-syllable words on the board. Then we see Kid Hideous and Laura doing multiplication problems.
WILL: Do they ever learn anything at this school except reading and multiplication?
ALEXANDER: They should do calculus. Did they have that then?
WILL: Only in the royal courts of Europe.
Finally, Abel is standing up in class and providing people with more facts than anyone could ever want about Washington, D.C.
Back at the Little House, Caroline is sitting down by the creek. Charles comes up behind her. “God, he’s mounting her!” said Dagny.
Charles tells us that today’s her last day, and Caroline says she’ll miss teaching the children.
DAGNY: They should have more kids. Well, they do have that little boy.
WILL: Oh, too soon.
DAGNY: But that hasn’t happened yet!
WILL: That’s what I mean.
She, Mary and Laura arrive back at the school, where the kids have put up a sign reading Welcome Back Miss Beadle. “She should tear it down in a rage,” said Roman.
Although Charles said it was Caroline’s last day, Miss Beadle’s already back at the front of the room. She asks Abel to stand, and he reads, “We want to thank you, Mrs. Ingalls. You are a fine teacher and a good friend to us all.” Everyone gives her a standing ovation. “They should carry her out on their shoulders like in Rudy,” said Dags.
Overcome with emotion, Caroline clasps Abel’s hands gratefully and walks out.
DAGNY: Karen Grassle’s undergarments aren’t period-appropriate, but they do her all sorts of favors.
WILL: You think her body looks good?
Agreed. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to wash our kids’ mouths out with the strongest soap I can find. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Charles appears to go commando again.
Caroline wears a weird orange shawl that’s so bright it’s painful to look at. Her bonnet is also quite floppy throughout.
Miss Beadle’s house looks cozy.
DAGNY: Have I said I love that bonnet of Laura’s?
ROMAN: Yes, you also say that every episode.
THE VERDICT: This is kind of the first “good/bad” Little House episode. It’s an engaging and (melo-)dramatic story, but also preposterous and mawkish, and Grassle’s performance is over the top for sure. And yet, all the best Little House episodes are like that, aren’t they?
Plus that’s one hell of a horse stunt.
UP NEXT: The Racoon [sic]