The Award

Stupid Mary; or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Skip My Final

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Award

Airdate: December 11, 1974

Written by Michael Landon

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Stupid Mary almost burns down the barn while studying for a test. Ma freaks out and forbids her from taking the test, which causes her to turn evil.

RECAP: This time we hosted a Little House viewing party, which is of course the best kind of party. Our good friends Luba and Martin joined us and the kids.

We open on a long shot of the Little House, and Voiceover Laura tells us Pa and Mr. Edwards are loading up for a trip. (They’re filmed from far away because it isn’t really Michael Landon and Victor French. They have the week off, you see.)

[UPDATE: In Karen Grassle’s memoir, she says Michael Landon was in the hospital that week with a frightening case of spinal meningitis.]

The shot is accompanied by another catchy if irritating musical theme courtesy of David Rose. Kinda music-box-y, with a dash of ticking clock in the mix too.

Voiceover Laura tells us “Pa didn’t go away very often,” but this is one of those very rare occasions when he’s taking a trip to Mankato. Now, by my count this is Charles’s third trip to Mankato in half a season . . . but since the pilot took place in 1870 and now we’re in 1876 or later (I guess), she may technically be correct. We’re in the Little House universe, after all, and that universe wobbles at the edges.

By the way, not to alarm anyone, but there appears to be a Bigfoot standing in front of the horses in one shot in this scene. None of the characters notice it, though.

There appears to be a Bigfoot standing in front of the horses

Anyways, Laura says Pa’ll be gone for three weeks. Ma and the kids wave goodbye as the wagon departs. The girls are in their cold-weather coats again (though we can see flowers on the bushes as the men drive away – wobble wobble). 

December flowers

A title card informs us this one was written by MICHAEL LANDON HIMSELF. 

There’s more goofy music (it’s mostly “The British Grenadiers,” but also echoes the Barber of Seville overture at one point) as Mary and Laura walk to school. 

The girls arrive late, and find Miss Beadle posed (somewhat provocatively) at the chalkboard. 

MARTIN: Wow. I bet all the boys in town would fantasize about her when “visiting the outhouse.”

ROMAN: Yeah. Miss Beadle? More like Mrs. Robinson!

LUBA: Yeah, her and her eighteen-inch waist.

“I bet all the boys would fantasize about her when ‘visiting the outhouse.'”

Everyone turns and gapes at the girls when they come in.

Pardon the digression, but speaking of Little House’s wobbly universe, there’s something odd about the school scenes in this one. It took me a while to figure it out. At first glance, it appears nearly everyone’s here today, save for Christy and the odd Nondescript Helen. 

And yet, if you look closer, you’ll notice there are different actors wearing the costumes of some established characters – notably Kid Hideous (Sandy Kennedy), but also some others (the Midsommar Kid, H. Quincy Fusspot, e.g.). Like Pa and Mr. Edwards, they’re shot mostly at a distance (or from behind) to conceal these substitutions. 

Kid Hideous
Midsommar Kid
H. Quincy

Very clever . . . but in all modesty, you have to get up pretty fucking early to bamboozle me, William F. Claxton!

Anyways, since (most of) these changelings are not addressed by new names, I’m going to go ahead and mark their characters as present. 

Well, Miss Beadle announces they’ll be having a special examination, the winner of which will receive a scholarship and a prize: a big Webster’s dictionary. I couldn’t find a price for this edition, but according to Nancy S. Cleaveland at, earlier ones ran about $6 ($120 in today’s money).

Webster’s Dictionary (1864 edition)

It’s a nifty prize for an Original Hyper-Nerd like Mary Ingalls, for sure. But in fact the whole class goes gaga over it . . . 

. . . including the cooler people like Nondescript Helen and Not-Joni Mitchell. 

Incidentally, I found a pic of Charlotte Stewart (at right) with the real Joni Mitchell!
Even the two new weird-looking blond kids, who I think might be alien visitors, seem impressed.

However, for the sake of continuity I will point out that when Laura receives a dictionary as a birthday present in Season 3, she thinks it sucks.

Miss Beadle goes on to tell us the dictionary was a “generous donation” of the school board. I wonder if this gift was as contentious as the church bell was.

“Next thing they’ll change the town’s name to SchoolBoardsville!”

Anyways, Mary’s eyes glaze over like a drug addict’s as she stares at the book. They might as well have her wipe drool off her mouth. 

Drug-addict Mary
They even have the same eyes.

Meanwhile, we get the music-box theme again, played on some keyboard instrument that sounds like a cross between a harpsichord and a piano. Perhaps a Hammerspinet? I have a friend who has one of those, though I confess I don’t quite understand how it works.

That night at the Little House, Laura puts Carrie to bed as Mary tells Ma about the exam. Caroline, who is more realistic than Charles (except when she’s pissed off), says Mary will be competing against older kids so she shouldn’t get her hopes up. (“Now that Charles is gone, she can shoot their dreams down,” said Olive.)

I wonder which kids are older than Mary? It’s hard to tell. Cloud City Princess Leia is taller, but that doesn’t mean anything. Johnny Johnson I guess is older, but he disappeared some time ago. Perhaps he tested out like Dumb Abel? Or fell prey to the Killer Crab of Cattail Lake?

Previously on Little House

Anyways, Mary says Charles always tells her to think big, and this invocation of Pa The Father of course shuts Caroline up at once. 

DAGNY: Is Caroline pregnant here?

WILL: She might be. She has a baby in the next episode.

DAGNY: No, I mean in real life.


Mary escapes up the ladder, so Ma asks Laura what she’s working on, and she says she has to copy down words she misspelled on a recent test. 

“How many did you miss?” asks Ma. Melissa Gilbert waits a beat and then says, “A few.”


Ma says if Mary wins the dictionary, she’ll be able to look up how to spell words herself.

LUBA: How can she look up a word she can’t spell?

LAURA: How can I look up a word I can’t spell?

The next day, Mary stays after school to ask Miss Beadle about a resource on pre-Revolutionary War America, which is one topic the exam will cover. Miss Beadle produces a book from a cupboard. It looks identical to the dictionary to me, but I can’t imagine they’d be that lazy. Little House wobbles, but one thing it is not is lazy. 

The girls come down the Shady Hill on their way home. Mary is reading as she walks, which takes me back to my own youth. Laura says she can’t abide history, as “it’s all about dead people – yuck.” And we have seen previously that she’s squeamish about death to the point where she won’t even sing about a dead goose.

Then we get a hilarious little scene back at the house. Ma is ironing and trying to teach Carrie her letters.

MA: A.
MA: B.
MA: C.
MA: D.
MA: E.

I don’t think Alan Turing could crack that code. Good old Carrie.

ROMAN: You know, when we watched these before, I really thought Carrie was a little goblin. But you know what?

WILL: You like her now, don’t you?

ROMAN: Yeah, I do.

WILL: I do too.

Anyways, Mary and Laura come in. Mary shows Ma the book, and says she’ll take good care of it. (Come on, David Rose, sinister music please?) 

Laura asks to go fishing, but Ma says she should study. “When I’m dead,” Laura says, “the history book will say I hardly ever got to go fishing.” Some funny dialogue in this one. Michael Landon reigns supreme, in case you didn’t know.

That night, we get a “Go to Sleep” scene, though with the usual roles reversed. This time it’s Laura complaining because Mary has stayed up to read by lamplight. The harpsichord-thing plays the “Mary The Nerd” theme again.

Mary says she can’t sleep because she’s gotten to “a real good part” about George Washington in her history book. Laura acidly says Washington grew up to be the Father of Our Country, so Mary can just skip that bit and Go The Fuck To Sleep already. Mary blows out the light.

But she still can’t sleep, and in the night she takes her book, lantern and winter coat and creeps out to read in the barn. She begins yawning immediately, though. Not a good sign, that. (“I wouldn’t give her an Emmy for her ‘tired’ acting,” said Luba.) 

Yawnin’ Mary

And in fact, soon we see she’s reclined in the hay and fallen asleep.

Sleepin’ Mary

David Rose has clearly decided not to foreshadow what’s going to happen, because “Mary the Nerd” simply keeps playing innocuously on the soundtrack. In the end it’s a good choice, and makes what happens next all the more shocking.

Because Mary kicks over the lantern in her sleep. Bunny the horse starts freaking out, and the hay immediately ignites. 

Toasty Mary

In the orchestra, the flute and the harpsichord-thing go crazy, with dark and complex variations on “Mary the Nerd” surely meant to evoke the lead-up to the solo in the first movement of Brandenburg 5.

Mary wakes up and stares in horror.

Horrified Mary

She grabs Pa’s raccoon-murdering pitchfork and knocks the lantern away, but that only succeeds in lighting another part of the barn on fire.

Forkin’ Mary
Previously on Little House: “I call thee Gwyllamdrung, the Raccoon-Piercer!”

Finally she starts screaming for Ma.

Screamin’ Mary

Caroline rushes out almost at once and takes control of the situation. She literally throws Mary out of the barn and orders her and Laura down to the creek to bring water.

Ma plunges through the flames and rescues both Bunny and the cow. (Does the latter have a name?) They tell you never to go back into a burning building for your animals, so don’t say I endorse this!

Bed-Head Caroline is good in a crisis.

If you look closely, you can see it’s a stunt double, but it’s really quite convincing, and kind of a thrilling scene.

Bunny sez: Where’s MY stunt double???

In the end, Ma puts the fire out with a combination of water and smothering.

Here we see Mary trying to teleport to another planet via psychokinesis

Ma comes shambling out, catching her breath and coughing. I’ll give you the next bit verbatim:

MARY: I’m – I’m so sorry, Ma. . . .
MA: Sorry is not enough. [coughs] I wanna know what . . . what happened.
MARY: I, I must have fallen asleep! . . . Tipped the lantern over! I . . .
MA: What were you doing out here?
MARY [blubbering]: I WAS STUDYING! . . . For the examination! . . .
MA: You have a whole house to study in and you had to come out HERE?
MARY: Ma, I didn’t want to wake you! I, I –
MA: Do you realize you could have been . . . 
[She turns her back on MARY and bites her fist.]
MARY [sobbing, and not realizing the question was rhetorical]: . . . Hundreds I guess! I mean – 
MA: But you forgot! Well, young lady, you’re going to remember from this night on! And you can FORGET that examination. . . . Now tomorrow morning I want you to go in and tell Miss Beadle that you’re not taking it!
LAURA: But Ma, she can’t.
LAURA: Because tomorrow’s Saturday.

That last line is a joke, but seriously, we have never seen Caroline this mad. Not even when Laura said “Dumb Abel”! Grassle really pulls out all the stops. 

Holy shit

WILL: Whew, what a scene.
DAGNY: Yeah. The “Saturday” joke kind of ruins it, though.
WILL: Yeah. It’s a bit “Highlights magazine.”
DAGNY: Yeah, or like a 1940s radio show.

Wocka wocka

Caroline orders the girls to bed, and the harpsichordist has the balls to play “Mary the Nerd” one more time as we fade to commercial. 

When we return from the break, it’s sunny and Mary is cheerfully bringing in eggs she’s gathered. Things seem so normal, at first I thought some time must have passed, but no, it’s the very next morning.

Happy egg Mary

Caroline thanks her for doing the chore, then asks her to sit down. (Cue a pensive version of “Mary the Nerd” in the strings. I like David Rose’s stuff for this show, but man, he plays a tune absolutely to death, doesn’t he.)

Ma, who’s wearing her nice brown dress, says she was very frightened the night before and that this explains the harshness of her remarks. Mary formally apologizes and then asks in a breaking voice if she can go attend to the mess in the barn. Embarrassed, Ma dismisses her.

I also apologized to my boss just this morning. Went about as well.

So Mary goes out to clean up the carnage.

It really doesn’t look too bad, considering.

But when she’s raking the hay, she hits something solid: the charred remains of Miss Beadle’s history book.

OLIVE: Stupid Mary.

WILL: Stupid Mary.

Stupid Mary

Mary’s eyes roll up to indicate she has an idea. And this, reader, is where she starts to go wrong.

Bad-girl Mary

Then I thought we were back at school again, but no, it’s the church this time (it being Saturday). The Reverend Alden and Caroline are alone, chatting. (“Ma’s bun is pretty big in this scene,” said Dagny.)

Dabbs Greer does a funny little pointing thing here, but Karen Grassle is looking down so it doesn’t quite work.

Alden says he ran into Charles and Mr. Edwards on the road, “near New Ulm.” New Ulm, Minnesota, is real, a small town that brags about being the most German of Minnesota cities, whatever that implies. (“I love their Oktoberfest,” said Luba.)

New Ulm, Minnesota
Carefree times at the New Ulm Oktoberfest

We learn Caroline has been summing up the plot for him. She says it isn’t really so much the circumstances upsetting her as that she lost her temper, which she never does with the girls. (Not true.) Alden gives her what’s actually a decent analysis of the situation, saying it’s clear from what she’s said that Mary is contrite, and is trying to prove that to her. 

But then he asks if she’s considering revoking the consequences. Caroline admits she is. “If you forget this punishment,” he says, “all your girls could expect you to forget the next one, and the next one after that.” He says, “Family discipline is . . . based on promises kept, for punishment or reward.” 

Seems an awfully cynical view of the family. Truly, here Alden is a Machiavel whose advice makes this episode run its full fifty minutes, instead of being resolved quite happily in just twenty.

And our consensus was it’s bad advice. Not that a punishment isn’t warranted, but let it fit the crime. Taking away something that’s beneficial to Mary, like extra studying (even if she enjoys it), gives that activity a taint that’s going to stick with her. What would be better is taking away something that Mary enjoys that isn’t good for her, though since Mary is such a goody-goody I don’t know what that would be. (“I would have made her do Laura’s chores for a week,” said Luba.)

Laura would be easier to punish, of course. She’s all id. 

Anyways, whatever we may think, Caroline is blown away by Alden’s wisdom and thanks him, most sincerely.

On Monday, presumably, Laura and Mary are walking to school. Laura, knowing her sister had a rotten weekend, and seeing as she owes her a haypenny (ha’penny?) anyways, says they should stop at the Mercantile for some licorice, her treat. 

See, Laura has a million things you could take away from her.

At the store, the kids are greeted by friendly Nels. 

WILL: Do you think Nels just slicks his hair back with brown shoe polish?

LUBA: I think it’s beautiful. So shiny. It’s like a beaver pelt.

Luba is a Canadian expatriate, for the record.

Mary’s radioactive blue eyes zero in on a Help Wanted sign behind the counter. 

Mary asks about it, and Nels tells her Nellie’s studying for the examination so she can’t do her usual tasks. We know Nellie’s a good student, so I don’t dispute the studying piece . . . but have we ever seen her do any actual work in this store?

Anyways, Mary volunteers at once. Nels tells her she’ll get 50 cents a week for working “every day after school, and all day on Saturday.” Assuming Mary works just one hour per day after school and eight hours on Saturday, this converts to a modern-day rate of 77 cents per hour. Yeesh, come on, Ebenezer Sprague, it’s the 1870s. Working people gotta eat. 

WILL: Do you think hiring Mary is Nels’s way of rigging the exam for Nellie? You know, taking up Mary’s time so she can’t study?

OLIVE: I doubt it. He hates Nellie as much as everyone else does.

Then Mary asks how much a “Thompson American history” book costs. And indeed, the cover simply reads “Thompson’s American History,” but presumably it’s meant to be A History of the United States, later known as “the first book in United States history,” by Waddy Thompson. (Yes, Waddy.) 

In real life it wasn’t published until 1904, though.

Anyways, Nels says it costs a dollar ($20). I couldn’t find an original selling price, but since as I said it’s a big book and looks more or less identical to the $6 dictionary, I’m surprised it would be so cheap.

At recess time that day, Mary is hanging around inside the school, literally caressing the dictionary, when Miss Beadle comes in. 

Caressin’ Mary

DAGNY: See, I think Miss Beadle’s underwear is proper for the period, unlike Caroline’s. She doesn’t have much support, and you can see her nipples.

WILL: Wouldn’t they wear, like, whalebone corsets or something?

LUBA: Nah. They aren’t in England.

“I think Miss Beadle’s underwear is proper for the period.”

Mary pointedly does not tell Miss Beadle she’s been forbidden from taking the exam. But the Bead, who has a generally negative outlook and is quite an observant person (the two things often going hand in hand), quickly realizes something’s wrong.

On the way home, Laura points out Mary didn’t tell Miss Beadle she couldn’t take the exam (though since Mary and the Bead were alone together for a while I don’t see how she knows that for sure). 

Mary says she has no intention of taking the exam, but she can’t tell Miss Beadle that yet because then she’d have to admit she ruined her book. Instead, she intends to buy a new copy when she’s earned the money and substitute it for the original. Good thing it isn’t an ethics exam. 

(Though I confess I’ve done the same thing. Dagny is also a Canadian expat, and I once broke her limited-edition Tim Hortons ceramic mug. If you know anybody from Canada, you’re aware of the worshipful status this chain enjoys. Well, thinking I was very clever, I ordered another from eBay to replace it without her knowledge. Unfortunately, when the package arrived, Dags opened it, and all my scheming turned to ashes.)

Story of my life, I’m afraid.

Anyways, Laura presses Mary to say when she plans to tell Miss Beadle. Since summoning the spirit of Charles successfully vanquished Ma earlier, Mary tries the same trick on Laura now. Sure enough, it works again.

The girls arrive home to another blissed-out duet from the flute and the harpsichord-thing. 

Get a room, you guys.

Once inside, the first thing Laura does is grab a cookie and run out again. Ha!

Mary tells Ma about the job offer at the Mercantile. Caroline, eager to get back on good terms with her daughter (do I know that feeling), says that’s wonderful and of course she has her permission. 

Then we cut back to the store, where Mary is working and Mrs. Foster is monkeying around with some fabric. 

Mary brings Mrs. Foster a wrapped package (we learn the latter’s name for the first time here). Mrs. F thanks her and departs . . . leaving the yard goods department a wadded-up mess. 

I’ve heard of Waddy Thompson, but this is ridiculous!

(But as last week we deduced she’s being courted by Mr. Nelson The Gray Haired Dude, I think we can assume she’s preoccupied by romantic matters and cut her some slack.)

Previously on Little House: Love in the air

Mary goes over to the balance sheet and records the sale. I’m surprised they have her working the counter, frankly. Seems a lot of responsibility for a twelve-year-old new hire. 

Especially at 77 cents an hour

The door to the house opens and Nellie appears. She coldly stares at Mary for some time without speaking. Well, no, her face isn’t really cold; it has more of a detached amusement that’s even worse. 

(“Nellie’s acting is great,” said Luba. “She’s a more fully developed actress than the rest of the kids.”)

“She’s a more fully developed actress than the rest of the kids.”

Mary tries to ignore her, instead going to pick up Mrs. Foster’s awful mess.

Nellie follows her. She gets in Mary’s face and drily says, “Working hard?” It isn’t really a question. 

Then, almost without waiting for an answer, she says, “You should look nicer when you come to work in a store. Maybe your mother would let you wear your Sunday dress.” Mary quips that since she doesn’t worship in the Mercantile, she’s not going to wear her church dress here either. It’s a weak retort and Nellie knows it.

But then Miss Beadle comes in, and we get a treat as Nellie’s hard rattlesnake eyes brighten and she smiles. “Oh, hello, Miss Beadle!” she says, and actually curtseys.

God love you, Nellie Oleson.

Miss Beadle is surprised to find Mary working in the store. Nellie changes the subject to how hard she’s studying for the exam. She says the Mercantile has stocked the complete study list and she’s reading through them all. 

Miss Beadle stiffens. Boy, the tall willowy blonde women of this town are so easily undone by their hatred of Nellie and Harriet Oleson. “I wish all my students had the same opportunity,” she says rigidly. 

“All they have to do is buy the books,” says Nellie, probably without irony. 

The Bead grinds her teeth at this naked display of privilege and says, “Nellie, I think you better get started.”

Undone by hatred

Nellie laughs and says, “You have no power here. Begone!” Not really, but she should. Instead, she just kisses Beadle’s ass and departs herself.

Mary measures out some sugar for Miss Beadle. The Bead, who we’ve seen can be an aggressive interrogator when she wants to, asks Mary how she’s managing the demanding combo platter of work, chores and studying for the exam. 

Mary ignores her, but the Bead won’t be cowed. “You didn’t answer my question,” she says, fairly harshly. We see Nellie is eavesdropping in the next room.

Mary says her workload at the store is quite light and she has plenty of time to read on the job. I remember getting yelled at for reading at work myself when I worked in a convenience store during college. Happy times!

Miss Beadle seems quite satisfied with this answer . . . and then she tries to get away without paying! But ol’ Watchdog Mary stops her in her tracks. 

Mary should tackle her.

The Bead tries to laugh off this attempted theft by saying she’s a scatterbrain. (“Sure, Miss Beadle,” said Olive.)

“Sure, Miss Beadle.”

Once Beadle’s gone, Mary pulls down a huge book from the shelf and starts reading as Nellie stares and “Mary the Nerd” swells on the soundtrack again. She does not look like a kid who’s planning to skip her special examination to me. Commercial.

Evil Mary

When we come back, it’s dusk, and a buggy pulls up to the Little House whilst Caroline stands waiting in the yard.

And whilst Bigfoot stands waiting under a tree.

(Actually, of course, these “Bigfoots” are the big twisted logs that lie all over the place in the Little House universe. “I don’t understand that,” said Dagny. “I’ve never known anyone who just leaves a fallen tree in their front yard.”)

Anyways, the buggy is driven by Nels and carries Mary as a passenger. Mary says she lost track of time at work. Nels says he didn’t realize she was still at the store and certainly didn’t intend for her to work so late.

Ma says she was getting worried and thanks Nels for bringing Mary home. Smiling warmly, Nels praises Mary’s abilities, then says by the way did you hear Rev. Alden ran into Charles in New Ulm? Caroline must be getting sick of this story.

WILL: I think Nels may have the hots for Caroline. He’s just looking for excuses to talk to her.

OLIVE: Of course he does. He’s practically foaming at the mouth. He looks at her the way Mary looks at the dictionary.

“He looks at her the way Mary looks at the dictionary.”

That night, Mary stays up late studying by moonlight. 

Moonlight Mary

OLIVE: No wonder she went blind.

WILL: I don’t know, her eyes do glow in the dark.

Glowin’-eyes Mary

The harpsichord-thing plays You Know What again. You almost wish they’d throw in “Old Dan Tucker” at this point just for variety. (And in fact Luba did sing it during this viewing – several times.)

Laura rolls over in bed and asks what Mary’s doing. She says her schoolwork, which Laura notes she said she already did at the store. Mary confesses she has decided to defy Ma and take the exam after all. She says she’s sure to win the prize, and then Ma will be so proud she won’t be angry. Laura’s like, ulp. 

The next day, school lets out, and Mary rushes to study hall, I mean work. We see her perusing a couple volumes from the bookshelf, including an arithmetic book and one called “World Cyclopedia” – probably meant to be one of the World’s Cyclopedia series of 19th-Century reference books, circa 1884, on topics such as history, science, and the like. 

This is actually the start of a montage of Mary studying and doing her chores, which include fetching water from the creek and muckin’ the auld byre.

WILL: There’s not much manure for a cowshed.

ROMAN: Cow manure isn’t seven-plus material.

The montage continues with Mary studying again, yawning in class, and proving once more she can read and walk at the same time. (Dagny said, “You can tell they’re using the harpsichord to indicate true learning is happening.”)

After three weeks, Nels pays Mary her pittance of $1.50 ($30). Where Mrs. Oleson is while all this is going on, we never find out, but presumably she’s the one responsible for this skimpy compensation package. (“She probably calculates all the time Mary spends reading and deducts it from her pay,” said Luba.)

Mary immediately blows a dollar on the Thompson American history. She declines a bag, but Nels doesn’t give her a discount for not taking one like they do in Minneapolis.

“And tell your ma I love her.”

The next day at school, Miss Beadle is giving everybody the logistics for test day. She says the kids not taking the exam will have an extra hour of recess; Laura grins insanely at this.

After class, Miss Beadle looks up and sees Mary has stayed behind with a sullen look on her face. Miss Beadle brings up the exam, thinking this will perk Mary up, but it doesn’t. 

Sullen Mary

Mary “returns” “Miss Beadle’s” book to her (fortunately the receipt doesn’t fall out) then hangs her head again. You can tell the Bead just wants to say “What the fuck is the matter with you, Mary?”

“What the fuck is the matter with you, Mary?”

But seeing as Mary’s one of the only students she likes, she forces herself to be patient. She says she’s worried Mary’s been working too hard. Mary responds in grunts and monosyllables and then takes off.

Back at the Little House, Caroline finds a mysterious fifty-cent piece on the table. Mary comes in and says it’s her wages, which like a goody-goody she wants to give to her parents so they can repair the fire damage. 

Though since she’s already spent two thirds of her pay on herself, and now lied about it, she isn’t really that much of a goody-goody, is she? (“No . . . she’s the Princess of Liars!” said Roman.)

But seriously, that’s one thing I like about this story: the contrast between Mary’s outward presentation as a suck-up overachiever, and her inner deviousness and moral decay. It makes her a much more interesting character.

The inner moral decay of Mary Ingalls

She also throws Nels under the bus here, since when Caroline says fifty cents isn’t much for three weeks’ work, Mary just smiles and lets her go on believing that’s what he really paid her. Unfortunately for her, Ma isn’t going to let it go at that.

That night, Mary keeps studying with her blanket over her head like a medieval monk.

Mary the Monk

The next day, Caroline arrives at the Mercantile to sell eggs. Nels is of course quite excited to see her and once again says Mary did a wonderful job. But Caroline treats him with aloofness, saying she expects he’ll find it hard to get another such worker at the meager rate of fifty cents for three weeks’ work. 

Nels quite innocently corrects her about Mary’s pay. He says not only was Mary a great worker, he’s also impressed she would spend her own money on something as useful as a textbook. Nels is a little naive in this one; we know from the time he agreed to help Laura clean up the Edwards disaster that he’s usually quicker on the uptake than this. 

Blabbermouth Nels

But of course, there’s an easy explanation: because that time, of course, he didn’t have the bewitching Caroline Ingalls standing right in front of him, to dazzle and distract him from more important matters!

Anyways, then Caroline, realizing she’s misjudged Nels, makes a big purchase of groceries, which I think is kind of sweet.

Meanwhile, at school, Miss Beadle announces the test and dismisses the younger kids. Laura stays behind and says “Aren’t ya comin’, Mary?” like the little guilt-gopher she is. 

Guilt-gopher Laura

Mary shakes her head, and Laura backs away in horror.

Miss Beadle passes out the exams, pausing to give Mary a look of worry along the way. In case you’re wondering who stayed behind to take the test, here’s the list: Mary, Nellie, Cloud City Princess Leia, her brother Luke, Not-Joni Mitchell, three Nondescript Helens, and a guy who from his outfit and hairstyle I thought was Mean Harry Baker.

DAGNY: Look, that kid’s scratching his head with his pencil.

LUBA: Lice was rampant.

“Lice was rampant.”

Meanwhile, after exiting the Mercantile, Caroline heads over to the schoolhouse, where all the little kids are playing. “The ol’ pigskin, literally!” said Luba. 

“The ol’ pigskin, literally!”

All the kids except Laura, that is, who’s sitting on the steps. “Like a loser,” according to Olive. 

Ma asks where Mary is. Laura tells her, but with considerable reluctance, unlike ol’ Loose-Lipped Nels.

LAURA [voice shaking]: She’s inside. . . .

WILL: Good Lord, you’d think it was an opium den from how they’re acting.

DAGNY: I know. It’s not like she’s getting gang-banged in there, Ma.

“It’s not like she’s getting gang-banged in there.”

Laura tries to contextualize the situation, but Ma shoots her down with a “never mind” and marches in. She stands at the back of the classroom, from where she can see Mary scribbling on her exam paper. She should hear Rev. Alden’s voice in her head.

Maybe she does hear it, because she sets her jaw and rushes out. Mary doesn’t turn around, thank God.

Ma’s gotta be pissed, because she stomps right past Laura without a word to her. 

After the exam, Miss Beadle rings Mr. Jones’s new bell – a nice touch.

Back inside, Miss Beadle suddenly says, “The tests have now been graded.” 

“How is that possible?” said Olive. “What, did she do them over lunch?” And given they’ve stressed the difficulty of this exam over and over, it is ridiculous.

But whatever. Mary stares at the floor with her mouth hanging open. 

Miss Beadle says while everyone did well, the winner of the dictionary is . . . Arnold Lundstrom! Who? Well, he’s the lice-infested head scratcher, of course, who I spent the whole episode thinking was Mean Harry. And as he’s brand-new, I’d say this is quite the achievement for his first three weeks of school.

Anyways. This development means four of our regular students were absent today: Mean Harry, Christy, Not-Albert, and Sean Penn.

The kids all applaud, but Mary bursts into tears and rushes from the room.

Arnold Lundstrom, I hate you

Laura starts to follow, but the Bead immediately arrests her, saying she wants to see her after school.

Poor Laura’s getting jerked around by all her female role models in this one.

Back at the Little House, Ma is gathering water and Carrie’s sitting on a log kicking her legs like a fool when Miss Beadle and Laura pull up in the Beadmobile.

I’m sorry to point it out, but Miss Beadle’s buggy is ALSO drawn by Bunny the horse. Since we can actually see the “other Bunny” in her pen in the background, we can either assume Walnut Grove has multiple black horses with identical facial markings, or the showrunners just weren’t super-careful about which black horse they put where for filming.

The matter of the horse gets even more complicated, because when they arrive, Miss Beadle pulls the reins and says “Whoa, Pat!” You’ll recall that Pat (or possibly “Pet”) was the name of the Ingallses’ horse that brought them up from Kansas and then got traded away in “A Harvest of Friends.” Was this such a common name for horses? Or is it really supposed to be the same animal? I guess it’s quite possible Miss Beadle eventually bought him. But if it is, HE’S BUNNY’S FATHER!

“Bunny . . . I am your father.”

Anyways, now comes the big finale. Miss Beadle tells Caroline Mary did not take the exam. Instead, she wrote an explanation of the whole sickening business on her paper for Miss Beadle to read later. 

Caroline (who’s wearing her floppy bonnet again) runs through a field and finds Mary sitting under a tree in dejection. Mary sees her and rises . . . and then suddenly they’re both running toward each other.

Karen Grassle does a funny flailing thing with her arms when she walks or runs, doesn’t she?

The two embrace, apologize to each other, and walk home arm in arm, their faith in themselves and each other restored. 

WILL: This will make a good popcorn story for Charles, won’t it?

DAGNY: I don’t know. He might cut a switch and beat all four of them.

LUBA: Yeah. Or make them cut it for him!

Good Lord, of course he won’t. I’m sure when he gets home, he and Ma and Mary will head to the church and jointly kick Rev. Alden’s ass. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: Ma’s got a new outfit (with a fuzzy vest).

Mary wears a huge bonnet throughout.

WILL: She looks like a Mario mushroom.

LUBA: No, she looks like Holly Hobbie.

DAGNY: No, she looks like Strawberry Shortcake.

We discussed the girls’ nightcaps at one point.

LUBA: I’d love to wear a nightcap like that.

WILL: Why do they wear them? It isn’t as if they’ve stuffed their hair up into them.

LUBA: Must keep your head warm.

DAGNY: Laura’s doesn’t even fit properly. She looks like the Purple Pieman.

Dags has Strawberry Shortcake on the brain this week.

Miss Beadle wears a fancy tartan cape that appears to have gold thread in it.

And Nels is wearing the Mercantile’s new men’s line for fall, “Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.”

THE VERDICT: This one is fantastic. Intensity, terror, rage, inner conflict and an emotional resolution add up to Little House magic. It’s the first proper Mary story – and Melissa Sue Anderson is great in it. Grassle is just about perfect too.

UP NEXT: The Lord is My Shepherd: Part One

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

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