Mary Inglasses; or
Four-Eyes Four-Eyes Four-Eyes Mary’s Got Four Eyes Four-Eyes Nyah Nyah Four-Eyes Four-Eyes
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: Four Eyes
Airdate: September 17, 1975
Written by B.W. Sandefur
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Stupid Mary returns! In this soft launch of the Mary Goes Blind Saga, Mary hides that her vision is failing, then learns bespectacled girls can still score hot dudes. A valuable lesson for us all, Little House.
RECAP: Good grief, only seconds in, and I have to pause to catalog the children vomiting forth from the school doors.
It seems my theory about the dropout rate during Hanson Universal’s closure was right, because practically everybody from the first season is back today.
In order of appearance, we see:
- Nellie and Willie
Lice-Infested Arnold does a sort of leap/twist combo in the air when he comes out. Trying to shake loose as many lice as possible, no doubt.
Anyways, this episode is by a new writer, B.W. Sandefur. Sandefur was also a producer on the show, and would go on to write or produce many more stories (including several of THE BIG CLASSICS). And Claxton is back as director.
(BTW, Dagny was visiting friends and family in Canada this week, so she missed the fun.)
Nellie and Willie get the ball rolling by sticking their report cards in Laura’s face and bragging their parents pay them for good grades.
Willie reports he got all Bs . . . which is interesting, isn’t it? I mean, we know Nellie IS actually a good student, as we’ve seen her lock antlers with The Amazing Mary on tests and the like.
Willie’s scholastic accomplishments, on the other hand, are best captured with images like this:
(To be fair, that hasn’t happened once yet in the series, though!)
In fact, I think we can conclude from Willie’s grades his school problems are mainly behavioral. He might even be an above-average student, with Beadle marking his grades down to Bs because of his conduct.
Laura stands up calmly – after last week, it’s clear she really has no fear of Nellie anymore.
In fact, she essentially repeats last week’s scenario, except instead of punching Nellie in the face, this time she knocks Willie to the ground. Kind of like a mafioso not killing his enemy, but threatening his enemy’s family.
Well, she should know better.
OLIVE: Would they even have report cards in a school like this?
Actually, no; at least, not with letter grades on them. The first letter grades were used in 1897, and that was at the college level. Primary/secondary students at this time probably would have received a written assessment from the teacher.
We then join Miss Beadle in school, where the blackboard is crammed with content.
Mary is copying stuff into her notepad. We can’t make out all of the writing, but we do see it’s summaries of chapters from a history book.
I’m not sure what back-assward text they’re using, but Chapter Seven seemingly deals with taxation’s contribution to the Civil War, and Chapter Eight with the original colonists founding Jamestown 250 years earlier. Huh?
I really can’t make out any of the notes on chapters Nine and Ten, except for the odd word or name like “Pennsylvania,” “sedition,” and “Lord Casserole.”
Miss Beadle approaches.
MISS BEADLE: Mary, can I help you with something?
OLIVE [as MARY, screaming]: “I CAN’T SEE!”
Miss Beadle does the thing where she pretends to care about a student, but really she’s conducting one of her mind probes.
This time, she “apologizes” to Mary for giving her bad grades. Mary, uncomfortable with this topic, rolls her eyes and bows out.
The Bead’s hair looks oddly mussed in this scene; but if you watch to the end of the episode, you’ll learn the likely reason why!
Beadle continues trying to get her tentacles around Mary as she leaves. But Mary wards her off by quoting Charles: “If you don’t do something right the first time, you have to try again.”
That shuts the Bead up, but I bet many Grovesters get pretty fucking sick of the bottomless wisdom of Charles Ingalls.
Cut to the porch of the Mercantile, with Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude breezing past in a wagon.
Nellie comes out sucking a candy cane. Alison Arngrim’s “Nellie walk” is now perfected.
Nellie leaps at Mary like a vampire, asking if she was begging Miss Beadle to raise her grades.
As others have noticed, Nellie changes this season from a fairly standard Mean Girl into a true Princess of Hell.
Laura steps forward to remind everyone she is the school’s reigning champion in bully-face-punching, and Nellie shrinks back.
Walking home, Laura says Ma and Pa don’t care about grades . . . oh wait, she actually just says Pa doesn’t care.
WILL: That’s interesting, isn’t it.
OLIVE: Laura’s very father-focused.
Anyways, Mary won’t listen to Laura’s shit, saying, “Nellie’s right – I did awful.”
We cut to the Little House common room after dark, with Pa complimenting Ma’s mincemeat pie recipe (which my grandma made – I was never the biggest fan).
Pa smokes up and asks if the girls got their report cards.
Ma confirms they did, but won’t look at Pa.
“I didn’t get a report card!” slurps Carrie with apparent astonishment.
Pa looks at Laura’s report card, and the poor kid blunders into a conversation about what a great student Mary is.
She tries to pivot out of the situation; meanwhile, Mary stands frozen in a corner, making faces like the Phantom of the Opera.
Laura goes to bed, and Pa asks Mope-Face Mary to bring her report card over.
Pa looks it over and says it’s no biggie, because “you’re going to have to take into account your work’s a lot harder now than it was before.”
Ugh. Saying this about anyone’s work is really the worst sort of veiled insult. It’s what people say when there’s nothing good to say at all.
I was once in a writers’ group, and when the organizer, a nice friendly Minnesotan named Ed, thought somebody’s story was bad, he’d critique them and then add, “You have to consider the degree of difficulty, though!”
(I never received that particular criticism myself, though Ed did find my efforts fussy in style, misanthropic, facetious, and occasionally offensive. I’ve never fit in that well in Minnesota.)
Anyways, Pa only says she should try to bring her grades up, then goes back to smokin’. Mary is shocked he isn’t more upset (but she shouldn’t be, since when they first got to town he essentially said he didn’t care if they went to school at all).
Mary heads up to bed, and Caroline immediately wants to unpack her poor school performance.
Right in front of Carrie and everything? Ma, if she can slurp “I didn’t get a report card!”, she can slurp “Ma says something’s wrong with you, Mary!”
Charles makes a little joke to Caroline about how she probably thought he’d freak out.
(He’s misreading her. I think Caroline would rather he freak out than just shrug and make asinine comments about degree of difficulty. Don’t you?)
Caroline says Mary’s been studying more than ever, she just can’t keep up with the work.
Not really interested, Charles makes a few romantic jokes to simmer her down.
They have such great chemistry, it makes me sad to think that there was ever ill-feeling between them . . . which has been very much in the news these past weeks, thanks to Karen Grassle’s new memoir (which I haven’t read yet).
That’s not to say I don’t believe the stories. I do; and truly, they won’t surprise most fans of this show.
But behind-the-scenes gossip isn’t really what this blog’s about. Anyways, Ma tells Carrie it’s time for bed, and Carrie slurps, “Goodnight, Pa!”
Laura bitches she can’t get any sleep what with Mary’s lamp-burning and mumblings about historical characters. (Actually, Mary starts mumbling again whenever Laura is talking, which is hilarious.)
Laura also points out Mary’s alleged need for light means they’re sleeping on opposite sides than they (and we) are used to.
Mary gives in, and they go back to their assigned seats by rolling over one another, as kids do.
But instead of going (the f—-) to sleep, Laura stares into the darkness thoughtfully. The camera sits on her for a long time . . . so long you know something incredibly stupid is coming.
And here it is:
LAURA: You know somethin’, Mary?
LAURA: This side of the bed doesn’t feel any different.
MARY: Goodnight, Laura.
Did I call it or what?
We then cut to a moody dim misty morn at the Little House – probably the next day?
Pa comes out of the barn and approaches the house.
As others have observed, it looks like a completely cloudless day from inside the house, or more accurately a completely cloudless painted backdrop.
Then there’s a funny exchange where Laura says Mary is crabby. Pa says, “Got out of bed on the wrong side, huh?”
(This idiom, which some claim dates to ancient Rome, appeared in print in English at least as early as 1870.)
Laura earnestly replies, “No, we switched back to our own sides,” and Charles gets this confused look on his face.
Upstairs we see Mary, her pretty hair a fright, pacing the floor and shaking a notepad in frustration.
She hears Pa coming up and jumps back into bed to fake being sick.
Pa says it’s just dandy by him if she skips school.
Later at the Mercantile, Mrs. Oleson is in a great mood. She even pays Caroline extra for her eggs.
Much as Nellie did with Laura in the schoolyard, Mrs. O then brags to Caroline about compensating her kids monetarily for learning and how it’s improved their grades.
Caroline gently implies she doubts the wisdom of this practice. Interestingly, there was a question about this in Slate’s parenting advice column a week or so ago. (Stacia L. Brown KIND OF landed on Team Caroline.)
Then Mrs. O, obviously having already gotten the dirt from Nellie, cruelly asks how Mary did.
“We’re proud of our children no matter what their grades are,” says Caroline, adding the girls have been working very hard on the farm.
Now, we all know if Mary had gotten good grades, Caroline would be saying, “Actually, Mary got all As, good DAY, Mrs. Oleson!” and then laughing at her own zinger on the walk home.
But Mary didn’t get good grades, and so these two hardened Egg Warriors slash at each other a bit. Then there’s a joke we didn’t quite understand.
MRS. O: . . . The annual history award is coming up. Now, don’t you think that’s important, hm?
CAROLINE: I suppose so. If you need it.
Anybody who can explain this joke, please message me privately, or even better, do it in the comments.
Caroline grabs her basket and marches to the school, where she and Miss Beadle discuss The Trouble With Mary. Caroline learns Mary faked sick to miss a test, and the Bead says Mary “just doesn’t seem to cover half of the material she used to.”
Now, as we’ll see in the next couple scenes, the first symptom of deteriorating eyesight, indeed the only symptom it seems in the Little House Universe, is not being able to read and write as FAST as you used to.
I’m not sure this has any basis in fact. Though I admit, I didn’t consult the peer-reviewed literature.
Caroline raises the possibility that Mary’s in love, but the Bead says she’d know. (And I believe she would.)
WILL: Who would Mary date at this school, anyways?
Miss Beadle puts forward a theory that Mary’s suddenly lost her capacity to learn, or something along those lines. (Is this even a thing?)
Then she suggests holding Mary back a grade. Now, how long exactly has this been going on? Is Mary’s such an extreme case, leading as it has to her skipping one day of school, that the Bead wants to flunk her right now?
Miss Beadle goes on to detail Mary’s issues, which notably include failing to complete an entire test in the allotted time. (See above.)
Then they say goodbye, and shake hands with each other. I couldn’t find much about this as a historical practice between Nineteenth-Century women, but it’s kinda charming.
Cut to Caroline and Charles in bed.
CAROLINE: Are you awake?
CHARLES: No, I’m sound asleep.
I’m beginning to think Dagny is right, and they had one person who wrote all of the “Go to Sleep” scenes and nothing else. The patterns are so similar.
Caroline brings up the Mary issue, and Charles says, “If I let you tell me about it, will you go to sleep?” Some Pa of the year.
Caroline says she’s run some secret tests and concluded Miss Beadle was right, Mary isn’t learning as much anymore.
Ma says in desperation, “Mary works hard, she just isn’t able to do well.”
Charles says he’ll look into the matter tomorrow.
Commercial break, then we’re back in the school again. Miss Beadle is writing a new bunch of crap on the board.
WILL: I’m fascinated so many of these kids are regulars. How much did they get paid? Did they have other acting jobs simultaneously?
ROMAN: I’m sure it was like The Truman Show. Michael Landon kidnapped them and brainwashed them into thinking it was really the 1800s.
Not-H. Quincy Fusspot raises his hand to go to the privy. I guess he’s the new Kid Hideous.
(Speaking of Kid Hideous, he’s been missing for enough episodes now to probably be dead. Killed by his psychopath dad, no doubt.)
The Bead then announces they’re going to play a game. She’ll point to a date and the classmates will take a guess. How this is a “game” and not a “quiz,” I’m not sure.
Miss Beadle points to 1588 on the board.
She looks to Mary, but she’s making Droopy Dog faces at her desk.
Nellie answers this one (defeat of the Spanish Armada by England).
She points to another date, then notices Mary’s just got her eyes closed.
Willie jumps up and says, “In 1492, Columbus discovered America.”
“Discovered” is a generous word, but this isn’t really an ideal venue for hashing out such issues, as I’ve said in the past.
The Bead points to another date, and her mood harshens when nobody raises their hand. “Well, I know you know it!” Miss Beadle snipes. “It was on your last assignment!”
For some unknown reason, she calls on Mary.
Mary rises from her seat – I guess that’s the preferred answering etiquette of this episode – only to say, “I’m sorry, Miss Beadle, I don’t know the answer.”
I really thought they would reveal here that Mary’s vision is blurry, but they don’t, so I guess we’re not supposed to know yet. Please ignore what I said above about her losing her eyesight. I have no idea if that’s going to happen.
The Bead gives Mary a look of pity.
At recess-time, Mary comes down the stairs of the schoolhouse and Nellie rises from the ground like a snake.
Nellie boasts she expects to win the upcoming history award. Mary just nods.
Laura interrupts this non-conversation to say Christy is organizing a game of Two O’Cat.
Mary is a drag and says she’s too busy to play, but Laura begs and she gives in. Why would anyone want Mary to play? As we all saw in “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” she pitches like shit.
After school, Laura is muckin’ the auld byre whilst Pa leads a gigantic Chonky into the barn.
Pa and Laura have a nice little warm Half-Pint moment.
That night in bed, Pa notices a light on. He comes out and finds Mary doing math.
Mary says she has to study or she’ll never catch up. Pa sits down across the table to help her. He points out she did her problem correctly, except she reversed two numerals. (That sounds more like dyslexia than near-sightedness to me?)
Pa holds up the slate to show his correction, and Mary rises and comes over to look. Not particularly suspicious, honestly.
But when Mary says “Oh, I can see it now,” Pa turns white as a sheet (or as close to that as a person whose natural skin tone is burnt umber can get).
And this is the big problem I have with this episode. The mystery here to solve is Why Isn’t Mary Doing Better in School, right?
This problem is known to two absolute brainiacs, Caroline and Miss Beadle, not to mention Laura, who is developing her own potent powers of observation and deduction. Hell, Doc Baker probably knows about it too.
These brilliant Grovesters have up-close access to Mary and know something’s the matter with her . . . and yet it’s CHARLES, who doesn’t even CARE if she drops out of school, that figures everything out?
Stammering, Mary claims she could see the numbers from afar. Clearly she herself knows what the problem is, if she’s lying about it.
Well, Pa doesn’t believe her. Inventing the world’s first eye test on the spot, he scratches some numbers on the slate and asks Mary to read them from across the room.
WILL: The music’s very sinister.
OLIVE: Yeah, like The Twilight Zone.
ROMAN: Yeah, and the story is just like “Time Enough at Last”!
There’s no doubt, David’s music helps a lot here. After all, there’s nothing inherently suspenseful about watching a teenager squint for 15 seconds straight.
Now we finally do get Mary’s blurry point of view.
Mary makes a short, effective speech that initially sounds like a kettle with the water boiled out, then builds to a scream (well done, M.S. Anderson):
MARY: [makes choking noises] . . . I don’t know! . . . I can’t see them, Pa! . . . I CAN’T SEE ’EM! . . .
She dissolves into tears.
The mystery finally solved (by himself, of course), Charles comes over to comfort the poor child.
(Just like in “The Award” last season, Melissa Sue Anderson’s “tortured” acting is great; this pretentious old hatemonger of a blogger, for one, was quite moved.)
So, now we cut to Pa and Mary driving down the road. Mary asks, “How long does it take to get to Mankato?”
Pa says it’s more or less “three days” (which matches up with my own previous calculations pretty well). (I suppose I can stop saying that, but I’m kinda needy that way.)
“It’s a nice time of the year to make the trip,” Pa also says – maddeningly, since the time of year is basically impossible to pinpoint on this show.
Mary says she doesn’t understand why she couldn’t just buy reading glasses like Mrs. Whipple to fix her problem.
Pa says she should get an exam, and damn the Whip’s views.
Pa then says Doc Baker recommended an eye specialist, Dr. Burke, in Mankato.
Mary very stupidly says her vision problem shouldn’t drain the Ingalls family funds, but Pa waves her off.
In the next scene, we see an old man’s eye reflecting in some sort of eye-examining device.
The old man turns out to be Dr. Burke, the optometrist.
Mary asks if her eyes are healthy, and he says, “Mary, to me a beautiful eye is a healthy eye – and you have two of the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Completely creepy and gross as well as inaccurate. (I mean, her eyes are beautiful, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of eye health. Is it?)
But to the actor’s credit, he plays it more “Affectionate Grandfather” than “Bill Clinton,” so it doesn’t come off as offensive as it might.
Speaking of the actor, his name is Ford Rainey. He was in a million things, but the obvious one everyone remembers him from is Halloween II (1981), in which he played Dr. Mixter, the alcoholic M.D. called away from his country club to get killed by Michael Myers.
Mixter is best remembered for his classic line, “Janet, get me some more coffee.”
Anyways, Dr. Mixter tells Charles Mary just needs common or garden-variety eyeglasses, and he tries out different lenses for her. It’s surprising to me eye-exam technology hasn’t changed much in all this time, but I guess it must be pretty simple stuff.
Ford Rainey looks a little like late-career Mandy Patinkin.
I guess in Mankato eyeglasses are made While-U-Wait, and pretty soon Dr. Mixter brings Mary’s pair in.
Handing them to her, he says, “Mary, you’re going to have an experience you’ll always remember.”
WILL: It’s funny he’s an eye doctor in this, and then he’s a doctor who gets stabbed in the eye in Halloween II.
ROMAN: I’m sure that was John Carpenter’s homage to Little House on the Prairie.
Dr. Mixter places the glasses on Mary’s face, and she cries, “I can see it, Pa! I can read it all! . . . I could read anything!”
It amazes me how this show milks drama out of inherently boring things like eye exams.
Dr. Mixter says she has to wear her glasses all the time for the moment. He adds this will change down the road when she goes completely blind, obviously.
Mary hugs Pa, and the two almost overturn some weird container of liquid standing on a tripod. (A water cooler?)
On the road back to Walnut Grove, ol’ Four-Eyes – excuse me, I mean Mary! – is marveling at how beautiful the world is, provided one can see it.
MARY: I didn’t think it was going to be so different. . . . You know, I just love my glasses!
PA: Well, I just love you.
After another commercial, we get a fine shot of Laura filling a bucket from Plum Creek as the wagon comes down the drive.
The other Ing-Gals come running out.
ROMAN: As a joke, he should have Mary duck down, and when they ask where she is, say, “In Heaven, child.”
WILL: Yes, I’m sure they’d all get a good laugh out of that.
British Caroline makes a cameo appearance as Ma cries, “Mary! I didn’t expect you home so soon!” I’m noticing she mostly goes British whilst raising her voice – a product of her Shakespearean training?
Oddly, Pa calls Laura “Lovey” rather than “Half-Pint” when he greets her.
Ma the former teacher knows what trouble Mary’s going to have in school as a four-eyes, so she immediately compliments her on how “attractive” her glasses are.
And Laura points out Mary’s resemblance to Miss Beadle. This comparison will be made so many times through the rest of the story, it’s clear it’s a planned talking point the Ingallses came up with in case Mary felt self-conscious.
The girls go inside, and Caroline asks Charles if she’s really all right.
“Doctor said she’d see twice as well with those glasses,” he says. Then he says he’s glad he doesn’t have super-vision, because he’d be sure to cream his woolens looking at a tremendous piece like Caroline every day.
The next day, Mary and Laura are walking to school. Nellie and Willie come oozing out of the Mercantile.
Nellie says, “Well, look at Miss Four-Eyes!” and Willie screams, “Mary has four eyes, four eyes!”
Laura looms over Willie and he scurries away like a roach.
From a distance, Willie says, “Well, Mary has four eyes – two real ones and two glass ones.”
Thank you, B.W. Sandefur, for explaining the “four-eyes” concept for any space aliens monitoring Little House transmissions who are confused by the term.
(Here on Earth, the expression dates from 1874, if anybody’s interested.)
Laura threatens to punch Willie in both eyes. Given we know she would do it, I’m surprised Nellie and Willie continue to bother the Ingallses at all. But the show would be less fun without them doing so, of course.
Nellie takes a more elegant approach than her brother. “My mother said your pa took you to Mankato to get glasses,” she says, “but I never thought you’d have the nerve to wear them. . . . I would never wear the ugly things.”
Laura parries by saying the lovely Bead also wears glasses.
Unfortunately, this leaves Mary open to an obvious attack.
“She doesn’t have a husband either,” Nellie says.
Mary tells Laura to ignore them, but you can tell from her manner Nellie’s blade struck true.
The kids head inside, where Nellie begins lecturing the class about how Queen Isabella financed Columbus’s expedition to North America.
(A sidebar here. I wasn’t familiar with George S. Stuart, who sculpts historical figures with uncanny detail from portraits and photographs. Check him out if that sounds like your bag, he’s pretty amazing.)
Anyways, while Nellie’s talking, we notice some of the other kids are staring strangely at Mary.
Cloud City Princess Leia in particular wears a nasty smirk. I don’t like where this is going.
“My mother says Queen Isabella’s more important than Columbus,” adds Nellie.
I don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean. No, on second thought, I think I do know. For the second time, Mrs. Oleson’s proto-feminism is made to seem like a joke.
And spoiler alert, but we’re also headed toward an anti-feminist plot resolution that left a bad taste in my mouth.
But not yet. Anyways, Miss Beadle takes a noncommittal position on Isabella’s importance in the colonialist pantheon.
She then asks Mary to take the next question. Mary leaps up excitedly, but before she can answer, some of the kids begin chanting “Four-eyes, four-eyes” in horrible droning voices like cultists.
Maybe I’m naive, but this shocked me. We can see some of the characters who are speaking, so let’s go through ’em.
Not-Joni Mitchell and Nondescript Helen I might expect to join the bullies, since Joni and all those Helens seem to be their own clique to begin with. These two also hold a grudge after Laura kicked their asses in the hoop race, probably.
We can see Lice-Infested Arnold is in on the chant. Seems odd; but then since Mary was previously one of his chief academic rivals, I guess this makes sense too.
And the unkindest cut of all: Cloud City Princess Leia? We’ve never seen her have animosity towards Mary or Laura. Why, Leia, why?
We also gain understanding here of Nellie’s evolution (or devolution) of character. We know from the past she sometimes gets to school early just so she can orient the schoolchildren to her Evil Plan of the Day.
Clearly today she brought photocopies of her “four-eyes, four-eyes” script and passed ’em out to her classmates. These kids’ll take suggestion as a cat laps milk, as we’ve seen.
Well, the Bead doesn’t like this behavior one bit. She shrieks “Class!” and puts her own glasses on quite meaningfully.
WILL: God, this is just like Carrie. The movie, I mean.
ROMAN: I’m sure that was Brian De Palma’s homage to Little House on the Prairie.
WILL: Actually, it’s funny that movie’s called Carrie, but this story isn’t about Carrie . . . it’s about Mary!
ROMAN: . . .
Mary goes on to answer a question about Magellan.
MARY [reading]: “Magellan, Ferdinand. The first explorer to . . . circum- . . .”
ROMAN: Yeah. Magellan was the first explorer to circumcise the globe.
Feelin’ better after Miss Beadle’s comments, Mary sits down again . . . only to find someone has passed her a note. (From our God’s-eye view, we can see this note was drafted by one Nondescript Helen and passed up by another.)
What is the message?
And this is about the point in this episode where I start busting out laughing every time anyone says “four-eyes.” It’s just so silly. I mean, we’re talking a pre-K-level insult that’s here given the weight of pissing on your grandmother’s grave, or something. I just can’t help but crack up.
And it’s the title! I like to imagine the showrunners discussing possible titles for this script. I’m sure Fat John Hawkins suggested something poetic like “Through a Glass Darkly,” and Michael Landon was like, “Are you crazy? Just call it ‘Four-Eyes’!”
Well, one night (I thought the same day, but Ma implies it’s a few days later), Ma comes up to the loft and says she’s proud of Mary for wearing her glasses. So well is Mary doing, Ma says, she wouldn’t be surprised if she turned out a teacher, “just like Miss Beadle.”
The next day at school, Cloud City Princess Leia, two Nondescript Helens, and Willie huddle by the schoolhouse steps. From the door, Nellie signals that “she’s coming!”
Mary then emerges from the school, and Nellie quickly sets up that they’re playing a game called “Guess Who,” with Willie up next.
Willie pops up from under the stairs like a troll, holding up two glass discs to his eyes – ashtrays? Or I don’t know what.
In case his wit is beyond her understanding, he adds, “Nyah nyah, Mary has four eyes! Mary’s got four eyes! Nyah nyah nyah nyah!”
I’m sorry, but this part always cracks me up too. I know, I’m awful.
Laura comes racing in like a cheetah and chases Willie away.
Poor Mary rushes off, weeping, and hides her glasses in a holler log.
You know, I’ve worn glasses since I was seven, but I only remember one kid calling me “Four-Eyes.” His name was Chad Von Moos; he was a fairly nasty kid who got treated terribly by teachers and I believe grew up into a troubled adult. So often the case, sadly.
Anyways, as we were both on the wrong side of the popularity tracks in middle school, we got on all right for the most part.
After school, Pa is a-tight’nin’ a wagon wheel, and Laura says something that IMDb TV translates as “Can I meet Jennifer for fishing and do my chores after?”
But if you listen closely, I believe what she actually says is “Can I meet Johnny for some fishing and do my chores after?” Which makes more sense, and keeps the dream alive for audience members hoping to see that big goony drippy doofus back again someday.
(Why isn’t he in school, though? Isn’t that why the conglomerate of Ingalls Edwards & Johnson wanted him to come back to Walnut Grove so badly in the first place?)
Ma and Pa have a dumb little conversation about fishing, but at this late hour we don’t have time to delve into it.
Mary comes tromping down the lane, swinging her arm characteristically. A lot of the actors must have been working on their “character walks” over the summer break.
Mary tries to slip past her parents, but they and Carrie surround her.
Ma, whose intelligence thankfully has now returned, notices Mary’s without her glasses.
Mary says she lost them. Ma and Pa are pissed, but keep it together.
“It’ll be harvest time before I can get another pair of glasses,” Pa says with some bitterness. Again, I don’t know what time of year it is now. They were harvesting potatoes last week, which would seem a good indicator it was already “harvest time,” but what do I know.
Meanwhile in the log, Mary’s glasses sit in quiet reflection. (Get it???)
WILL: She really shouldn’t have left those in the sun. They could cause a fire.
After the break, Inner-Conflict Mary lumbers the farmyard. Speaking of fire, she’s carrying a huge book towards the barn again. Oh my God, somebody stop her!
But actually she’s stopping to talk to Pa, who appears to be milking one of the Chonkies.
Mary, whose scheming here I will note is significantly dumber than in “The Award,” says:
MARY: Pa, if I don’t find my glasses, you don’t have to buy me another pair.
She goes on and on, lathering the shit up and spreading it thick. Talk about a dead giveaway. Even Charles senses something’s up.
After looking at Mary probingly, he says, “I’ll think about it, all right?”
Thinking her plan has worked, Mary stares at Pa and smiles evilly.
As she’s walking away, Pa tries playing the Beadle card again.
Mary says, “Yeah, I know,” with a fair amount of attitude.
Then we’re back in school, where Christy is reading aloud about the “discovery” of the Cape of Good Hope. The prose is rather stilted:
CHRISTY: “The Portuguese seemed likely to be the ones who would answer the question: ‘How shall we reach the Indies?’”
How shall we indeed? I could ask who the we in question here is, but it’s pretty clear whom it refers to, and I’m sure you all know who it is too.
The Bead, who seems a little distracted, asks Mary to pick up where Christy left off.
Surly Mary squints, but, knowing how much more slowly people read without their glasses, Miss Beadle says sadly that’s all the time we have for today, thanks for playing.
The Bead then dismisses them for lunch, saying the big history exam will be taking place this afternoon.
Everyone rushes out, but Miss Beadle shoots Laura with her tractor-beam eyes and she stays put.
Miss Beadle says, “Laura, do you know why Mary hasn’t signed up for the history competition? She has a very good chance of winning.”
Now, before Mary got her glasses, her studies were so poor the Bead wanted to hold her back a grade. Now she’s had her glasses for just “a few days” (according to Ma in the loft scene) and yet “has a very good chance of winning” the history contest? What the hell kind of magic glasses are these, exactly?
Out in the schoolyard, Nellie is bragging she’s going to walk away with the history award and get the big cash prize from her parents.
(I always forget Alison Arngrim’s parents were Canadian, but you can tell here by the way she says “dollar.”)
Surly Mary says she doesn’t give a shit and hops off the seesaw.
Now everybody brace yourselves for the sexist and unexpectedly creepy finale!
Mary goes around the side of the school and sits in some weeds to pout.
Out of nowhere, an honest-to-God surrey with a fringe on top pulls up to the school.
It’s driven by some city-lookin’ fancy-pants who immediately starts flirting with Mary. (Reminder: Melissa Sue Anderson was thirteen years old when this episode aired.)
This dandy hops out of the surrey. He’s wearing a vest with a fancy watch chain and a white derby (actually, I think it’s a homburg with the crease pushed out of it).
The guy says he’s looking for Miss Beadle. He practically tickles Mary’s face with a daisy, gives it to her (the flower I mean!), and heads inside. Now, he definitely is a Bill Clinton.
Then, in a shock cut, we see the dandy and the Bead in the middle of the schoolroom . . . well, I guess sucking face is really the only way to describe it.
Mary comes stomping in for some reason, and Miss Beadle breaks the embrace off, or stops kissing the guy, anyways. (This is very funny, and well played by Charlotte Stewart.)
“I just came in to put my flower in some water,” says Mary – an outrageous lie, since everybody knows there’s no running water in this school.
Miss Beadle introduces the dandy (who looks a bit like Peter Davison) as “John Stacey.”
Miss Beadle says the dandy’s “a lawyer from over in Springfield.” (Springfield, with a population of about 2,100 today, has been mentioned a couple times on this show.)
The dandy says, “What she isn’t telling you is I’m her beau . . . and she’s very lucky that I didn’t meet you first, Blue Eyes.”
“Oh, John,” the Bead says flutterishly.
Mary is practically watering her flower with drool, so dazzled by his hotness is she.
This is very out of character for her. Hello, anybody remember how disgusted she was by the attentions of Johnny Johnson?
Addressing the Bead as “Eva” (the first time we’ve heard her Christian name, I believe?), the dandy tells her after school he wants to take her for a ride. (Well, okay, he doesn’t say that, but he clearly does want to.)
He exits, and Mary and Miss Beadle bask for a moment in his train of light.
“I think he’s nice,” says Mary. I guess from this moment on, she is an adolescent.
“So do I!” laughs the Bead, and hugs her.
Long story short, Mary, realizing women in glasses really can attract the hottest of hotties, goes and “finds” hers, and wins the history award.
Afterward, Mary confesses to Pa. As in “The Award,” it’s a great performance by Melissa Sue Anderson, and only assholes like me will be hard-hearted enough to laugh when she breaks down and squeals, “NELLIE KEPT CALLING ME FOUR-EYES!”
Pa says he had figured it out, and says there isn’t much truth in the old adage about sticks and stones (which yes, was already an expression at the time). Names do hurt.
“They sure do!” says Mary, crying rather adorably.
Pa compares her to Miss Beadle again, and, while she doesn’t quite look at the camera and wink, there is perhaps a saucy twinkle in her eye when she agrees. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Mrs. Oleson’s hair looks nice in the “report card” scene.
THE VERDICT: This is kind of “The Award”-lite, with its similar themes of inner conflict and deception from Mary. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun. By this point, the showrunners were learning flamboyant melodrama was the absolute best mode for this show. Points docked for the laughably sexist resolution, though.
UP NEXT: Ebenezer Sprague