A Matter of Faith

Ma-sery

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: A Matter of Faith

Airdate: February 4, 1976

Written by B.W. Sandefur

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: It’s the one where Ma cuts off her leg.

RECAP: Of all the BIG CLASSICS, this is one of the biggest, so it’s all hands on deck here in our house. (Even Alexander joined us.)

(Amelia is away at college, otherwise we might have forced her to watch too.)

This episode is quite spare in style, and I promise today’s recap will be lean as well. No digressions. That’s a Walnut Groovy guarantee.

WILL: They went back to the earlier sound mix for the theme, did you notice?

DAGNY: I think you’re right.

We open with the Ingallses arriving home in the wagon. 

WILL: The color’s good, isn’t it? Everything’s so nice and green.

OLIVE: Yeah, watch, it’ll turn out to be January 4th or something.

(We see this one is another Claxton/B.W. Sandefur collaboration.)

Jack rushes to greet the family, but in rather subdued fashion (for him.)

Jack ‘n’ Clax

Caroline climbs into the back of the wagon to grab some Mercantile purchases, including (she says) a “lamp chimney,” whatever the hell that is. 

(It’s actually the tall glass part of a lantern. I’m sure you knew that, but I didn’t. I pictured a kind of steampunk flashlight to see if your fireplace is full of soot, dead bats, or the like.)

Miss Mary Ingalls demonstrates how to safely use a lamp chimney
Actually, this is a real one

“Ow,” Ma says mildly from the wagon. (This one does NOT fuck around before getting started – just one of its pleasures.)

Then, with rather more annoyance, Ma says, “Oh, I ruined my best pair of stockings.” 

She’s brushed up against a loose wire in the wagon, leaving a large hole in her stocking . . . as well as a small scratch on her leg.

THE SCRATCH

The orchestra’s flute player is blowing with what might be described as slightly sinister force, but otherwise David Rose gives us no indication anything is the matter.

Ma goes inside and finds Carrie has knocked a jar (of molasses?) onto the floor.

OLIVE: What did they use for diapers back then?

DAGNY: Just cloth diapers.

OLIVE: Yuck. Imagine washing that out in the river.

“I’m sorry,” Carrie slurps, her face guilty under its sheen of molasses. We actually haven’t had a good Glopface Carrie scene in a while. I know a lot of us enjoy them.

Hilariously, Carrie throws Jack under the bus for causing the accident. 

(Maybe that’s not the best choice of words, since he actually did get run over by a wagon that one time.)

Previously on Little House

Outside, Reverend Alden comes pulling up the driveway. (Or down, or whatever.) 

I notice they’ve given him a buckboard pulled by two horses . . . perhaps stinging from our comment last season his buggy was suspiciously similar to Doc’s phaeton.

Previously on Little House: Aldi’s buggy
Previously on Little House: Doc’s phaeton

Anyways, Dabbs Greer is really doing the driving. Good for him!

Drivin’ Dabbs!

Caroline comes out to greet the Rev, saying, “I thought you’d be in Stoddard.”

Now, there is no Stoddard, Minnesota. This is odd, because while the writers are admittedly loosey-goosey about minor landmarks like Cattail Lake, Parker Point, etc., the towns they name usually are real ones.

There is a Stoddard on the Wisconsin side of the border at the southeast corner of Minnesota. Perhaps that’s the one they meant? But it’s awfully far from Walnut Grove – about 250 miles.

Stoddard, Wisconsin, in a photo possibly dating back to the 1880s!

Apparently Alden was going to help build a church in Stoddard, but he says they weren’t able to raise enough money to complete it.

Thinking he’s fishing for a donation, Caroline nervously says, “Uh, I don’t know, maybe you better speak to Charles” – knowing the mention of money might throw her husband into a hissy-fit lasting days or weeks.

Previously on Little House

Aldi laughs and says actually, they’re having a bake sale to raise the money. (It’s unclear when bake-sale fundraisers became a thing, but they probably were around by this point, and are an early example of philanthropic activities driven by women.)

The Rev invites Caroline to contribute some pies, saying he’ll provide her with the flour and sugar, which was donated by the Olesons. (Well, by Nels, anyways.)

Charles comes over and says he was thinking about checking out the new church in Stoddard on his way to “Turnbull’s pig farm.” So there goes my Wisconsin theory, unless Charles is making a 500-mile round trip just for pork products. (I endorse going out of the way for quality bacon, but one must set limits.)

Charles says the whole family is going, and they’ll stay overnight somewhere called “Johnson’s Meadow” “on the way back.” It’s unclear if this is a town, just a favorite spot, or what. If it’s a town, it’s another mythical one.

So, apparently “Stoddard,” or the pig farm on the other side of it anyways, is far enough away to make a two-day trip. (Let’s say a full day’s drive, more or less?) 

Now, we know there’s a pig farm within walking distance of the Little House, run by people called Hobson, since Laura tried to sell them Dr. Briskin’s Homeopathic Remedies

Previously on Little House

All joking aside, I don’t know why the hell the Ingallses would make an overnight trip for something they could get locally. Maybe Laura told Pa about the shitty treatment the Pigwife gave her, and he decided to switch suppliers? Seems an extreme response if so. 

Previously on Little House

Anyways, long story short, Caroline feels the Stoddard Congregationalists’ needs outweigh the fun she’d have on the trip to the pig farm. (With what other show would you get a description like that?) 

So she says she’ll stay home and bake some pies.

Then Rev. Alden says he’s got a great idea. He and Mrs. Foster will pick Caroline up on Sunday and drop her off at “Johnson Meadow” (he dumps the possessive) on their way to Stoddard.

Charles says, “Reverend, Solomon himself couldn’t have found a better solution!”

King Solomon (known for wise suggestions like “just chop the baby in half”)

In reality, however, Aldi’s plan isn’t wise.

It’s sheer idiocy.

First, if it is a full day’s drive to Stoddard, why would they bring baked goods all that way for the sale? Are Caroline’s pies so fucking great they’ll bring money in hand over fist despite being day-old?

Of course they aren’t. No one’s are. Ma herself stresses they need to be fresh to sell. 

INDEED THEY WOULD, MA.

Second: What is the rationale for taking Caroline to Johnson(’s) Meadow? If it’s halfway to Stoddard, that means three or four hours’ travel time to get there. Rev. Alden can’t leave Walnut Grove until after services on Sunday, meaning they’d arrive around three in the afternoon, at best.  

Now, we have seen in the past Charles likes to get on the road quite early when camping.

Previously on Little House

Furthermore, he has to work at the mill on Monday; remember, this is not a business trip for him. And the girls would have school. If they hang out all day in J(’s) M waiting for Caroline, they’ll either have to immediately press for home when she arrives (if they want to get back by dark), or they’ll have to stay a second night in the Meadow. 

And for what? Because think about it. If Pa and the kids left at 6 a.m. Sunday, they could easily be home before services even let out. They’d actually have more time with Ma if she just stayed put!

Solomon himself my ass

Of course, all this contrivance is really just so Aldi will stop by the Little House on Sunday; but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Anyways, although it doesn’t look like evening, Charles invites the Rev to stay for supper.

DAGNY: Yet again. Does he just drive around at mealtime fishing for invitations?

WILL: Yes. It’s a great tradition of the clergy.

That night, Charles is in bed with the newspaper. He reads a story about a rash of robberies in Springfield and advises Caroline to lock the door for safety whilst they’re gone.

Caroline gives Charles a rather intensely pleasant look and says he doesn’t need to worry about her.

OLIVE: She seems pretty excited about the time alone.

WILL: She’s probably got a secret lover, like Busby or somebody.

[pause]

DAGNY: . . . BUSBY???

Charles returns the pleasant intensity and says he’ll be thinking of her the whole time they’re gone.

“That makes me feel good,” says Caroline, quite meaningfully, and they kiss.

OLIVE: Jeez!

DAGNY: I know, they don’t even have popcorn and they’re getting started.

Then Charles says goodnight and turns out the light.

DAGNY: Oh, I guess not.

WILL: Don’t give up on them yet.

And indeed, they snuggle up together in the dark, and soon Caroline’s giggling and making little “mmm” noises. Racy stuff for this show.

Rated 7+ for raunch

The next morning, presumably a Saturday, Pa calls “All right, all aboard!”

Jack hops up in the wagon, so they’re taking him as well (for no good reason, except so he can’t help Caroline later).

Ma brings out a little bundle. When Pa asks what it is, she says, “Oh, just some bandages and peroxide in case the girls get hurt.” 

OLIVE: Oh my God, did she seriously just get rid of all her Band-Aids?

DAGNY: Yeah. It’s a believable mom move, actually.

Hydrogen peroxide apparently was commercially available in the 1880s, though it was mostly used for bleaching – not hair, but straw hats and the like.

Ma bids everyone goodbye.

OLIVE: BOY she’s happy.

DAGNY: Carrie being gone would fill anyone with joy.

She walks down to the creek.

OLIVE: She’s gonna go skinny-dipping. That’s the first thing she does.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. With Busby.

Actually, what she does is splash water onto the scratch on her leg, which is looking red and inflamed.

OLIVE: Great idea, wash it with diaper-water.

Caroline goes back in and takes a pie out of the oven.

DAGNY: My sister had a toy stove like that.

WILL: You tell us that every time.

DAGNY: Well, she never let me play with it.

Ma looks at the scratch on her leg again, and David gives us some ominous chords, like the tolling of an evil bell.

Then, Caroline rips a lump of bread off a loaf sitting on the counter and dunks it in water.

OLIVE: What is she doing?

WILL: She’s making a poultice.

ROMAN: Um, it’s pronounced “POTUS.”

No, it isn’t. A poultice, as you probably know, is a sloppy wet mixture they applied to wounds in the olden days. They haven’t been much used since the early 1900s, when they began to be replaced as a treatment by modern pharmaceuticals. Poultices were made of mustard, linseeds, bread, or other foodstuffs, and while it’s unclear if they did the patient a whole lot of good, they weren’t harmful for the most part.

Interestingly, veterinarians still use them for horses, so there must be something to it

Anyways, Caroline wraps up her leg and gets back to bakin’.

Later, we see she’s putting some finished pies on shelves on the front porch, or stoop, or whatever you call it. (Who knew there were shelves there?)

She puts a hand to her forehead and frowns, though whether it’s out of weariness or because her leg urgently needs amputation is not yet clear.

Fortunately, Doc Baker appears in the driveway, so perhaps he can shed some light on things. Doc says he’s come to see Charles about repairing the wheels on his phaeton.

WILL: Is Charles the only person in this town who can fix things?

ROMAN: Well, he is good with wheels.

DAGNY: Yeah, he’s like the Tires Plus of Walnut Grove.

Caroline invites Doc in for a piece of pie and some milk. He comments that she looks somewhat ill. She says it’s just from working all day in a hot kitchen – which is fair enough.

Then she tells him about her scratched leg, and how she poultice-ified it. He approves of that step, and says he’ll be happy to take a look at the wound.

DAGNY: You know, thank God he does take a look at it.

WILL: . . . Seriously?

DAGNY: Oh no, wait, he DOESN’T, does he!

WILL: You’ve seen this one like six times!

DAGNY: I know, I always forget.

And sure enough, out of nowhere, a rider materializes to distract Doc. He says his son fell down and broke his arm; and off they go together, quicker’n’ scat. 

If you’ll pardon the loathsome expression

Caroline sweatily watches them go, with no musical comment whatsoever from David. (He’s quite tricksy in this one.)

The sound of silence

Then we get a sort of filler-ish scene where we actually see Doc attending to the broken-arm kid, who looks like Corey Feldman. B.W. Sandefur must have thought the audience would be worried about the kid otherwise. (We wouldn’t have been, though.)

WILL: Wait, is that actually Corey Feldman?

DAGNY: No, he’d be too old. He does have the same kind of block-shaped head, though.

These people are called the Cullerses. The kid was once a regular on Days of Our Lives. 

The mom was in something called Missile to the Moon, which if the poster is any indication is a must-see.

And the dad was in many a cool thing, including Forbidden Planet, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

That’s him under the PIE sign in “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (a great Twilight Zone if ever there was one)

Doc tells the kid he needs to stay in bed for two weeks. Seems excessive for a broken arm, but what do I know.

DAGNY: Is Doc talking lower than he normally does?

WILL: I think he’s talking more “Western” than he normally does.

The dad comes in and says a thunderstorm’s started. He says he noticed the bad shape of Doc’s wheels, and suggests he just stay the night and he can fix the phaeton for him in the morning. 

And so Doc is eliminated from the equation.

DAGNY: How do you think they made that rain? Just poured buckets of water down?

ROMAN: It’s just Victor French out there with a hose.

Back at the Little House, Caroline is looking hot – literally, figuratively, and every which way.

DAGNY: John Pima, buckle up!

(John Pima, whom I’ve mentioned once or twice, is a great friend of mine who in high school had an intense sexual attraction to Karen Grassle, as well as to a number of the other moms on the show, now that I think about it.)

Out in the storm, we suddenly hear the cow mooing, or, as the IMDb TV subtitlist would have it, “lowing” (a term that until now I thought was the exclusive intellectual property of “Away in a Manger”).

Caroline looks out the window and sees the cow (does it have a name?) has gotten out of the barn.

She wraps herself up in scarves and what-have-you and goes out to try to pull the damn thing back where it belongs. The cow resists.

DAGNY: Ugh. This is every woman’s worst nightmare.

OLIVE: Worse than Freddie dying?

ROMAN: Or Mary going blind?

WILL: Or Alice Garvey smashing Mary’s baby through the window?

DAGNY: A woman can have more than one worst nightmare.

Feverish and now dizzy from the exertion to boot, Caroline collapses. 

WILL: There’s the slide whistle again. David must think it’s the most terrifying instrument ever created.

The camera backs out, leaving Ma face-down in the mud in the pouring rain. It’s pretty fucking frightening, actually.

DAGNY: The cow doesn’t care.

WILL [as the UNNAMED COW]: “Well, my work is done.”

Commercial! And when we return, Caroline is coming to. We don’t know how long she’s been out there, but since the storm’s still a-stormin’ and the slide whistle’s still a-blowin’, it probably wasn’t super-long.

Ma manages to stagger to her feet. She’s soaking wet, but curiously has no mud on her whatsoever.

It’s a great trick

She drags herself back to the house. We see the pies still sitting on the porch shelves.

DAGNY: Wouldn’t they be ruined in the rain?

WILL: I dunno. They’re probably cool enough to eat by now, though.

When she gets in, we see her wound has become horrifically inflamed. 

Meanwhile, out on the road, or in Johnson(’s) Meadow, or wherever, Pa and the kids are cookin’ up supper when the storm hits. They all hide under the wagon and laugh about what a crazy adventure they’re having while Ma’s probably bored stiff at home.

In a witty visual touch, Claxton cuts from beads of water on the wagon cover to beads of sweat on Caroline’s brow.

Bead shot 1
Bead shot 2
Bead shot 3

Ma is lying in bed muttering to herself.

DAGNY: Who is she talking to? 

WILL: She’s delirious. Prince made it sound like fun, but it isn’t.

She moans and writhes for a while, then calls out for Charles. Interestingly, she’s wearing Charles’s nightshirt rather than her own jammies.

DAGNY: The line between pain and pleasure is a very fine one in Karen Grassle’s acting.

Ma rises from the bed, and bizarrely, climbs the ladder to the girls’ loft apartment.

She’s forgotten that nobody’s home.

David makes up for lost time with some murky mad-scene music.

Caroline starts to fire up the stove again, though whether for warmth or because she’s still hoping to hit her pie quota is unclear.

She lights up a newspaper for kindling, then notices the story Charles read about the home invaders.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell what paper it is!

Castle Thunder crashes yet again on the soundtrack, and then we get the first of many scary close-ups of Karen Grassle’s bright blue eye.

DAGNY: Yeesh, what is this, A Clockwork Orange?

Caroline looks up and sees lightning flashing through many gaps in the roof (so many that I doubt the place would keep the rain out, but never mind).

Not to mention the cold in the wintertime

She stares wildly around; then, apparently frightened of nocturnal marauders, she rushes to lock the door. Not sure I buy that, but whatever.

Her wound apparently giving her pain now as well, she limps to the fireplace to stoke it up.

ALEXANDER: Shouldn’t she burn the wound? She could heat up a poker and just sear it closed.

WILL: But if the infection’s already in the body I don’t think that would do any good.

DAGNY: No, that’s right.

Later, she changes the dressing on her leg and sits by the fire. Grabbing her Bible, she looks for strength in some Psalms, but her eyes can’t focus.

Also, she’s pouring with sweat.

WILL: Yeah, John Pima would pop his cork at this one for sure.

Suddenly it’s the next morning, and we see a child trying to pull the cow out of a flowerbed. Then an older man comes out of the barn and starts oh-dad-blast-it-ing. 

WILL: Wait, is THAT Corey Feldman? 

But he isn’t either. The actual kid has the unlikely name of Moosie Drier. Despite this, he would go on to have a long career, including a recurring role on The Bob Newhart Show.

The dad has a very familiar face. He’s Kenneth Tobey, who among other things appeared in The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, the original 1951 The Thing, Dragnet, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun – Will Travel, Perry Mason, Daniel Boone, I Spy, Lassie, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Night Gallery, Mannix, Columbo, Starsky & Hutch, The Rockford Files, Airplane!, Falcon Crest, Gremlins, Innerspace (remember that?), Night Court, Big Top Pee-Wee, L.A. Law, Single White Female, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

WILL: Some resume, huh?

DAGNY: Sure is.

WILL: No Love Boat, though.

DAGNY: A man of good taste as well.

You can see him on the far left here

Dags thought Tobey looked too old to be the kid’s dad.

WILL: Well, you know, like Jennifer Paterson said, men can go on doing that forever.

DAGNY: I suppose. But the quality of their stuff does degrade with age.

The man is very annoyed that the cow, which Not-Corey Feldman Two recognizes as belonging to the Ingallses, has been eating his wife’s flowers. He says they’ll keep the cow and drink its milk until Charles decides to come get it back.

Back at the Little House, Caroline has apparently passed out in her rocker, but she comes to suddenly, screaming. 

Her leg is now blackening, swollen, pus-y, and thoroughly grotesque.

OLIVE/ROMAN/ALEXANDER [chanting]: Cut it off! Cut it off!

Her vision still swimming, she tries to rise and move toward her coat and scarf hanging by the door.

OLIVE: What is she going for?

WILL: She sees the colors and thinks it’s Superman come to save her.

“Mrs. Ingalls was in bad shape, Pa, but I flew her over to the Cullers place and Doc fixed her right up.”

Ma falls to the floor with a thud.

Cut to Turnbull’s pig farm, where the Ing-Gals are playing with a piglet. Better be careful, I was bitten by one of those too when I was a kid. Geese, pigs, cocker spaniels . . . you name it, I was terrorized by it.

Carrie slurps that she wants to take the pig home as a pet, but Laura says that’s a bad idea.

OLIVE: Oh, that’s funny, Laura, when YOU wanted a raccoon, it was just fine. . . .

Laura the hypocrite

Then we see Pa and the pig farmer loading up Charles’s wagon with hams and the like. Charles addresses the guy as “Ray,” but he’s played by the same guy who was the Little Big Gray-Haired Farmer in “Money Crop,” and I see no reason to think of him as a different character. 

Little Big Gray was such a prick to Julie Cobb in that story, the Grovesters must have banished him to Stoddard.

Previously on Little House

But it’s also in character for Charles, who never met a middle-aged man he couldn’t redeem, to keep him as a friend.

Little Big Gray looks over at the girls and slyly says, “Looks like you might have an addition to the family.”

WILL: Oh, is Mary pregnant? John Sanderson, you devil.

Previously on Little House

But no, he means the piggy I guess. 

Carrie slurps that they could feed the piglet with a bottle at home. (That’s how I got bitten!!!)

But Pa says no.

WILL [as PA]: “We can pick him up at Eastertime next year, though.”

Carrie starts to ask too many questions about what happens to the pigs on the farm, but Little Big Gray tells her some reassuring lies, and she relaxes.

WILL: His wife should come out carrying a severed pig’s head right now.

Pa says they have to go now so they can get to Johnson’s Meadow and do some fishing by the time Caroline arrives. But I thought they were staying overnight there? Or did they stay there, then get up Sunday morning, drive through Stoddard to the pig farm, and now are going to be heading back? Or was their travel delayed by the storm? They didn’t tell us exactly what time Charles and the girls left home on Saturday, but it must have been early, given Caroline was looking forward to spending the whole day baking.

It still makes no sense that they’d drive a whole day, then go even further on Sunday morning, have time to go fishing on their way back, and still make it home by nightfall. Arrgh!

Anyways, Little Big Gray puts the piglet back in the pigpen.

LITTLE BIG GRAY: There you go, back to Mama.

ROMAN: Did he just say “Thanks Obama”?

Back in Hero Township, Rev. Alden and Mrs. Foster approach the Little House in the buckboard. 

Alden offers to help Mrs. F down, but she says she can do it herself. Doesn’t surprise me she’d be in pretty good physical condition.

Aldi and Foster walk up to the door.

DAGNY: Now, at least it does look like it rained the day before.

This nutty double act starts going gaga over all the pies on the porch, which Caroline must have weatherproofed somehow. 

WILL: They should just eat them now. Eff the bake sale.

DAGNY: Yeah, or Aldi could take one home for a little American Pie action.

WILL: He is unmarried. Why not?

Mrs. Foster says Caroline’s pies are the pride of the Women’s League and likely will take the top prize this year on Founder’s Day. (You’ll recall Mrs. F was a Caroline partisan last time . . . and Aldi is the judge!)

Previously on Little House

They bang on the door and try the knob, but Ma is passed out on the floor. Eventually they decide she must have gone along with Charles after all.

Then Aldi says, “If we’re going to get to Stoddard in time for the bazaar, we’ve got to get moving.” Now they want us to believe the bazaar is being held on a Sunday night? What the fuck, B.W. Sandefur!

Of course, Caroline starts to revive just as they’re taking off. This bit really reminds me of Misery, actually, when Paul Sheldon’s been drugged but starts to wake up just as the sheriff’s leaving.

And, also too late, Caroline summons the strength to pick up a rolling pin and throw it at the window to get their attention.

The music here is scary as shit.

Ma collapses again in agony, and we go to commercial.

When we return, Caroline seems slightly recovered, at least enough to hobble to the medicine cabinet.

DAGNY: Don’t show the anti-vaxxers this episode. They’ll be like, “Horse liniment, let’s try that!”

We see the cabinet is full of little vials endorsed by Drs. Who, Which and Whatsit.

ROMAN: Oh, did they buy all this stuff from Laura?

Ma grabs the bottle containing “camphorated tincture of opium.”

DAGNY: Why would she wait until now to go for the pain relief?

WILL: Well, remember our theory she got addicted to laudanum after Baby Freddie died. She probably wants to avoid opiates now unless absolutely necessary.

Actually, this bottle contains not laudanum but “Paregoric” – a weaker version of the same thing. She downs practically the whole bottle.

No, Ma, no!

Ma stokes up the fire again and heats up a boilin’-hot washcloth, which she applies to the growing pus-bomb.

Gag, barf

Then we cut to Charles in his long-johns swinging from a rope into a waterin’ hole.

OLIVE: Whoa, Charles!

DAGNY: I know, the ones where Charles is in his underwear or naked made me feel very weird as a kid.

Mary is afraid to get her head wet, though as others have pointed out she herself spearheaded the underwater puppy-rescue operation in “Remember Me.”

Previously on Little House

(Side note: The fact that they’re swimming suggests we’re now in the summer of 1882.)

Anyways, Pa says Mary should swing out to him and he’ll catch her. Only he doesn’t.

OLIVE: Why does he lie to her?

DAGNY: That’s probably why Mary has such man issues later.

WILL: It’s just like in “Death to the Daleks” where Sarah says “You won’t go away will you?” and then the minute she goes back into the TARDIS the Doctor leaves.

ROMAN: You’re right, it is.

That has a worse outcome, though

Anyways, Mary is fine, and the three of them laugh their fucking heads off together.

Idiots

Another one of the great pleasures of this one is how it juxtaposes its horror scenes with those of exasperating ordinariness: Ma is literally dying alone whilst her family swims, fools around with pigs, etc. This show is not known for employing irony, but it’s quite skillfully used here, and the episode is a considerable improvement over its source material.

Source material, you say? Yes – because in case you didn’t know (I didn’t), this is one of the few Little House scripts that’s actually adapted from something else. 

In 1970, NBC aired “A Matter of Circumstance,” an episode of Bonanza that was written by B.W. Sandefur, directed by William F. Claxton, and had essentially the same exact story. Only in that one it’s Michael Landon himself, as Little Joe Cartwright, who gets stomped on by a horse and must contemplate amputating his arm at the elbow.

Preparing for this recap, I actually watched “A Matter of Circumstance.” I think it’s the first episode of Bonanza I ever viewed in its entirety. As I say, I feel “A Matter of Faith” improves on it considerably; but the original was plenty enjoyable. You can check it out here if you wish:

Back in Walnut Grove, Ma pulls the hot cloth off her leg and opens her Bible again. The Paregoric apparently having improved her vision, she reads aloud from Mark 9:43-45:

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed. . . . And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter halt into life. . . .

(She abridges the verses somewhat.)

WILL: So she just opens the Bible at random and says “Here, this will be the answer”?

DAGNY: No, she knows the Bible well. She looked it up on purpose. She’s been turning the idea over in her head already. She knows she can’t crochet herself out of this one.

The camera gives us a close-up of the words CUT IT OFF. (Screams and applause from the gallery.)

Caroline hops over to her utensil drawer and pulls out a carving knife.

DAGNY: Would they really leave that where Carrie could get at it? That kid gets into everything: the molasses, the eggs. . . .

The upper strings go crazy as Ma lays the knife down on the Bible. (In “A Matter of Circumstance,” Little Joe refers to a boring old medical book before commencing his operation – another way in which Little House kicks things up a notch with the concept.)

Back at J(’s) M, Ma’s idiot family is playing Blindman’s B(l)uff.

Right on schedule (???), Aldi and Mrs. F arrive.

WILL: Is he the last man in town Mrs. Foster hasn’t tried to get her hooks into yet?

Insanely, Aldi tells Charles and the girls they’ve already had the bazaar in Stoddard and now are coming back. What time is it? What day is it? I give the fuck up, people. 

He also tells them the bake sale raised “nearly” $4 (about $100 in today’s money). I’ve never built a barn myself, but I bet it costs more than that.

Charles is surprised Caroline didn’t come along as planned, and Alden and Foster tell him nobody was home at the Little House when they stopped. The Rev says Charles should take the buckboard and hurry home, and he and Mrs. F will bring the girls back later in the Chonkywagon. (Presumably the buckboard is lighter, and therefore faster?)

Back at the house, we get the iconic shot of Ma tying up a tourniquet for surgery.

The basses rumble as she reaches for the knife.

ALEXANDER: Could she cut through the bone with that? It’s not even a serrated knife.

WILL: Well, she knows how to cut up a chicken. It’s a matter of putting the knife in the right spot so you can just pry the joint apart.

She sterilizes the blade in the fire.

DAGNY: I don’t think she should jump to amputating the leg. I would shear off the layers of flesh until you’ve cut all the infection out.

WILL: But ow! That would really hurt.

DAGNY: . . .

On the road home (it’s still daytime BTW), Old Man Barrett flags down Charles about the cow; but when Charles hears Caroline hasn’t been around to pick the animal up yet, he tears off.

The Rev’s horses practically roll the buckboard racing to the Little House.

Great stunt-driving in this one

In a neat touch, the camera watches him arrive through the window Caroline broke with the rolling pin.

WILL: Blood and pus should suddenly spray the walls. 

Charles charges in.

ROMAN: Ma should be frying up her leg for lunch.

But Caroline is lying on the floor. She’s clearly still alive, but we don’t see her leg.

Cut to Doc tending to her as Laura watches from the window.

DAGNY: What’s Doc’s famous line?

WILL/ROMAN [as DOC]: “I’d say I enjoyed it . . . but that would be LAME.”

DAGNY: No, not that one, the one he says and then the patient always dies.

ROMAN: Oh! “You’ll be fine.”

DAGNY: That’s it.

Previously on Little House

Laura joins Pa and Mary on the porch where they all get a little weepy.

DAGNY: Honestly, Melissa Gilbert is the best cryer of all the people on this show. Landon is second.

WILL: Mary’s pretty good too. I like when she does that thing where she can’t even talk because she’s gagging and choking through her tears. [as MARY, gagging] “It’s all right, Pa. [gags] I didn’t want to go [gags] to the math competition anyway.”

Charles comes back into the house, and we see Rev. Alden is holding Carrie in the rocker.

DAGNY: Look at him, wracked with guilt.

WILL: There’s a lot of blame to pass around in this one, but it’s really nobody’s fault. Just a matter of circumstance.

Then, when the sun rises the next morning, Caroline reaches for Charles’s hand. Doc declares she’s going to be well.

WILL: Doc’s good at diagnosing just from hand movements. He did the same thing when Mr. Edwards got mauled by the bear.

Doc says stabbing her leg when she did probably saved her life. So I guess Dags was right in her suggested approach to the problem. (She usually is.)

Charles presses his face to his wife’s hand.

DAGNY: Michael Landon does a lot of face-smooshing when he cries. He went to the Jimmy Stewart School of Face-Smooshing Emotional Acting.

Doc and Aldi step out on the porch to have a little Scooby Doo-style epilogue where they break down what happened.

DAGNY: Is this the beginning of THEIR affair?

WILL: Yes, Hanson’s going to kick down the door. “Vat is going on here!”

And inside the bedroom, Ma begins to revive. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: Charles appears to go commando again. (He must have brought the long-johns along specifically for swimming.)

THE VERDICT: Simply brilliant. Works on many levels, with the tension and irony making an almost unbearable combination at times.

UP NEXT: The Runaway Caboose

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: