Friday, February 6, 2009

The Award 5/5

The next day Caroline brings a basket of eggs to the Mercantile. Nels is behind the counter and is rather cordial. “I’m going to miss that daughter of yours around here,” he says. “It must be tough to find help for fifty cents for three weeks,” Caroline retorts. Man, she does not play close to the chest. Nels corrects her that the pay was fifty cents per week and that he doesn’t know many kids that would buy a history book with their own money. Caroline is surprised by this, more so when Nels goes on to say that Mary had already read every book in the store anyway so buying the text seemed unnecessary. As Caroline processes this new information, she walks to where she can see the school through the store window and recites her shopping list for Mr. Oleson.

Miss Beadle puts on her best Vanna performance as she recaps that today is test day and someone will be going home with a snazzy new dictionary. Mary sits stoically as Laura looks expectantly at the sister. Miss Beadle dismisses the kids not taking the test. Laura asks if Mary will be joining her, but Mary continues to sit in silence. Laura leaves as Miss Beadle begins handing out the exam.

Caroline walks out of the Mercantile and sees the kids playing outside. She walks over to the school and sees Laura sitting on the steps. “Where’s Mary?” Ma asks. Laura sadly says that Mary is inside. Caroline accepts this and goes up the steps. She looks in on the test takers and sees Mary in the front row. As she leaves she doesn’t even acknowledge Laura.

Later on, Miss Beadle rings the bell and the kids file in. Miss Beadle announces that all the tests are graded and that she is proud of everyone. However, there is only one winner and it is, of course, Arnold Lundstrom. Mary is in tears at this point and runs out of the classroom. Before Laura can run after her, Miss Beadle asks to see Laura after school.

Caroline is collecting some water from the creek as a wagon approaches. It’s Miss Beadle and she brought Laura. Caroline thanks the teacher for bringing Laura home and asks where Mary is. Miss Beadle that Mary would be home then hands a piece of paper to Caroline. It’s Mary’s exam, which turns out to be a confession. Miss Beadle rides away as Caroline asks Laura to watch the house so she can find Mary. Caroline finds her daughter by a large tree. The Love Theme of the Nerd March begins to play as they run towards each other to hug. They both apologize for the communication breakdown and head home.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Award 4/5

That night Mary is studying by moonlight in the bedroom loft. Laura wakes up and asks Mary what she is doing. It turns out that Mary is doing her next day’s homework since she spent all her time at the shop studying for the exam because Miss Beadle spooked her. Mary also lets on that she plans on taking the exam and believes that if she wins Ma will be proud instead of furious. Laura is a little dubious about this and asks what will happen if Mary doesn’t win and Ma finds out about the exam. Mary pauses then says “I’ll just have to win.” Surely I can’t be the only person reminded of this.

The next day after school Mary runs over to the mercantile and promptly studies. Oh, it’s a montage of a day in the life of Mary Ingalls. She’s just like us! She reads books! She rakes straw near cows! She gets water from the creek! She yawns at school! Wasn’t that exciting?

It’s three weeks later and that means it is payday. Mr. Oleson hands Mary $1.50 and she runs over to the book shelf to get the replacement copy of the burned text. She hands over the dollar and walks away. Mr. Oleson offers a bag but Mary politely refuses. Phase one of Mary’s plan is complete.

Phase two is emphasized the next day as Miss Beadle finishes writing “EXAMiNATiON TOMORROW” on the blackboard. All caps and the underlining I can understand, but the lower case I’s are not sitting well with me. A little too MySpace, wouldn’t you agree xXBeadle69Xx? Anyway, she also verbalizes the reminder about the exam, letting the kids who aren’t taking it know that there will be an extra hour of recess. Laura’s face lights up at this, but Mary is non-responsive. Is she asleep? Poor kid. Laura tells her sister to hurry up, but Mary is going to stick around to talk to Miss Beadle. Mary returns the book and thanks the teacher for letting her borrow it. Miss Beadle asks if Mary has been working too hard these last few weeks. “I used to throw up,” she shares, referring to coping mechanisms for anxiety. Mary has no reaction to this, not even an “ew.” I can see that Miss Beadle is just trying to help, but this is a really awkward conversation to watch.

Back home Caroline is setting the table and comes across a half-dollar. Mary walks in and Ma asks if she knows where the money came from. Mary says the money was from her job and she wanted to put it towards fixing the barn. Caroline is concerned that fifty cents for three weeks work is incredibly unfair. Mary claims that she didn’t have to work that hard and she learned a lot. See, this is where Mary runs into unnecessary trouble. Ma already knows that the fire was caused by Mary studying, so revealing that the book got burned shouldn’t get Mary into any additional trouble. If Mary said she was working to pay for a replacement text, I think Ma would have been more than okay with that. Instead, Caroline is all suspicious now. Way to go, Mary.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Award 3/5

As the girls walk home from the Mercantile, Laura shares her concern that Mary didn’t tell Miss Beadle that she was withdrawing from the exam. “You know why I didn’t,” Mary states and they rehash the first twenty-seven minutes of this episode. As long as things work out at the job, Mary should have the money to buy a replacement book the day before the test. “Then are you going to tell her what Ma said?” asks Laura. Mary pauses for a moment then responds “That’s a long time away.” Laura wonders what Mary will do if Ma asks as the somber Suite of the Nerd March pipes into the soundtrack. Mary’s adopting the “we’ll see” platform. That strategy is only going to work for you for so long, young Mary. What?

Laura pets the horse when they get back to the homestead. Mary does nothing as she walks by and the horse is all like “bitch, you almost killed me, you could at least say hello.” Laura barges into the house and hugs Ma who reminds Laura yet again to close the door. Laura runs outside to play as Mary just stands in the entryway. Ma greets her as Mary closes the door. Mary takes this moment to tell Ma about the job. Caroline thinks about it for a moment and says it’s okay as long as Mary keeps up her grades and does her chores around the house. Nothing about the exam comes up.

Mrs. Foster is looking at some fabric in the Mercantile. Mary hands her a package and thanks Mrs. Foster for her purchase. Mary returns to the counter to add the transaction to the ledger when Nellie walks in, giving Mary a death glare. Mary returns to the fabric and begins to fold the reams and Nellie follows her. “You should look nicer when you come to work at the store,” she tells Mary. “Maybe your mother will let you wear your Sunday dress,” she snidely suggests. Mary says her Sunday dress is for church, Nellie responds that Mary doesn’t get paid for going to church, and Mary counters that she doesn’t worship in the Mercantile. It would be kind of awesome if Reverend Alden walked in, but instead it’s Miss Beadle who comes through the door.

She is a little surprised to see Mary, but Nellie interjects that the Ingalls girl is working there to cover for Nellie until after the exam. Miss Beadle asks Mary for a pound of sugar. As Mary is scooping, Nellie uses this as an opportunity to brag about all of the resources she has access to. Miss Beadle politely smiles and nods, but when Nellie won’t shut up the teacher tells her to start studying. After Nellie leaves the room, Miss Beadle asks Mary how her studying is going. Mary pauses for a moment then says “fine, just fine.” She has a panicked look in her eyes as this bland conversation continues. Miss Beadle asks when Mary has time to study and the girl fumbles around for an answer, claiming that she can read the books in the store when she isn’t busy. This works for Miss Beadle and she leaves. The Jeopardy Meditation of the Nerd March starts to play as Mary pulls a book from the shelf and starts to read.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Award 2/5

Mary brings a basket of eggs into the house and tells Ma the totals. Before she can walk away, Caroline asks Mary to sit down. Mary looks at her mother expectantly, not entirely sure what this is about. Ma begins by saying that she was very frightened the night before. Mary apologizes and Ma continues to dwell on what could have, but did not, happen. Before Caroline can get too much deeper into her explanation, Mary asks to be excused so she can clear up the burnt straw. Really she just wants to get away from having to relive the experience. Ma lets Mary leave.

We see Mary raking in the stable when she comes across the book that started this whole mess. Though not destroyed, many of the pages are charred and pretty much unusable. Ms. Beadle is probably going to notice that. Mary realizes this and tears up again.

Caroline has decided to pay Reverend Alden a visit at the church. Before they get into the nitty gritty, the Reverend takes this time to say he ran into Charles and Mr. Edwards over at their campsite and sends their regards. I wonder if we’re going to be reminded every segment that Charles is not around even though we can tell that he is not around. I guess the show doesn’t want people to think he contracted The Fever. Anyway, Caroline is upset not because she punished Mary but because she lost her temper. Reverend Alden chuckles at this and asks if Mary apologized. Caroline says that she did several times, but Ma can’t stop dwelling on the idea that Mary could have been killed. Alden tells her not to worry about it since Mary wasn’t killed and then asks about what happened this morning. Turns out Caroline was reconsidering punishing Mary but she didn’t get a chance since Mary wanted out of that conversation. Way to go, Mary. Reverend Alden asks Caroline who decided that Mary should clean up the barn. Since it was Mary’s idea, the Reverend thinks that Mary is accepting responsibility for what happened. However, he thinks that the punishment should stick so that the daughters don’t get the idea that apologies alone will get them out of trouble. “Without constancy, a child has no rules to live by,” he bumper stickers. Sweeeeeet constancy. Not the most enticing bumper sticker, but I could see it on the Ingalls’ wagon.

It’s now Monday morning and Laura wants to get to school so she can play before the bell rings. Mary is dawdling and says she doesn’t feel like rushing to school. Laura offers Mary some candy to try to cheer her up. The older girl refuses at first but finally gives in. They head over to the mercantile to buy a penny’s worth of licorice. As Nels gets the candy, Mary asks about the “Help Wanted” sign he has posted behind the counter. Nels needs some temp help to do some odd jobs since Nellie is too busy with exam prep to work the floor. Mary offers her services, but Nels is a bit hesitant. He tells her to ask Ma first and if she says okay then it is fine by him. Before the girls leave, Mary remembers to ask what the pay will be. It is fifty cents a week and I have no concept of how good that wage is. For some reason my gut is telling me that Mary is making more than I am. She also asks how much a history book would cost and Nels guesses about a dollar. Well, that eases my mind – it doesn’t take me two weeks to earn enough to buy a textbook. Mary thanks Mr. Oleson and the girls leave the store.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Award 1/5

1974 – Burning the midnight oil preparing for a school contest, Mary causes a fire, and Caroline orders her to withdraw.

Hallmark was nice enough to cycle back to the beginning of the series. Now maybe we can pinpoint where exactly things went off the rails.

This episode starts with a voiceover from Laura about how Pa doesn’t travel all that often but that he would be gone for three weeks. I guess Michael Landon had a Bonanza reunion tour that he couldn’t reschedule. Anyway, we see a wagon driving away as the girls yell their goodbyes to Pa and Mr. Edwards. We don’t actually see the men and it is the last we’ll be not seeing them this episode. Caroline tells Laura and Mary that they will be late for school, so the two of them run inside the house to grab their things.

We see the girls walking to school and Laura is dawdling. Mary tells her to hurry up but Laura says she is looking for something. They argue about this for a bit, eventually working around to Laura making fun of Mary for being overly studious. The girls finally make it to the school and are rather late. Miss Beadle is in the middle of telling the class about a scholarship award contest when she pauses to allow the Ingalls girls to take their seats. Mary apologizes before Miss Beadle continues. The scholarship award is given to the student who gets the highest score on a special exam. Sort of like Mathcounts, but less socially retarded. Before you get offended, I did make it to the state level in 8th grade, so I know what I’m talking about. Anyway, the award this year has been upgraded from a ribbon to a leather-bound Webster’s Dictionary. Nice improvement, school board. The kids in the class “ooh and ahh” politely but Mary looks at it as if the book was the Holy Grail. Miss Beadle comments that she expects there to be increased interest in the exam due to the prize, but her words sort of fade into the background as we get a close up of Mary looking at the book. She doesn’t blink.

As the girls walk home from school it is now Mary who is dawdling. She is studying a history text that Miss Beadle loaned her in preparation for the exam. Laura scoffs at this, commenting that history is nothing but stories about dead people. How meta. Inside the house, Caroline is ironing as she helps Carrie with her ABC’s. The girls arrive and Caroline reminds them to close the door as she asks about their day at school. Mary shows Ma the book she borrowed and they marvel at it. Laura asks if she can go fishing after her chores, but Ma tells her that she can still study even though she doesn’t have homework. Laura goes outside to start the chores and Caroline stresses closing the door again.

That night, Laura is trying and failing to sleep. Mary is reading the book and the light is keeping Laura awake. Mary says she can’t read without the light and Laura tells her that she should be sleeping instead of reading anyway. Mary rolls her eyes and blows out the lamp. She crawls into bed with Laura. Later on we see that Mary still can’t sleep, so she sneaks out of bed and takes the book downstairs. Mary lights a lantern and goes into the stable to read some more. A harpsichord starts to play a theme highlighting Mary’s studious nature/nerdiness. The camera zooms in on the binding and I can only assume it is from the cameraman dozing off.

We then cut to the flame of the lantern resting on a stool as Mary is resting on a pile of straw. In typical Little House fashion, dozing Mary rolls over and kicks the stool knocking the lantern to the straw covered ground. The horse looks over to see what’s up and grunts in concern. The horse is at a loss for words as the nerdiness theme takes a minor key. Mary curls up under the blanket because the fire is making her colder? The camera zooms in on the horse, which never looks good, and it finally whinnies out a warning. This wakes up Mary who stands up and just looks at the fire. She creeps out of the barn, grabs a rake and rolls the still flaming lantern into a bed of fresh straw. You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am trying to get a variety of characters and situations covered in this blog I would seriously consider renaming this “Mary Ingalls Sucks at Life”.

Anyway, a new fire starts up and this causes Mary to run to the house to get Ma. Mary runs back to the stable but Ma pulls her away as soon as she catches up to her daughter. “Buckets!” Ma screams. “Draw water from the creek!” Ma runs into the burning stable to evacuate the horse and cow. Jack the dog just sits nearby and supervises. Thanks pooch. Caroline grabs one of the buckets and tosses the water on the flames. After she empties both buckets, she grabs the blanket Mary was using and starts beating down the flames. That fire doesn’t stand a chance once Caroline Ingalls brings da pain. The fire is mostly out when the girls return with the buckets, but Ma throws the water down just to make sure there are no flare ups.

Mary slinks away a few feet as Ma catches her breath. Mary is crying as she starts to apologize but Caroline has an icy tone to her voice when she says “Sorry is not enough.” Laura is watching with a look that indicates that this is about to get really good really fast. Ma asks what happened and Mary explains that she was studying and didn’t want to wake her up. Caroline takes a moment to process this before she loses her temper. “How many times have I told you not to light matches or lanterns in the barn?!” Mary’s weeping reply: “Hundreds.” Mary Ingalls Sucks at Life. This infuriates Caroline further and she tells Mary that she is not allowed to take the exam and that Mary is to tell Miss Beadle tomorrow morning. Laura meekly points out that tomorrow is Saturday, which doesn’t really defuse the situation. Caroline sends the girls back to bed.