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Little House on the Prairie

Season 8 Episode 5

A Wiser Heart

Aired Wednesday 12:00 AM Nov 02, 1981 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
48 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

When Eliza Jane invites Laura to Arizona for a summer literature course that features Ralph Waldo Emerson, Laura is thrilled to accept. Once there, she finds a part-time job to help cover her expenses, and things are going fine until an unusual love triangle forms between Eliza Jane, Laura, and a professor from the seminar.moreless

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  • Laura travels to Arizona to attend summer school with Eliza Jane.

    Watching this episode causes me to wonder about a few things. Primarily, what the heck happened to Eliza Jane that turned her into such a wanton harpy? Seeing her for the first time since the wedding, we find she is now bossy, forward and argumentitive. She is also, apparantly, so desperate for a man that she will imagine herself in love with a stranger who happens to be married.The way she makes Laura invite him to dinner and then googles at him through the meal is quite uncomfortable. Out of character enough, but when she goes to the lecture hall to thank him for the flowers (Laura told her that Mort sent them, but delusional Eliza believes they are from William) she also tells him that it doesn't matter to her that he's taken. What? Prim and Proper Eliza Jane dallying with a married man? It's too much of a stretch for me to accept. It's almost as if she's not the same woman anymore. Until the end, anyway. It seems that after humiliating herself in front of William she is finally able to revert to her sweet/shy self and begin to see that Mort isn't so bad after all. I found it odd that the Eliza that once went to Laura for advice about men is now telling her that she (Laura) has misinterpreted William's overtures because she doesn't understand the way things are done in the city. She practically came out and called Laura a bumpkin! This was not an Eliza that I either recognized or liked.

    The other major point of contention for me is the fact that Almanzo encouraged Laura to take this trip. Not that he isn't a supportive and loving husband; clearly he could understand, by her reaction, what seeing Emerson in person might mean to her, but it seems out of character. This is the same guy that didn't want her to go away for a month to teach so they could save some money to get married. Now she's pregnant and going away for 3 months and he's OK with it? Really? I have trouble with this, especially knowing how Almanzo is in the kitchen. Is he going to eat at Nellie's every night? I know it seems trivial to think about these things, but we all know that Manly liked to eat!

    Discrepancies aside, it was a pretty good episode. It's always interesting to see Laura outside of Walnut Grove and it gave us a chance to enjoy Leslie Landon in yet another bit part. The performances of both Patrick Collins and Joseph Lambie were quite enjoyable, although completely opposite. As far as Eliza goes, things are about to go from bad to worse; if you don't care for her here, just wait 'til "Day of Sunshine, Days of Shadow". Uch.moreless
  • Sexual Harrassment on the Prairie...

    In this day an age, Laura's professor could have been sued for sexual harrassment. Because she rebuffs his advances towards her, he alters her grades. What a jerk!

    And...Eliza Jane needs to get a life and stop chasing after men who don't want her! How pathetic! She doesn't realize how ridiculous she looks to others. Then again, didn't Laura chase after her brother Almanzo the same way?? I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. A little frustrating to watch, but otherwise, a pretty good episode. I wanted to slap Eliza Jane a few times, but thank goodness it's only a television show! ;-)moreless
  • Emerson, Arizona, and Philandering Profs, oh my!

    This episode was a change of pace from prairie life and tragedy plots which is one reason it was especially enjoyable. Observing Laura's adventures as she takes the summer course, along with the abuse she takes at her job, make for a riveting story. The only plot line that I find puzzling in this episode is Eliza Jane's resistance towards Mort's (the comical, bumbling schoolteacher) advances. Granted, she would much rather land the handsome and philandering professor, but it seems out of character that EJ, perpetually desperate to abandon her old-maid status, would refuse ANY man, especially a seemingly pleasant and humorous fellow teacher like Mort. He's no bigger of a goof than ol' Harv was! Further troubling is Eliza Jane's insistance on pursuing the married professor, esp. as the first time she ever meets him is in a restaurant where he is sharing a romantic dinner with a woman much more attractive than she. EJ also refuses to believe her own sister-in-law's claims, so she appears even more delusional. We are led to believe in previous episodes that, while she is always pathetic, Eliza Jane at least is a scrupulous woman when it comes to morality.moreless
  • Witness Laura go to college.

    What can I say about this episode of Little House on the Prairie? One thing that I that I found enjoyable about it was the change in scenery for Laura, being that she got to go to Arizona for a summer school course. Another thing that I enjoyed about the episode was that we get to see Almonzo's sister, again even thought I wasn't much of a fan of hers.

    When the episode starts out with Almonzo walking up to the Walnut Grove School house with a letter in his hands, you can almost tell that he has something that holds big news for Laura. I thought that it was really nice to see her get a chance to go and have an adventure with her sister-in-law, even if it meant spending time in school. I also thought that it was nice how she and Eliza Jane befriended Mort, a fellow teacher who was also taking the same literature class they were in, mainly due to how pleasant I found his sense of humor to be.

    However, there were only a few parts of "A Wiser Heart" that I didn't care too much for: how childish Eliza Jane was acting when Laura learned of how their instructor propositioned her to become more than just teacher and student, when the professor turned on her when she refused to go along with what he had in mind, and when Laura was working as a dishwasher with that hard-nosed boss lady. The upsides to these storylines was when Laura stood up to her boss in the kitchen, Eliza Jane saw the way she was acting was wrong, and how Mort stood up to their professor for Laura.

    In all, even though this episode had a few drawbacks to it, I still found it to be well written and a good addition to Little House on the Prairie.moreless
Dean Butler

Dean Butler

Almanzo James Wilder (co-star prior to season 7)

Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls/Wilder

Kaley Ward

Kaley Ward


Guest Star

Warner McKay

Warner McKay

Ticket Vendor

Guest Star

Joseph Lambie

Joseph Lambie

William Woestehoff

Guest Star

Lucy Lee Flippin

Lucy Lee Flippin

Eliza Jane Wilder

Recurring Role

Leslie Landon

Leslie Landon


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • Goof: Ralph Waldo Emerson died in 1882, Laura would have been 15 years old in the episode since she was born in 1867. Laura is 18 in "A Wiser Heart" so she could not have attended his lecture.

    • When Eliza Jane asks Laura if she believes in love at first sight, Laura hesitates before saying "I suppose." However, in Season 6's Back to School, she took one look at Almanzo and immediately knew that she would one day marry him, so you'd think she'd act more enthusiastic about Eliza Jane's question.

    • This episode marks the first of Laura's somewhat strained relationship with her new sister-in-law, Eliza Jane, who is clearly bitter over her own unhappy life and eager for control. This attitude is revealed here for the first time (remember that Eliza Jane was very quiet and self-sacrificing in Season 7's "Laura Ingalls Wilder"), and she only gets worse in Season 8's two-parter Days of Sunshine, Days of Shadow.

    • Goof: When Laura pushes Mrs. Pierce, she lands in a pail of water, and her hair remains dry. The next shot pans to Laura, then in the very next shot we see Mrs. Pierce still sitting in the bucket, only now her hair is soaked. Since she landed on her behind, her hair should not have gotten wet, and there was no time for anyone to have poured water over her head, realistically.

    • Nitpick: Why would Laura go to Arizona for the summer pregnant and still not be showing at the end of the summer?

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Laura: I'd like one ticket to Walnut Grove, please.
      Ticket Vendor: Will that be round trip?
      :Laura: Oh, no. One way. (smiles broadly) I'm going home!

    • Eliza Jane: Laura, I've behaved absolutely abominably, and I understand if you never want to talk to me again, but I hope you can forgive me...I've missed you!

    • Eliza Jane: Do you believe in love at first sight, Laura?
      Laura: I suppose.
      Eliza Jane: I think this is going to be the best summer of our lives.

    • Mr. Westehoff: Laura, can't you see that it's you I'm interested in?
      Laura: Mr. Westehoff, I'm married. We talked about my husband last night at supper.
      Mr. Westehoff: I don't see what the problem is. I'm married, too.

  • NOTES (6)

    • This episode was filmed at Old Main, the first building of the now considerably larger University of Arizona, which is in Tucson and not Phoenix. The university itself only had 32 students attending its first class in 1891, and the fountain, which is prominently featured during the fight scene, wasn't built until the 1920's. Phoenix's Arizona State University was chartered at the same time, but as a teachers college, not a university. It also looks much different.

    • Featured characters: Laura and Eliza Jane Wilder

    • This is Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane)'s first appearance in about a year and a half. The audience hasn't seen her since Season 7's two-part premiere episode Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she is a somewhat different person now (not in a good way).

    • Michael Landon's daughter Leslie introduces the third of four characters she plays throughout the series. In this episode, she portrays Pam, Laura's sweet and soft-spoken co-worker in the restaurant kitchen.

    • A story of a quadrangle, Mortimer wanting Eliza Jane, Eliza Jane wanting Professor Woestehoff and Professor Woestehoff wanting Laura.

    • Some nice humour, provided by Mort in some parts and the penultimate scene in the lecture room turns out nicely, for those who may be watching for the first time in particular. Mrs. Pierce gets her 'just deserts' too!