The Ingalls family faces new trials when business slows to a halt at the mill, and a visit with Mary to a specialist reveals devastating news.
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls/Wilder
Mary Amelia Ingalls/Kendall (1974 - 1981)
Dr. Hiram Baker
Mr. Lars Hanson (1974 - 1978)
In the scene where Mary, already blind, is sitting in a chair, Caroline sits down to talk to her. You can see that Caroline is wearing a bra. This episode is set in the late 1870's, and bras were not invented until 1912.
When Mary realizes that her new glasses are not very effective, Charles says very calmly, "Even doctors can make mistakes. We'll get you in to Dr. Burke, and the sooner, the better." The thing is, Charles and Mary had just gotten back from Mankato, where Mary met with her specialist and got the new glasses. It's been said in previous episodes that this kind of trip takes about a week (three days both ways), and yet Charles didn't seem the least bit fazed that he would have to make that long trip again.
Goof: In the scene where Charles goes to talk to Mr. Hanson and Jonathan about the problems facing the mill, Charles calls out, "Hey, Karl!" The real name of the actor who played Hanson is Karl Swenson. It's very odd that this mistake wasn't edited out.
Reply: If you look really closely, Mr. Hanson hasn't even come out of his office when Charles says "Hi, Karl!" Charles is talking to a guy working at the mill when he says that, as you can see when the man stops and waves to Charles. It's obvious, then, that the other character on the screen is named Karl, and coincidentally, it just happens to also be the name of the actor playing Mr. Hanson.
Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls) and Linwood Boomer (Adam Kendall) spent some time at the Foundation for the Junior Blind to prepare for their new roles on the show. There was also a technician on the set of Little House, who trained Anderson and Boomer to walk, behave, and position their eyes the way blind people would. In fact, the title of this 2-part episode came from one of the foundation residents, who--when the two actors left on their last day--told them that she would be waving to them as they drove away.
In previous interviews, actress Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) admitted that she was terrified when she read the script for this 2-part episode, because of the obvious challenges that were ahead for her character. Additionally, her first reaction was that the character of Mary Ingalls was officially being written off the show, and that really upset her. However, Michael Landon said to her, "This is going to be a great thing, Missy," and Anderson acknowledges now that he was absolutely right.
Laura: Seth, would you like to go fishing again tomorrow?
Seth: Sorry, I can't. I have to start my job tomorrow.
Mary: Where are you working?
Seth: The livery.
Laura: That's Mr. Dorfler's place!
Seth: That's right. Mary, I get off early tomorrow. Would you like to go for a walk or something?
Seth: Laura! I'm happy to see you.
Laura: (excited) You are?
Seth: Sure. Can you tell Mary I'll be a little late?
Laura: That's it?
Seth: Thanks. You're a real good kid, Brown Eyes.
Laura: (Walks away) "You're a real good kid, Brown Eyes." (Kicks fence)
Dr. Burke: I didn't know your daughter had scarlet fever, Mr. Ingalls.
Charles: Yeah, she had scarlet fever.
Dr. Burke: How bad was it?
Charles: (pause) It was bad, it was scarlet fever. What is it?
Dr. Burke: The scarlet fever damaged the eye nerves. Weakened them.
Charles: How long until she's better?
Dr. Burke: I'm afraid she won't get better. The condition only worsens. Mr. Ingalls....Mary is going blind.
Charles: (long silence) There must be some mistake.
Dr. Burke: I'm afraid not. I wish there was some medicine or treatment that would help, but there just isn't.
Charles: There....some.....something. There must be something.
Dr. Burke: It would have to be in the nature of a miracle, beyond the skill or knowledge of a doctor.
Caroline: (to Doc Baker about Mary) I don't know what to do anymore. She says she's a burden to us, and she hates it. I tell her it isn't true, but it just doesn't do any good.
Doc Baker: This might sound harsh, Caroline, but I think you're trying to do too much. She has to learn to do for herself, if she's to have any kind of life.
Charles: But she can't do for herself, Doc. We have to take care of her.
Doc Baker: Do too much and she'll retreat to bed, and she'll stay there. I haven't been trained in caring for the blind, and neither have you. She needs the help of people who have.
Charles: Well, where do we find those people?
Doc Baker: There's schools for the blind. The nearest--and one of the best--is in Burton, Iowa.
Caroline: That's so far away! No. She needs her family.
Doc Baker: Caroline, she's living in fear and resentment. With the proper help and training, she'll be a different person.
Charles: The doctor's right, Caroline.....can you contact them for us?
Doc Baker: Certainly. Believe me, Caroline, it's what's best for Mary.
Charles: (after finding out about Mary) You know, Jonathan, a few weeks ago, if you had told me the mill was shutting down, I would have been the most upset man in the world. Now I don't even care; it doesn't mean a thing. I just wonder how much of our lives is spent worrying about things that just don't matter.
Seth: All right. I haven't been out to your place lately, but it's not because Mary's blind.
Laura: Well, why, then?
Seth: Because if I saw her.....I wouldn't know what to say to her.
Laura: Well, what did you say to her before? Mary needs you now, more than ever. I love my sister. I thought that you did, too!
Charles: I pray and I pray. Why doesn't God listen?
Reverend Alden: He listens, Charles. And he answers all our prayers. He doesn't always answer in the way that we want, but in a way He thinks is best for each of us.
Charles: How can taking the sight from a 15-year-old girl be the best thing?
Reverend Alden: We are only finite. God is infinite in His wisdom. I can only tell you that there is a reason. Charles, believe me. God must have chosen Mary for some very, very special purpose.
Charles: Tomorrow, I have to tell my daughter that she is going blind. What shall I tell her is that special purpose?
Mary: I've never heard of any of those schools around here.
Caroline: It's not around here. It's in Iowa.
Mary: (silence) Yeah, I understand. You just want to get me out from underfoot.
Caroline: Mary, that's not true, and you know it.
Mary: (starts crying) Then don't send me away. Please don't send me away, let me stay here! I don't want people looking at me, feeling sorry for me. Please let me stay, Ma. Please let me stay!
Caroline: Mary, I don't want to send you away. But if they can help you....you can't spend the rest of your life sitting in that chair!
Mary: WHY NOT? Why not? Why can't I just sit here? There's nothing for me to see. It's dark.....no matter where I go, it's just darkness. (long pause) You've already decided to send me, haven't you?
Caroline: Yes, we have.
The real Mary Ingalls did indeed lose her eyesight as a result of scarlet fever, but she didn't really become ill as an infant, as was depicted on the television series. She caught the fever and went blind at the same time, when she was a teenager, and in fact, her mother, Carrie, and baby Grace all caught it when she did, so Charles and Laura were forced to take care of them all. The real Mary never cried over her blindness (unlike the Mary in the TV series), and according to Laura's writings, Mary was "patient and brave" through it all, even when Charles had to chop her beautiful long hair short like a boy. Laura discussed all this in the first few paragraphs of her fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, and the experience really took an emotional and financial toll on the Ingalls family.
In reality, Mary Ingalls' stay at the blind school was not recommended by the family doctor, but by a traveling missionary, who met the Ingalls family while passing through Dakota Territory. Mary had been blind and living at home for a while at that point. In order to pay for the trip and part of Mary's tuition, Laura took a job mending shirts and earning 25 cents for each 12-hour shift. Laura also went into teaching in the first place because it would help pay for Mary's school. Charles, Caroline and Mary were so strapped for cash on the long train ride to Iowa that they actually ate meals of fried blackbird along the way!
This is the first appearance of Linwood Boomer as Adam Kendall, and he went on to have an impressive career in screenwriting and producing, with his first major hit coming from Malcolm in the Middle, the TV show he created himself. Boomer credits Michael Landon as the person who taught him how to work with children.
The emotional scene where Charles tells his wife about Mary's prognosis is not included on the DVD's--neither the individual episode DVD, nor the complete fourth season set.
The TV Guide ranked this episode as one of the 100 best episodes of all time for any television series.
Melissa Sue Anderson was nominated for an Emmy for "Outstanding Lead Actress" for this episode. She didn't win, though.
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