This is possibly one of the most beautifully written episodes of the entire series. While it does deal with the relationship of Laura and Almanzo and the obstacles they face as they prepare for marriage, it is also very much about the lonliness and pain of Eliza Jane's life and of the profound love she has for her brother.
When I was younger, this episode to me was all about the wedding of Laura and Almanzo; let's get to it already! But as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the story of Eliza and Harve and of Eliza's sacrifice.
Lucy Lee Flippin has never been better than she is here. The emotions of the lonely awkward schoolmarm who "has never had a beau" are plain on her face and in her voice. As she begins to fall for Harve we see an emerging flower beginning to blossom. And finally, when she is in love but rejected, we see a defiant and angry Eliza that we have never seen before. Almanzo is struck into silence when she tells him he can mend his own shirts. And though we, the viewers, are privy to her pain, she manages to put up a front for all around her. In the scene when she decides that she will make sacrifices in her life in order to ensure her brother's happiness, we hear only her voice, but we can feel every ounce of pain and love.
Almanzo and Laura will marry. We know that because it is historical fact, but we are kept rapt to find out what will become of Eliza. When Charles and Hester Sue encounter Harve in Sleepy Eye, we hold our breath. But, to be sure, Charles is discreet.
The scene in the kitchen, when he confronts her with his knowledge, is riviting. When he tells her that he saw Harve, we cannot even see her face, but her reaction is evident in her body language. Her explanation, her lovely speech about why she is doing this and how it will play out it heart-wrenching.
At the end of the wedding, Eliza is seen staying at the back of the room for a few moments before finally coming forward to embrace her brother. She loved him enough to change her life for him and as she embraces him we feel it. As she "reads" the lines from her diary that close the episode, "my brother was married today; I don't think I've ever been happier. Really I don't" (forgive me if I got that a little wrong), you can hear both the love and the pain in her voice. Truely a tour du force performance.
I recently read that Michael Landon wrote this episode as a farewell to Lucy, as she was leaving "Little House" for another show. I don't know if this is true or not, but if it is she must have been very grateful. It is a gorgeous piece of writing that allowed a very talented woman to shine in an episode when she might have otherwise been overlooked due to the drama and romance of Laura and Almanzo's wedding.