This is an episode about love, old and new, but also about relationships of many kinds. It is a well written and directed episode (well acted too!) that makes you think about the beauty of a new love, a new friendship, or a new journey in life.
Laura is so excited to finally be a teacher. It's what Charles has said would finally make him see her as a woman, but her reactions to her new found "maturity" are in fact very child-like. I cringe when I watch the scene where Almanzo is driving her to the school for the first time and she makes all kinds of remarks about her dress and so on, fishing for compliments. Almanzo bites until it comes to the "maturity" of the hairstyle and he makes the comment that it doesn't make her look mature at all! Laura looks like she wants to crawl into a hole. Dean Butler is great in the scene where Almanzo picks up Laura after her first week at the school. He gazes intently at her as though even he doesn't understand what he is feeling. One look at his face and you can see that he's falling in love, but just doesn't know it yet. Melissa Gilbert plays the "maturing" Laura so well. She has been in love with Almanzo for a long time, so there is no need for dramatic romantic revelations for her. In fact, I love the fact that Laura stays true to her own fiesty nature and tells him off when he punches the boy student.
I mentioned that other relationships of many kind come into play in this episode and I would like to touch on that briefly, before this turns into a book. Almanzo's relationship with Charles grows significantly in this episode, although they began coming closer in Wilder and Wilder. Almanzo feels comfortable enough to talk to Charles about his feelings for Laura and ask permission to take her to the dance. When things go badly after he struck the student, he again feels at ease discussing this with Charles. Charles seems to be more accepting of Almanzo and seems to have affection for him, despite how he feels about the difference in their ages. He still makes a few snide remarks here and there, but mostly to himself and all in good humour.
Almanzo turns to his sister in this episode as we have never seen before. When he is tormenting himself about his feelings, and her playing hard to get, he finally turns to Eliza for confirmation of what he thinks he is feeling. Although he words it in such a way that would make us think he is trying to deny his feelings, it seems clear that he is looking to Eliza as if to say "I'm in love, aren't I sis?".
This is a beautiful episode and some of the most beautiful moments of the whole series are played out near the end between Laura and Almanzo. Their quiet tentativeness is in deep contrast to their strong feelings for one another and both Dean and Melissa play this so wonderfully. It is a joy to watch.
The only black mark on this episode is at the very end. It's puzzling. Pa and Ma are dancing and Pa concedes that he may be losing a daughter, as they gaze at Laura and Almanzo dancing. Ma replies that she hopes so because she's "dying to call you Grampa". Remember, it was only 3 episodes prior that they did have a grandchild that was killed in a fire, making this comment odd and insensitive. I have often wondered how and why this line was included in an otherwise impeccable episode.