For the most part, I preferred the "Little House" episodes that were light and fluffy (you must admit that nothing beats that, especially if you like this kind of show in the first place), but I can take something a little darker every once in a while. The good thing about this episode is that even though it has some inappropriate scenes that I personally would have omitted, it has an important message for any child (or adult) who has witnessed/participated in the ostracizing of someone else.
Michael Landon certainly produced several "Little House" episodes that followed that exact theme--the plight of a child who is considered "different" and is therefore a target to his/her fellow classmates. Such is the situation for Anna Gillberg, a sweet and shy young student whose nervous stuttering does not serve her well in the social department. Laura, of course, has been raised better and immediately befriends Anna, but the naturally devious Nellie Oleson pounces at any opportunity to belittle someone else, and an unfortunate twist of events leaves Laura with no choice but to go along with Nellie's evil game.
The problem begins when Laura impulsively steals a music box from Nellie's bedroom during an "All-Girls Club" that Nellie suddenly feels inclined to start with her female classmates. The audience never really gets a full understanding of why she would do such a thing now, completely out of the blue. Perhaps she was angry that Nellie treated Anna so badly, or maybe she was just itching for something a little more frivolous after getting nothing more than a boring dictionary from her parents on her birthday the day before. In either case, our heroine Laura Ingalls has never stolen before, and when Nellie finds out the truth, she blackmails Laura in the worst possible way--because of course, she is Nellie Oleson, and apparently, for Laura, opposing her own knowledge of right and wrong is better than braving a whipping from Ma and Pa if they ever find out that she stole from Nellie.
The really odd part of the episode comes when Laura starts having constant nightmares as a result of her guilt. These dream sequences place Laura in all kinds of insane situations. After being convicted for stealing, she is locked in a cage by the Olesons, who dress her in rags and throw scraps at her to eat every once in a while. What really takes the cake, though, is Laura's final nightmare, where she bids a painful good-bye to her family before being hanged by Nellie Oleson herself, who dons some kind of black mask and sucks on a lollipop as she fastens the noose around Laura's neck. I guess this was Michael Landon's way of putting a humorous spin on the episode, but I thought it was a little too much. I will say that most children who watch these scenes will never want to steal anything after seeing what Laura goes through, but the episode really could have done without it or, at the very least, watered down some of Laura's overly dramatic nightmares.
However, despite all that, it's hard for me not to recommend the episode, because Katy Kurtzman does an awfully impressive job with her portrayal as timid Anna. For being such a young actress, her stuttering was very convincing (although not quite as strong as Shannen Doherty in Season 9's "Marvin's Gardens"), and you could feel every bit of her pain as she was forced to cope with such adversity at school. It was inspiring to see Laura stand up for her morals in the end and do what all of us would like to do in such a situation, if only we had the courage. It was also a nice bonus to see Nasty Nellie get her much-deserved "come-uppance" when justice was finally served at the end. Oh, how wonderful it is to see her father get the chance to put her in her place when her ever-doting mother is absent (which didn't happen very often). All in all, "The Music Box" is worthwhile viewing for the family, but with younger and/or more squeamish children, it's probably a good idea for them to watch with a parent and discuss everything afterward, from Laura's unusual self-punishment to the value of treating everyone with true kindness and friendship. ~7/10~