Here it is, my first official LHOTP episode!
I had the pleasure of Brent’s company for the first episode. I don’t expect him to watch all the episodes with me; the stars aligned in this case. We were getting ready to eat pizza, which must be eaten in front of the TV, the internet was down, and LHOTP was already in the DVD player. Harvest of Friends might not have been Brent’s Mr. Right, but it was his Mr. Right Now.
Queue the opening credits. I have strong feelings about the credits, which I discussed here. All I can do is hope that come season 2, Carrie stops falling down.
The start of the episode was confusing for me. Melissa Gilbert, as Laura, says, “If I had a remembrance book, I would surely write about the day we came to Plum Creek and saw the house in the ground.” She is referring to the sod house they lived in on Plum Creek, right? In the book On the Banks of Plum Creek, Pa trades the horses for Mr. Hanson’s sod house and a team of oxen. Then Mr. Hanson is like, “Smell ya later, chumps!” and hightails it for the west. In the TV show, Mr. Hanson owns the lumber mill in Walnut Grove and (I guess?) lets Pa work there in exchange for lumber to build a regular house.
They didn’t go into those details and I wish they would have, in the same way I wish there had been an episode of Who’s the Boss dedicated specifically to the details of Tony’s employment. Is he hourly or salary, and how much does he make after subtracting for room and board? How was he able to afford all of Samantha’s 80s-fabulous clothes? And did he get health insurance? Retirement? Vacation? And if Tony took vacation time, would he be required to go somewhere else, since a staycation might make things awkward?
I have said it before and I’ll say it again. If I ever win the lottery, one of the first things I’m doing is to hire the Who’s the Boss writers to write me a script of that episode. Heck, I’d bankroll the filming of that episode too.
Getting back to the topic at hand: the sod house and the implication that the TV Ingalls never lived in the memorable little house that was basically a hole dug out of a grassy bank. No! Why, Michael Landon, why? I thought I was prepared for anachronisms in the TV show, but this first one made me sad enough that I went back and watched the very beginning scenes again a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed any subtext that suggested they lived in the sod house. I have since come to the conclusion that this part of the show was left intentionally vague. It’s as though the showrunners wanted to acknowledge the house but not actually film in it, which, to be fair, would have to be a logistics nightmare considering that the sod house is basically a studio-apartment hobbit hole inhabited by five regular-sized humans. I appreciate that the LHOTP decision-makers chose to show the sod house at all.
Illustration ©1953 by Garth Williams; text ©1937 by Laura Ingalls Wilder; TV show ©NBC Universal.
At this point, Brent reminded me that his very own grandma grew up in a sod house and that it might even still be standing or whatever it is that sod houses do. Maybe someday we’ll go visit Brent’s grandma’s old home. Maybe we’ll sneak inside. Maybe we’ll be wearing Laura and Almanzo costumes. Maybe the sod house won’t be as structurally solid as it once was and the whole place will collapse on us. The headlines will say, “Weird Mennonite Couple and their Bonneted Dogs Found Dead in Sod House Rubble!”
Pa gets the titular Little House built pretty quick in the show. And then comes the big reveal of the house. My verdict? I love it! The stone chimney and the loft bedroom for Laura and Mary are especially squeal-worthy. I was excited right along with the Ingalls, not just because the house is perfect, which it is, but because I know I couldn’t have imagined it better when reading the books. This is what good book-to-screen adaptations do for me. They don’t just retell a story, but they make it fleshier, provide visual insight into the world within the story.
Most notable during the moving-in scene is the dialogue between Laura and Mary in their bedroom, which shows the girls’ distinct personalities:
Laura: We have our own window! And we can see the stars!
Mary: We’re supposed to be sleeping when the stars are out. And it’ll sure be nicer to hear the rain on the roof, than to have it get us all wet.
From this exchange we can gather that Laura is the special one and Mary is…the queen of backhanded compliments? Bad LHOTP! If the TV show had a wrist, I’d slap it. My preferred depiction of the difference between Laura and Mary comes from the Laura Ingalls Wilder book By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939). By this time, Mary has gone blind and Pa has told Laura that she needs to “see” for Mary. During their journey to Silver Lake, Mary gets frustrated with Laura’s descriptive narrations. From the book:
…I don’t think you ought to say things like that,” Mary told her gently. “We should always be careful to say exactly what we mean.”
“I was saying what I mean,” Laura protested. But she could not explain. There were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them.
Now, I love Laura, but I also love Mary. I find something zen-like in her ability to sit still. Had Mary Ingalls written her own books about their childhood, it might have gone something like this: “Today while Dum Dum was off nearly drowning in the creek, I sat outside with my needlework. A butterfly landed on my fingers and whispered to me the meaning of life, which I shall now share with you.”
The show got some things right with Mary. She is the industrious, well-behaved sister, and that was effectively captured in the bedroom scene. In my last post I said that Karen Grassle as Ma was the best casting choice, but I also think Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary is spot on. And I cheated a tiny bit and watched “I’ll Be Waving As You Drive Away,” the episode where Mary goes blind and wow, what a visceral performance. If she didn’t get an Emmy for that, she was robbed.
Oh snap, Melissa Sue Anderson was nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series in the 1978 Emmys and she lost. Boo. The actress was from a show called Family, which I have never heard of.
So Harvest of Friends has two what-was-Pa-thinking scenes. The first one is where Pa goes into the Oleson’s store and asks them a plow and wheat seed in exchange for a share of his first crop. Mrs. Oleson, most justifiably, says, “Oh, HELL no,” and then Pa, offended beyond belief, tells the Olesons to flip off and storms out in a huff. Come now, Pa, surely you realize that you are being unreasonable. I feel like the intent of this scene is to show what a prickly old pear that Mrs Oleson is, but really, Pa just comes off like someone who has no idea how the world works.
Because Mrs. Oleson is a bitch, Pa has to resort to making a deal with Liam O’Neil, who is basically the devil. In exchange for plow and enough seed for 100 acres, Pa has to build a new roof for Liam’s shed and stack a bunch of grain bags, and it all must be done within three weeks. It seems that Liam is pretty sure that Pa will not be able to finish the job within three weeks.
Ma is, of course, concerned about Pa’s project. He tells her that he’ll work 6 hours for Liam and 6 hours for Hanson and that it will leave plenty of time for…and here I’m thinking that if Pa gets 8 hours of sleep, he’ll still have four hours of down-time. You know, Pa-time. But no, Pa says that after working a 12-hour day, he’ll have plenty of time for plowing and the rest of the chores. Holy bitchsauce.
The following scenes show Pa working hard and meeting new friends along the way, like the doctor. Pa fixes the doctor’s wagon wheel even though Pa has no time to spare and Pa even refuses to accept money from the doctor, even though everyone knows that Pa is poor. Upon watching this scene, Brent prophetically said, “Look, Pa is planting the seeds of friendship. It’s as if there will be a harvest of friends.”
All is going well, and Pa is nearly finished working for Liam, when disaster strikes, AKA the second what-was-Pa-thinking event. Pa takes the fam on a picnic and entertains them by flying a kite. The kite gets stuck in a tree and instantly, ominous music starts playing. So what does Pa do? He climbs some twenty feet to get the kite. Really? Is the kite really that valuable? This is the Ingalls we’re talking about, so you know they didn’t drop a bunch of cash on a “boughten” kite. But no, Pa goes after that kite as if it was a long-lost Ingalls child, and of course he falls out of the tree. Of course he does. And when he falls, it’s kind of funny. Brent and I giggled and Brent noted that Pa didn’t even try to hold on to the tree.
In the next scene, we see Michael Landon’s nipples and learn that Pa is on strict bed rest. Then, the shit really hits the fan when Liam comes to collect the oxen while Ma is plowing. That is cold. Pa had finished Liam’s roof before the ridiculous kite accident and just needed to stack the bags of grain. In other words, the more critical, skilled task was done, and done well. Liam not only refuses to give Pa an extension on the 3-week dealine, he even comes to collect the oxen a couple days early because he was already out that way. Man! Liam is like a modern-day payday loan place, except even less honorable.
The last few scenes: Pa tries to stack the grain and collapses. It’s painful to watch. Then Mary and Laura, who had followed Pa to town, try to stack the grain themselves but can barely lift a bag between the two of them. Watching the two little girls struggle with the bag made me cry. Then when all the townsmen came to help, I cried even more. Great. I’m not going to cry and feel uplifted in every episode, am I?
I enjoyed Liam’s comeuppance. There isn’t a big scene where Ma punches out his lights and Jack the dog bites him in the crotch or something like that. Instead, he is quietly taken down by the men brushing past him to help Pa finish the job. The way the men look at him in sheer disgust – I felt ashamed. Lesson here: don’t be a loan shark.
The worst part of the episode for me came when Carrie fell AGAIN while running around. It was during that blasted kite scene. She’s not going to fall in every episode, is she?
The best part? Probably the ‘harvest of friends’ part. Stupid to say, but I’m getting a little choked up just thinking about it. On a different topic, does the very term ‘Harvest of Friends’ remind anyone else of the horror movie Hotel Hell, where the man and lady cut out the hotel guests’ voice boxes and burying them up to their necks in the ground?