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Ma Was Hardcore

So today, we had a full day. In the morning we attended a very nice wedding for our friends Dennis and Rebecca (Great reception! There were board games! Why doesn’t everybody do that?) and then went to dinner with our buddy Crimson, who was in the area for a seminar on throwing people through walls.

We pick the cheaper of the two local sushi places and go to have a few rolls and chat. It’s fairly early in the day, and there’s a football game on…and then somebody switches it to Little House on the Prairie. With the sound off.

You would not think that a muted episode of Little House on the Prairie would hold the attention of three geeks. For that matter, what the hell kind of Thai-fusion/sushi restaurant plays Little House on the Prairie during dinner? But there we were.

We stayed for the entire hour, long after we had paid our tabs, staring in rapt horror at the TV.

Those of you who actually watched this show may recognize the episode. We didn’t. In fact, I will swear that I never saw this episode in my entire life. It was…somethin’, all right.

It started with Ma cutting her leg on a piece of barbed wire. (“The tetanus!” we cried, still only semi-paying attention at this point.) Then it gets infected. She puts a moldy bread poultice on it. (We looked up the history of penicillin. The phrase “Siri, when was penicillin discovered?” was actually uttered at the table. However, as moldy bread poultices were a staple of folk medicine, we allowed this to pass historical muster.)

Then Ma started to hallucinate. Given 70′s camera effects, this was mostly the wobble-and-blur variety. Then, mad with pain, she must go and get the stray cow! In the pouring rain! She faints! In the rain! (We debated the likelihood of death by hypothermia by this point.) Meanwhile, the rest of the family has gone off somewhere to party. (I am not making this up.) We cut back to Ma! She is in hideous pain! She wakes up and drags herself inside, bolting the door in case ruffians come to take advantage of her weakened state to come and steal the Bibles. (Known as the Anti-Gideons, this gang was a serious nuisance to the settlers.) While she lies semi-unconscious on the floor, now suffering from blood poisoning, exposure, and cow-related exhaustion, the preacher comes and takes her pies. (This is not a euphemism.) But she is too weak to call for help! The horror! The humanity!

By about forty minutes in, we are staring at this muted screen in dumb astonishment, sushi forgotten, as they cut between happy cavorting Michael Landon and Ma crawling around the cabin floor, dragging a hideously made-up infected leg around, reading her Bible in moments of lucidity. (No shit, it was like Requiem for Dream, Pioneer-Style.)  As Pa and the children dance through sun-dappled water, Ma begins to obsess over the phrase “if thy foot offends thee, cut it off.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” said Kevin, at some point in this sequence.

“Well, if it’s that badly infected…”

“On 70′s TV?”

“I don’t remember this from the books…Ooh! Pigs!”

“Maybe one of the pigs could bite it off!”

“They’d do it.”

“Is it just me, or have the last five minutes been Ma hallucinating and a man trying to get Laura to kiss a piglet?”

Ma proceeds to make a tourniquet, tie it crosswise with a wooden spoon—”Good god!” “Well, yeah, that’d be the thing to do…”—heat a very large knife—”She can’t get through the bone with that! She’d be better off with something they use to butcher hogs!”

“Maybe the hatchet they use for firewood?”

“What is this, a Saw prequel?”

“Seriously, I am SURE this was not in the books…”

At the last minute, Pa stops frolicking and is seized with a Lassie-like sense that Ma is in trouble (or possible the preacher, stuffed with ill-gotten pie, mentioned that she wasn’t answering the door) and runs in, finding her unconscious on the floor. There is a final shot of her in bed, and people talking, but as they were muted, we had to supply our own dialog. “Dude. Your wife tried to cut her leg off. That is not cool.” “I’m sorry I took your pies. Perhaps next time I should knock.” “What does this teach us about folk medicine?”

It ended. Small children ran through flower-spangled grass.




As the final shot does not show her leg or whether she’d actually managed to hack it off, and she spent the rest of the episode in bed, we were forced to go to the internet to discover that Ma only managed to slice into her leg far enough to lance the infection, thereby saving her life or something like that. (I knew it. I would have totally remembered if Ma had a peg-leg for the rest of the show. That woulda been a plot point, damnit.) The implication was that her obsessive reading of the Bible, by advising her to amputate, had saved her life in some fashion, given the somewhat heavy-handed Christian morality of the show, but the real takeaway appeared to be that Ma was ready to saw her own leg off, using only a carving knife and a wooden spoon. Damn the torpedoes! The butter won’t churn itself!

We came away wondering if this was typical of the show or if we’d just somehow gotten the one “Alfred Hitchcock presents…Laura Ingalls Wilder!” episode.  I mean…dude. Little House on the Prairie. Who knew?

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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I can state, absolutely and unequivocally, there was NEVER such a scene in the books. (But it might be kinda cool if it got adapted into the whole Little House with a creepy twist that you've already got started. I mean, if they can do it with Pride and Predjudice and Zombies, why not Little House in the Sidhe Woods?)

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The one single part of Little House I've seen involved sheep and anthrax and some sort of pest house that just... yeah, traumatic.

Gee, when I go for sushi with you it's just art, strange customers. and gold leaf dragons.

That's 'cause we go to an authentic place without sports on TV. This was a trendy Thai/Japanese place, which are very popular here right now.

We would have gone to the place that looked at us funny for ordering a Bento for Two (Americans don't normally order it, it seems) but time (and expense) was limited...

Before I even read past paragraph three, I KNEW this was going to be what ep you were talking about. It creeped me out as a kid and I still remember it, lo these many years later.

The other creepifying episode is the one where there's RATS in the wheat stores. Causing TYPHUS! So no, this was not a one-off in the "holy hell, and this was a kid's show????" olympics.

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I remember this episode! It was among one of those that made me go cradling my beloved paperback volumes of the Little House books crooning, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry ..."

BTW, check out this 5-part commentary on that episode. Actually, the entire blog looks good. So long free time!

Edited at 2011-11-07 01:40 am (UTC)

Must.Step.Away. OMG, I will be up reading that blog all night now. I hope you're happy! :-)

On a slightly brighter note, I think board games at a wedding reception is an absolutely fabulous idea.

We already had plans to have board games at our reception. Glad to know that it's not just us who thinks it's a brilliant idea.

I do NOT remember this episode.

Older TV shows are a lot more hardcore than we tend to remember.
It always ends up unsettling when we pop on Retro, MeTV, TVLand, or Nick At Nite and see wholesale slaughter of Indians (they weren't called Native Americans yet...but they were called injuns, redskins, and barbarians), a pile of corpses from Capone's boys, or even Mr Drummond beating the living hell out of Arnold (okay,I made the last one up, but maybe Arnold wouldn't have turned to a life of porn if he did get hit every now and then).

I think that there's two reasons this seems disturbing.

First is that we're inundated with all of this malarkey about violence on TV.
We're led to believe that TV keeps getting more and more violent, and this is causing the moral degradation of our society.
In reality, TV violence has gotten softer. The Sopranos was a lot closer to the Untouchables than most TV gets anymore. (The language and sex howeverare definitely getting more European).

The other reason is that we want to believe that the TV from our childhood was so much more wholesome.
It's weird watching something as an adult that we used to watch when we were younger.
As a kid I never realized how much innuendo there was in Three's Company and M*A*S*H.
Now when I watch it, it's almost like watching a different show.

When you look at classic TV now, you really have to appreciate the talent of the Writers.
They were able to write stories that could appeal to younger people, and sneak in adult jokes that the kiddies missed, creating a broad appeal.

You want innuendo? Watch the Muppet Show. They snuck a LOT of jokes in that sailed over kid's heads. Nothing too blatant, mind, but still.

I'm not familiar with Little House on the Prairie, but a recent article from the Onion's AV Club leads me to believe that this wasn't the only creepy Little House episode, assuming that being raped by someone in a mime mask counts as creepy.


I am still boggled by the mime thing, but in the article, I'd argue that there were two much creepier episodes of ST:TNG. The one where Crusher's the in morgue and all the bodies SIT UP in their shrouds freaked me the hell out, and the alien abduction one scarred me for life and then some.

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There's also the raped by a mime episode. Which is probably creepier.


Then there was the elderly lady who faked her own death, and the crop failure episode where the men went looking for work and one got blown up in a blasting accident in a mine, and the episode in which the baby boy died of failure to thrive. Yep. They made kids tougher back then!

I'm a terrible person, but I have always love the terms "failure to thrive" and "incompatible with life". Of course, I also have favorite birth defects (and they're all neural tube defects).

This is why I will never have kids, but I make As in embryology.


I always wonder why I didn't really tv as a child, and then things like this made me glad I didn't. The books were better anyway.

Didn't have to deal with a budget either. Always loved that aspect of reading. :)

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I always thought of Pa as a BAMF.
Couldn't throw a stick without it landing on a patch of land that he shouldn't have built a home on (but did anyway) for the life of him, though.

But I remember things with him getting snowed in on the way home from town, and having to dig himself a snow cave and live there for days, and eat the candy he'd got for his girls. Then letting himself into the Wilder boys' home and stealing grain from them.

Oh man I totally know this episode. First time I watched it I was all o_o at the TV. Shit was intense! There's a few episodes of Little House that are full of omgwtf. Someone up there mentioned the mime mask one. That one made me cry and was creepy as hell but the one that got me bawling like a baby was Mary losing her sight and freaking out. I really don't know why it has the rep of being a tame, easy-to-watch kind of series.