You may recall this episode, it is the one where Pa is away and Mary is studying for a school examination. It is a pretty important examination to Mary, where there is a "winner" and the prize is a book. Well I turned the TV on at the point where Mary is studying late one night and it is keeping Laura awake, as they share a one room loft space. So Mary retreats to the barn to study into the night. Falling asleep, the lantern is tipped and a barn fire started. Everything turns out OK, only minor damage to the barn and no one was hurt. But everyone was scared, and in her fear and haste, Ma tells Mary (after all the exchange about what happened) that she can't participate in this exam Mary has been studying for. Mary is CRUSHED.
The next part is where Ma visits the preacher and talks about what happened and how horrible she feels, that she knows Mary is sorry and that the incident of the night had forever etched, in Mary's mind, how important safety is etc. She wants to run to Mary and tell her that it is OK, she lost her temper, spoke without much thought and is so sorry...that Mary can take that test at school. BUT, and here is the killer, the preacher (you may also remember he has no children of his own) informs Ma that children need structure, they need consistent discipline and that if Ma apologizes this time and let's Mary take the examination, the children may expect Ma to take back her punishment at another time.
I am sitting there talking to the TV, telling Ma to go to Mary, follow her instincts...apologize and let Mary take that examination. Now school is not my thing, but joy, happiness and connectedness are. You can see the disconnect between Ma and Mary, even though Mary keeps saying she understands the punishment and is ready to take it on. I can imagine the joy on Mary's face when(if) Ma runs to her apologizing. I can envision this connection that happens as the mother and daughter reach out to each other in understanding. BUT I know this isn't what happens, I have seen this episode before, at least a couple of times. I know that in the end Mary doesn't take the exam, she works in the Mercantile so she can replace the book burned in the fire. And a valuable lesson about discipline and punishment, responsibility is conveyed in that one hour TV show, with which most of society can be happy.
In the very end Ma does appologize a little, and they hug but not before Mary has missed the exam, and cries for the missed opportunity. The reconnection happens in the last 1 minute of the hour. I guess that brings it all back around to a close. But all that missed joy. Will Ma hold strong on future punishments as the preacher advises or has she learned to follow her own instincts.