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Episode 717: Sylvia (Part 1)

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Title.sylvia1
Little House on the Prairie
Season 7, Episode 14
Air date February 9, 1981
Written by Michael Landon
Directed by Michael Landon
Episode Guide
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Episode 716: Goodbye, Mrs Wilder
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Episode 718: Sylvia (Part 2)

A new attractive student, 15-year-old Sylvia Webb, catches the eye of the boys at the school. She and Albert become friends, and start to like each other more and more. Sylvia becomes a victim of a sexual assault by a masked assailant. She tries to keep it a secret until she collapses at school. Mrs. Oleson, at the switchboard, overhears Doc Baker telling Mr. Webb that Sylvia is pregnant. She then begins spreading gossip around the town that Albert is the father since the two had been spending time together. 

Plot

Albert, Willie and some of their pals are perusing a catalog looking for illustrations of women's undergarments. Dissatisfied with mere drawings, one of the boys suggests they go spy on another student, Sylvia Webb, a pretty 15-year old schoolgirl who has physically matured faster than the other girls in her class. While looking through Sylvia's window, the boys are spotted by Sylvia's father Hector Webb. The boys all escape, except for Albert, who apologizes and promises Mr. Webb that he did not see a thing.

Harriet Oleson has learned from Mr. Webb that Willie was among the boys peering through Sylvia's window. With her characteristic outrage, Harriet reprimands Willie, but is somewhat placated when Willie promises her that he didn't see anything. Fueled by leading questions from his mother, Willie claims that Sylvia is deliberately enticing all the boys at school. Outraged, Harriet calls a school council meeting, before which Sylvia must appear. Sylvia denies any flirtatious conduct, and Charles Ingalls points out (without condoning) that spying on girls was something boys do out of natural curiosity, even admitting to having done so himself at that age. With the consensus that Harriet is overreacting, and that if anyone should be punished, it should be the boys rather than Sylvia, the school council adjourns. Laura asks Sylvia to go outside and ring the schoolbell to begin class. As she complies, Sylvia is observed from the bushes by someone whose identity and intent are unknown.

When Sylvia is walking home through the woods that afternoon, stopping to pick flowers, she is suddenly seized by an unknown assailant in a clown mask, who then rapes her (off-screen). Hours later, a battered and bruised Sylvia finally makes her way home, where her father helps her to bed. Upon learning that his daughter was raped, he is appropriately shocked and outraged, but warns her not to tell anyone.

The next day at school, Sylvia appears to experience a flashback of her traumatic experience of the day before, and begins screaming and striking several of the boys, including Willie. Laura intervenes and brings Sylvia to see Doctor Baker, who notes that Sylvia has bruises all over her body.

Hector arrives to bring his daughter home, and claims that Sylvia's bruises are the result of a fall. Dr. Baker is skeptical, pointing out that the bruises are not consistent with a fall, Hector refuses to discuss the matter further and abruptly leaves with Sylvia.

During the next few days, Sylvia becomes very close friends with Albert, and the two eventually become sweethearts. Hector eventually learns of their involvement and that Sylvia has lied to him when she claimed that her lateness was because she was helping Laura grade papers, and forbids Sylvia from seeing Albert. Moreover, she is now to come straight home from school, as he has purchased a new piece of land and Sylvia must help with the clearing.

Sylvia begins to avoid Albert, who believes that she doesn't like him any more, until Sylvia explains the reason why.

One day immediately following class, Laura notices that Sylvia appears ill. She has, in fact, been overworked by her father. Sylvia drinks some water and appears to feel somewhat better, but suddenly collapses in the classroom. Laura and Albert take her to Doc Baker, who discovers that, in addition to exhaustion, Sylvia is pregnant. He then begins to ask Albert if he and Sylvia ever had sexual relations. Before the question is completed, Albert vehemently denies this, then leaves, visibly upset over Sylvia's apparent betrayal.

Dr. Baker then calls Hector Webb, wishing to speak to him in his office. At Hector's insistence, Dr. Baker reveals over the phone that Sylvia is pregnant.

Albert confides his anger to Charles, who points out that Albert doesn't have all the facts. According to Laura, Sylvia has repeatedly told Dr. Baker that she doesn't know who the father is. Albert is doubtful, but Charles admonishes him not to be so quick to judge people, that it could have happened against her will.

At Hector Webb's home, Hector discloses his plans to sell the farm and move somewhere else "where folks don't know us," and that he and Sylvia will tell their new neighbors that her "husband" was killed in an accident. Sylvia pointedly accuses her father of blaming her for this happening. Hector confirms this in his reply: "You reap what you sow."

Cast

Trivia

  • Doc Baker told Sylvia's father that she was "pregnant", but that was a taboo word that was very rarely spoken until after World War II.
  • It is remarkable how often they showed the telephone being used, when, realistically, farm communities at that time had no telephone service whatsoever. Even though the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, it was not legally recognized until the 1890s.

Notes

  • Ted Voightlander was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series for this two-part episode.
  • Olivia Barash was 16 when this episode was filmed (playing a 15-year-old) and only 9 months younger than Melissa Gibert, who played her teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Barash was nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a Television Series for this two-part episode.

Quotes

Harriet: (after finding out that Willie was peeking through Sylvia's bedroom window with the other boys) How can you be a Peeping Tom?!
Willie: I can't, my name's Willie!

Harriet: Oh, and you condone such actions?
Charles: No, I don't condone them, but I do understand them. I think we can all remember growing up and sneaking around the swimming hole for a peek. It's human nature.
Harriet: Ugh! Well, I certainly never remember boys sneaking around the swimming hole when I was a girl!
Nels: (muttering quietly) That's the truth.…

Albert: (about Sylvia when he finds out she's pregnant) I hate her!

Mr. Webb: (after finding out his daughter is pregnant) You'll stay around the house from now on. I don't want you going into town. I'll go into the bank tomorrow and see about the farm getting sold.
Sylvia: Where will we go?
Mr. Webb: I don't know. Doesn't matter. Someplace where folks don't know us. We'll tell them your husband was killed in an accident.
Sylvia: You blame me for this, don't you? Don't you?
Mr. Webb: You reap what you sow. (leaves the room)

External links



Previous episode: Next episode:
Goodbye, Mrs Wilder Sylvia (Part 2)

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