Little House on the Prairie: Fixing the Final Season

As always, a spoiler warning is in effect from here on out.

I really love this show.

Back in early 2022, I watched every single episode, from Season 1 through to Season 9. It quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and only grew better as time went on.

But when I reached the final season, something felt … off. It started with a voiceover from Laura about how her family had to move due to a bad winter and depicted Pa/Charles Ingalls coming back to get the rest of their belongings and receiving a fond farewell from his friends. And from there, it took me a while to start enjoying this final season, which is bad for something that I thoroughly enjoyed up until this point. I kept waiting for the core Ingalls (aside from Laura) to reappear and give me some sort of connection to the previous seasons. Their sendoff felt abrupt and anticlimactic, especially for a series so focused on them in the first place.

I will say that the episode where Laura tries to have her book published, and then the ending has a voiceover from the producer describing how the book was actually published 40 years later … that one worked. That one actually made me feel something. And I think it’s because it was focused on one of the people from the core Ingalls family: specifically, Laura.

Along with that, the episode involving Pa and Albert encapsulated everything I’d been wanting from Season 9. It involved two characters from the core family, some heavy stuff (drug addiction to morphine, which had been shown before, but that one ended badly), and a lot of hugging—basically, everything I ever liked about this show. It also highlighted why Season 9 didn’t work: the focus was no longer on the family we’d known for so long; it was on others, who (while important) never really played as significant of a role. It’s an excellent episode, don’t get me wrong. But it only highlighted what I wish I could’ve gotten all along.

In any case, what follows are three ideas I have about what could’ve been done to improve the final season. It may sound odd to be talking about this, since it’s a show that ended in 1983. But I like to analyze stories, to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why (if the rest of these posts didn’t tell you that). I figure I may as well do that with this show, even if it won’t change anything.

1. Get rid of the house

    Hear me out on this. It’s a drastic measure, but one that I think could be a solution.

    We have an emotional connection to this house, small as it may be. We’ve seen Mary and Laura grow up in this house. We’ve seen it every time the Ingalls have had someone over. Every time something has happened to that house (whether it’s a tornado, or a fire, or anything else). Every time a kid has gotten in trouble or has been having some sort of issue (whether emotional or just plain growing-up pains). We associate that house, always and forever, with the Ingalls.

    And then Season 9 comes along. Someone new lives in the house—the Carters, a family that couldn’t be any different. And in my opinion, they’re just plain … boring. Their kids are incredibly well-behaved, and even the episode where they try to give them some conflict (namely, the one where Sarah Carter’s father comes to town) … I just don’t feel nearly as much as I did when the Ingalls lived there. I think part of that weirdness may have been because they were living in the same exact house, just dressed up with different furnishings and decorations.

    Here’s my idea. At either the end of Season 8 or the beginning of Season 9, the show should, somehow, have the house destroyed. Maybe an accidental fire or a natural disaster — something like that. Have that happen to the Carters, so we can start to connect and sympathize with them. And then, have the Carters rebuild. You can make the new house and barn incredibly similar to the old ones, to fit with the continuity of the unofficial Season 10 (and “Home Again”). Maybe even have them rescue the mantelpiece from whatever happens and keep it in the new home. I think it would be a better way to introduce the Carters and Season 9 as a whole. (Though, please, keep Charles Ingalls returning to get the last of his things and saying goodbye to his friends. That was fantastic.)

    Now, a reasonable objection would be that this show is based on the book series, and that never happened in the books. Well, as far as I know, the Ingalls never adopted three kids in the books either, so I think we’re a long way past discussing what should’ve been included because of the books. Speaking in terms of satisfying conclusions, I think this would work well.

    2. Give the Ingalls a proper send-off

    I’m going to be honest: when I started Season 9, I was equal parts confused and mad. I’d just finished an emotion-laden episode about Charles Ingalls doing everything in his power to save his son, James (and ultimately succeeding). I was looking forward to seeing more of the Ingalls in the following season (even if I knew they probably would have to leave Walnut Grove for good). But I’m greeted with a voiceover telling me about what’s happened between the seasons, and then I see a new family in a home I’ve loved for so many seasons. And Charles Ingalls, packing up their things, and saying goodbye to his closest friends. And then the season moved on, without another word about it. The only acknowledgement that the rest of the Ingalls existed was “Home Again”—an excellent episode, don’t get me wrong, but far from enough.

    So. You’ve decided the Ingalls need to move on. And according to the trivia, it’s to follow the plot of the books.

     My question: why?

    You’ve deviated from the books enough times—why not keep doing that? So Charles can’t make enough money due to enormous crop failure. That’s happened before, and he’s stayed.

    How is it worse this time around? Yes, “Home Again”says that he got tired of trying, and trying again, and that he wanted to live comfortably in his older years. I understand that—I really do.

    But I still want the context.

    Here are my thoughts. Have a couple more episodes in Season 8 (or the first two episodes of Season 9) be about this terrible winter that caused the Ingalls to go. Show us the turmoil, the conversations, what led up to that decision. Have every member of the family cope with it because I’m sure some of them are going to take it harder than others (Albert, in particular). And finally, have the third episode be about Charles coming to get the last of their things, and saying his final goodbyes to his friends. I just feel like that would be a much better send-off than what actually happened. It provides at least a measure of closure, something that’s really missing from Season 9.

    3. Have more glimpses of what the Ingalls are up to

    I’ve said it a couple times, and I’ll say it a dozen more: we don’t see enough of the core Ingalls family in Season 9. Apart from part of the first episode and “Home Again”, there isn’t a whisper of them throughout the whole season. As I’ve explained before, that just doesn’t work. We’ve followed these characters (in some cases) for all of eight seasons. We’ve grown attached to them, and what we really want to see is more of them. I think that’s why the only episodes that really worked were the ones that focused on one of the core family—Laura, her Pa, or Albert. Fundamentally, this show is about a young girl growing up, and all the trials and tribulations surrounding that. But it’s also about her family, and how it grows and changes alongside her as the years pass. As a whole, the Ingalls are central to the entirety of the series. Take away that, and the series is no longer Little House on the Prairie. It’s simply Walnut Grove, and that doesn’t work nearly as well.

    Yes, Laura is part of the core family. But I’d argue that she’s more of a Wilder than an Ingalls once she’s married—her own family becomes more pressing than the one she came from. And frankly, part of what made her family interesting was their connection to the Ingalls. Yes, they could stand on their own (after a bit of trial and error), as they proved in Season 9. But I missed that connection throughout the season.


    All I’d wanted from the final season was to see more of what I’d seen in the previous eight. Having more of that (and not in three movie-long episodes of an unofficial Season 10) would’ve made Season 9 a much stronger chapter of Little House on the Prairie.

    Your fairytale enthusiast,

    Kirsten Hardin

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