Waltons: The Complete Eighth Season (DVD)
Narratively speaking, The Waltons: The Complete Eighth Season
is overwhelmingly defined by World War II and its impact on the Walton family and their friends. Make that the Waltons' extended family: a new character, Rose Burton (Peggy Rea), cousin to matriarch Olivia (Michael Learned), moves into the Virginia clan's home with two troubled grandchildren, Jeffrey (Keith Mitchell) and Serena (Martha Nix). Their numbers swell the household considerably. But with Olivia's sudden departure--halfway through the season--to become a Red Cross volunteer, and with three of the Walton boys in various kinds of active duty and Grandma (Ellen Corby) on an extended visit elsewhere, the Walton population goes up and down almost daily.
Despite all the commotion, season eight tightly focuses on the ripple effect of the war. The two-part season opener "The Home Front" finds John Walton (Ralph Waite) in the unenviable position of running the local draft board and making determinations about the fitness of local boys to go into the U.S. Army. When one young man (Glenn Withrow) has to be talked out of going AWOL and ends up dead while shipping out, the boy's grieving father comes gunning for a Walton offspring in revenge. The story also illustrates the backwoods nature of much of the community in the shadow of Walton's Mountain--people suspicious of the government, of outsiders, of educated folk. (In the episode "The Diploma," Mary Ellen (Judy Norton-Taylor), a nurse, rides horseback to go on rounds checking on skeptical hillbillies who want no outside interference.) "The Innocents" finds Olivia advocating for the unsupervised children of women working in a local factory while their men are off at war. "The Journal" finds Olivia and John forced to confront the disappearance of their oldest son, John-Boy, who is missing-in-action. "The Silver Wings" is a Summer of '42-like story involving the Waltons' youngest son, Jim-Bob (David W. Harper), and his attraction to a woman whose husband is off flying bombers in Europe. "The Unthinkable," arguably the best episode in the eighth season, concerns a Jewish army buddy (Todd Susman) of Jason's (Jon Walmsley), who encounters anti-semitism in the service at the same time he receives a letter indicating his beloved grandfather died in a Nazi extermination camp. What makes the show special, in part, is the way patriarch John must deny to himself and others that such camps, in all their inhumanity, can't possibly exist in modern times. There are a few episodes that don't touch on the war theme, the sweetest of which is "The Traveling Man," in which an old beau (William Schallert) of Rose's turns up, ready to marry but torn by career aspirations. --Tom Keogh