The final season of The Waltons
is notable for the ever-changing number of people sitting at the family's long dinner table. Early in the season, with all four boys at war in Europe and Japan, plates are set for John Sr. (Ralph Waite), cousin Rose (Peggy Rea)--the de facto woman of the house with matriarch Olivia (Michael Learned) gone away--and sisters Mary Ellen (Judy Norton-Taylor), Erin (Mary Beth McDonough), and Elizabeth (Kami Cotler), plus brother Ben's wife Cindy (Leslie Winston). Once the war is over and Ben, Jim-Bob (David W. Harper), Jason (Jon Walmsley) and John-Boy (Robert Wightman, replacing Richard Thomas) are back home, the number of people seated at that table still continues to go up and down for all kinds of reasons. That fluctuation says much about the state of the family and of The Waltons
itself, long past the era when all those kids were still in school and regularly eating with a full complement of parents and grandparents. With both of the latter gone and even John Sr. disappearing halfway through the season to help ailing Olivia move to Arizona, it's the young people ruling the roost now.
Things start off powerfully with the two-part "The Outrage," in which John Sr. leaps to the defense of an African-American employee, Harley (Hal Foster), who has been living under an assumed name since escaping a chain gang years before. Never a show to back off from issues of discrimination, The Waltons: The Complete Ninth Season, tackles gender bias (Mary Ellen is turned down for admission to medical school, while Erin is one of many women on Walton's Mountain who lose their jobs to returning veterans) and anti-Semitism (Jason's wonderful girlfriend Toni, played by Lisa Harrison, causes a stir when everyone discovers she's a Jew). Meanwhile, John-Boy falls in love with a Parisian bookseller who encourages him to write an article about stray land mines, though his true destiny as a writer leads him back to his roots. Ben, too, is full of ambition following the war, eager to attend engineering college but needed at the family mill after John Sr. leaves. Jason takes over the Dew Drop Inn and finds a way to make a go of it with Toni's help. Rose rediscovers love again when her dance partner, Stanley (William Schallert), returns, albeit as an emotional wreck. (The Rose-Stanley storylines in season nine are among the sweetest episodes.) In a strange development, Mary Ellen's allegedly late husband turns up, a very different and darker personality than he was before. Other new and recurring characters continue to add color and texture to the show, most notably Ike (Joe Conley) and Corabeth Godsey (Ronnie Claire Edwards), the Baldwin sisters (Helen Kleeb, Mary Jackson), and newcomer Rev. Tom Marshall (Kip Niven), who starts off a firebrand and ends up a civilizing influence over the aforementioned anti-Semitic tensions. --Tom Keogh