Sunday, July 17, 2011

Waltons 2.1: The Journey

Airdate: 9/13/73

John-Boy eagerly awaits the school dance Saturday night, and has asked Marcia Woolery to be his date. As he spends his last few dollars on brand new trousers for the occasion, he befriends an elderly widow named Maggie McKenizie when she asks him to fix her car. Browsing through her photo album, he learns that she and her deceased husband were Scottish immigrants who married at sea, and spent every wedding anniversary dancing by the shore near the site of their nuptials. Ill and near death, Maggie is committed to driving to the coast by herself to continue the tradition, until John Boy decides that he will take her, foregoing the school dance and his long-anticipated date. After the two return home from a night of dining, dancing and reminiscing, Maggie dies, thanking John Boy for the experience and passing down an heirloom: a solid gold coin she received as a wedding gift from the ship’s captain.

Lovely second season opener has all the trademarks of a solid Waltons episode, and the predictability of the show’s finale doesn’t keep it from being an enormous tearjerker. The subplot, involving a wayward sea gull that needs to be nursed back to health in order to fly back home to sea, has some obvious but poignant symbolic parallels to the main plot. That’s show creator Earl Hamner Jr. as Maggie’s husband in the dancing flashbacks. Best scene: Maggie regales a rapt John-Boy with the story of her marriage, all orally and evocatively, with glimpses of sepia-toned daguerreotypes in an album.

Speaking of sepia tones, we have a new, and improved, opening to the show now! No longer to we have to experience John Walton bringing the radio home again and again; this is the one we’re all familiar with: a series of grainy shots of the family members, worn to resemble vintage photographs, accompanied by the now-famous Waltons theme. (Who can possibly forget the final image of barefoot Elizabeth walking away with the stick in her hand?)

This is the season The Waltons shot up to #2 in the Nielsen ratings (right behind All in the Family), and ran on Thursday nights at 8:00, where it stayed until it ended its nine-year run in 1981. In May of 1973, it won Emmys for Best Drama, Best Lead Actor (Thomas), Best Lead Actress (Learned), and Best Supporting Actress (Corby), solidifying its reputation as exemplary television.

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