The Depression is ending, but you wouldn’t know it in Jefferson County: jobs are scarce, money is tight, and flocks of people are leaving the area to find work elsewhere. When the government is three months behind in payment in a contract with John, he considers heading to the shipyards – until John Boy returns home from New York. His idea: to reopen an abandoned coalmine using his dad’s lumber, as coal is much in demand for the war effort. No soonerdo they start on the project when a cave-in traps John, Jason, Ben, Jim-Bob, Ike, Harley and the other men in the abandoned shaft, and it takes the struggle of all the rest to find another way in and rescue them.
Last, and best, two-hour episode of the season is quite a nail-biter in its final act. The show here returns to two topics its most comfortable with: economic hardship, and near-tragedy, and pulls off both with predicted aplomb. It’s truly a marvel to see John-Boy return again, and although it’s been only a year, it feels like ten with all the changes that have transpired. Fresh faced and a natural with the sometimes clunky dialogue, actor Richard Thomas reminds the viewer how he really heightened the show for the five years of his tenure. Once again, the “good-nights” scene is particularly tearful, given he fact that Earl Hamner’s narration is, quite literally, John-Boy’s recollection of the story.
Subplots: Zeb feels put out to pasture by when John does not invite him to help with the mine, and Erin’s secret second job is as a nanny for a widowed businessman (which has almost no resolution – Olivia demands she quit this job, Erin objects, and that’s the last we ever hear about it).
Character actor Lloyd Nolan plays Mr. Guthrie, the owner of the mine. Nolan has been in dozens of movies since the 30s, but is perhaps most notable as the doctor in Peyton Place and the patriarch in Hannah and Her Sisters (his last role).