Saturday, April 6, 2013

Waltons 6.8: “The First Casualty”

Airdate: 11/10/77

With the war looming menacingly in Europe, new recruit G.W. (last seen two episodes ago in “The Volunteer”) returns to Waltons Mountain while on leave. Meanwhile Ike Godsey, crowned with a CD helmet and looking like he means it, has news for the Willards: Curt has been called up to serve with the medical corps. And Yancy Butler, whooped up with the war fervor, announces his enlistment – and engagement to longtime sweetheart Sissy (the waitress at the Dew Drop Inn).

Erin is still wracked with guilt over what she perceives to be the reason for
G.W.’s call to duty – a desperate attempt to impress her after her rejection of his marriage proposal. His time with her now is somehow more poignant, and all-too brief. When the Rockfish bus returns from Fort Lee, Yancy is on it; it turns out he was rejected by the army for his age – and flat feet. But another return is more heart wrenching: the body of G.W. is shipped back to Walton’s Mountain after he died from a training accident. At the funeral, the first for a war-related casualty, tears flow with sorrow and fear, and Erin is nowhere to be seen. John catches up to her and reads GW’s last letter to her; in it he bequeathed to her a tract of land he had inherited from his family.

A genuinely sad episode, with fits and starts of humor alleviating a timelessly tragic topic. In killing off a character the Waltons audience had known for quite a while, the show’s writers wisely decided that the first pain related to WWII must be a sharp one. The episode’s final scene, involving a withheld letter, and emotions implicitly shared if not expressed, is once again a tearjerker of the finest caliber. McDonough’s acting is on fine display throughout the episode – her complex feelings for G.W. run the gamut from longing to anger and then to regret. The viewer feels, in the couple’s final moments together, that the two are in love, and that perhaps her realization of it comes too achingly late.

Speaking of regret: a fine, reliably sagacious speech by Zeb counsels Jim Bob about his guilt over some negative things he had said to G.W.

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