Ben’s homecoming is tinged with apprehension: his plans to go to college for engineering on the GI Bill don’t quite accord with his father’s expectation that he will become a co-proprietor of the mill. Cindy’s father, a hard-nosed army colonel, comes to visit and assists Ben admission into a reputable university, but when John goes to see Olivia in Washington: bad news. Her TB has resurfaced, and she must go to a sanitarium in Arizona. As it is so far away, John will go with her, and has decided to sell the mill. Ben, horrified that new owners may turn it into a quantity-over-quality operation, puts his college plans on hold and takes his dad up on his offer. Meantime, Erin’s “staycation” (she had given up her gas coupons for Cindy to pick up Ben) keeps getting interrupted by a typically helpless J.D.
Olivia’s new infirmity seems to set the stage for a prolonged departure forRalph Waite (indicated by his “Good-night” at episode’s end), as well as Ben’s new role as head mill operator. It seems as though the writer’s needed something else beyond red cross volunteering to account for Olivia’s absence, especially now that the year is over. Bringing back the TB, and moving her even farther away, appears to be their solution.
P.S.: I was right about Waite – this was his last episode. Why? A credible-sounding forum post on walonswebpage.com seems to have the answer:
Ralph Waite was written out due to budgetary issues; shows become more expensive as they age, usually at the same time the ratings start to decline. Originally, season 8 was supposed to be the final one, and ended with the special "A Decade of the Waltons". CBS gave the show a somewhat unexpected renewal for season 9, but with the caveat that the producers tighten the budget. CBS was amenable to letting Ralph Waite go, with the misguided goal of making the show seem "younger". So John moved to Arizona to take care of Olivia after the first seven episodes of that final season.
The producers really didn't intend that last episode to be a finale, and I think that's one of the reasons why none of the original leads returned; they just added a little bit of wrap-up narration at the end. The producers proposed wrapping up the series with an additional 3 two-hour specials for the 1981-82 season, but CBS passed, so these specials aired on NBC. Ralph Waite was in all three, Ellen Corby was in two, and Michael Learned even returned for a brief cameo in one of them.