I wonder how many folk watching in 1979 were expecting to see Richard Thomas when they heard John-boy's name. My guess is most of them. It's never the greatest idea to recast your leading man, even when he's been out of the show for a while, but I guess this is as easy an introduction as any new actor could hope for.
It's certainly a decent story, and given we don't know how bad John-boy's injuries are, there is some genuine tension. With this being Olivia's last appearance, there's plenty of reflection. I loved her scene upstairs with Jason. I also liked that shot of John sitting at the head of an empty table. It's as if the producers have finally realised how much has changed. Michael gives a heartfelt farewell performance, and her final scene in the hospital is a nice way to go out.
Rose looks enormous this week. Her plot sees her wind up the rest of the household by trying to play mum while Olivia is away. This is somewhat ironic, seeing as her character was introduced for precisely this reason. The story covers Thanksgiving 1943, which means it takes place exactly ten years after the events of 'The Thanksgiving Story', in which John-boy was applying for Boatwright. Makes you think.
So it's farewell to Michael Learned and welcome to Robert Wightman. It won't be the most popular swap, but I guess a show's got to do what a show's got to do.