Episode 7: The Sinner


(First USA transmission: 26 October, 1972)

Writer: John Furia, Jr.

Director: Philip Leacock.

Music: Jerry Goldsmith.


The Sinner


"I remember a day in hot summer back during the Depression when we all wished Waltons Mountain was a mile higher so its cool shade would reach us sooner. Growing up in those long-gone days I took for granted the discomfort of a hot summer, but as a novice writer I took it as my duty to question other things, like sin, and what made a sinner. Trouble was no one seemed to agree".


Missionary Ethel Prissom drives a new preacher to Walton’s Mountain for his first sermon. The Waltons wait for the pair after Olivia has agreed to board Rev. Fordwick during his stay. Already hours late, the children and Grandpa complain about the heat. Upon finishing his work, John rushes in after promising to take the children swimming. Olivia and Grandma are against the children changing their clothes, wanting to make a good impression on the two ministers. But John convinces the children, and they (along with Grandpa) rush upstairs to change into swimsuits. John and Olivia exchange words of disagreement. As John and the kids swirt themselves with water from the hose, Miss Prissom and Rev. Fordwick drive up to the house. John introduces the children to Fordwick, telling the pair that Olivia is inside. Olivia tries to explain the children’s behavior but Prissom and Fordwick only quote Bible verses in response. Grandpa is then seen at the stairs half dressed in his bathing suit, much to the embarrassment of Olivia and Grandma.


Later John agrees to gather up the children from the waters so they can join the ministers. Neither John nor Olivia are happy with the actions of each other. The next day Ben and Jim Bob watch Fordwick exercise and listen as he says, “idleness is the devil’s workshop”. During the same time, John-Boy and Grandpa ride in the truck while discussing sex. John-Boy realizes he knows some things about sex, but just doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know. Wanting to learn more about sin John-Boy also talks with Ike.


Mary Ellen accidentally hits her thumb with a hammer and yells “damn”. Fordwick hears her profanity and screams at the children to repent before the Lord brings his wrath. John interrupts and tells Forwick that he doesn’t appreciate him frightening his children. Olivia disagrees with him. Inside, Jason plays a lively song on the piano, but Grandma forces him to play a gospel. John-Boy then questions his father about religion, knowing his mother is Baptist, but not knowing his beliefs. John states, “I believe life’s a mystery; a sacred one. As for faith, that’s a personal and private thing…. I don’t think it’s much different from that what your Momma thinks.” John-Boy asks if sex and sin are the same. John talks about love and respecting your mate, but admits that some people “crave sinning like some crave rhubarb pie”. Later John-Boy goes to Fordwick for advice on what is pure and what is not. Fordwick provides John-Boy with a generic answer that doesn’t help in his understanding.


John-Boy and Jim Bob listen to the reverend practice his hellfire-and-brimstone style of preaching. John also listens from the porch as he makes ice cream. When Fordwick asks Jim Bob how he liked his sermon, Jim Bob says it was ‘scary’. After being asked his opinion, John tells Fordwick that people are not accustomed at being shouted at and that he should not use fancy language, but be simple and easy. Jim Bob asks John-Boy why everybody keeps on sinning if sinning is so bad. John-Boy doesn’t know why.


Yancy Tucker drives up with a load of wild Rhode Island Red chickens that he is selling to John for ten cents a piece. But when Yancy hears gospel music coming from the house, he decides to collect his money later, and first drive to the Baldwin house for some of the Recipe.


That night Elizabeth runs into her parent’s bedroom after a nightmare. Elizabeth tells them that the devil was taking her to hell, then admits she took without asking a piece of her mother’s gingerbread. John reassures Elizabeth that she won’t go to hell for taking gingerbread. After Elizabeth returns to her bed John and Olivia talk about the differences since Fordwick arrived. John says that he doesn’t think Matt Fordwick, as an unseasoned pastor, knows much about human nature. Olivia asks John to give him a chance. Late in the night John-Boy is awakened while sleeping in the barn’s loft. He finds a drunken Yancy entering after driving his car into a tree. Yancy tries to climb a ladder but falls off plunging his lantern onto hay. The lantern ignites the hay, starting a fire. The family is alerted and douses the fire. Yancy apologizes to John, saying he will replace the hay and repair the damage he caused. John accepts his apology and shakes his hand. As Yancy leaves John-Boy tells his father that he is glad he shook Yancy’s hand.


In the morning Ike and John-Boy help erect the revival tent outside Ike’s store. Inside the store Fordwick asks Grandpa for a ride to the Baldwin sister’s house after receiving a letter from his mother informing him that Miss Mamie and Miss Emily are his cousins. Grandpa attempts to persuade him not to go to their house, knowing about the temptation inside. However, Fordwick insists so Grandpa reluctantly agrees. Inside the Baldwin house Matthew invites the sisters to attend his first sermon. The Baldwin’s then offer him some of the Recipe. Grandpa warns him about the strength of the cordial and that it might not agree with him. But Fordwick likes the drink and the guests are offered another cup of the Recipe.


The family unloads chairs for the revival and Olivia wonder when the reverend will return from the Baldwin’s. Soon Grandpa and Fordwick drive up loudly singing a religious song. Fordwick begins to exit the vehicle, but falls to the ground unconscious. Miss Prissom, Olivia, and Grandma look on in shock.


Prissom joins the family in the short walk to the revival meeting on Sunday morning. John-Boy tells his mother that he has decided not to attend. Olivia tells her son that last night she and John “agreed to disagree”. She tells John-Boy that it is time for him to make his own decisions, as a man. After the churchgoers leave Fordwick enters the house and tells John-Boy and John that he will be leaving. Fordwick tells them that he spoke hollow words and will spend the rest of his life in whatever pursuit God determines. With Fordwick packing upstairs, John-Boy tells his father that he feels it is unfair that a life should be ruined by one mistake and that he remembers he was told that when one stumbles one should try again. John and John-Boy decide to attend the service and ask Fordwick to go along. While Prissom preaches the threesome enter, with the children in disbelief that their father is attending church. John tells Prissom and the congregation that he would like to hear Fordwick speak. But Prissom calls Fordwick a “drunkard and public sinner”. John responds by quoting the Bible, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Matt Fordwick begins by saying, “I am a sinner”, continues to say how it feels to be a sinner, and how hard it is to live in this world. At a pause, Grandpa stands up and sings a gospel song. John-Boy joins his grandfather, as do the congregation, while Prissom looks on with a scowl on her face.


"The memory of those days is with me still. It makes me laugh sometimes to think how innocent a boy I was, sometimes cruel, and pompous, and sometimes loving and wise like my parents. And remembering those long-gone days I'm grateful they were mine".


Ben: John-Boy? D'you think I could be a preacher when I grow up?

John-Boy: You want to be?

Ben: That's what I need to ask you about.

John-Boy: Well what, Ben?

Ben: Is a preacher allowed to like liquorish whip as much as praying?

John-Boy: I wouldn't let that stop you, Ben. Goodnight, now.

Ben: Goodnight.



The episode is set during a hot, Virginia summer in 1933 during the Depression. The episode begins on Sunday afternoon.

Rev. Matthew Fordwick, just graduated from divinity school, will be twenty-one years old next month. Matt’s mother, Sarah, lives in Richmond, Virginia. She tells her son that the Baldwin sisters are their cousins on Uncle Elwood’s side. Miss Mamie informs Matthew that they last saw him in Richmond during a family reunion twenty-one years ago in 1914.

The Baldwin sister’s papa lived to be 87 years old.

John-Boy is seventeen years old.

Elizabeth is five years old.

John and Olivia have been married eighteen years.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Miss Mamie and Miss Emily Baldwin (Helen Kleeb and Mary Jackson), Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner), Rev. Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter), Rev. Ethel Prissom (Collin Wilcox Horne).


(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)