Thursday, July 19, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 181 of 344: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Episode Title: Survival of the Fittest

Season 08, Episode 21

Episode 181 of 344

Written by William Devane

Directed by Michael Preece

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 12th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Jean catches the Gibsons, and they know that their house is bugged. She instructs Ben to kill Greg at the Lotus Point Club Opening. At the opening, Greg and Laura make up. He says he's happy about the baby. Anne hangs all over Mack at the party, and Karen pretends not to mind. Mack is amused at Karen's jealousy. Ben tells Val that they'll escape in a catering truck after the party. Jean tells Ben that if he doesn't kill Greg, she has people at the party who will kill Val. Ben says the time isn't right, so Jean tells him to make an opportunity. Gary and Jill tell Val that they're getting married and Val runs off crying. Ben confronts Greg in his office and pulls out a gun. He tells Greg to help him find a way out of this, because if he doesn't kill him, they'll kill his family. Jean listens in on the bug. Ben can't bring himself to kill Greg, but then a shot rings out.


                Welcome back, everybody, and also sorry for the late posting but I was, well, lazy last week and just didn't feel like posting.  We’ve got a lot to talk about before getting started with the ep in question.  Generally, I don’t like to forecast my opinions too far in advance before doing some serious writing about eps, but I’m gonna go ahead and blow my wad right here in the first paragraph of this essay and say, my dear God, this was a bad disk of eps, really bad, really really really incredibly bad, maybe even terrible.  I’ll go even further and say that I think this particular disk (spanning Survival of the Fittest through Deadly Combination) was the very worst disk we have ever watched, and I’ll also say it may have, quite possibly, the very worst ep of KL we have seen up to this point (I’ll keep some suspense by not telling you which one just yet).  This disk was such a turd that I didn’t even wanna write about it and, of course, I let a lot of time go by and then had forgotten so many of the details, I decided I needed to, God help me, watch it again.  Doing this only underlined how bad these eps are, because, and it hurts me to say this, I found myself watching an ep and then not having the mental energy to watch another one.  The eps felt sooooooo long and sometimes I would even start one, watch the first scene or two, and just be like, “I can’t do this,” and turn it off.  Therefore, it took me forever to finally get them re-watched and sit my ass down to start writing about them.  Now you all know how I feel about this ep and the next four we have coming at us, so hopefully I’ll prove myself a skilled enough writer to eloquently explain my problems as we go through the eps with a fine tooth comb and sort out all the problems.


                On a much happier note, I would like everyone to know that there is now a third party watching KL alongside My Beloved Grammy and myself, and that would be Brother(pictured below alongside our father and yours truly).  For the last several years, Brother has been living out of town and I haven’t seen him as much, but now he’s back and I’m very pleased.  Even better, the timing worked out in this weirdly perfect way that he has seen every ep right up until this exact one we’re talking about now, thanks to me forcing him to watch the show in the past, so he moved back to town and we happened to be right at the exact same spot where he last left off and he was able to slide right back into the series smoothly.  I like to throw in what My Beloved Grammy thinks or says about the show, and now I can also add Brother’s thoughts.  I will say that having three people watching was extremely helpful, because we were able to laugh and make fun of the camp and silliness on display in front of us, whereas when I rewatched the eps all by myself, I just found myself bored and sad.


                “Sad” might seem like a strange word to use here, but as I believe I said somewhere in the distant past, the thing which makes me sad is that I’m seeing characters I love and cherish as if they are real people being made to act in stupid and ridiculous ways because the writing is forcing them to do so.  It is now very clear to me that I take these characters and this show much more seriously than I did upon first viewing, when I was still discovering everything.  I have talked about the camp value of KL in the past and said how I think camp is a factor in the show that we can all enjoy.  However, now that we’ve gotten through half of the show, I have really found myself marveling, particularly in that peak period of seasons four, five, and six, at how remarkably not campy the show is.  Sure, every now and then we get an, “IT’S TEA!” or “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVES!” or “DAMN YOU, PAUL GALVESTON!,” but those instances are actually pretty few and far between in the grand scheme of things.  This rewatch has made me appreciate so much the skilled writing of the series and the way they are able to honor the characters and stay true to them while still delivering great, dynamic drama.  At the point we are at now, the show has drifted into complete camp, and really the only way to enjoy the eps is to just view them as camp, but I don’t want to do that.  I love these characters and I don’t want to laugh at the series, but I confess it’s happening and getting worse and worse with each passing ep of season eight.  Okay, let’s go ahead and dive right in so I can start to explain myself better.


                We open on Hackney.  I’d say that sentence just about says it all with my problems with this ep and this season.  Remember how fucking good those central storylines of seasons four through six were?  Remember how Ciji/Wolfbridge/Val’s Babies were able to form this nucleus of a major storyline going the whole season and involving pretty much the entire cast?  Well, think of how good those stories were and then imagine a story that is just as bad as those stories were good.  Clearly the creative team thought this Hackney nonsense would be a good central nucleus, just like Ciji, just like Wolfbridge, just like Val’s babies.  The problem is that the story is so stupid and so boring and so campy that it infects everything in its path and winds up taking up a massive TWENTY FUCKING FIVE EPS out of the season, leaving only the last five (which we haven’t gotten to yet) Hackney-free.  When a storyline is as good as Val’s babies, you want it to take a lot of time to unfold, you want it to span the whole season, you want to watch all the exciting developments that take place because of it.  When a storyline is as bad as Hackney, the exact opposite is true, so it feels like it’s going on forever and all I want is for it to end.

                So yeah, we open on Hackney.  What’s Hackney doing?  Well, she’s threatening Ben and delivering terrible dialogue and being a horrible actress and a horrible character.  The first line of dialogue in the ep is, “The only way out for you and your family…..is to assassinate Greg Sumner.”  I can barely even type the line of dialogue without simultaneously groaning in disgust, face palming, yet also finding myself peeing my pants with laughter.  If this was just a show I like but don’t love, like Dallas, I could probably roll with the camp and get a good laugh out of it, but I just can’t do it here.  That is just awful dialogue, I’m sorry, and it’s the first line of the ep, and it sets the tone for everything to follow.  To set the scene better, Hackney and Ben are standing outside of the car while Val, Lilimae, and the twins stay cooped up in the car, looking scared.  Lilimae asks if Ben’s having an affair and Val is just like, “No!” and sounds kinda annoyed, and I get that she’s scared and all, but is that not a reasonable question to ask?  Wasn’t Ben shagging Cathy less than a year ago?  Have the writers already forgotten about that?  Well, they may have, but I like to think Lilimae has not and that’s why she’s bringing it up.


                Speaking of Lilimae, let’s talk about that sad feeling I’ve been having and how it relates to Lilimae.  What a truly wonderful character and actress this is, and how I’ve so greatly enjoyed rewatching and appreciating all the different intricacies she’s brought to this character from seasons three through a fair enough chunk of season seven (about a half of the season, I'd say).  I think back on all these fabulous scenes, getting reacquainted with Val after years apart, her amazingly complex relationship with Chip Roberts, her finely honed performance when confronting Jonathan Rush for the first time, her despair at sitting with Joshua and listening to him recount his childhood full of abuse and neglect.  It’s become very clear to me through this rewatch that Julie Harris is easily the best actress to ever be on the series and yet, ever since Joshua fell off that roof, the writers have shuffled her into the background and given her next to nothing to do.  If she hadn’t been involved in the car accident with Olivia a few eps back, I really think she would have done nothing in this season.  She’s just been hanging around the house, making her Lilimae comments, having some dialogue here and there, but she hasn’t gotten anything substantial or juicy to work with since she lost her son, and it hurts me to watch this.  You have a brilliant actress like Julie Harris as a main cast member on your show and you’re gonna give her fucking nothing to do?  You would rather we shift our attentions over to Peter Hollister, who is becoming more and more sleep-inducing by the minute, or to J.B. falling off a cliff and hitting her head and going into a stupid Plot Contrivance Coma, rather than give Lilimae something interesting to do?  These people are not even main cast members, so why are they getting such substantial stories while Lilimae sits around doing nothing?  We are roughly twenty eps away from Lilimae leaving the show forever, and while I’ll of course be sad to say goodbye to her, I would honestly prefer it to having to watch her continue to be so underutilized.


                Speaking of underutilized, the writers recently remembered that Laura is a character on this series and made her pregnant.  Now, when I say, “made her pregnant,” what I really mean is that Constance got pregnant in real life and the writers were forced to bring it into the story.  I’m not complaining, by the way, because I’m pretty sure if Constance hadn’t gotten pregnant, Laura would be joining Lilimae in doing absolutely nothing for the entire season.  Half the season, she’s barely even been around, only functioning as a sounding-board for Greg or an occasional scene with Karen or Val, but now at least this pregnancy is giving her something to do.  Again, this is a main cast member who has been around since the very first ep, a character I love that we have watched grow and change and mature over the last seven years.  Even if I had some complaints about the latter portion of season seven, Laura was a consistent (you might even say constant; tee hee) highlight, delivering great wisecracks and inimitable eyerolls for all of us to enjoy.  This is a character the writers should be respecting; she’s been there since the beginning and she’s an important part of the fabric of the series.  As with Lilimae, we are fairly close to losing this character forever and I honestly don’t think I’m gonna mind because, if you’re gonna give her so little to do, it’s almost offensive to even have her on the show anymore.  By the way, while I’m glad that this pregnancy is giving her something to do, I still have problems with the story, problems that are popping up frequently at this stage in the game.  Once again, I feel the writers are just looking at the episode count for the season and saying, “Oh, shit, we’ve gotta fill 30 fucking weeks?”  So, similar to J.B. and her stupid Plot Contrivance Coma that lasted two or three eps and only existed to take up time, we now have Laura pregnant, Greg upset about it for a few eps, and then Greg getting over it and apologizing.  Nothing is really accomplished but the writers can take comfort in the fact that they filled a couple of eps up and are a little closer to the finish line for the season.


                Okay, so Laura got pregnant and then Greg said how that was not a good idea and he doesn’t want to have a kid, right?  Then he got especially cold and nasty on her and suggested she, “go back to the cul-de-sac,” which she did.  But then in this ep, Greg is walking around his ranch, he picks up a phone, and he calls Laura, only to be greeted by the answering machine.  Well, he immediately launches into a speech about how, “If you were here right now, I would hug you and kiss you and tell you I’m sorry and Bob Loblaw,” you get the picture.  Then a few scenes later, we see Laura checking the machine and we realize the message has been erased due to an unfunny joke from Daniel and Jason 4 (they recorded a message about how they’re going to take off in a space ship and it’s dumb) so Laura doesn’t hear what Greg had to say.  Okay, fine, whatever, but then a few minutes later, the cast is gathered at a Lotus Point party and Greg finds Laura and he apologizes and they decide to get back together.  Okay, so what was the purpose of breaking them up for a couple of eps?  To fill up time, obviously.  Now, in the hands of a writer with the deft pen of one mega-genius Peter Dunne, I’ll bet this could work brilliantly and help show different layers of complexity within Greg Sumner’s character, but Mr. Dunne is gone now and he’s not coming back and I can safely say that we are not in the hands of writers with as deft a pen as he, so something that could have potentially been interesting is, instead, just a time-filler.

                I will say a nice thing, although it might come off more as a backhanded compliment, and that is that Devane always manages to come out looking good no matter what the writers throw at him.  I’m not quite sure how he does it, but no matter how silly the silliness is going on around him, he’s a great actor and he, well, I’m not gonna say he makes it work, since it’s not working, but I’m just gonna say he doesn’t embarrass himself.  It’s kinda like how Michael Caine is a good enough actor that even though Jaws: The Revenge is clearly an absurd movie, he still manages to give a decent performance and not embarrass himself too much.  I’ll try to focus on this a little more in an upcoming ep in which Greg has to deliver some truly wretched dialogue but Devane still, somehow, manages to come out looking alright.


                I mentioned that Lotus Point party, and that’s because most of this ep is centered around it.  Again, I have nothing but complaints, and I’m yearning for the days of the show looking good, sounding good, having a great musical score, and looking like it had some money being pumped into it from behind the scenes.  Just like the Christmas party from a few eps back, whatever that ep was called, this party looks small and cheap, like they only hired the bare minimum of extras necessary to create the illusion that this is a social function.  Then you throw in the “music” that is playing throughout the party and God how I find myself yearning for Ciji/Cathy.  I miss her singing so much, I miss hearing real songs sung beautifully by a real singer, and I never miss it more than when we are listening to this public domain nothingness that blasts out to make the ears of all seven of the extras they hired to be at this broom closet party start bleeding profusely. 


                I’ll just rush through the proceedings real quick.  Basically, Ben seems to have decided and go ahead and kill Greg because, as he tells Val, “It’s the only way.”  As I’ve lamented in the distant past, Ben is not getting good material or good dialogue to work with, and some of the very worst is housed comfortably within Survival of the Fittest.  Here’s a little sample, in a scene of him yelling at Val: “Shut up!  Do not talk to anyone!  Do not call anyone!  Forget about your police! Forget about some white knight riding in here at the last minute to rescue us!  Nobody’s gonna write us a happy ending!”  The dialogue is so bad that I don’t even have the mental energy to ponder whether that “write us a happy ending” bit is supposed to be some sort of meta-joke or not.  Anyway, there’s another bad scene when they’re at the Lotus Point party and he’s hugging and kissing her and saying how he has to go kill Greg and Val is starting to cry and it’s just too silly for words. 

                There’s an ugly bald guy who starts trying to get Trumpy on Hackney, and at first we just think he’s some gross Trumpy rapey dude, but later we realize that he was a purposeful distraction, his job to keep her occupied long enough for Val and Lilimae and the twins to sneak out.  They manage to escape the party (either in this ep or the next one; don’t really remember and don’t really care enough to check), while Greg and Ben head to Sumner’s office for, you know, some reason.  By the time they get there, Hackney is stationed outside in her stupid van with her stupid headphones, so she’s listening into the conversation and hears as Ben pulls out a gun and tells Greg how he’s gonna have to kill him.  There’s a few minutes of “suspense” and then we hear a gunshot, though we don’t see it.   We end the ep on Hackney hearing the shot through her headphones, removing the headphones, and giving a little sigh, clearly assuming that Ben went through with his job as ordered.  Is Greg dead? Obviously not; he’s in the next six seasons all the way until the final ep, but even if I didn’t know that and was watching this in 1987, I’d know he wasn’t dead.  Did anyone in the world actually think he was while watching this first run?  If so, please alert me, because I can’t fathom it.  Once again, this is just something that can effectively take up space for another ep or two. 


                Other shit happens in this ep, but I’m already tired of talking about it, so I’ll just sorta zoom through.  Let’s look at my notes here, let’s see, hmmmm…..  Okay, looks like I added Cigar #26 to the Sumner Cigar Counter and I wrote, “In front yard of Ben + Val, but he doesn’t light it.”  I actually remember this well, because I asked My Beloved Grammy and Brother if I should count it in my notes if we don’t see it lit and they said yes, arguing that since Greg is very clearly about to light his cigar, and probably lights it right after the scene cuts away, it counts.  So, therefore, Cigar #26.  I also noted that Anne continues to chase after Mack; I’ll just save the discussion of that for a few eps down the line when it’s more central to the story.  Looks like I also wrote down a compliment about a scene of Gary and Olivia riding horses.  Ah, okay, yes, I remember this, and I know I’m grasping at straws here, but I do really like any and all of the Gary/Olivia stuff.  Olivia on coke is the highlight of this year and I enjoy any scene in which Gary and Olivia are together, riding horses and talking about her sobriety.  So there you go, one true, legitimate compliment for a very bad ep.


                Yup, that about does it.  We have to suffer through more Hackney as we continue through this disk, and it’s gonna be rough, but I promise you that we will be rid of her soon.  Anyway, now that we’re all in such major suspense about whether Greg is alive or dead, I guess we’d better move on to our next ep, In Mourning.   
               

Thursday, July 5, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 180 of 344: A PLAN OF ACTION


Episode Title: A Plan of Action

Season 08, Episode 20

Episode 180 of 344

Written by Lawrence Kasha

Directed by Kate Tilley

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 5th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Paige accepts a job at Lotus Point. Anne asks Karen to arrange for her to live at Lotus Point. Greg and Laura disagree about her having the baby, so she moves back to the cul-de-sac. Abby opens a nightclub at Lotus Point. Peter asks Abby to the opening, but tells Paige it is only for PR purposes. Ben refuses to kill Greg, and Jean says she'll kill his family. After someone tries to run Val off the road, Ben tells her that he was part of a subversive group that bombed a building and an innocent man was killed. Ben says they want him to kill Greg. Ben and Val decide to run away. Val won't tell Lilimae what is up. Ben is being followed, and steals a car to lose them. Val, Lilimae, and the kids follow Ben's plan to meet him secretly. As they drive away, Jean pulls up next to them in her car.




                Welcome to the last ep on a disk of eps viewed by both My Beloved Grammy and myself.  I remind my readers one more time that I’ve actually gotten behind and, once I’m done writing about this ep, I will need to write about five more, a whole entire extra disk of eps, before My Beloved Grammy and I gather again for the final disk of the season.  I’ll try not to get behind like this again, mostly because I know myself and I know how lazy I am and I know that, the more I let the eps pile up, the longer it will take for me to start writing about them.  Also, I remind you of this just so you’ll cut me some slack if I forget details or just seem a little blasé.  Of course, I might just seem a little blasé because this season is severely underwhelming me as I go through it a second time.  Okay, let’s go ahead and discuss A Plan of Action.

                I’m going to spend a lot of time bitching because most of this ep is about stupid Hackney, so let’s try to get started on a positive note by talking about some characters I do not despise, starting with Paige and Anne.  On the Paige front, she gets a new job and, I think, a new hairdo within the confines of this ep.  In fact, I’m gonna take a very unnecessary pause just to discuss how fucking good Paige looks.  I’m starting to think that if I leaned closer towards the heterosexual lifestyle, I would probably be one of those gentlemen-prefer-blondes types, because I think Abs is the most beautiful woman in the world and I’m also feeling a slight stiffness coming on whenever Paige is on the scene, especially in this ep.  She looks fucking fabulous, very much like she somehow stepped out of the ‘50s and then melded with the ‘80s to create some sort of wonderful, fantastic new look.  Her hair and makeup look ‘50s as can be, but her outfit is this sorta blue jacket thing with super long sleeves and all in all she looks great.  Anyway, enough about shallow shit like what the woman looks like; let’s catch up with her story.  When we first see Paige, she’s taking a little stroll around Lotus Point with Olivia and, at some point in the ep, we also learn that she is going to start working there.  Now there’s a detail that slipped my mind; how long does Paige wind up working for Lotus Point?  Whenever I think of the words “Paige” and “working,” I generally picture her working in Sumner’s gigantic skyscraper office with, I think, The Sumner Group, somewhere closer to seasons ten and eleven time.  Whether anything of note is going to come out of her employment at Lotus Point, I can not tell you because I do not remember.



                The icy relationship between Karen and Paige is starting to thaw, I notice.  Right now, Paige is living with Peter in an effort to avoid her mother, who’s been staying at Karen and Mack’s.  Early in this ep, Karen reissues her invitation to Paige, telling her she can move back in with them, to which Paige asks her if her mother is still at the house.  Karen tells her that Anne has gone to a hotel and then we get an interesting bit of business in which Paige says how now Karen is trying to get on her side since they both have a common enemy.  This seems like kinda a bitchy thing to say, but Karen takes it in stride and just assures Paige that Anne is not her enemy.  See what I mean?  A few eps ago, Karen was overacting and screaming at Paige, “WHAT COLOR IS THIS?!”, but now she’s extending an invitation for her to come live with them and, even though Paige is kinda bitchy, it seems like the two are starting to get along better, a development which pleases me. 

                When it comes to this whole triangle of Karen/Mack/Anne, I don’t remember too much happening in this ep; it’s more a lot of hints and insinuations for future events.  Anne doesn’t directly try to seduce Mack within the confines of this ep, but we can tell that she wants to, and we also get several more scenes demonstrating the worlds of difference between Karen and Anne.  In fact, there’s a small exchange between the two that I found endlessly thought provoking, although probably nobody else besides me would hone in on such small details and then obsess over them.  Anyway, it’s right near the end of the ep, and Anne pays Karen a visit at the house.  It’s just the two of them together and the exchange goes like this:



Karen: Well, can I get you a cup of coffee or, um…



Anne: A drink would be fine.



Karen: Oh, diet or regular?



Anne: Scotch.



                Karen seems a little surprised by this request, but quickly goes to work preparing Anne her drink (and Anne takes it neat, by the way), and then when she hands her the drink, Anne asks if Karen will be joining her and Karen says, “No, I don’t drink.”  It’s that line right there that I really want to focus on; is this new information?  And if so, when did Karen join Gary in ditching the alcohol in exchange for a nice club soda?  I can’t flash through the previous 179 eps in my brain and immediately remember if we ever saw Karen drink (although I am suddenly having a flashback all the way back to season one and Let Me Count the Ways, when she drank some red wine with the teacher she almost shagged, as well as at least one of the two Hitchhike eps from season two, in which we saw her nursing a gin and tonic), but I’m sure we’ve seen her have a drink a time or two in the past.  Okay, so when did she stop drinking?  My Beloved Grammy said, very matter of factly, as if this was something we had already seen clearly on the series in the past, that Karen doesn’t drink anymore because of her pill popping problems circa season five.  I said I thought that just meant she had to stop popping pills, but she could keep drinking if she wanted to, but My Beloved Grammy said no, that part of the sobriety meant not drinking, either.  What a headache this is giving me, because I feel almost certain that, somewhere in the gap of eps between when Karen stopped popping pills and the ep we are discussing right here today, I feel we surely must have seen her drink some alcohol, am I wrong?  Anyone with more information should feel welcome to leave a comment or write into me to explain what’s going on with Karen and alcohol.




                While on the subject of alcohol, I also noted the casual way that Anne requests scotch, as if of course every single house in the world comes with a full bar.  When I think of old movies and TV (like circa the ‘50s and ‘60s), I always think of every house having a fully stocked bar and every adult character drinking like a fish and being very casual about it.  By 1987, was this still standard?  Would you walk into someone’s house and just assume they have a full liquor cabinet the way you just assume that everyone has a coffee maker or a TV in their house?  Or does this request for scotch actually serve to underline the differences between the two women?  I think that might be what the writers are going for, that Anne is a rich snooty WASP from a family of rich snooty WASPs who are afraid of any all people who are not heterosexual Caucasians, and when I think of rich snooty WASPs (or any Republicans), I generally think of people who are drunk all day.  So perhaps the writers are showing us that Karen is a person that’s like, “Yeah, we’ve got some liquor in the house, but we don’t just sit around and drink all day,” while Anne is a person that’s like, “Yeah, I’m a rich white woman and I have nothing better to do with my life except drink all day.”  Anyway, aside from my obsession with Anne’s scotch and the etiquette of assuming all houses come packed to the gills with booze, there’s not much going on with Anne this week.  Based on my memory, I’m sure there’s a flirtation between her and Mack and all that, but that’s part of a bigger storyline that’s building around us, so let’s discuss all that drama in more detail a little further down the road.



                Meanwhile, over at Sumner’s ranch, he and Laura finally have a much needed talk, the results of which are Laura deciding she’d best return to the cul-de-sac.  There’s a chance that I might wind up calling this whole development bad writing, but that’s why we should all be very grateful for the skilled acting of Constance and Devane.  See, we first catch up with them in an exchange that I actually quite enjoyed.  Laura is sitting and reading the newspaper (with her Librarian Glasses on, of course) and she says how there’s some woman in the world who prints a newspaper with only good news and she’s planning to get a subscription, but then Greg says, “It doesn’t change the facts,” and when Laura wonders how they can keep all the terrible news about the world away from the children, Greg says, “You don’t, it’s reality, they learn to live with it.”  Just for the record, I’m with Greg on this point.  Children need to know that the world is a dark and horrible place, and the sooner they know it, the better.  Also, deliberately publishing a paper that only reports good news is just stupid; you might as well not report the news at all.




                Anyway, the scene then develops into Laura challenging Greg about some deal he made and how a bunch of people are going to lose their jobs now.  She says how Greg has all this money and no red tape and he could work out a deal to save those people’s jobs, she says something about “What happened to that guy with all the dreams?”, and then she concludes with, “I never know who you are anymore,” to which we get a rather shocking reply from Greg when he says, “Maybe you should go back to the cul-de-sac.”  Laura asks if that’s what he really wants and he answers, “What does it matter what I want?  Did you ask me if I want to be a parent?”  Clearly this whole baby thing is not sitting well with Greg, although I do want to take a brief moment to point out that Greg already is a parent.  We haven’t seen her in a long time, but Mary Frances is still out there in the world somewhere, probably hanging out with Jane, so the idea that Greg doesn’t “want to be a parent” doesn’t really make much sense, since he already has a kid.  Even so, I get his point; he doesn’t want to have a kid with Laura and risk bringing another male from the Galveston bloodline into the universe.  Even so, I think this might be bad writing, just a temporary roadblock needed to keep Laura and Greg apart for somewhere around four or five eps before putting them back together, but that’s why I take special note of these two actors.  Even when the writing is forcing them to do things out of sheer necessity for drama, both Constance and Devane keep it feeling real.  I especially like the way Devane elongates “cul-de-sac,” and really emphasizes all the syllables in the word; it’s almost like he wants to say it sorta silly so it doesn’t sting Laura as much, yet at the same time it’s almost like he wants to sound blasé about it in order to be extra hurtful. 

                I think I’ll also take some time to insult more things about what’s going on within the show’s stories right now.  I will say that I remember Laura’s pregnancy relating to some absolutely fantastic storylines down the line, like years down the line, but I have to say that, as of right now, as of this moment, only taking into account what we are seeing in front of us as we move through season eight, this story isn’t doing much for me.  Laura just sorta announced out of the blue that she was pregnant a few eps back, Greg was upset about it, and that’s pretty much where we still are.  Also, Laura is so hidden in the background by this point in the series that, I kid you not, I will actually forget she’s pregnant for a long space of time until she brings it up again in the dialogue.  Aside from being pregnant, Laura is really not doing much at all on the series right now.  She seems to be only allowed to exist if she’s in the same scene as Greg, and usually she’s just sorta sitting around or listening to him explain whatever it is that he’s doing, but she never gets to singularly command the screen nowadays.  This is a real shame considering our time with Laura is so limited (she’ll be gone before we hit the halfway mark of season nine) and it also keeps me from being able to focus my attentions on her pregnancy and how it affects her feelings. 

                Alright, let’s move over to the mondo turd sandwich that is the Hackneyed storyline.  Oh boy, do things really rev up and head towards the even-more-absurd as we watch this ep.  Okay, I remind you that this is episode twenty of the season and Hackey was introduced way at the start of the season in the very first ep.  She’s been hanging around a lot and taking up a lot of the screentime and absolutely anyone and everyone watching this season should have been able to tell, from her very first seconds onscreen, that she was up to no good.  However, it’s not until this ep, when Ben says how Hackney will have to kill him and she answers, “It’s not just you we’ll kill, Daddy,” that Ben finally puts the pieces together and a lightbulb goes off in his head and he says, “My God, you’re not CIA at all, are you?”  I almost peed my pants when we finally got to this line, because while I’m sure it’s supposed to be this BIG EPIC REALIZATION, I found it absurd that this storyline has drawn out this long without Ben figuring it out.  Once again, I can see the bad writing infecting my beloved and much cherished characters and making them behave stupidly for the sake of the plot.  At no point in the last three years have I ever thought Ben was stupid; I’ve always thought he was really sharp and had a good eye for details and truth.  The man is a reporter and he’s been all over the world and dealt with all kinds of people, yet with this ridiculous, vamping femme fatale wannabe, it takes him an agonizing twenty eps to finally realize, “Hey, wait a minute, CIA operatives don’t usually threaten to murder small children!”




                Now that Ben’s brain has suddenly grown back into his skull after twenty eps in which it was taking a hiatus, he snaps into action and decides to tell Val the truth about everything, in a series of scenes that, well, I just don’t know what to make of them.  When I think of the L&L period of the series, I usually think of a more humor-infused style of writing, and that makes me wonder if we are supposed to get a humorous tone out of these scenes or if they are just more bad scenes that are turning funny because of how campy everything is.  See, when Ben finally spills the details to Val about Hackney and this whole sordid mess, the scene takes place in an outdoor park while they eat popsicles and Ben orders Val to keep smiling and nodding, as he can’t be sure they’re not being watched.  Then the scene ends with him saying how he’s been ordered to kill Greg, and we just cut to a quick shot of Val smiling while looking in horrible pain at the same time, and then the scene cuts there.  Okay, so are we supposed to be amused by Val’s face here?  Are we supposed to be amused by the SUPER SERIOUS DIALOGUE being played out while the actors munch on popsicles?  Or is this actually supposed to be totally serious and it’s just becoming unintentionally funny because of how campy everything is?  Honest to God, I don’t know, so someone please write in and tell me what you think, because I want to believe this is intentional humor, but I just don’t know.




                Let’s just go ahead and speed through the proceedings here, because they are dumb and I don’t want to discuss them at any great length.  Basically, Ben tells Val how they need to gather the kids and Lilimae and all the money they have and hit the road, but they have to do it with secrecy.  Oh yeah, he also tells Val they’re going to have to empty Lilimae’s savings account, to which I wrote in my notes, “Does Lilimae even have a savings account?”  When we got caught up with Lilimae in early season three, she was a homeless shopping cart lady sneaking out of hotels she’d been living in without paying the bill, and then she moved into Val’s house.  Since then, she’s just been living with Val, not doing anything that could earn her a paycheck.  Where is this savings account suddenly coming from?  Or has she always had money stashed away and she was just weird and chose not to ever dip into it, preferring instead to be homeless and pushing a shopping cart around?  Well anyway, emptying Lilimae’s savings account is one of the items on Val’s agenda, along with getting the twins some special vitamins they need.  Ugh, these vitamins.  I’m sure the kids are going to just die if they don’t have their stupid little vitamins for one day, and I’m also sure that these vitamins are so rare and so special and so unique that only one drug store in the entire universe has them, and that would be the drug store Val goes to regularly.  When Lilimae tells her how the drug store was out of the vitamins (I was a Flintstones Vitamins kid myself), Val acts like it’s this big deal and, guess what, spoiler alert, it’s not.  The kids will be just fine, the vitamins are not important, can we all talk about something else?

                I guess we can talk about how annoying Lilimae is right now.  Just like Laura, Lilimae’s days on the show are numbered, and just like Laura, the writers are giving her fucking nothing to do in her last full year on the series, so really she’s just here to be an extra body and make a lot of noise as Val tries to get the whole family out of town.  Seriously, I’m surprised Julie didn’t pipe in with the writers and be like, “Guys, does Lilimae really have to be sooooooooooo annoying in this ep?”  Everywhere they go, Lilimae has something to say, something to complain about, some form of bitching that must be expressed, and it annoys Val and it annoyed me and it annoyed My Beloved Grammy, too.  They all embark on this big epic operation to try and sneak through the drug store and out the backdoor, where they meet Ben, driving a car that he stole, and then they hop in and start speeding away, only for, GASP, you guessed it, Hackney to come driving up beside them, looking wicked and stupid, looking every inch the incredibly lame character that she is.  She honks at them and they stop the car so she can deliver a really bloated, bad line of dialogue in which she says, “You know, I know a store that’s having a sale on vitamins.”  My God, she’s just so wicked and just so knowledgeable about everything going on in the universe that knows not only that Ben and Val are trying to blow town, but that they weren’t able to get the kids their vitamins!




                So this ep was hardly one of the best ever, and the truly agonizing thing is that, as it comes to its conclusion, we viewers must face the fact that we still have Hackney for a whopping five more episodes.  This story already feels hopelessly dragged out, going on way, way, way, way, way too long, and yet we’re still not done.  Hackey is going to pollute our entire next disk of eps!  This story should have wrapped up at least ten eps ago, but instead it’s gone completely contrary and extended so far beyond its sell-by date that it honestly feels like a story that will never end.  Again, I marvel at the fact that I watched this entire season once before and hardly even thought twice about Hackney.  Before doing this blog, if you had asked me to tell you about season eight, I would have told you it was of course brilliant and genius and that I can’t figure out why all the fans hate this Hackney character so much.  Now I see clearly, and there’s no denying that Hackney deserves most of the blame for the lame-ification of the series at this point; she pollutes everything around her and evilly weaves her way insidiously into the very fabric of the series.




                Okay, now that we’re done discussing this ep, we’ve only got, um, ten eps left to go in the season (Jesus…..), so let’s just move right along to a new disk, starting with Survival of the Fittest. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 179 of 344: NEVER TRICK A TRICKSTER


Episode Title: Never Trick a Trickster

Season 08, Episode 19

Episode 179 of 344

Written by Alan Goldfein

Directed by Joe Coppoletta

Original Airdate: Thursday, January 29th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Seeing Anne's immature behavior, Karen feels sorry for Paige and wants her to stay with them. Anne wants Paige to come back to NY, and threatens to cut her off financially. Peter tells Paige it isn't good for his image to live with someone, so she moves back to the MacKenzies. Anne says she'll stay until Paige agrees to leave with her. Greg finds the bug in his office, and suspects that someone has hooked up to his computer. He makes phony deals, and tells Ben about it. Ben tells Jean, who's upset because she fell for it. Abby tells Gary she will fight for the ranch unless he gives her $3 million so Gary gives her the money. Ben tells Val that no matter what happens, to always remember he loves her. Jean tells Ben that his new assignment is to kill Greg.




When we last left off, we were in the midst of a very stupid storyline and hey, wouldn’t you know it, we begin Never Trick a Trickster by picking up right where that stupid storyline left off and continuing to run with it.  You’ll all recall how our previous ep ended with Ben tackling his dangerous assignment of planting a bug in Greg’s home office, but then somebody started to turn the doorknob and enter the room just as we got our “Executive Producers” credit.  I’d say we pick up right there as we begin this ep, but that would be a lie, because what actually happens is we are forced to rewatch a smidge of the scene where Hackney gives Ben his assignment and then a rather sizable chunk of footage involving him arriving at Sumner’s home and putting the bug in his office.  As this occurred, My Beloved Grammy bemoaned the fact that we would have to watch the whole entire scene again, and I’m right there with her, although fortunately they do tighten this down considerably for the opening moments of this ep.  In any case, I’m still irritated by this, though I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s not like this is the first ep to begin by replaying the closing minutes of our last ep, but for some reason this instance really annoys me.  Perhaps it just boils down to the fact that this whole plot is stupid, so having to see the same stupid footage repeated is just irritating.  It also might have to do with the fact that I can actually feel the writers and producers trying with all their might to kill time, to try and fill this 30-episode season with material, grasping at straws by filling out the 48 minutes by replaying several minutes of the prior ep.

When we finally get to some new footage and get to see the continuation of the epic turning doorknob and slow opening the door, we should all be feeling real disappointed at the reveal.  We all saw that doorknob start turning and could only imagine who might come walking in.  Could it be Carlos The Butler, curious to see what Ben is really up to in this computer room?  Could it be Laura, ready to catch Ben in the act and blow the whistle to Greg?  Could it perhaps be Greg himself, catching Ben red-handed in the act of turning into a spy for the purposes of a terrible storyline?  The answers are no, no, and no, because it actually just turns out to be Jason 4 (the worst of the Jasons, I’d have to say, aside from the completely forgettable one that only played him in the Pilot, perhaps) coming to retrieve his math book or some other sort of plot contrivance.  Ben looks like he’s about to shit his pants (which is basically the way he looks all season) and then Jason 4 says, “Mr. Gibson, this room is off limits,” and there’s a long pause before he adds, “For me.”  He asks that Ben not tell Greg he saw him in here and Ben is, of course, happy to oblige.  Uck.  I guess the scene is, you know, fine, it’s whatever, but watching it, I did put myself into the mindset of a 1987 viewer and I can tell you that I would have been pretty pissed if I waited all week to see how things would turn out for Ben and found out that it’s only non-character Jason 4 entering the room.  This kinds of things play differently nowadays, particularly with the way My Beloved Grammy and I watch the show by always doing five eps in a row.  When you do it that way, you just hop from one ep to the next and are not as hyper-aware of the little cliffhangers each ep presents you, but I think this one is a real loser.  Imagine waiting seven days to see who might be on the other end of that door, only to have the door open and show that it’s nothing more substantial than Jason 4.



The badness and stupidity continues well into the final scene of our ep, which is about the only other important scene Ben gets this week.  In it, he’s paying a visit to Hackney’s stupid dress shop and Hackney is there and she looks stupid and is dressed stupid and this whole character is just stupid, Bob Loblaw.  They exchange some dialogue about how Greg discovered the bug in his office (we’ll discuss it) and Ben is being kinda condescending and sarcastic, talking about how bad Hackney is at her job.  Then the terrible synth 1987 music starts coming out of the soundtrack and Hackney ominously says, “You have a new assignment.”  There’s a slight pause and then she says, “Your assignment is to kill Greg Sumner,” to which Ben has a little chuckle before realizing that she’s actually serious.  I still love Sheehan as Ben, but you can just tell this storyline hurts him because his acting is not what it once was.  The laugh he delivers after Hackney gives him his assignment is just…..no.  Clearly he’s supposed to be playing it like he assumes her declaration is a joke and has a chuckle, but it’s just way too exaggerated and not the way a person would really laugh, and then the fact that we just end on his face as he realizes that she’s serious….just awful.  Another awful thing about this ending is that we’ve already done this.  We ended an ep way back near the start of the season with Hackney lying in bed with some dude and telling him that Ben’s assignment was to kill Greg.  Okay, it was a stupid ending for that ep, but now it’s a stupid ending for this ep, yet in the course of being doubly stupid, it also gives us no new information.  Yes, it’s true that Ben didn’t know this was going to be his assignment, but we viewers did, and a long time ago, as well.  Do the writers think we have forgotten about that ep?  Do they think this how you make a good cliffhanger?  In any case, it’s terrible, so let’s move on.

I mentioned how Greg finds the bug in his office.  Well, that’s because he does.  How does he wind up discovering the bug?  Well, that I can’t tell you, because I do not know.  I want to make sure and point out that, as I am writing this, I have the ep pulled up in front of me on a separate screen, and I not only double checked, I triple checked, and I am fairly positive that we never see Greg discover the bug; we just hear about it after the fact.  Am I crazy?  Was something cut out?  Am I just somehow not noticing footage that she be clearly going on right in front of me?  Cuz see, we start the ep with Ben and Jason 4, then we cut to some shenanigans involving Karen and Mack and Anne, then we cut to Paige and Peter shagging, at which point Peter receives a phonecall from Greg, leaving him a message on his 1987 voicemail, and then we cut over to Greg and Laura talking about how Laura thinks Peter planted the bug.  See what I mean?  When did Greg find the bug, and how?  Once again, I must insult the writing staff for not properly crossing their T’s and dotting their lower case j's; instead just allowing stuff to happen offscreen and telling us about it after the fact.

Even though I’m critical of that one aspect of this story, I will confess that Greg probably gets the best material this week, courtesy of Laura.  First off and obviously of the utmost urgency, Greg smokes two cigars in this ep, making them #24 and #25 on the Sumner Cigar Counter.  #24 comes at some point early in the ep when he’s just working on his computer, and then #25 comes closer to the end of the day, when he and Laura are preparing for bed.  I like Cigar #25 better cuz it also helps to remind us of plot functions.  Laura is relaxing on the couch and, I think, reading a book or a magazine or something (she’s wearing her Librarian Glasses, in any case) when Greg comes walking in sucking on his cigar, to which she says, “Secondary smoke; I’m pregnant, remember?”  This does a good job of reminding us of Laura’s pregnancy and it also shows Greg’s tendency to sometimes be kinda an asshole, even to someone he loves, like Laura.  Earlier in the ep, Laura challenged him on why he’s so allergic to the idea of having a kid, telling him how this kid will love him no matter what, even though, “You’ve done nothing to deserve it.”  It might be in this ep or it might be in another one, but at some point Greg says something about how he doesn’t think there need to be any more Sumners running around, that he wants to kill the bloodline of Paul Galveston or, you know, whatever.  I guess he’s forgotten about his daughter, Mary Frances, lost spotted in the middle section of season five, or perhaps he’s doing that sexist patriarchal thing where you don’t even bother to count girls as a part of your bloodline, I dunno. 



Abs is also a busy little bee this ep, exchanging some truly awful A.D.R dialogue with Peter while they walk around some fancy house that Abs is considering buying.  I’m pretty sure this is the house that Abs and Olivia wind up moving into for the next bundle of seasons, although I could be mistaken.  Whether or not they buy it, I can tell you that I certainly want it.  This house looks fabulously California, like it belongs to a movie star, and it also kinda reminds me of Miles Dyson’s fabulously metallic house in Terminator 2.  Obviously there’s also a pool, because of course there is, and I definitely think I’d be very happy living here.  Even so, I will say that I’d rather stay living on Westfork with the big open land and the sauna and the full gym and all that good stuff, but that option’s not on the table for Abs, who is inching ever closer to a divorce from Gary. 

On that topic, Abs gets wicked once again this week, telling Gary that the divorce settlement he’s concocted is not enough for her, and that she will require either three million dollars or the rights to Westfork.  This whole thing is barely even worth writing about, because after a very small back and forth between the two characters about how Abs doesn’t even like the ranch, Gary agrees to give her the three million dollars and he does so and, well, that’s about it.  I’m looking at my notes right now and I see that I wrote, “They just sorta bring stuff up and then wrap it up real fast during this era.”  Well, let me just say that I completely agree with myself, and this little sub-story in the ep is a prime example of this lazy writing.  Why even bother to bring up Abs wanting to take Westfork from Gary if it’s not going to lead anywhere?  The conclusion I come to is, once again, that the writers are just trying to fill out time.  Oh how I yearn for the days of Ciji, of Wolfbridge, and of Val’s babies, when the showrunners were able to map out a really strong central storyline to keep all of the cast linked together.  Now I feel the characters are often disparate and separated from each other, just getting a little material here and a little material there in order to fill up the time, all before it’s inauspiciously wrapped up and we move on to something else.

Despite my bitching, I do still appreciate one aspect of this bit of business, and that is the fact that Abs is being evil and wicked.  If I was watching this in 1987 and had just finished up the Olivia-on-coke saga, I might be wondering if Abs was starting to go soft on me, but this confirms that she’s still her same old self.  Even though Olivia-on-coke gave us a fabulous new window into Abby’s character, there’s always gonna be the selfish, lying, exploiting part of her personality as well, and God bless her for it.  I have read some interviews where Donna says that she didn’t believe Latham and Leckowick (and I’m officially just calling them “L & L” from now until the end of time) represented her character very well, that she felt her character started going downhill and becoming too soft.  I’d be curious to know where Donna thinks that started to happen, and I shall pay strict attention in the next two seasons to see if I notice anything, but right now I have no complaints.  I still think Abs feels like Abs and I still think Donna plays her perfectly.  I’m not terribly interested in her quest for Westfork as a story, mostly because we barely even get enough time with it to call it a story, but I am pleased to see that she’s not going to suddenly turn into a super nice woman who goes out on public speaking tours to talk out against teenaged drug use.

Oh God, and speaking of storylines that are brought up and then abruptly go absolutely nowhere or are immediately taken back, we also have Paige moving in with Peter for all of five minutes.  Again, why bother with this?  Paige is upset about her mother being in town, so she goes to live with Peter, they shag once or twice, and then by the end of the ep she’s moving back in with Karen and Mack.  Once again, I can mentally picture the writers sitting around and being like, “Alright, Paige, we gotta find something to do with Paige in this ep, something that takes up enough time to fill the ep and also gives her a few minutes of material.  Hmmmmm…..how about she moves in with Peter and then immediately moves right back into the Fairgate/MacKenzie house?”  Honestly, I might rather just not have Paige show up at all in the ep if this is all they’re going to do with her.



But wait, I actually spoke too soon, because now I remember that we get several fabulous exchanges of dialogue between Paige and Anne as we make our way through this ep.  Anne is already getting pretty cozy hanging around the cul-de-sac and attempting to seduce Mack.  In a stunning display of hospitality, Karen and Mack are allowing Anne to stay at the house for awhile, and early in the ep she comes walking in with a stack of flowers from their garden and declares how much she loves their house and how, “This is like what happy couples must have.”  Like all of her lines, this one is delivered just perfectly by Michelle Phillips, who I’m already finding insanely amusing.  I love the way her face moves when she talks and I love how her eyes are consistently opened super wide.  I love the fact that she’s wicked and she’s blonde but she manages to make herself completely distinctive from the wicked blondeness of Abs; she plays her character more deliberately over-the-top and it really works for me.



Everything between Paige and Anne is also working for me.  The middle of the ep concerns itself with a tremendously awkward lunch date between Karen, Mack, Anne, and Paige.  Before that, however, we see how remarkably unconcerned Anne is to finally see her daughter alive and well after believing she was dead for, you know, however long Paige has been claiming to be dead (two years?).  We learn that she gave away Paige’s cat and that this really upsets her, and I enjoy the way that you can tell Anne is only telling her this specifically to upset her.  At the lunch, they continue to bicker and Anne says how they’re trying to enjoy a nice lunch, to which Paige says, “A lunch at a restaurant you chose, and you’ll probably stick him with the bill.”  I appreciate Paige telling it like it is, and I also appreciate Karen and Mack’s discomfort.  I’m sure there was more witty dialogue in this scene to be enjoyed, but my fingers are getting tired, so let’s talk about Val and then wrap this up.



Before I get into Val’s story for the week, I’m gonna go ahead and make a prediction based on my memory and my prediction is: Val’s story will go absolutely nowhere.  We will have to proceed forward through the rest of this season and then the six other seasons still in our future, but for the moment I feel pretty comfortable saying this.  Anyway, you all remember how Ramilar Productions was getting ready to turn Val’s book into a big TV movie?  Well, in this ep Val is all excited to meet the woman who will be playing her, Deborah Kensington.  This is a good fake movie star name, because at first I experienced a moment of wondering whether this would be a real actress, sorta like how Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mike Douglas showed up as themselves in season four with Svengali.  But no, Deborah Kensington is just a fake name (that sounds really real) and she is being played by Katherine Moffat.  Now, that name sounded really God damn familiar to me and I was convinced I would realize why I know it when I looked at her IMDb, but that didn’t help.  This actress is in stuff but none of her credits leapt out at me.  In any case, the main point of this story is that Val meets the lady who’s going to be playing her character and realizes that she is completely wrong for the part.  The woman is too glamorous and too Hollywood to play an effective Valene, plus she wants all sorts of changes and tweaks made to the script and her character (this might happen in the next ep and there’s a chance I’m getting the two confused).  I am almost 100% sure that this whole TV movie and Deborah Kensington and all this will just disappear up into the sky along with Abs and Gary’s methanol adventures from season three before too long, but I’ve been known to remember things incorrectly, so there’s still hope that Val’s TV movie will actually amount to a significant storyline. 

That’s about all I have to say for this ep.  What did I think of it?  Hmmmm……I’d say it was better than our previous ep, but not even close to the two eps that came before that one.  So far, Olivia-on-coke has been the highlight of this season, and I predict it will remain that way.  Now that they’ve finished up that storyline, we are back to the same old problems that have been plaguing season eight since it began, the desperate attempts to fill up time, the storylines that start and then finish almost immediately, the truly wretched Hackney storyline.  Despite this disappointing drop in quality, there are also good aspects to this ep, mostly involving Greg and Laura or Paige and Anne.  There’s always hope that our next ep will be an even greater improvement, so let’s move right along to A Plan of Action.