Thursday, April 2, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 196 of 344: THE GIFT OF LIFE


Episode Title: The Gift of Life



Season 09, Episode 06



Episode 196 of 344



Written by Bernard Lechowick



Directed by Kate Tilley



Original Airdate: Thursday, October 29th, 1987



The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura has an inoperable cancerous brain tumor. Greg drags her from doctor to doctor, who all say the same thing. Laura finally tells Greg he needs to accept it. Laura takes Karen shopping and buys dresses for Meg's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th birthdays. Karen guesses Laura is dying and is very upset. Laura asks Mack and Karen to be Meg's godparents. Greg is late to the Christening, as he's outside in his car sobbing. Laura makes a schedule for Greg to follow with Meg, such as when to get her a library card. She tells him that if he's great to Meg, it'll make up for all the times Greg was rotten to her. Greg's furious that Laura wants to go to a clinic to die - he wants to be there for her. She says she doesn't want him to see her die or remember her that way. Greg is devastated as Laura packs. She leaves some video tapes in a hatbox. Meg is crying, and Laura brings her to Greg. She watches Greg feed Meg, and then gets into her car, and drives away crying.





QUICK NOTE: USUALLY I TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPS, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF DISCUSSING SEASON NINE, I WILL BE SPOILING SOME FUTURE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE 10TH AND 11TH EPS OF THE SEASON.  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT FAR, I HIGHLY SUGGEST GETTING THERE BEFORE YOU READ THESE ESSAYS ON THE SEASON’S OPENING EPS






                Welcome to the start of a brand new disk, a disk that shall prove very eventful for the show and our beloved friends on the cul-de-sac.  Before I begin discussing the ep in question, I should tell you that there was some awkwardness to the arrangement of eps within this particular disk.  Really, the only thing that bugged me is that we watched The Gift of Life through Noises Everywhere: Part One and I do think including Part Two in our marathon would have improved the flow of things.  In fact, I thought of just jumping to the next disk and watching only that one ep before departing, but I decided to stick with watching whatever’s contained within any given disk, the way we've done it since the beginning.  In any case, I’m gonna spoil my thoughts right away and say that this exact ep, The Gift of Life, was easily the best and most powerful ep on our disk.  It was so powerful, really, that I was relieved to get to some slightly lighter fare with the next few eps, Say Uncle and Love In, because this ep is so much about life and death and it was just really emotional to watch.  Okay, let’s just dive right in.



                Our last ep ended with Laura announcing to Greg that she was going to die, and that’s pretty much what this ep is gonna be all about.  In fact, I was about to type, “So let’s quickly talk about the other characters before we get to Laura,” but then I read through my notes and realized that, really, Laura is the total focus.  The other characters are around to respond to events, but we keep the attention on Laura for nearly the whole 48 minutes, and I think that’s appropriate.  This is actually our penultimate ep to truly feature Laura in the cast.  She drives off at the end of this ep and then sits out the next four eps and finally makes her very last appearance via videotaped messages in Noises Everywhere: Part Two.  Being that we are so achingly close to losing Laura forever, I am glad that this ep keeps the focus squarely on her and gives her the respect she deserves.





                Or does it?  I’m of two minds about this particular block of eps and I have been since the first time I viewed this.  On one hand, this ep is gonna prove to be chock full of hardcore emotional gut-punches, the kind of heartrending moments I associate with KL and not the other nighttime soaps.  I appreciate this 48 minutes as this piece of art, nearly an art movie about the end of a person’s life, but it also feels pretty fast, right?  I doubt that I need to go into the behind-the-scenes details about what was really going on with the show right now.  I think most fans know that, as the series was coming into its ninth season and its 200th ep, the producers were looking to slash costs and had to evacuate two veteran characters right and quick, and they chose Lilimae and Laura to get rid of.  All shows have behind-the-scenes politics and I really don’t begrudge the KL team too much for firing the two actresses.  It’s not pretty, but it’s not all about art; there is a business side to the film and television world and the producers are definitely thinking about the bottom line.  Even with this knowledge of them terminating Constance McCashin and Julie Harris, I still get the feeling that the KL team was overall kinder and gentler than the folks over at Dallas, who seemed to treat their cast members more like cattle.  Anyway, my point is that this brain tumor of Laura’s certainly feels a bit like the producers shuffling her out the door as quickly as they can, but then I also sorta like it because, in real life, sometimes people just get brain tumors out of the blue and die.  In real life, things happen suddenly and without warning or foreshadowing, where one day you’ll feel fine and then you die the next day.  So I like the fast pace of this in that regard, but I also recognize it feels a little bit like the penny pinchers looking at their watches and being like, “Alright, let’s get Laura off the show, and right now now now!” 



                We pick up in a strange way, in my opinion.  After the cheesy glory of the painting opening credits and The Constance McCashin Spin, we cut right to Laura and Greg standing on the street and arguing.  Greg is looking off into the distance and says, “How long does it take to bring up one lousy car?”  Immediately after that, Laura (adorned in fabulously Laura sunglasses) says, “Greg, I’ve got a brain tumor.  It’s cancerous, it’s inoperable, and it’s terminal.”  Then Greg says, “Just because one lousy quack says it’s terminal?” and the scene proceeds from there.  The reason I find this a little strange is because we ended our last ep in Greg and Laura’s bedroom with her using pizza as the big analogy for her impending death.  Now we start out on the street with her saying, “I have a brain tumor, Bob Loblaw.”  Are we to infer that she’s only just now telling Greg this?  I do not think so; I get the feeling that some stuff happened inbetween the “I was thinking about ordering a pizza” scene and this scene.  I think Laura has explained to Greg what’s going on, and they talked about it and fought, and then they went to some sort of lunch to discuss what’s going on, and then they left the restaurant to get their car brought up and drive away, and I think that’s where we are now.



                This is an ep where I have a hard time keeping a handle on the timeline.  I feel like quite a lot of time passes within this ep, sorta like back in season three’s Aftermath when Sid had died and we saw a series of dissolves to indicate that time was passing.  Is the same thing happening here?  I ask because we have a few Rapid Cuts where we see Greg and Laura at a couple of different doctor’s offices, and then after that we have a dissolve to a scene at Lotus Point.  Anytime I see a dissolve, I notice it, because I feel like they’re kinda rare on TV.  Anyway, what’s going on over at Lotus Point, you ask?  Well, Laura announced last ep that she wanted to step down from her job there, and so we catch up with her packing up her office while Gary shows her blueprints and tries to convince her to keep her job.  The scene is going along pretty mellow and then it gets very emotional for me when Laura says, “I’ve really enjoyed working with you, Gary.  You’re a good guy, you know that?” and she gives him a little kiss on the cheek.  Gary sorta laughs and makes a joke about how that would make a great epithet, but I found this extremely moving.  Even though we have five more seasons after this one to further explore the intricacies of Gary Ewing, I feel he’s already evolved amazingly from where he first started off.  He was kinda a shit back in the first four seasons, and this Gary that we’re seeing now feels very different, like a much better and more confident and honest man.  Since Laura saw him from the very first episode all the way up until this one, she has seen that growth herself.  When she tells Gary he’s a good guy, she really means it and it's rather profound.  Also, the little friendship of Laura and Gary that we really started to see in the early half of season five, when they were always riding horses and taking walks together, was one of my favorite little friendships on the show.  It’s one of those we didn’t really hyper-focus on, but it was there and I thought it was significant.  I liked how Laura would talk straight to Gary and I liked how Gary would actually listen to her and consider what she said and respect her opinion. 



                Things get heated in our next batch of scenes, in which Laura and Greg pay another visit to a doctor’s office, and afterwards they fight on the street.  Laura says that she’s seen her last specialist, that she’s tried everything she can, that she is going to die.  She wants to go out to a romantic lunch and enjoy the day, but Greg wants them to keep seeing doctors, to find someone who can help them.  As with all the best of the KL stories, this one works so well for me because I understand both characters.  Greg just married Laura a little over a year ago and he really, truly loves her, probably much more than he ever loved Jane, if he ever really did love Jane.  He was all ready to have a life and raise a kid with Laura, and now Laura’s gonna die.  I think what hurts him is that she has accepted it so quickly, that she seems almost defeatist, but I also understand Laura.  She is gonna die and she knows it, so why spend her last days getting painful tests and needles stuck in her arm and Bob Loblaw?  I’m sure I’ve said it before, but if I found out I was going to die, I would totally accept it and just have a good time until I died.  I think this is what Laura wants, and I think that’s what she tries to do in this ep.



                A big item on the agenda before Laura leaves is Meg’s baptism, which takes up a good bit of the time this ep.  I always find it interesting when religion is explored on the show, and when I think back on it, it’s actually been a fairly prevalent theme throughout the series.  Certainly the whole character of Joshua and everything that went on with him is one of the most memorable examples of religion being part of the story, but we’ve also had smaller moments like Mack going to church to give a thumbs up to Jesus in #14 With A Bullet and now we’ve got this business here.  It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a shit all over religion, so let me take a moment to do it here.  Obviously I think this whole baptism thing is super stupid and the idea that a baby would die and go to some sort of purgatory because you didn’t splash some stupid water on their head is goofy, but I still like baptisms in movies and stuff.  Everyone loves the big baptism scene in The Godfather, and in some ways the baptism here is presented similarly, though minus a mass slaughter.  In The Godfather, we have the baptism intercut with a bunch of mob bosses getting gunned down, and here we have the baptism of Meg intercut with Greg sitting out in the car and crying and debating whether to go in.  He does finally go in, which I found very moving.  Greg is a complicated character and I’m sure he has his own issues with organized religion, but he knows going to the baptism is the right thing to do and he needs to do it for Laura.





                I’m going out of order, by the way, so let’s backtrack a bit.  Another very significant thing about this baptism is that Laura wants Karen and Mack to be the godparents and they agree to it knowing Laura’s dying.  See, Karen and Mack are the only characters besides Greg to know the truth, and the way Karen finds out is also a very powerful scene.  We start with Karen and Laura out shopping, looking for outfits for Meg.  Laura starts to show her hand when she also picks out outfits for her second, third, and even fourth birthdays.  Karen says, “I’ve heard of planning ahead but this is really planning ahead,” and then Laura says, “I have to plan ahead because there’s a lot of things I’m not going to be able to do with Meg.”  The way Karen’s eyes change as she realizes what’s going on is a good bit of acting from Michele, who doesn’t devolve into histrionics the way she is sometimes prone to do after season four.  No, she keeps it subtle here and I found it very moving.  Again, the reason this ep as a whole is so moving is because Laura is one of our true veterans, a character who has been around all the way since the Pilot.  Even a character like Abs, as important and essential to the fabric of the show as she is, didn’t show up until the second season, but Laura was there all the way from the first.  We only have four veterans of season one left on the series, and Laura’s departure will drop that number down to three.  The fact that she’s been friends with Karen since the first moment we saw them makes her dying all the more significant.  Another random fact that I find interesting is that the two very first characters we ever saw on the series in the very first scene were Laura and Sid, and both of those characters die.  I know there was no pre-planning to any of this, much as I would like to imagine David Jacobs sitting down and writing the Pilot script and saying, “Oh yes, I’ll introduce these two characters first because I’m going to kill both of them later down the road.”  No, I’m sure there’s no great serendipitous meaning to this fact, but it’s just a spooky little observation that I focused in on.




                Laura telling Karen that she’s dying makes Karen feel a little awkward about the fact that she’s throwing her a big surprise going away party bash, but Laura doesn’t seem to mind.  A little side story going on in the background is that Sexy Michael desperately wants to play with his band at the event, and for some reason Karen keeps saying no the whole ep, but then finally she says yes.  Sexy Michael and his band stand up, all the vaginas in the room become wet and all the penises in the room become hard at the very sight of Sexy Michael playing the keyboards while adorned in a blue blazer that comes straight out of Don Johnson’s wardrobe, looking so positively delighted to be showing off his music with his band.  I do have to say, however, that I kinda hate the song they play, something called When I Get To Heaven, Will There Still Be Rock and Roll? that I tried to do some research on and barely found anything about, except that the song is also in a 1988 movie called Kandyland.  Just to explain my feelings, let me say that I don’t mind the song in the context of the show, and of course I see what the writers are doing here with a song like this.  I’m just saying that I think it’s an annoying song and, if I lived in the universe of the show, I would tell Sexy Michael that his band needs to play better music. 




                Artistically, however, I like the use of the song and the way it’s all cut together.  See, we crosscut between two separate events, the playing of the song and the dancing and shenanigans going on at Lotus Point and then Greg walking down the street and looking all sad.  I like this because he’s wearing big dark sunglasses to hide his eyes, but as he sits down on a bench, we see a tear start to fall out from behind the glasses.  It’s a pretty moving way of showing Greg’s emotional state, but doing it in a kinda arty way that also speaks to Greg’s character.  When you think about it, Greg is actually a rather sensitive man who spends most of his life hiding that sensitivity behind his sarcasm and his money.  Having him cry but hiding his eyes from the viewers seems kinda symbolic to the way Greg processes all of his emotions.  Also, I’m just happy to hear some music on the show again; it reminds me of those glorious days of seasons four through seven when we had Ciji/Cathy just singing away with her amazing ‘80s Explosion Band all being brilliant together.  Obviously this Heaven song isn’t even worth the lint from the ass-crack of any of Ciji’s/Cathy’s songs, but I still like the fact that it’s a real song being played on the show and not the generic non-music that seemed to dominate the soundtrack throughout the aural assault that was season eight.





                Again, I’m jumping all over the place when it comes to describing what things happen in this ep, but I don’t give a fuck, so let’s talk about another significant scene in which we have a lovely moment between Laura and Val that takes place in the twins’ room.  We start the scene off with Val saying something true, which is that she missed Laura, and then we move on to Laura saying something demonstrably false, which is, “Your hair looks great.”  As I said, no sane, sentient person could truly look at Val’s Flock of Seagulls do (which I am officially renaming Flock of Val for as long as she shall sport this monstrosity upon her scalp) and tell her, “Your hair looks great.”  I laugh at this line, but I also enjoy the followup, when Laura says, “You finally made it into the ‘80s, huh?”  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I always enjoy a movie or a show making some comment about the decade it is coming from.  KL has only done it a few times, but I usually notice and I think I can remember a few of them right off the top of my head.  The first that springs to mind was in late season two when Abby’s Transmorpher ex-husband (Dr. Kenderson) was giving her shit about being a huge slut sleeping with married men in the middle of the day and Abs said something like, “For God’s sake, it’s the 1980s.”  The next reference that comes to mind is when boring block of wood Kenny (I can actually hear everyone’s brow furrowing as they try to remember who this character of Kenny was and what significance he played to the show) said of him and his wife, “We’ve got a real ‘80s marriage.”  I’m sure there are other examples, but those two spring to mind right away.  When we eventually cross over into the ‘90s, I will pay strict attention to see if we ever have a line from a character saying, “It’s the ‘90s!” or something similar. 




                Okay, anyway, the scene proceeds with Val saying how Flock of Val represents “The new me,” and then Laura says, “I kinda liked the old you,” and then she says, “The first time I saw you in the cul-de-sac, I knew there was a kindred spirit.”  This is not an invention; this actually tracks with what we saw in the first season.  When I think of the first season, one of the first scenes I think about is Laura and Val talking on the stairs in The Lie, when Laura confessed to how unhappy she was in her marriage and how badly Richard made her feel.  I think that was a real kindred spirit moment and I think Val is responsible for giving Laura a little boost of strength that led to the much tougher and more independent Laura we have before us now.  I’ll also take this moment to say I have a bit of a bone to pick with the show, and that is the fact that I wish we’d gotten more of Laura/Val.  Sure, they’re friends and they are good friends, but I wish we could have further explored that dynamic that was introduced in The Lie; I wish we could have had more one-on-one Val and Laura.



                As we rapidly approach the climax of the ep, we get a few more gut punching scenes.  I think I’ll go in order of emotional-ness, from least to most, starting with Greg and Laura at an art gallery.  Laura wants to buy this really expensive painting from this really famous artist that’s like a hundred million jillion dollars (in the show, we are actually told it is $35,000.00).  Laura’s all set to buy the expensive painting, but then she comes upon a different painting from an unknown artist that is selling for only four hundred dollars.  She chooses to support this artist by buying his painting and paying $35,000.00 for it, a nice bit of generosity that, as an arty fellow myself, I appreciated.  Laura is thinking about how this money could greatly help some struggling young artist, and she wants to leave the earth with some good done on her part. 



                Next up, we have an agonizing scene of Laura holding Meg and giving a great long speech about how she’s not going to be around anymore.  I would transcribe the whole speech, but that would require watching it again and it already made me cry when I watched it with MBG.  In fact, it made MBG cry, as well, and I don’t think she’s cried since season six’s We Gather Together.  I think the reason this scene made me cry is because, duh, Laura is gonna die and that’s sad, especially since she’s going to be leaving her brand new little baby and never getting to see her grow up and have important stories on the show later down the line, but I also cried because of the subtle way this scene creeps up on you.  Laura talks quietly the whole scene, just holding Meg and talking in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness way, and the music is subtle and pretty and always there in the background to make me feel moved.  We also have a cliché that I sometimes hate but which I’m okay with here, and that is Greg listening in from just offscreen, Laura unaware that he’s there.  A lot of times movies pull this out when it’s convenient and when they need the audience to cry, having a character in one room being like, “I wish my father knew I loved him!” or something similar all while the father in question lurks right outside the room, listening.  It works here, though, because this is KL and KL is better than anything else in this entire universe. 




                Next, we get something I found very artistic and daring and touching all at the same time, and that’s a very tender love scene between Greg and Laura, their final time being together as intimate lovers.  The scene brings us right back from a commercial break in a very arresting way, starting out in front of the fireplace with Greg and Laura kissing.  Then we get a whole love scene, lots of dissolves and a soft tender bit of music on the track, and I appreciate how loving it is.  Americans in general are so frightened of sex thanks to our puritanical past and so we feel this need to make it this dirty, awful thing, but sex is a wonderful thing and should be the most beautiful thing in the world.  As a very gay man, I also know that there’s a big difference between fucking and making love and both are a great thing, but there is definitely something to be said for truly making love, and that’s what Laura and Greg do here.  I like that it’s presented honestly and tenderly and that we feel like we are seeing a very private and special moment.



                That scene almost makes me cry again, but not quite.  The next scene, however, is unforgettable and I remember it made me cry back in college, too.  The scene in question involves Laura making her final phone call to Karen, saying how she couldn’t come and see her face to face for a moment like this.  Ugh, both ladies are just perfect in this scene, as we see the tears well up in both of their eyes and this big long pause before Laura finally says, “Goodbye, Karen,” and then Karen says, “Goodbye, Laura, you have my love.”  It’s that last bit that really gets to me, that it’s the last thing Karen says to her, and what a beautiful and perfect last thing to say.  Again, the fact that these are two veterans from the very beginning and they are never going to see each other again really adds to the gut punch, as well.



                The final scene of the ep approaches Terms of Endearment level tears, as Laura prepares to drive off and leave Greg alone.  There’s a bit of business here that I find very significant and also gloriously subtle, and that’s the fact that Meg is quiet as a mouse when Laura is holding her but, as soon as Laura hands her over to Greg, the baby starts screaming and crying.  I noticed this and I’m sure Greg notices it and I’m sure Laura notices it and I’m sure it’s on her mind.  Part of her is wondering whether Greg can handle this, if he’ll be able to take care of this child the way he needs to.  Then Laura grabs her suitcase and heads off, getting into her car and driving away.  The music swells and Laura starts crying as she’s driving, along with the entire 1987 viewing audience, and we get our “Executive Producers” credit and conclude there. 



                You know what, despite some of my reservations about Laura getting evacuated from the show so quickly, I’m gonna go ahead and declare this ep a winner, an emotional powerhouse that made me cry super hard.  Even if I maybe don’t love the behind-the-scenes politics of getting rid of a veteran character due to budget, I appreciate the artistic way they pulled off her departure here.  The ep makes me reflect on life and death and what’s going to happen after we die and I found it to be chockfull of artistic moments, moments I associate with KL.  When someone died over on Dallas, it would be soapy and melodramatic, but they would never show a long, tender love making scene between two characters who are about to part forever.  That, to me, is strictly the stuff of KL and that’s why we watch KL.  I’d like to take some time to reflect on the character of Laura as a whole and the way Constance brought her to life for eight solid years, but I think I’ll save that for Noises Everywhere: Part Two, her official very final appearance on the series, which still lies slightly in our future.  For the time being, I will say that I thought The Gift of Life was terrific, fantastically artistic and crafted with skill, like a film.  I would say it’s the best ep of season nine up to this point, a season I’ve been enjoying tremendously so far. 



                Coming up next, we get a blessed break from all these high emotions with Say Uncle.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 195 of 344: THERE ARE SMILES


Episode Title: There Are Smiles



Season 09, Episode 05



Episode 195 of 344



Written by Lynn Marie Latham



Directed by Nicholas Sgarro



Original Airdate: Thursday, October 22nd, 1987



The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Lilimae is worried that Val isn't getting over Ben, and tells her she should try smile therapy. Al lives in his station wagon, and brings it to the MacKenzies’ to show Mack. Lilimae is very rude to Al, so he tells her to try smile therapy. Val buys a sports car. She tells Gary he is the father of the twins. Jill tells Gary that she is sick of his ex-wives, step-children, and secret children, and moves out. Later they make up, and she moves back in. Paige admits to Mack that Peter fell on a spindle when they argued. Since it was an accident, the police don't press charges, but Mack says she needs to apologize to the people she hurt. Paige apologizes to Greg, who says she's lucky that Mack is her father because he'd hang a snot like her out to dry. Paige tells Abby she's sorry Abby is off the hook, and Abby says that she is going to get Paige for this. Laura quits Lotus Point, and tells Greg in a round-about way that she is dying.





QUICK NOTE: USUALLY I TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPS, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF DISCUSSING SEASON NINE, I WILL BE SPOILING SOME FUTURE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE 10TH AND 11TH EPS OF THE SEASON.  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT FAR, I HIGHLY SUGGEST GETTING THERE BEFORE YOU READ THESE ESSAYS ON THE SEASON’S OPENING EPS






                Hello all my beautiful readers whom I love dearly and with all of my heart.  I’m so very excited to discuss There Are Smiles, the culmination of our first batch of season nine eps.  Once again, I found this little five-episode experience to function very well as its own little mini season, right down to the climactic moment of this ep, which plants the seeds for our next disk.  Let’s explore.



                Who do I want to talk about first?  I think I’ll go with Paige because this is the ep where we finally find out for sure that she killed Peter Hollister.  In fact, we get that out of the way almost immediately, in our very first scene when we pick up with Mack and Paige walking around Lotus Point and discussing what happened.  Now, one thing worth noting is that we, the viewers, get to see what really happened via a nice little flashback, but Mack doesn’t get to hear the truth about what happened.  You all follow what I mean?  I mean that we get to see Paige and Peter arguing, some footage we already saw last season, but then the footage continues into some stuff we haven’t yet seen, and that would be Paige shoving Peter and him falling down on the spindle by accident.  As we watch Paige roll him over and realize that he’s all bloody and dead, we hear her through the narration telling Mack that they had an argument, then she calmed down, then she left, end of story.  This is an interesting way of doing it, by the way, because I found that this created a weird effect in my brain where I kept thinking that Paige had told the truth to Mack.  I was getting myself confused because Paige’s lie is mixed in through the audio over the footage of the real event, but somehow watching the real event unfold convinced my brain that Paige was describing the truism of what happened to Mack. 



                One thing worth noting about this quick little flashback is that it marks our official last appearance of Hunt Block as Peter Hollister.  I believe I pretty well summed up my feelings about him back in Cement the Relationship, but he technically does appear in this episode as the character of Peter for the very last time, so I’ll do a real fast bit of reflection on Peter before I move on.  I think that Peter’s potential was greater than the actual realization of the character.  I’d say this character is at his best when first introduced in season seven, when he’s draped in mystery and we see new revelations to that mystery throughout the year.  My interest in him starts to wane near the end of season seven, and then he hangs around for another entire season while my interest in him continues to wane.  Over the course of the eighth season, I feel the whole storyline of this character just got way too convoluted.  When Abs finally plopped him in that cement, what viewer in 1987 could possibly still be following or even caring enough to attempt to follow all these twists and turns and shenanigans about who Peter really is, who his real sister is, who his real mom is; I mean really, who cares?  They drew all that shit out way too long which is why I’m almost 100% positive without doing any behind-the-scenes research that the writers finally settled on, “Let’s just kill him in the season finale and be done with all these complex plot machinations.”  Their instinct was right, by the way, because I’ve been enjoying the “Who Killed Peter Hollister?” mystery, warts and all, far more than I enjoyed pretty much anything he did in the two years prior.  Killing this character was a fabulous idea because it rids the show of an overly-complicated character and it also helps to lead us to new stories and new revelations, erm, well, kinda.





                How does Paige finally wind up getting outed as the pseudo-killer of Peter?  Well, it all comes about because of a fabulously divine trap set by Abs.  Let’s all remember how smart Abs is and how good she is at tricking people, which she pulls off beautifully right here.  See, she and Paige are exchanging unpleasantries at Lotus Point, having that classic sort of soap talk where they are insulting and degrading each other but doing it in a rather jolly and playful one.  Anyway, Paige says something like, “Murder seems a little extreme, even for you,” to which Abs retorts, “Maybe you can be a character witness at my trial.”  Then she says something about how the cops “believed me the first time” when she confessed to Peter’s murder, and then a second later the guy from Blow Out  comes running in and is like, “There’s a surprise witness!”  Then he tells Abs how a cleaning woman heard a big altercation between Peter and some woman and she didn’t report it immediately because she’s an illegal alien (these are the words of the show, by the way) and didn’t want to get deported.  As they talk, Paige’s eyes get all big and wide and she looks like she’s going to poop her pants.  Now that there’s this sudden appearance of a new witness, Paige had better go tell the truth, and fast!  However, after Paige has unburdened herself from the secret she’s been holding in, and she says something like, “There was a witness,” Abs grins all wicked-like and is like, “Witness?  What witness?”  With that, we realize that there was never a witness and that Abs planted a fake conversation in front of Paige for the soul purpose of scaring her into telling the truth.  How clever is that?  After seven solid years with Abs, she still never fails to impress me when she’s working at the top of her game.





                There are a few obviously ridiculous plot holes in this wrapup, starting of course with the fact that Abs is just totally off the hook now.  I guess since she didn’t technically do the murder in the first place, the police are just gonna forget all about this.  The only problem is I’m pretty sure it’s a crime to remove a dead body from a murder scene and then bury it in cement, but then hey, what do I know about the law?  The other big plot flaw is that Paige is also just off the hook.  She tells the police it was an accident and she didn’t mean to kill Peter and they….just….sorta.....believe her.  This entire story is dependent on Paige’s word and nothing more.  For all the cops know, Paige could have stabbed him in the back in vicious cold blood and then decided to just tell everyone he fell on the spindle.  Would the cops really believe her so easily and forget the whole thing?  Probably not.  Do I care very much?  No, not really.  Now, you might wonder why I would be so harsh on everything involving Hackney last year but then just shrug my shoulders when this mystery wraps up in a somewhat anticlimactic way.  The only explanation I can give you is that, even though I recognize some portions of this story are silly or too easily tidied up, this storyline simply kept me entertained and I enjoyed pretty much all aspects of it, spanning from the moment of Peter’s death in Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate all the way through to its conclusion here.  I enjoyed the dark comedy of Abs burying the body while dressed up in her fancy outfit, and then I enjoyed the way the mystery kicked off the ninth season.  No, this story doesn’t hold a candle to something like, “Who Killed Ciji?”, but I still enjoyed watching it.





                There’s a little more stuff involving Paige and how Mack makes her go apologize to everyone who she hurt through her actions, but I’m writing on a library computer with a little clock ticking on the right side of the screen, constantly reminding me that my time is running out, so I’ve got to book (see what I did there with “library” and “book”?).  Let’s move right along to Val, who’s feeling sorta listless and trying to get a handle on life as a single girl again.  There’s an interesting bit of business this ep in which she’s out with the twins, doing whatever it is you do with little twin kids, and then some car dealership guy comes up with balloons that he gives to the kids, all while trying to sell Val on this big van that he’s got on the lot.  Instead of buying the van, Val spots a little red sports car that looks a lot like Ben’s and then we cut to her driving out of the dealership with that car.  Whatever happens to her other car is anyone’s guess, since Val presumably had to drive a car in order to get here, though perhaps she was just out on a walk with the twins when she stumbled upon this car.  Can anyone help me understand exactly why Val buys this car?  I sorta assumed that she just wants to have the car because it reminds her of Ben, but is there some deeper meaning I’m not seeing beneath the surface?  I think I’m probably safe with my assumption, and I bring that up because we also had a quick scene of Val playing Send in the Clowns on the piano.  I wouldn’t have even noticed she was playing it were it not for MBG pointing it out, which then reminded me of Ben and Val dancing to that song back in….um…..somewhere in late season six (give me a break; we’ve watched nearly 200 damn eps at this point).  The reemergence of Send in the Clowns tells me that Ben is on Val’s mind and that buying this car somehow helps her to cope.





                There’s another pretty big development as far as Val is concerned within this ep.  See, at some point Gary pays her a visit and is trying to talk to her about Ben’s vanishing act and the twins and he says how he can help her out with anything she needs, to which Val gets very serious and says, “Gary, I’m perfectly able to take care of your kids.”  Yikes, this is a pretty big development, and let me tell you why.  The entire brilliant brilliant brilliant saga of Val’s babies and who their real father is has been going on since all the way back in season five with …And Never Brought to Mind, when Gary and Val shared their one night of extreme passion.  That was nearly four years ago and yet we are still seeing such great stuff coming out of that, all the way here in season nine.  See, in the last four years, the closest we ever got to Val telling Gary the truth was when he confronted her somewhere in season seven and said, “Our children.”  Val neither confirmed nor denied it back then, instead just running off all upset, but now here we are and she finally says it out loud to Gary for the very first time.  In fact, we later see Gary lying in bed with J.B. and he helpfully confirms, “That was the first time she ever said they were my kids.”  Even that scene is a big deal, in my opinion, because we end it on a slow closeup of J.B.’s face, looking perturbed, planting beautiful seeds for the future.



                The last thing on the Val agenda this ep is that she unveils her ridiculous Flock of Seagulls hairdo, and of course everyone in the cast is stopping her to say, “Oh Val, I just love your new hairdo!”  God bless the ‘80s, because that’s the only time in the history of the universe that a serious adult woman working as an actress on a very successful television show would go to a beauty salon and request the Flock of Seagulls.  This is the hair Val is sporting in the gloriously campy opening credits this year, and I’ll pay strict attention to see how long she keeps rocking it.  I love how hysterically awful this hair is and yet how everyone around Val acts like it’s the coolest.  In 1987, was Val cool for rocking this look?  Or did everyone know it was absurd right away when she first revealed it on this historical October day in 1987?





                Meanwhile, I smell a romance blooming between the soon-to-be-departed Lilimae Clements and the character of Al Baker, played by special guest star Red Buttons.  See, in this ep we learn that Al lives in his car, and we learn that because he drives his car/home to the cul-de-sac to stop and visit Mack.  Nobody is home at the MacKenzie house, but Lilimae spots Al and gives him the suspicious eye.  I understand wanting to keep your neighborhood safe and all that, but I actually think Lilimae is being kinda nasty towards Al, following him around and acting like he’s up to no good, wanting to know why he’s in the area.  The man came to see Mack, after all, not Lilimae, but then I suppose Lilimae has always been a little nosy and this is nothing new.  This nosiness, by the way, is part of MBG’s distaste for the character.  Since we are going to evacuate Lilimae from the series very shortly, I plan to ask MBG after that for her thoughts on the character as a whole, after we’ve seen every ep.  I’m pretty sure MBG never warmed up to Lilimae; there was just something about the character she simply didn’t like and she seemed to not like her all the way from when she was first introduced to, well, pretty much right here, right now.  Anyway, enough about that; obviously the writers are setting up a relationship with Al and Lilimae, but we’re gonna have to wait a bit to see that play out.  For the purposes of this ep, they meet real fast, they exchange some dialogue, Al Baker tells her about smile therapy (a kinda running theme of the ep that I am too lazy to go into more detail about) and then they go their separate ways.



                The most important character on the roster this week, and the character I would like to discuss last, is Laura.  Oh, my sweet Laura, one of our cherished original season one veterans who has been here all the way since that very first episode back in 1979 and who is going to be leaving us very soon.  Yes, despite the title, There Are Smiles is the ep where Laura reveals she is going to die.  Now, she reveals that in the last scene of the ep, but once again I see tons of hints of it long before she actually says it out loud.  First of all, Laura asks Karen if she can take a “permanent vacation” from Lotus Point and later we learn that she sold her share in the company and that she’s going to quit right away.  Upon a first viewing, one might think this is just going to lead to another career change for Laura (who has been a housewife, a real estate agent, a worker at her husband’s restaurant, a co-conspirator for Abby’s evil plans in season five, then back to real estate for two minutes, and then finally finishing up with this job at Lotus Point; did I leave anything out?), but I see this as a clear sign of what’s about to come.  Laura knows she’s going to die and she’s working on getting things prepared.  Another harbinger comes when Laura says something like, “I cannot stand the fact that things happen and you have no control over them.”  Oh yeah, and there’s also the little fact that Laura has left Daniel and Jason 4 at Richard’s and seems to have no plans to bring them back to California in the near future.





                We get the reveal in the final scene of the ep, a scene I’ve never forgotten since my first viewing, mostly because I can remember the sad sinking feeling I got in my stomach as I watched it unfold before my eyes.  The scene begins with Laura sitting up in bed, reading, and Greg standing in front of the fireplace and speaking to her.  He asks if there’s something going on between her and Richard, to which Laura kinda casually smiles and says, “No.”  I like that Greg believes her about that right away and we move on, by the way, since other writers would have been tempted to dwell on that longer and create some drama from Greg mistakenly thinking Laura is shagging Richard again.  Instead, the KL writers have Laura tell him no and Greg believe her, and I like that.  Then Greg has a good line where he says, “God knows I’m a patient man, I hate guessing games, but my affection for you is being sorely tested with your recent inability to communicate; is that clear?”  God, only Devane could deliver a line like that and have it work so well, because he doesn’t sound threatening or mean in any way, and I think that, “Is that clear?” portion could come off terribly if delivered by some other actor, but he makes it work.  He’s gentle but firm all at the same time.  He’s trying to be straight with Laura and he’s being direct but he’s also being loving; it’s a nice bit of acting that only Devane could pull off in such a way.  Anyway, Laura understands what Greg is saying and so she levels with him, starting off with a little speech about how you sometimes get upset about things like bad drivers or someone shortchanging you and you think these are great big deals, but when you realize that life is short, they stop seeming so important.  Then she gets to the real meat of it (pun not intended) when she starts talking about pizza, saying, “You know how I love pizza and I avoid it because I don’t want to gain weight and get fat.  Well, what if it really didn’t matter anymore?  What if I didn’t have enough time left to get fat?  Then I could eat all the pepperoni pizza with double cheese that I wanted.”  Then there’s this long pause where she starts to cry (good acting from Constance) while Greg looks sorta quietly dejected, and then Laura finishes with, “I was thinking about maybe ordering a pizza tonight.”  We end the ep there.



                Boy, what a scene.  Now, the first time I watched the show, I had been spoiled on the fact that Laura died in the ninth season.  I knew that pretty much from the time I started watching season one, mostly because of doing the stupid thing where I watched one or two eps and then immediately jumped over to the IMDb chatroom (rest in peace) to see some discussions and, of course, one of the topics was something like, “Why did they kill Laura?!”  So I knew Laura’s fate well in advance, but this still hit me hard, and I think it’s because it does feel so unexpected, at least on first viewing.  I was assuming season nine would kinda go into Terms of Endearment land as far as Laura was concerned, that we would have several eps at the start of the season in which she’s lying in a hospital bed, dying of cancer.  I didn’t expect her to just throw it out there in the climactic moments of this ep, and that’s what made the scene a gut punch.  Watching again, I of course see lots of little hints the writers have been dropping since the premiere, but on first viewing, I wasn’t so shrewd.  By the way, I also really like how Laura never goes, “Greg, I’m dying,” in this scene, but instead uses that whole pizza metaphor to tell him the fact.  Honest to God, every time I eat pizza now (I had some yesterday), I think about this scene.  Of course, I could be critical of the fact that this is episode 195 and I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard Laura talk about pizza before, but who cares?  Just because she hasn’t talked about it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like it.  I fucking love soda, real soda like a real Coke or a real Pepsi or 7-UP with real sugar, omigod so delicious, and I also never drink soda because it’s bad for you and it will make my ass fat.  If I was starring in my own show, I could like soda privately, inside my brain, without ever having it come up in the dialogue, no?  So I’m willing to go with Laura and her pizza.


                As I said, this library computer is flashing a reminder at me that I am about to get booted out of the system, so let’s wrap up my thoughts on this ep.  Well, I liked it.  I pointed out some of the flaws as we went along, but there was nothing in here that made me dislike the ep.  I also thought this felt like a good almost mini-finale, that we finished up the Peter Hollister business just in time for Laura’s big reveal, which will launch us into the main thrust of our next disk.  In fact, let’s move along and start discussing that disk with the episode The Gift of Life.    


Thursday, March 19, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 194 of 344: HALF TRUTHS


Episode Title: Half Truths



Season 09, Episode 04



Episode 194 of 344



Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum



Directed by Nick Havinga



Original Airdate: Thursday, October 15th, 1987



The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura returns home and tells Greg she left the boys with Richard. Jill's angry that Gary doesn't think Abby killed Peter and she tells him to stay out of the investigation. Olivia tells Gary that Abby killed Peter because of her. Gary laughs with relief, because he knows that Olivia didn't kill him. Gary calls and tells Abby, who then sits down with Olivia to talk. They explain how they each thought the other had killed Peter, and laugh and cry and hug. They go to the police and tell the truth. Paige continues having nightmares, and Mack asks her about her friendly phone messages to Peter. He asks her to tell him everything that happened at her last meeting with Peter.





QUICK NOTE: USUALLY I TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPS, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF DISCUSSING SEASON NINE, I WILL BE SPOILING SOME FUTURE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE 10TH AND 11TH EPS OF THE SEASON.  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT FAR, I HIGHLY SUGGEST GETTING THERE BEFORE YOU READ THESE ESSAYS ON THE SEASON’S OPENING EPS






               We are back and ready to discuss the continuing mystery of “Who Killed Peter Hollister?”  Our last ep ended with Abs claiming she was the one who did it, and Half Truths picks up right where we left off.  We begin at Abs and Olivia’s new house, the cops are there, including Detective The Hidden along with good old dependable Mack, and Abs is continuing her impromptu confession that she’s the one who made Peter buy the farm.  She makes up a lie right and quick and says that she and Peter were arguing and then he slipped and fell on the spindle, but we can tell that Detective The Hidden is not buying it.  It’s not that he doesn’t believe Abby’s story about it being an accident; it’s not that he’s saying he thinks she just murdered Peter in cold blood.  Rather, I think Detective The Hidden is sharp enough to see that this is clearly a mother desperate to protect her daughter at all costs, even if it means her own incarceration.  Anyway, they take Abs away to the police station, where we get a lot of crosscutting between Olivia being interrogated and Abs being interrogated. 



                While Abs was being interrogated, I found myself hyper-focusing on her lawyer, a slim white man with a classic ‘80s Rapist Beard who looks creepily like the late Scott Easton, that character who was so pivotal to the unforgettable “Val’s babies” proceedings of the great season six.  I again found myself wondering just how many white guys with ‘80s Rapist Beards were running around in the ‘80s, an the answer seems to be a lot of them.  This actor looks so much like Scott Easton that I honestly thought perhaps the show was recycling old actors, but then I looked up the actor (J. Patrick McNamara) and realized I’ve seen him in lots of stuff.  The one that popped up immediately is Brian De Palma’s brilliant Blow Out from 1981, where he plays a sorta sleazy cop who interrogates John Travolta near the start of the movie.  In fact, this man appeared in Brian De Palma films not once, not twice, but thrice, as he also showed up for Obsession in 1976 and camp classic The Fury in 1978.  He was also in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and finally, and obviously most importantly, he is a Transmorpher who appeared in three eps of Dallas in 1982, playing Jarrett McLeish.  Ladies and gentlemen, J. Patrick McNamara.





               Anyway, Abs has to stay in jail overnight, or maybe it’s for two nights, whatever, but she is quickly let out on bail and returns to see her two beloved children, who are staying at Karen and Mack’s.  Brian (who used to be the kid from Tremors but is now BAG and will remain BAG all the way through the 1997 reunion movie) asks Abs if she really killed Peter, to which Abs says it was a horrible accident and he says, “I knew you couldn’t kill anybody.”  It’s nice to know Brian doesn’t believe his mother a murderess, but we then cut to a shot of Olivia’s guilty face, and even though I continue to believe/know that Paige killed Peter, I think this quick shot is meant to keep us thinking it was Olivia all along.  In any case, the mystery finally starts to resolve itself here when Gary pays Olivia a visit and finds her terribly upset because she really believes Abs did it.  Gary realizes that if Olivia truly believes Abs did it and Abs truly believes Olivia did it, then it actually means neither of them did it.  He tracks Abs down and is like, “This is the fourth fucking episode of the season and you and Olivia still haven’t bothered to get together and go over what actually happened when Peter died?” and Abs is like, “Yeah, I guess when you put it like that, it’s kinda crummy writing,” and then Gary is like, “But at least it’s so, so, so, sooooooo much better than season eight,” and Abs is like, “Oh God, that Hackney bullshit, what the hell was that?” 





                From here, both ladies are pretty much let off the hook, which is cool but also obviously very silly.  Whether or not Abs physically did a murder, she still stumbled upon a dead body, removed it from the murder scene, and then dumped it into a pit to be buried with cement.  Whether she’s guilty of the actual physical murder is not really important because I’m pretty sure it’s highly illegal to move a corpse and try to bury it in cement.  Even if you didn’t kill him, you sure as hell look pretty guilty.  However, the cops don’t seem to care about this little detail and are like, “Eh, whatever, she didn’t kill him, let her go.”  Definitely very silly, but I confess it’s not bothering me too much.  Even at its very, very best, every now and then KL would take some shortcuts or maybe gloss over certain details.  You all know I love season six and think it’s the greatest season of television ever made, but I can still admit it’s a little strange that Val is told her babies are dead and nobody is like, “Can we have a look at the bodies?”  Instead, everyone (except Val, of course) just accepts what the doctor says and that’s that.  That’s not as glaring an example as this one, but I’m just saying that little writing flaws are pretty par for the course for any series, even the best of them.  I think I’m just so grateful to be out of season eight that I’m willing to forgive things I might not be so gentle on if the season were overall weaker.



               By the way, we don’t get official 100% confirmation that Paige killed Peter in this ep, but we come damn close and end in a way that leads us to believe it’s her.  See, Mack thinks it’s strange that, after having a fight with Peter, Paige would then leave a jolly message on his answering machine, a message in which she not only acts very nice, but also makes sure to note the time and say, “I’ve got fifteen minutes to get to work.”  Hmmm, is this the truth or rather a clever manipulation to cover her tracks?  We also get some crosscutting of Mack running around Lotus Point and interviewing the staff there, such as the bartender (who’s a Transmorpher, by the way; he appeared in a 1983 Dallas called A Ewing Is A Ewing and he’s also a Tangled Knot who will return as a male nurse in 1990 in The Grim Reaper) who says Peter came to him for an early-in-the-day scotch and that he and Paige were arguing.  Then Paige comes walking in and Mack is like, “I want to know the truth about what really happened” and we end there.  So yeah, if I was watching this in 1987, I would expect the story to finish up next week and I would predict that Paige did it.  I’ll save my final thought on the whole saga of Peter’s murder and who did it for our next ep, There Are Smiles.





                I’ve been neglecting J.B., and that is completely unacceptable because we have arrived in the season where J.B. truly spreads her wings and flies.  I feel like the characters on the show are so focused on who killed Peter that nobody is noticing how this death is affecting J.B.  Last ep, she gave a big speech to Gary about how, as kids, they would go get donuts every Sunday and Peter would always get the jelly, no matter what.  Then she sadly concludes, “Now I can have all the jelly donuts I want,” but this is obviously more metaphorical and not literal.  This is a universe where the women all weigh 98 pounds soaking wet, and I highly doubt a jelly donut has ever seen its way into the inside of J.B.’s stomach.  In the ep before that, she told Gary how she and Peter shared a special sorta psychic bond as children, that she could figure out and predict what he was going to do before he’d do it.  Even though I was done with Peter long before he got killed, I still find this stuff interesting because I find J.B. so interesting and I like to think back over the characters’ backstories.  In this case, knowing that Peter and J.B. were siblings and that their parents died long ago, we can understand how they’d have a special closeness.  Even if Peter became a (not very interesting) jerk by the end of his time on the series, it doesn’t mean he’s not still a huge part of J.B.’s life and past.





              More importantly, I think we are seeing J.B. wrestling with that nagging suspicion that Gary is never going to be free of his two previous wives.  She may become the third Mrs. Ewing, but the first Mrs. Ewing and the second Mrs. Ewing are always going to be hanging around.  Not only does Gary go running to Val whenever she calls, but now he’s doing the same with Abs.  J.B. can’t fathom the idea that her brother was killed by Abs and that Gary rushes to her defense.  We viewers have watched the previous eight seasons and so we can understand Gary and all his convoluted relationships, but J.B. can’t understand it quite the same way.  I think she’s starting to think that she’ll always be third place in terms of Gary’s priorities.  Late in the ep, Gary awakes all alone and finds J.B. sitting in front of the fireplace and reading a book, or at least holding a book in front of her and pretending to read it.  He gives her a little kiss on the neck and all that, but then he returns to bed and she doesn’t follow.  I sense a rift developing in this relationship and I think that rift shall lead us ever so smoothly to the fabulous season nine finale.





                When we catch up with Karen and Val, we get a run of dialogue that tickled my funny bone to no end and also made MBG laugh.  See, we start the scene with Karen declaring, “I can’t believe this is happening; a man I know personally is killed at Lotus Point and my sister in law is charged.”  Now, just as that line risks falling flat because it’s such an obvious bit of exposition-dumping to the new viewers, it suddenly elevates itself upwards when Karen says, “I mean, this is something that happens on television; it’s a soap opera.”  Oh God yes, what a gift this line is from the writers to the viewers, and how fabulously it works to keep the proceedings from feeling hopelessly melodramatic.  There’s always that sparkle of wit in the writing, where the writers can wink at us and say they know they’re being a little silly, but just go with it.  I immediately flash back to somewhere in season seven when Eric boldly declared, “Living in this cul de sac is like being trapped in a soap opera.”  I still like that line better, but this line is great, too.  I again ask if Dallas ever had a line like this in which it told us it was self aware and knew it was a soap.  I’m fairly certain we never got one, but there’s a lot of damn eps of Dallas, so perhaps there’s some meta line buried somewhere within those 357 eps.  Anyway, the other important part of this scene is that Karen finds out Val’s been working on a bit of fiction to read to her kids.  I guess it’s almost not fiction, but more an allegory to help them deal with their real life issues.  See, Val has written this story about Mama Bunny and Daddy Bunny and Bobby Bunny and Betsy Bunny and how the Daddy Bunny left them at the end of season eight and is never coming back.  I have to say that Val is taking all of this remarkably in stride, helping to underline that even if she did love Ben (and I believe she did), she never could love him with the same intensity and star-crossed-yearning that she reserves for Gary.



                     Laura sat out last ep (which hurt me deeply since our time with her is now so limited and I don’t want to see her sitting out eps when she’s going to sit out the final 143 eps of the series) because she was taking the kids to visit Richard.  This ep, she returns, but she doesn’t have the kids with her.  I again take this as a bit of foreshadowing for what’s going to go down in the eps coming up in the near future.  We still don’t know that Laura is dying because she hasn’t said it yet (we find out next ep), but I can see she is continuing to get her affairs in order as she prepares for death.  She loves Greg, but I think she distrusts him being responsible for Jason 4 and Daniel after she dies.  Even though she returns home and casually says how she left the kids with Richard, we get the sense that something deeper is going on beneath the surface.  I also think this treatment is hurting Greg’s feelings, as evidenced when she explains, “Richard’s not such a bad guy these days, and after all, he is their father,” to which Greg retorts, “So what am I, chopped liver?”  He’s being kinda sarcastic because that’s his style, but we see that this does wound him.  Why doesn’t his wife seem to trust him with her children?  I think this is all great stuff and I also think this will lead to further great stuff later in the season, after Laura is no longer with us.  Greg has been one of our most interesting characters ever since he first came on the scene, but I’m gonna make a bold prediction and say this will probably wind up being his most fascinating season.





                You know, that’s about all I got for this ep.  This is probably one of my shorter write-ups, but why bloat something up unnecessarily when you’ve already said everything you need to say?  We are coming very close to finishing up this Peter Hollister mystery, so let’s proceed right along to see how things wrap up with There Are Smiles

Thursday, March 12, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 193 of 344: UNDER PRESSURE


Episode Title: Under Pressure



Season 09, Episode 03



Episode 193 of 344



Written by Bernard Lechowick  



Directed by Nicholas Sgarro 



Original Airdate: Thursday, October 8th, 1987



The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Al Baker starts to hang around Mack's office, and Peggy suspects he's homeless. Mack agrees to let Al sleep in his office. Peggy comes by with dinner, and finds the office filled with homeless people. Paige has nightmares, and Mack thinks it's odd that Paige left Peter several friendly messages when he knew she was mad at him. Olivia's scared to talk to Mack and Detective Garcia, and runs to Val's instead of meeting with them. Gary wants to get an attorney, but Abby says that will just make her look guilty. Detectives finally question Olivia, and take out the locket. Olivia says she had given it back to Peter. Detective Garcia pats her on the shoulder, but is really taking fibers from her school uniform. The fibers match fibers found on Peter's body, and police go back and accuse Olivia of the murder. Abby says she killed Peter.





QUICK NOTE: USUALLY I TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPS, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF DISCUSSING SEASON NINE, I WILL BE SPOILING SOME FUTURE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE 10TH AND 11TH EPS OF THE SEASON.  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT FAR, I HIGHLY SUGGEST GETTING THERE BEFORE YOU READ THESE ESSAYS ON THE SEASON’S OPENING EPS







When we last left off in the concluding moments of The Trouble with Peter, the ill-fated Mr. Hollister’s funeral was about to commence when Gary confronted Abs about how he “knows Olivia killed Peter.”  Then Abs gave him a Soap Slap and she drove off, ending that episode and moving us seamlessly along into this one, which begins with Abs speeding her car up to her new house with Olivia, Gary riding hot on their tail.  Abs quickly shuffles Olivia into their new house, but Gary catches up with Abs and starts asking her questions.  He’s utterly convinced that Olivia is the culprit, but we also know he didn’t like Peter all that much (remember the mashed potatoes?) and doesn’t think Olivia just randomly murdered Peter for no reason.  He asks Abs if he raped her and then asks if it was at least statutory rape, but Abs says no.  This did make me reflect on the fact that it’s still creepy no matter what that Peter went after Olivia in any way at all.  Even if his real motivation was to get that mysterious Plot Contrivance Letter back from Olivia, it doesn’t change the fact that he was still creating the appearance of a 34 year old man going after a sixteen year old girl.  Now, I am a good little liberal and an open-minded kinda guy and I don’t tend to be as rigid as some people can be about cross-generational relationships, but in the case of Peter, it is just a major case of the icks; you could double Olivia’s age and she would still be two years younger than Peter.  I also thought it was weird whenever Peter would show up at Olivia’s high school to pick her up, just icky.  Also, sorry to throw in a political reference, but here it comes.  I was about to write a big rant about how I don’t believe a politician could so openly date a sixteen year old girl and get away with it, but then I quickly reflected on “Grab them by the pussy” and the fact that our very own President was involved in a rape scandal involving a thirteen year old girl and then it doesn’t seem so outlandish to me.



Oh yeah, and kinda random and not all that important, but I do wanna discuss Abs and Olivia’s new home, since I think I neglected it last season.  If I’m remembering correctly, this is the home they will occupy for all of seasons nine and ten, and then Abs leaves the show but Olivia hangs around for an extra year, at which point I think she might move into some sort of shitty little apartment (it’s kinda a blur for me).  Anyway, I like this house and I like this set; the house is very large and old style and I like the long driveway they have at the front.  Then I like how you step into the house and it’s so very white, that late ‘80s clean, sanitized, and sterile white look (think Hannibal’s all-white prison cell in Manhunter).  I like the layout and the way that you enter the house and immediately can go up the stairs, or you can relax in the spacious and sterile living room area.  Overall, a great house, although it’s far from my favorite set on the series.  I think my heart will always belong to Gary and Abby’s Beach House from season four followed by Abby’s amazing palace/sex office that she uses throughout season five (complete with a waffle iron on the ceiling).  If I lived inside the universe of this series, I would probably choose to live in one or both of those two sets.



Let’s keep focused on Abs and Olivia and all that good stuff for a little while.  Obviously the whole “we have to act normal” plan is sorta shot to shit now that Olivia and Abs have abandoned the funeral before it even got started, although I suppose Abs could cook up some excuse for why they left.  I don’t know if that would fly with Detective The Hidden.  For the rest of the ep, we watch him trying to catch up with Olivia and Olivia always running off.  There’s a scene near the middle of the ep that I found rather amusing in which Mack and Detective The Hidden decide to go question Olivia at school.  Gary is also there, but separately.  He just came to talk to Olivia and see how she’s feeling, but as soon as the cops show up, Olivia’s all like, “I gotta go!” and then sneaks off, slinking down and sorta crouching while she walks her way to her car and speeds off.  Detective The Hidden doesn’t see her, but Mack does.  A little later, Olivia pulls a similar move when the cops come to question her at the house and she disappears to Val’s place to hide out.  I enjoyed lots of the small details of this bit of business, such as Val reminding Karen that Olivia has snuck off to her house before, back in late season five, and so she assumes something is upsetting her that was similar to what upset her back then.  Also, I like how we are consistently reminded of Olivia and Val’s special little friendship, that Olivia feels safe and secure around Val and views her house as something of a safe haven.  This tracks nicely with their relationship all the way back to 1980, when Olivia was first introduced and she and Val first met.  I like how it’s now seven years later and yet those relationships are still important to the series. 



Basically, when we reach the final scene of the ep, the cops have finally successfully cornered Olivia.  They’re at the house, both Detective The Hidden and Mack, and they’re talking to Olivia, but Abs isn’t there.  Olivia is starting to get scared when Detective The Hidden starts reading her the Miranda rights.  Mack takes a moment to helpfully explain what Miranda rights are and why they’re a good thing, and it’s at that precise moment that Abs comes marching in and decides to proclaim, “I killed Peter Hollister,” which is our exciting cliffhanger for the ep.  Now, watching this and putting myself into the mindset of a first time viewer in 1987, I don’t think we are supposed to GASP and be like, “My God, Abs killed him?!”  I don’t think we’re ever supposed to think she did it, even if we did start that one scene with her scrubbing her hands violently like she’d just done a murder.  Rather, we know she’s gone into mother bear mode and she’s doing whatever it takes to protect her child.  I also get the feeling that the cops know this, but we’ll have to proceed along to our next ep to further discuss it. 



Let’s talk about Greg, who is in rare form this ep.  Oh yeah, and just to keep us up to date, I am now writing along with the help of my notes, so I can tell you that we are currently at Cigar #31 on the Sumner Cigar Counter (his last cigar was smoked in the previous ep at night while Laura talked to him about Richard).  He doesn’t smoke a cigar in this ep, so for the time being we’re comfortably settled on 31.  Anyway, Sumner has a scene in this ep that I just loved and had also completely forgotten about.  See, early on Greg receives Peter’s ashes (random note: I would also like to be cremated after I die; I don’t want to be buried under the ground in a box).  Okay, so now he’s got the ashes and one would assume he’s just gonna put them on the mantel or go spread them over the ocean or, you know, whatever people like to have done with their ashes.  But no, instead we catch up with Greg doing a bit of gardening, scooping Peter’s ashes into his plants and mixing it with the soil.  As he scoops, he talks, and he says something like, “You had an opportunity to make this entire country grow; now you’ve been relegated to fuel for these flowers.”  As soon as he said this, I asked My Beloved Grammy if it’s really true that you can use human ash to grow plants, because I think that sounds really fucking cool, but she didn’t know the answer.  Therefore, I did a quick bit of Googling and only got more confused by what seem to be contradictory answers.  First, I found the question, “Are human ashes good for the garden?” and Google answers, “Cremated ash remains are harmful to the environment if left in their original state due to the extremely high pH levels which does not allow for the natural release of good nutrients.  Cremated ashes also contain sodium in amounts that range from 200 to 2000 times what plant life can tolerate.”  Okay, very interesting, but then I also found the question, “Do ashes help plants grow?”  The Google answer to that is, “Other elements of the ashes are beneficial to the soil and plant growth, as well.  Because the wood ashes act as a liming agent, they reduce the acidity of the soil.  Plants that prefer acidic soil such as blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons will not thrive if wood ashes are applied.”  Okay, so I guess the answer is kinda yes and kinda no, and I suppose it depends on what kind of plant you want to fuel.  I’m not sure what plant Sumner is working with, since all we see in the scene is the soil.  In any case, whether it works or not, the image of Greg casually scooping up chunks of Peter’s ashes and mixing them into the soil brought me such joy and I very much enjoyed the morbid humor.  I think this casual treatment of the ashes underscores how little Sumner really cared about Peter.  He gives a little speech to the ashes about, “You never asked me why I put up with you, why I let you be my brother, Bob Loblaw,” but we get the sense that he’s indifferent to Peter and won’t think about him too much over the course of the rest of the series.  In this instance, I would say the audience feels the exact same way about Peter that Greg does.



Since I’m spoiling stuff with cheerful abandon right now, let me remind you that Paige killed Peter and we’re going to find that out an ep or two into the future.  For the purposes of this ep, we still don’t know for sure who did it, but even if I didn’t know in advance, I’d put my money on Paige.  There’s a scene in this ep in which Karen and Mack are having a quiet discussion about who killed Peter and then, seemingly in the middle of Mack’s sentence, we abruptly cut to Paige flinging around in her bed to the sweet violinic sounds of the ghost of Bernard Hermann, who has once again come to visit the show from beyond the grave to provide some classic horror movie screeching.  Jeez, is that jump from Mack talking to Paige flinging ever abrupt.  It almost feels like something was cut out and we just sorta cut away from Mack and Karen and suddenly we’re in the land of the shrieking violins.  Anyway, we watch Paige have her nightmare and then she bolts straight up in a way that never actually happens in real life but happens constantly on TV shows.  Seriously, when have you ever had a nightmare and then come flying up at the same time that you wake up?  Nobody has ever experienced this, yet it’s one of those TV things we see all the time and just come to expect.  Anyway, for me Paige’s nightmares and odd behavior (such as the fact that left a syrupy sweet message on Peter’s answering machine even though we have already seen her have a big fight with him) lead me to conclude that Paige is the culprit.  I even remember putting my money on her back in college, when I was first watching, and I was proven right. 



The last thing I’d like to talk about as far as Under Pressure is concerned is the storyline of Mack and Al Baker (that’s Red Buttons, in case you had forgotten).  Al was in the premiere of the season and then he sat out the second ep, but now he’s back and we get to know him better.  In this ep, he’s hanging around Mack’s office, complaining about Peggy’s coffee, as is his wont, and then the conversation shifts to homeless people living on the streets and Al says how, if he had a big office like Mack has in which the heat stays on all night, he’d be more generous with it.  Since Mack is a good person with a good heart, he gives Al the keys to the office, but then our next scene is Peggy in the office late at night finding it positively overrun with homeless people, including some horny homeless who are going for a shag on the floor of Mack’s office.  An interesting turn of events, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  Mack gives his keys to Al very casually and then Al immediately turns the place into a homeless shelter.  Even though I’m a good little liberal and I try to be good to the homeless, I’m still not sure I would want them taking over my office in such a way, and I’d say Mack has a right to be mad at Al. 



This development will be further explored in upcoming eps, but I would like to take a moment to shine a spotlight on Victoria Ann Lewis as Peggy.  This is the first time I’ve brought up Peggy, and that’s a bit shameful on my part because she’s been in a ton of eps before this, starting with Ipso Facto in 1984, and the (possibly misinformed) IMDb tells me she shows up for 88 eps altogether.  I’m talking about her now, however, because she’s being given more to do and I’m finding myself appreciating her more.  In the prior eps, I feel like she’s been around but she hasn’t really had a moment for us to take note of her.  Here, she gets quite a bit of material with Al, and they have a nice exchange involving a jelly donut that leads the way to the same jelly donut being an important topic of conversation between Gary and J.B.  Anyway, we get the sense that Peggy is frustrated by Al but also sympathetic to him.  She gets a little grumpy on him in this ep (before Mack gives him the keys), asking him to leave the office so she can lock up and asking, “Don’t you have a home?”  As soon as she says this, she realizes that Al probably doesn’t have a home, and I like the change in her demeanor once she realizes this.  Anyway, Peggy is one of those characters, kinda like Marcia, who hangs around for years and years but never really gets a major story of her own, so I wanted to point her out and say I appreciate what she brings to the table. 



I think that’s all I have to say about Under Pressure.  I continue to enjoy what season nine is bringing me early in the proceedings and I’m looking forward to discussing our next ep, Half Truths.