Thursday, February 15, 2018

Comparing and Contrasting David Paulsen's Season of KNOTS LANDING With Peter Dunne's Season of DALLAS (1985-1986)

Random Extra Essay Just For Fun: Comparing and Contrasting David Paulsen’s Year on KNOTS LANDING With Peter Dunne’s Year on Dallas

 Hello all, and welcome to this unexpected and only somewhat planned-out extra bonus essay of excitement.  The idea for this came about when we were just finishing up watching season six of KL and about to get started with season seven.  I found myself trying to fathom how Peter Dunne, who I had grown to love and respect over the course of three stunningly brilliant seasons of KL, could go from three seasons that amazing and immediately run the season of Dallas in which everything starts to go mammothly and colossally off the rails.  Now, since this is a KL blog and not a Dallas blog (aside from those occasional Interludes in which Gary and/or Val pop in for an appearance, and we aren’t going to be talking about another one of those for a very long time), at first I wasn’t entirely sure I was gonna do this cuz I’m more interested in talking KL.  But then My Beloved Grammy and I got started with season seven of KL and we had that little Dallas Interlude entitled The Family Ewing and I found myself surprised by how not awful the episode was.  Make no mistake, it wasn’t great or anything like that, but it was better than I had remembered, so then I decided to go ahead and rewatch the ninth season (the dream season) of Dallas.  To be clear, I just did this on my own time, when I felt like it, so I wasn’t hopping from KL to Dallas over and over again for the entire course of the season.  Rather, My Beloved Grammy and I watched the seventh season of KL when we had time and I watched the dream season of Dallas by myself when I had time, although I finished it long before we finished this year of KL.  This essay is going to focus more on the dream season of Dallas and what elements of it I can spot as Dunne influences; I’ve pretty much said all my thoughts on Paulsen’s season of KL, but one thing that I think is interesting is that I see similar problems within both seasons of television.

Peter Dunne ran KL during its trilogy of brilliance that was seasons four, five, and six.  To be clear, he didn’t totally run all of six, since I think the last ten eps or so were run by a different producer (Lawrence Kasha?), but for all intents in purposes, he ran those three seasons.  I think it will surprise nobody to say that, when all is said and done and I’ve watched and written about all 344 eps of KL, seasons four through six are going to stand out as the very best peak seasons of the series, where everything is just firing on all cylinders and the show is virtually flawless.  Then we hit 1985 and, for whatever reason, the two shows did their producer swap and Dunne went over to run Dallas while Paulsen went over to run KL.  The exact reasons for this producer swap I do not know and, if anyone reading this does know, please write in and tell me. I’d be very curious to know who came up with the idea of swapping producers and how the two producers felt about making the switch.  In any case, it was a fairly short-lived experiment because, after the year was up, Paulsen returned to working on Dallas and Dunne went to do, um, whatever he went on to do (according to IMDb, his next producer credit is a 1988 TV movie called Police Story: Burnout).

Obviously we begin the ninth season with Bobby Ewing’s funeral, an ep I already covered for A Brief Dallas Interlude.  Right off the bat, after being away from the series for some time, I was surprised by how well shot the show was.  To be clear, it’s never as well shot as KL, but that opening ep was rather colorful and had some interesting camera tricks and even a cool dissolve near the end of the ep.  At the same time, fuck if Dallas isn’t just plain ugly to look at. Were the prints just not preserved well at all?  Even if I’m seeing images that are technically well shot and photographed, the transfer is just so ugly and the picture looks very video-y, just generally unpleasant to look at.  Contrast this with KL where, even when I’m watching on my shitty bootleg DVDs, I can still enjoy the visuals of the series.  Anyway, the opening eps of the season pretty much deal with Bobby’s death to various degrees of effectiveness.  These opening eps of the season are probably the best part of the year and I was surprised to find myself enjoying them pretty well.  In fact, even though I started this season expecting to see the series beginning its steady decline, I’d actually argue the opening, let us say, eight or ten eps, I’d actually argue that those eps are pretty good and show a surprisingly willingness to experiment with the storytelling, something I don’t normally associate with this series.  See, when I think of KL, I think of a series that is happy to experiment with storytelling and really shake things up.  Kill off Sid Fairgate at the very beginning of the third season?  No problem, let’s do it.  Give Karen, the den mother and rock of the series, a problem with prescription pill abuse?  Done.  Have Val’s babies get kidnapped and give her a bunch of weird, trippy dream sequences about the trauma?  Affirmative.  Conversely, I feel like Dallas was always afraid to shake things up.  Once they realized that J.R. was such a popular character, let’s face it, it kinda became The J.R. Show and stayed that way until the end.  Every episode is basically about the same battle for Ewing Oil fought between J.R. Ewing and Cliff Barnes and it goes on for 357 eps and never really changes or evolves all that much.  However, here at the start of the 1985-1986 season, I’m seeing the show trying some new things and I like what I’m seeing.

First off, I actually think having Bobby dead is a fine decision that the show should have stuck with.  For all the problems this year has (and trust me, it has a ton), Bobby being dead is not one of them.  We had eight seasons of Bobby being alive and being the good son to J.R.’s bad son.  That was all fine, well, and good, but I actually really like the sad feeling that permeates the show at the start of the season.  You can see all the other characters missing Bobby and feeling an emptiness without him, and I would argue Bobby’s death brings out some of J.R.’s most interesting material.  A lot of people say this season made J.R. too soft, and maybe they’re right, but at least in the opening hours, I’m liking what I’m seeing from him.  When J.R. stands at Bobby’s grave and tells him he always loved him, I believe it and I find it fairly moving.  Throughout the next eps, we have lots of different scenes displaying J.R. unable to cope with or even understand his grief.  

Another thing the start of the season brings us is the return of Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie after the disaster of Donna Reed during the previous season.  Now, I’ve made it perfectly clear that I’m never an Ellie fan no matter who plays her and that Ellie is my least favorite character from the entire original cast.  That being said, I actually think this might be her best season in terms of acting and weighty material.  I think Barbara returned to the series rejuvenated and wanting to reclaim the part as her own, so the writers give her lots of good moments to show her emotions and give some good acting.  While Ellie will quickly return to her usual state of playing checkers and getting absolutely no interesting storylines ever, at least for the majority of the dream season, she’s pretty solid and I’d say this is the most I’ve ever liked the character.

In fact, while we’re on the subject of Miss Ellie, I would like to point out that I think Peter Dunne came to Dallas intent on actually writing some interesting material for the female characters.  One of the most lacking aspects of Dallas pretty much start to finish is the female characters, who generally behave more like plot devices than characters.  Dunne had just spent three years writing for some of the finest ladies ever on television, so I imagine he wanted to give the ladies of Texas some interesting stuff to do.  Right off the bat, we see a new side of Pam as she deals with her independence after Bobby’s death and claims her spot at Ewing Oil, working alongside J.R.  Now, I didn’t say any of this winds up being all that exciting; I’m just saying that I see Dunne trying to give the ladies something to do.  We also have Sue Ellen hitting her famous rock bottom (an arc that brings me flashbacks to Gary’s rock bottom in season four of KL, one of the first things I spotted as an obvious Dunne influence in this dream season) and then coming out the other side, stronger and more capable.  We have Donna and Ray and their pregnancy (more on that in a moment), and we have Miss Ellie actually doing some interesting things.  Overall, I would argue the series gets a little estrogen boost this year and the ladies are getting more of the focus than the men.  No argument from me there, although I can see how this change would be jarring to loyal Dallas viewers.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying these first ten eps of the season are stunning or anything like that, especially when stacked up against the first ten eps of KL the same season.  There are still plenty of problems, starting with that eternal Dallas problem of endlessly repeating the same storyline on a loop, a cycle of repetition that goes on and on forever over the course of fourteen seasons. In this instance, it’s yet another boring battle for custody of John Ross fought between J.R. and Sue Ellen.  Oh snore, who even cares about this?  This stuff was compelling way back in the early years when John Ross was still just a baby, but every time they return to this device, it becomes less interesting, and sadly this isn’t even the last time they’re gonna do it (I recall us having to suffer through another custody battle storyline in season twelve).  

Also, even if I praise this season for giving Sue Ellen a good arc and letting her hit rock bottom, it’s still done in such a cheesy Dallas way.  Compare and contrast Gary’s two big benders on KL (season one and season four) and how realistic those felt (more or less, ignoring “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVES”) with the way Sue Ellen’s bender here is presented.  She starts drinking again and five minutes later, she’s in a back alley with a bunch of gross homeless people drinking liquor out of a bag, complete with one of those scary homeless shopping cart ladies holding the bottle up to Sue Ellen’s face and being like “Welcome back,” or some equally bad piece of dialogue.

          It’s just way over the top, but that’s the way I tend to think of this show.  While KL would handle a storyline like this with a certain degree of realism and subtlety, the parent series has all the subtlety of a bulldozer.  Oh yeah, and then the series AGAIN repeats something they’ve already done before when Sue Ellen checks into a rehab center and is immediately presented with the opportunity, courtesy of an unethical male nurse, to get some liquor smuggled into her room.  Okay, fine, whatever, but this was already done in season two and I see no reason to do the exact same thing again here in season nine.

Also taking up the attention for the first third of the season is another generally uninteresting storyline about how J.R. might lose Ewing Oil.  Jeremy Wendell (who I think is a great and underused character) shows up and offers a bunch of money or something like that and then we have a series of eps in which Ellie is thinking of selling and J.R. doesn’t want her to and there are arguments about that and it’s, you know, boring, but also nothing too terribly offensive or stupid.  Offensive and stupid will come at us very shortly after this in the form of Angelica Nero.  Ah fuck, as soon as this nonsense character enters proceedings (it’s in the seventh ep of the season, The Wind of Change), you can actually hear the entire season going off the rails.  Before she shows up, I’m actually having a pretty good time with the season.  It’s stupid in parts, it’s sloppily shot in parts, the acting is severely lacking in parts, and it’s repeating storylines like crazy, but it’s still pretty watchable and at least feels like it’s trying to go for something different, trying to explore these characters in a new way.  When Angelica shows up, things just turn stupid.  On a very base level, aren’t her outfits just stupid?  Travilla did the same two years on both series (1984 through 1986), and every now and then he would dress one of the KL ladies in an outfit that was a little bit silly (Cathy’s swimsuit that she wears to the fundraiser in Phoenix Rising), but for the most part, the costumes were cool and stylish and not too distracting.  With Dallas, you have to wonder if there was just no one to reign him in, because the outfits he dresses Barbara Carrera in are just ridiculous, and she’s only one character out of several that suffer from Travilla’s unfortunate wardrobe choices.  She’s always dressed in lavish ball gowns or similarly ridiculous things, even when she’s not going anywhere near a ball.  You could have a scene of Angelica taking a shit and I assure you that she would be dressed to the nines in a full gown and feathered boa with fancy earrings and a hideously huge hat.

However, stupid wardrobe aside, the entire storyline with Angelica is dumb, boring, confusing, and goes on forever.  This is the longest season of Dallas ever, with 31 eps, and I tell you, once Angelica enters proceedings, you feel that length. This shit goes on forever and winds up taking us away from Texas to some island in Europe that I’m pretty sure is made up (Martinique?) so that J.R. and Angelica can, like, dress up Dack Rambo in an outfit and fake grey hair so that people will think he’s, like, some other guy, or something.  I’m gonna go ahead and declare all of this stuff in the middle of the season involving Dack Rambo and this island and the ballgowns to be the rock bottom of this season.  It just keeps getting worse and worse, stupider and stupider, and it also coincides with the other storylines getting stupider and stupider (this is all occurring at the same time that Pam is off on her ridiculous Colombian emerald mine adventure, leading to such awful dialogue as Cliff gazing at an emerald and saying to himself, “Bobby’s dream….now it’s Pam’s nightmare”).  The rock bottom-est of the rock bottom occurs when we hit episode 24 of the season, Masquerade.  This is the ep where J.R. gets all dressed up for the masked ball and puts, like, a plant on his head, and then in the middle of the ball, someone tries to kill him with a crossbow, and the sad thing is that I’m not kidding.  Not only is this stuff dumb and taking forever to unfold, but it’s also shot like absolute ass; the basic staging and blocking of the climactic scene with the crossbow is just lousy and it’s kinda unbelievable that anyone thought this was acceptable to be aired on network television considering how bad it looks.

However, after that debacle, we still have seven more eps in the season left, and the surprising thing is I really felt things picking up in these last batch of eps.  We get away from Martinique and return to Southfork and I honestly feel the writers and powers-that-be are trying to fix the mess they have created, and I think they actually do an okay job.  As I got closer and closer to the end of the season, I realized once and for all how truly awful and irreparable the dream season resolution really is to the entire integrity of the series.  As I said already, at no point throughout this season did I feel like the lack of Bobby was a problem.  The idea that they just had to bring him back in order to fix the series just doesn’t fly with me; I think the show is already fixing the problems in this last batch of eps by returning the focus to the core characters within the family.  When we reach the season finale, Blast From the Past, I am actually interested in several of the storylines going on and want to see them continue into the next season, not just be flushed down the toilet as if they never existed.

I feel like I’ve written a lot about this season, but I haven’t even mentioned so many of the characters or their stories.  Part of this is from the season being so damn long and from me forgetting the details and part of it is that Dallas just doesn’t stick with me the way KL does.  Thinking back over the season, I need to double check the eps to find out when certain things occurred, whereas I can usually just remember that stuff with KL.  However, I do wish to address the main story Donna and Ray get this season, because it’s a story in which I can see major Dunne influence.  For those who have forgotten, we begin the season with Donna pregnant and her and Ray agreeing to get back together.  Then they find out they’re gonna have a baby with down’s syndrome (or, as the characters keep saying, “A retarded baby”) and it becomes this big debate about whether to have an abortion or not.  We wrestle with that decision for awhile only for the writers to do what they always do to developing fetuses inside the wombs of their female characters: they kill it off.  Donna makes the unbelievably stupid decision of hanging out near a bull while she is pregnant (a fine example of Dallas allowing the plot to dictate the character behavior) and of course the bull kicks her and the baby dies and that’s the end of that, at least for awhile.  After some time being sad, Donna decides to go to work as a teacher of mentally challenged kids and we have a lot of footage of her working with real special needs children and I think I don’t like the storyline.  The weird thing is that I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong with it, except to say that I could see it being right at home on KL and working beautifully over on that series.  Don’t you guys feel like this entire storyline could have been given to Karen and Mack over on KL?  With the quality of writing and acting on that series, I imagine this story could have been really moving and well done, but it’s simply out of place here and generally just made me feel kinda weird and uncomfortable.  Also, ingrained within the very fabric of the storyline are some basic problems that continue to support my case (as if it needs supporting) that KL is inherently better than Dallas in every way.  If this storyline had been done on KL, I can guarantee you if would have been handled with some subtlety and craft. On Dallas, Donna finds out her baby has down’s syndrome and the next scene is her flinging herself onto a couch and writhing around and shrieking “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” like Darth Vader at the end of that shitty movie.  This is just the way Dallas likes to handle things, especially by this point in the series.  Why have subtlety and nuance when you can have the character shriek and writhe around?  

Another Dunne influence I spotted early on in the season occurs when we get a very bizarre dream sequence in which Sue Ellen is holding John Ross and running away from a car driven by J.R.  Then it gets even more bizarre when the car appears to be driving itself and then J.R. just sorta appears in front of Sue Ellen like Jason Voorhees in front of some camp counselor and Sue Ellen wakes up screaming and freaking out. I remember watching this ep with my brother for the first time and being like, “What the hell was that?”  A strange, surreal dream sequence planted at the start of a Dallas ep was just not what I was used to, but now this dream sequence just makes me think of any number of Val’s dreams in the sixth season of KL (her and Gary on the beach, Dr. Ackerman and her friends coming into her bedroom to take the babies away from her, her and Gary dancing in front of the music box).  Now this Sue Ellen dream doesn’t seem so weird.  I imagine that Dunne liked the way the dreams played on KL and wanted to try the same thing here, but it just doesn’t work as well.

And you know what, that’s the basic problem with the season, a problem that’s very similar to the problem Paulsen experienced working on KL for the year.  In both instances, I feel these guys have talents that are just better suited to the shows they were already working on.  Would season nine of Dallas had been better if Paulsen had continued working on it?  Yeah, probably, although I also predict it might have been more rote and a little less experimental.  Would season seven of KL have been better if Dunne had continued working on it? Well, duh!  Even so, Paulsen’s season of KL definitely works a whole hell of a lot better than Dunne’s season of Dallas, and I think that just boils down to the inherent brilliance of KL, that somehow the magic of that series cultivates good energy and creativity around everybody involved, so even if there are things throughout the season that are flawed, it’s still very watchable and entertaining and the cast always comes off looking good.  And let’s be real, this also boils down to the fact that the characters on KL are just so much more interesting than the characters on the parent series.  In my little writeup, I didn’t even bother to mention characters like Jenna Wade or Jamie Ewing and you know why?  It’s because they are unbelievably boring and nobody could possibly care about anything they do.  In addition to these bores, characters so dull they make Kenny and Ginger look interesting (almost), you also have Jack Ewing, Angelica Nero, Grace Whatever, Nicholas Who Cares, and I’m sure there are plenty of other boring characters I’ve forgotten to mention.  Compare these non-entities with anyone in the cast roster or recurring star roster on KL and the spinoff series will win every time.

The last thing I want to talk about before wrapping up this random little essay is how I feel about the resurrection of Bobby Ewing and why I hate it and why I refuse to recognize it as canon.  One of the aspects of KL season seven that I enjoyed the very most was watching Gary react to the death of his brother. I actually think this is a huge development in the character of Gary and one of the reasons for his behavior throughout the season.  He gets more reckless, more dangerous, more thrill-seeking, and he loses patience for putting up with any of Abby’s crap.  I think this relates directly to losing his brother and becoming aware of his own mortality and I think it’s a very interesting story to watch play out, much more interesting than anybody’s reaction to Bobby’s death over on Dallas.  The fact that the Dallas folk were happy as clams to totally erase all of this and try to shuffle it under the carpet, not even caring about how it fucked up continuity with the KL story, well that just goes to show you how the Dallas writers dealt with things when they wrote themselves into a corner.  They came up with a resolution so very stupid that nobody in the world could possibly take it seriously, and they effectively ruined any credibility Dallas had spent the last nine seasons building, plus they fucked up the storyline on the better show.  Because of this and so many more reasons, I am officially declaring that I recognize seasons one through nine of Dallas as canon and I do not recognize any of the events of seasons ten through fourteen as canon.  In Brett’s world, Bobby Ewing dies on both series, the characters on both series dead, Gary has a minor mental breakdown because of it, Val names her baby boy after Bobby in honor of him, and he stays dead.  I just won’t allow the continuity of the series I love so much to be fucked up by the series I don’t care nearly as much about, so I’m officially declaring that Bobby died in 1985 and he stayed dead.

So that does it for my thoughts on the dream season of Dallas.  To be clear, it’s still bad.  This is a bad season of television that drifts into the just-plain-terrible category for about fifteen eps or so near the middle before beginning to improve itself in the last seven eps.  I’m not really sure who to blame for this season being so bad, but I won’t blame Peter Dunne.  Part of this just boils down to my loyalty; I can’t blame him for this season being so bad after watching him work such magic for three glorious years (“He fed us gold,” as J.V.A. said about him).  I think the problem is that he moved his talents from a glorious work of art to a far inferior series and found himself trying to expand the series a bit and being unable to do so successfully.  Really, he moved from a highly artistically satisfying series to a sinking ship and was expected to run that sinking ship and that’s why it didn’t work out.  Even so, for being the showrunner of the absolutely brilliant seasons four, five, and six of KL, Mr. Dunne will always have my eternal respect.    

       Alright, that oughta do it for this little compare and contrast essay.  We've been on season seven for a good long time, so let's go ahead and launch into season eight with Just Disappeared

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Reflection on Season Seven of KNOTS LANDING (1985-1986)

A Reflection on Season Seven of KNOTS LANDING (1985-1986)

And so here we are again finishing up a big fat season of KL drama and excitement.  The conclusion of season seven is pretty significant, as it means we are now (more or less) officially halfway through the entire series, with seven seasons under our belt and seven seasons left to go.  Keeping that in mind, how does season seven rank in the scheme of things so far?  How does it compare when put up against the six seasons that came previously, most especially the three seasons immediately preceding it?  Well, read on.

KL season seven is a flawed one, I now realize.  If you had asked me about the overall quality of the season before we got started, I would have told you it was pretty much on equal footing as the three prior seasons, but now I realize that is not so.  See, I now recognize that what made seasons four, five, and six so strong was that they all had a great central storyline that was integral to the entire season and that kept all the characters in the cast linked together and working together.  Season four had Ciji and Chip Roberts, season five had the evil Wolfbridge group, and season six had the kidnapping of Val’s babies.  With each of those seasons, I really believe the writers and creative powers sat down and mapped out the entire year well in advance, making sure to fully represent each character and keep the storylines moving along with each and every episode of the season, building to a great cliffhanger at the end of it.  When season seven is put directly up against those years, most especially the season that came right before it, the problems start to become much more visible. 

As I said while writing about the year episode-by-episode, I think the first ten eps of the season are all sublime.  They are stunning, stupendous, spectacular, or any number of other words that start with an ‘S’ and mean supreme.  The first ten eps are so good that they could easily be fused onto the thirty eps of season six and you could just create your own brilliant forty episode season of television.  Why do I find the first ten eps so strong?  It’s hard to say directly except that I feel like everything’s building right from where we left off in the closing moments of season six.  Our season six cast is still retained and a complete unit, with each and every character being someone I love and care about and could watch endlessly on a loop for the rest of time.  The stories are still flowing organically from what came before, and I think the start of season seven does pretty much everything perfectly.  Val gets her babies back in Here In My Arms and it’s a beautiful and classic moment, a moment that feels totally earned based on everything that has happened throughout the last two years.  Then, I especially appreciate how the writers choose to shine the spotlight on the Fisher couple for two eps following the return of Val’s babies.  These characters who could have merely been presented as plot obstacles keeping Val from her babies suddenly take on new a dimension as we realize they are good people who have had a hard life and plenty of bad luck.  The moment where they finally say goodbye to the babies once and for all in The Christening is one of the most memorable of the entire fourteen season run of KL.

As we move through the first ten eps of the season, we find there’s so much drama and character stuff going on that it’s almost impossible to keep a handle on it all.  While Val’s getting her babies back, she’s also making plans to marry Ben and start a new life with him, yet all this is happening at the same time that Gary is connecting the dots and realizing that he must be the father of the babies.  As this is going down, we also have the strange James Bond villain developments going on over at Empire Valley involving secret spy sites and underground tunnels and, um, I dunno.  I sorta talked about how the Empire Valley stuff was my least favorite aspect of these early eps, yet I maintain that I didn’t hate or even dislike the storyline; I just found it a little bit confusing and drawn out.  Finally, we have my favorite story of the first third of season seven, the mental unraveling of Joshua.  Some fans seem to really dislike this whole thing because they just see it as Cathy getting beaten by Joshua repeatedly over the course of ten eps.  I guess I can see their point of view, but I appreciate this story for a multitude of reasons.  First off, I like the fact that the series is shining a spotlight on spousal abuse at all.  Other shows would probably choose to just not bother, but KL just presents it in all its evil.  I feel very sympathetic towards Cathy at this point, sad that she has fallen in love with a man who is going crazy and has become a danger to everyone around him.  For me, all the Joshua and Cathy stuff is unbelievably compelling, plus it brings out the best in all the cast members around the storyline.  Julie Harris gets to do some of her finest work ever on the series here, and the scene in Until Parted by Death where she and Joshua sit at the kitchen table and talk about child abuse is one of the most memorable scenes ever.  Then of course we reach Rise and Fall and Joshua dies and then the season starts to get a little rockier than it has been up to this point.

The first ten eps, everything spanning The Longest Day through Rise and Fall, are great.  The characters are great, the stories are great, the writing is great, the acting is great, and the style is, of course, great.  There are so many eps that just burst with a special cinematic energy you wouldn’t expect from this era of television or this genre of television.  Just doing a simple comparison to how Dallas was being shot and presented at this exact time easily shows how much more artistic and thought out every single camera shot on KL was.  Anyway, after Joshua dies, it’s not like everything immediately turns bad.  In fact, now might be the perfect opportunity to stress that, for all the flaws I’m going to mention, at no point do I think this season is terrible or even merely bad.  I think it is flawed and it suffers from some storytelling problems, but it never turns just plain bad the way that its parent series was turning just plain bad at pretty much this exact time. 

What happens after Joshua dies, however, is that the series suddenly begins to feel very meandering.  The first ten eps burst with an energy and intensity that propelled us from one ep to the next, each one contributing a lot to the overall story.  Once he’s fallen off that roof, however, things slow down considerably.  Suddenly things are just sorta taking forever to happen, and I don’t mean that in the positive way, in the “slow burn storytelling” way that I tend to praise so often.  No, instead it just starts to feel like the writers filling time, realizing what a huge number of eps thirty is and struggling to figure out how to fill all thirty of those eps with material.  Joshua’s death should have fallout and ramifications; I certainly do not want him to die and then be immediately forgotten, but did we really need to draw the proceedings out for eleven episodes?  After he dies, we have the not-very-engaging storyline of Lilimae and Cathy conspiring together to tell lies to the police about what happened, and that goes on forever.  When you think maybe they’re finally going to wrap this plot up, Linda The Waitress shows up to incriminate Arthur Fonzarelli in Joshua’s death, elongating the plot even more, so now we have a couple more eps in which the cops start to think Arthur Fonzarelli is the killer, and then that all finally gets resolved when Lilimae and Cathy tell them the truth. 

We think the story is over, but then it goes on even more when we hit my least favorite story of the entire season, Sonny the saxophonist/evil secret reporter.  Ugh, why couldn’t the powers that be have just cut this storyline out entirely?  What does it provide?  The answer is absolutely nothing.  Sonny exists only to fill up space for four eps, to give Cathy something to do for that span of time.  The problem is that it doesn’t advance the plots or lead us to any better understanding of the characters.  Cathy hangs around Sonny for a few eps, he seems nice but he’s really duplicitous, then Cathy realizes the truth, she punches him, and the storyline is over.  It’s pretty pathetic to watch a character I love get such a non-story, but at least she’s technically doing more than Lilimae by this point, who is just wandering around the house and moping over Joshua’s death, not getting anything interesting to do herself.

Karen and Mack suffer from similar problems this season, although it’s not quite as obvious as the Lilimae/Cathy issues.  Mostly, it’s the situation where I can sense the writers trying to fill time and give Karen and Mack something to do for four or five eps.  All the business with Mack having J.B.’s room key and Karen getting so upset about it; honest to God, I’m still not sure if I like this storyline or not.  On the one hand, it is acted well by all involved, with both Michele and The Dobsonator doing excellent work in their big fight scene in the bedroom, when all those unfiltered emotions come screaming out.  On the other hand, the story still feels meandering.  Karen finds the room key, she’s upset for a good chunk of eps, then she and Mack talk about it and resolve their issues and move on.  Oh wait, they move on from that issue only for Karen to suffer from trust problems and frigidity.  Suddenly Karen can’t get intimate with Mack, but she gets over that problem after a few eps by inviting him up to a hotel room.  This is a storyline I remember really loving, but I don’t love it so much now.  To be clear, I also don’t hate it, but I just recognize it as a time-filler, an issue that will occupy the attentions of Karen and Mack for four or five episodes until they can get over it and move on to new business.

The handling of all the Empire Valley stuff is also a tad askew.  There’s so much intrigue and drama regarding Empire Valley and what’s really going on there throughout the first third of the season, but then we hit All’s Well and Gary decides to blow it up.  While I found this particular episode to be fabulously enjoyable and probably my favorite episode out of the last twenty for the season, it also does ring a little bit like the writers flushing the toilet on an entire storyline, saying, “This is getting too confusing, so let’s just have Gary blow it up.”  Of course, after Gary blows it up, Empire Valley does not go away; it’s still a big focus on the rest of the season, but just in a different way.  The international intrigue and James Bond villains pretty much disappear and then Empire Valley becomes a storyline about pollution.  Where did all the bad guys go, though?  That’s the part that feels like the writers just saying, “Fuck this,” and setting off the big explosion on the whole storyline.

So that’s pretty much the middle third of the season, and then we move on to the final third, spanning Irrevocably Yours through The Longest Night.  A lot of people say this is the weakest portion of the season, but I honestly think I might prefer it to that middle third.  At least we are done talking about Joshua by this point, and at least Karen and Mack get past their issues and start to focus on new stuff.  At the same time, it’s this third that somewhat feels like the creative team just giving up on the season and getting ready for the next one.  While the three previous seasons all propelled us towards our exciting cliffhanger organically, this season just sorta fizzles, having the characters bicker a lot about Empire Valley and the pollution and all that, and then Karen gets kidnapped, she’s in a scary basement, and boom, that’s our cliffhanger.  It’s an okay cliffhanger because it certainly gripped me upon first viewing and made me want to keep watching, but it suffers when placed up against previous seasons because we realize how out of the blue it came, not from anything previously established but just as this new storyline that we will now be focusing on.

I do think a lot of my problems with this season’s storytelling structure stem from our new supervising producer, David Paulsen.  It seems to me that some KL fans really vilify Paulsen and his contribution to KL, but I won’t do that.  I think Paulsen is a talented writer and storyteller who was a key part of some of the best years of Dallas, but I also think his talents were just inherently meant for Dallas, the same way that Peter Dunne’s talents seemed to align perfectly with KL and it just didn’t work when he flipped over to Dallas.  I definitely feel like Paulsen brought some baggage from his time on the parent series with him, such as the idea that the plot should dictate the behavior of the characters rather than the other way around.  One of my favorite things about KL overall is that the characters come first, not the drama, but here I think they are often being moved around more like chess pieces than characters and that seems to be a direct Dallas influence.  In fact, watching each episode under the microscope this time, I can definitely see Paulsen bringing a ton of Dallas influence to the series, and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing and sometimes I’m indifferent.  I feel like he sorta turns Greg Sumner into the J.R. Ewing of the series this year, sitting in his high rise and smoking his cigars and working up complex, duplicitous plots.  I actually greatly enjoy this version of Greg, so that’s not a criticism, but I do think the women suffer this year, in general, from Paulsen’s Dallas baggage.  On Dallas, the women were not strong or interesting characters (a few exceptions such as Sue Ellen and Donna Culver notwithstanding) and they mostly existed to do whatever the plot demanded, but on KL, the women are the show.  I think the great acting from all the ladies in the cast more than makes up for them getting somewhat lacking material this year, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still lacking.  So yes, while I think Paulsen is a good writer and I think he contributes some fine scripts to this season and I think he tried his best to do a good job, I also think in the end he could only do so much, that his heart really belonged to Dallas and that’s where his interests lie.  Why else would he leave KL after one season to return to Dallas for two sinking-ship seasons?  Most people would realize that they had perfect timing by flipping over to work on the superior show at the exact moment that the parent show is turning into feces, but Paulsen instead chose to ditch the superior show and go to work for two more years on the far inferior show.  He also didn’t seem to give a crap about the fact that the dream resolution fucked up the storytelling he had been doing for an entire year on KL, that suddenly Bobby was alive on one show but dead on the other show, complete with a new baby boy named after him in his memory. 

Speaking of which, season seven is also notable for being the last season in which the two series, Dallas and KL, absolutely and inarguably exist in the same universe.  Bobby dies on one series and his death directly effects Gary’s behavior on the other series.  In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and be really bold and say that the way KL handles Bobby’s death is not only superior to the way that his death was handled on the parent series, but is actually one of my favorite aspects of this seventh season.  See, my memory was that we got a mention of Bobby’s death and that Gary flew out to Texas to see the funeral, and then I figured we got a few more references, and then that was it.  Actually, it’s much more significant to the KL story than I had remembered.  I would argue that Bobby’s death is directly responsible for so much of Gary’s behavior this year.  His sudden reckless lifestyle and racing cars and chasing J.B. and deciding to divorce Abs all seem to point to a man now made rudely aware of his own mortality and determined to live his life fully before his time comes, as well.  Even though the references to Bobby’s death sorta taper off as we move through the season (I believe the very last reference occurs in episode 21 of the season, Irrevocably Yours), to me there’s no doubt that Gary is always thinking of his late brother and using that to gauge his decisions within his own life.

If it sounds like I’m doing a lot of bitching about the year, please don’t mistake it for that.  There’s still a lot to love in this season, and even as I complain about Paulsen not writing well for the women, I have to give him credit for bringing J.B. back onto the series in a big way and giving me one of my favorite characters.  J.B. had a one scene walk-on during season six and that was it, but she’s back in season seven to stir the pot and it’s glorious.  Even though there are aspects of the J.B. plot that I should be critical of, such as her hopping from a possible affair with Mack to an actual affair with Gary and then back to a potential affair with Mack (the type of musical chairs adultery that occurred regularly on Dallas), it all works for me because of the pure charisma of Teri Austin.  I’m gonna go ahead and say I enjoyed any scene J.B. was in and any storyline that she was a part of.  I think this new character is one of the highlights of the season and I’m glad we have several seasons to live and breathe with her.  Also, despite some storytelling problems throughout the year, there’s still an inherent classiness to this show that places it on a level above its contemporaries.  I feel that this is still a well made series with great style and acting and, on a scene-for-scene basic, the series continues to be well shot and insanely watchable.  I would still rather watch this year of this series than just about any other series I can think of in existence.  Also, while this year is not as slam dunk brilliant as seasons four, five, and six, I would still rather watch it versus seasons one, two, and three.  I think this boils down to my preference for this particular era and this particular cast of characters to that earlier, more domestic, much slower-paced era.  Ranking the seasons now, I would say we have season six at #1 (and, spoiler alert, that’s where it’s going to stay until the very end of the series), season five at #2, season four at #3, season seven at #4, season two at #5, season one at #6, and finally season three bringing up the rear at #7.  This was a flawed season of the series with some awkward hiccups due to a new show runner, but it’s still great entertainment starring a cast of characters that I love as if they are real people and it still has plenty of fantastic eps.  The first ten eps alone are so good and so exciting and so well made that I am comfortable recommending the entire season based on the strength of those opening eps alone. 

That about does it for my reflection on season seven.  Stay tuned for my essay comparing and contrasting this season of KL with the concurrent season of Dallas (click HERE to read it) and then it's time to get started with the second half of KL with our season eight premiere, Just Disappeared.

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Episode Title: The Longest Night

Season 07, Episode 30

Episode 160 of 344

Written by David Paulsen

Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Original Airdate: Thursday, May 15th, 1986

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Paige tells Mack she looked him up because her mother died. He invites Paige to stay with them, but she declines. Jill and Gary make up. Val's distraught, and goes to Ben's beach house, where she tears up a picture of Cathy and trashes the place. Lilimae, worried about her, calls Gary. Gary finds Val sitting despondently on the beach. They cry together and then start laughing hysterically. Ben tells Cathy that he can't go with her on tour. She admits that she didn't want to hurt Val, but she's in love with Ben and wasn't thinking straight. Mack is out of his mind with worry about Karen, and has an APB put out to find her. Karen wakes up to find herself locked in a strange basement. She finds a tire iron and attempts to break a window to escape, but a mysterious man comes downstairs and gives her an ominous warning.

Welcome to our season finale, The Longest Night.  This title is a nice bookend to our season premiere that feels so long ago, The Longest Day, providing a certain feeling of circularity to the year.  How well does this ep manage to tie up season seven plotlines while also getting us ready for season eight plotlines?  How does this ep compare to the season finales of the past?  Read on.

We open The Longest Night at the precise second that Thicker Than Water left off, with our new arrival on the cul-de-sac, Paige, standing in front of Mack and declaring, “I’m your daughter.”  We start this ep right there, creating that effect where you can glue two eps together and basically create your own double block of KL brilliance.  Right off the bat, I like how this surprise development is presented, most especially Mack’s reaction.  Instead of getting bug-eyed and freaking out or even perhaps denying the idea that he could even have a daughter, he looks somewhat thoughtfully at Paige and says, “You’re Anne’s daughter.”  From here, we learn that Mack had a relationship with a woman named Anne that ended roughly twenty years ago, when her rich evil parents took her away to Europe without even telling Mack about it.  “One day we were a couple of kids madly in love,” Mack tells his living room audience of Paige, Eric, and Sexy Michael, “The next day she was gone, and nobody told me where.”  I like that Mack’s reaction is not one of shock or denial, but rather a certain awe, almost.  He looks at Paige’s face with fascination and says how there are so many questions he wants to ask her. 

A little later, we catch up with Paige and Sexy Michael sitting on the stairs, a favorite spot for all residents of the cul-de-sac, and talking about Anne and Mack’s great summer romance of 1966 or thereabouts (we will discuss the slightly muddied timeline in a moment).  Paige says how her grandparents hated Mack because of class issues, that Mack was working class and Anne’s parents were rich, awful white people who only liked other rich, awful white people.  As soon as Anne turned up pregnant, her parents whisked her away to Spain and that was the end of that, bringing us nicely up to the present day.  Oh yeah, and Paige also tells Mack that Anne died a year ago and Mack looks sad, but whether or not Paige is telling the truth in this regard is a matter for us to explore next season.

I mention the muddied timeline, so please allow me to elaborate.  The timeline is not muddied up yet, not in this particular episode, but I believe it will be a few seasons down the line.  See, Paige tells Mack that she is nineteen years old, meaning she was born in either 1966 or 1967.  That’s all fine, well, and good, but I’m fairly certain, based on my memory and some reading I did on a forum, that Paige gets a smidge of SORAS a few years later and is suddenly presented as a 26-year-old college graduate.  Am I crazy or does this actually occur?  It’s somewhere in 1989 that we learn that she’s 26, which would retcon her age right here in 1986 to be 23, even though she says she’s nineteen.  This irks me, mostly because I appreciate how ages and timelines on KL usually make sense and follow a logical timeline, how Olivia, for instance, is introduced as a nine year old girl in season two and then we get to watch her all the way until she’s nineteen years old in season eleven, not suffering from any SORAS along the way.  If Paige is introduced onto the series as a nineteen year old, then she should age naturally, one year at a time, like all normal humans, and be 26 years old by the time the series ends in 1993.  Having her rapid age to 26 a few years later just annoys the crap out of me and shows a form of lazy writing I don’t expect from KL, although perhaps it’s misplaced for me to complain about that development now, considering it hasn’t even happened yet.  For all intents and purposes, at the exact moment that we are watching Paige right now, she is nineteen.  I’ll complain more about the SORAS when we reach that juncture.

One last thing to note about this Paige/Sexy Michael scene, and that’s the fact that the scene is positively dripping with sexual tension.  Note that Eric is nowhere to be seen, meaning he probably just got tired and went to bed, but it gives Paige and Sexy Michael some one-on-one time in which they can sit and visit.  Sexy Michael can admire Paige’s blue shirt and weird solo gigantic earring that she has on one ear and Paige can admire Sexy Michael’s purple shirt, slightly exposed chest, super sexy wristwatch, and that amazing tan color that permeates his entire perfect, glistening, twinkish body.  I remember finding pretty much any scene between Paige and Michael to be sexy, and the same holds true now.  As soon as the two are onscreen together, mmmmmm, it’s just sexy to watch and I immediately want them to shag.  The good news is that, based on my memories at least, we don’t have to wait too long before they start shagging.

Meanwhile, Ben is sad and forlorn and moping around his office at Pacific Cable Whatever.  Ben is doing literally nothing in this scene, just sitting in his chair and being sad, wrestling with his choices, when the phone rings and it’s Cathy.  She asks Ben where he is and reminds him that the bus for the big tour leaves tomorrow morning at 7:30 and that she “hoped we could spend some time alone together before that.”  Ben offers a distant comment about how he’ll be over to see her soon, but he sounds disingenuous.  Watching this scene, as well as a scene from last ep in which Ben left and declared to Val, “I have got to get out of here,” I really do feel like Ben Gibson is on his way out the door forever.  As far as I know, that was the original plan, that both he and Cathy would leave the show together and Val would start season eight the same way she started four, as a newly single woman who’s husband has run off on her with another woman.  I wonder if the writers perhaps realized that this would be far too similar to what had happened on the series already, and that’s why Ben winds up sticking around awhile longer.  Or, perhaps the powers that be simply didn’t want to lose two cast members at the same time, so they convinced Douglas Sheehan to expand his contract for another year.

In any case, we get a lot of scenes of Ben moping around and we get a lot of scenes of Val moping around, creating the sense that her marriage is really about to end, but what winds up happening is that Ben shows up at The Plant House to explain to Cathy why he can’t go on tour with her.  I think this scene goes a long way towards helping both characters retain a certain amount of dignity after committing adultery, because when Ben says he can’t go with her, Cathy says she agrees with him and that she’s glad he said it first.  She explains how she fell in love with Ben, but she never meant to hurt Val, and that’s what they would be doing.  Then Ben tells a story about how, when he was in college, he heard some other kids calling him “S.O.B.” and he thought it sounded cool, only for one of his friends to tell him a little later that it stood for, “Solid Old Ben.”  Fuck, Ben looks so sad when he tells this story, almost as if he’s admitting defeat by conceding that, yes, he is indeed always gonna be Solid Old Ben, that he’ll never have enough son of a bitch in him to be selfish and commit to an affair and run off on his wife.  What I see here is a man wondering if he should be proud of himself for doing the right thing or not.  I imagine Ben is thinking about how he could go back to Val only to discover they’d have the same problems, Gary and Val’s special love for each other, the twins who are a constant reminder of Gary’s interference in Ben’s life, whereas if he went off with Cathy, he’d have the chance at a new life.  Indeed, a few eps back (I think it was in Phoenix Rising after the big party where Abs told everyone the truth about Val’s babies), Ben declared to Val, “I wish we lived somewhere where we knew nobody and nobody knew us,” so the idea has clearly been floating around in his head for awhile.

Anyway, even though Ben and Cathy agree that she should leave without him, this is a moment of colossally bad timing, because just as they embrace for a goodbye hug, who should come running up the beach to witness this hug; why, it’s Val!  How did Val get here?  Well, we’ve all known ever since the first episode that Val has a special religious appreciation for the ocean, so that’s always where she goes when she’s upset about something, and that’s where she goes now.  After she and Lilimae have a nice heart to heart about what to do and Lilimae encourages her to take a little vacation by herself, Val goes to the beach and starts running.  She winds up at Ben’s Plant House, presumably wanting to speak with him, but she gets the wrong idea when she witnesses that hug.  I think I kinda don’t like the way this comes about because it’s contrived in such a way that events have to line up just so for Val to witness this hug.  However, I can still appreciate the nice irony that Val is misunderstanding this hug in the same way that Ben misunderstood the hug between Gary and Val an ep or two back. 

A little later, we cut to Val wandering around The Plant House, which is currently unoccupied.  At first, she’s quiet and just pacing, but then she goes crazy and starts trashing everything, starting with the big “Cathy Geary Rush” poster on the wall, which she tears down and crumples up.  Then she goes to town on basically everything that could be placed on a table, smashing his lamps and his plants and even his TV, really fucking shit up.  The whole time, those shrieking Bernard Hermann violins fill the soundtrack as Val screams and it’s a pretty good little scene.  It’s all done in one shot, which I always appreciate, because you know that if they did a take two, all the props had to get rearranged just perfectly so that Val could smash them yet again.  Also, keeping it all in one shot helps us to stay with Val and feel like we understand her intense anger.  This also brought me immediate flashbacks to two prior scenes of characters trashing a room in order to feel better.  The first is Gary destroying his and Val’s bedroom back in season two’s The Loudest Word when he couldn’t cope with Val’s cancer and the second is Laura trashing the restaurant at Daniel in season four’s Willing Victims when she realized Richard had left town forever.  When comparing the three scenes, I’m not sure which one I like the best, but I think I’ll go with Laura trashing the kitchen, mostly because I liked the way the camera did a slow pan out after she was done, as if allowing her a moment of privacy in her grief. 

Next up, we have a lovely scene between Gary and Val taking place on the beach.  Actually, before this scene, we get a quick one between Lilimae and Gary in the kitchen of Val’s house.  I note this scene because of how chummy these two are looking at this point.  Lilimae is holding Bobby on her knee and Gary is holding Betsy on his, all while he and Lilimae sip tea together and talk about current affairs.  Lilimae says how she thinks Val just needs a moment alone, that she’s not worried about her disappearing to Shula, Tennessee, and then she gets sorta reflective and talks about the time Val did just that and Gary went out there to rescue her, finishing her reflection with, “I guess there are just some people you can count on in this world.”  Gary lets the comment come and go without really acknowledging it, but I noticed it big time and found myself wondering if Lilimae just wants Gary and Val back together at this point.  Let’s say that Ben ran off with Cathy and was gone forever.  What if Gary and Val decided, now that they are both single again, to get remarried?  Would Lilimae be happy?  I think she would, as a matter of fact, and we really have to look no further than this scene and her little comment to prove my point.

“I think I know where she is,” Gary tells Lilimae, and of course he is right, because he immediately finds a very depressed Val sitting on the beach, wrapped in a blanket, looking suicidal.  Note the true love oozing out of every crevice of this scene, by the way, because as soon as Gary sits down and says hello, Val sorta moans his name and then immediately lays her head down on his shoulder.  When Gary says, “Where’s that girl who held me together when I was coming apart?”, Val cries and says, “I don’t know where she is, Gary, I don’t know where she went.”  Gary hugs her and assures her, “She’s right here,” a very sweet and tender scene.  Then Gary gets reflective himself and brings up that “full circle” thing I mentioned awhile ago when he says how they are at the beach and it’s “full circle” because that’s the first place they went when they arrived in California.  Now, maybe I’m way off, but I think Gary is misremembering this development.  I remember the first episode vividly and I remember that Val went to the beach with Karen Allen and Gary was nowhere in sight.  Perhaps she enjoyed frolicking on the beach with Karen Allen so much that she immediately went to Gary and brought him to the same spot?  Yes, I like this little version of events I have just created in my brain, so I’m gonna go ahead and stick to my theory as canon. 

On the Laura/Greg front, they are busy with grooming Peter into the perfect next United States Senator.  We first catch up with them gathered at a fancy restaurant together along with Ned Beatty Lookalike, who is giving Peter tips on he can maintain the perfect look for a senator.  He tells him, “No sunglasses, ever,” and when he learns that Peter doesn’t need glasses, he says he’s gonna order some horn rimmed just to “soften that look.”  Then Peter goes on a speech about how they want to change everything about him, including his walk and his clothes and his diction, and then Greg gives a nice little speech of his own about how Peter’s image is everything and people are going to see him a certain way, as an inexperienced guy trying to use his “dead dad’s dough” for his own means or, you know, something like that.  Honestly, at this point I’m rather confused by this story and not sure why Greg truly wants to help Peter get into the senate.  I imagine this stuff will be further developed in season eight, so for the time being, I don’t really have too much to say about it.

Before I move away from the scene, however, I do want to discuss Ned Beatty Lookalike.  Ned Beatty Lookalike follows me around and always seems to pop up in whatever I might be watching.  Whenever he appears, I inevitably get excited and go, “Look, it’s Ned Beatty,” only to wait a couple of seconds and realize it is, in fact, actually Ned Beatty Lookalike, who’s real name is Patrick Cronin.  This guy has been in five thousand things, starting his career with an appearance on All in the Family in 1977, but I’d say it goes without saying that we all know this guy best for his two appearances on Seinfeld, right?   He played Sid Farkus, the bra salesman, in The Sniffing Accountant and The Doorman.  He is the one with the amazing and immortal line of, “Barring some unforeseen incident,” which I still like to say up to the present day in order to amuse myself.  That’s what immediately jumps to mind when I look at this guy, but it was only after taking a careful look at his IMDb that I also discovered he is a Transmorpher, appearing in a 1990 episode (meaning absolutely nobody in the world is watching) of Dallas entitled, Will Power.  The last thing about Ned Beatty Lookalike that I wish to explore is: In addition to being a Transmorpher, is he also a Tangled Knot?  I ask this question because IMDb credits him with five eps of KL, starting with this one and going through four more eps, all contained in 1986.  However, his credit in this ep is “Jules Posner,” and in the next five appearances, he is “Marty Sweeney.”  Okay, so is he the same character but he just underwent a name change?  Or is he going to morph into a completely different character next season?  I’ll keep my eyes open to find out.

The last plot point to discuss is Karen’s disappearance, which kinda permeates the proceedings of everything else this ep.  While all the other characters are doing their thing and having their adventures, this question of “Where is Karen?” looms in the background.  Now, if I was watching this in real time in 1986, I would probably think Karen wasn’t going to be showing up at all in this ep.  She’s been missing since the ending of our last ep and it’s a good long chunk of minutes before we see her face in this ep, so I would probably assume that Michele was taking the week off and the writers were trying to explain why she was gone.  However, that’s not the case, as 20/20 hindsight vision tells us that Michele shows up for all 344 eps of KL, no matter what, but nobody could predict that way back when.  Anyway, in this ep, we get a lot of the characters worrying about where she is and trying to figure it out, starting out with a scene at Lotus Point in which Eric discovers her car parked in a garage.  The mechanic guy says how Karen was having a problem with her brakes and so she asked him to take a look at it and he gave her a loaner car. 

         By the way, this character of the mechanic comes and goes with no fanfare and I certainly didn’t notice him or think much about him at all, that is until I looked on IMDb and realized the actor playing this mechanic is John DiSanti (pictured above).  Since I can hear everyone reading this blog furrowing their brow and wondering who the hell I’m talking about, I’ll explain that he played a scary rapist serial killer in one of my favorite horror movies, Eyes of a Stranger, a 1981 slasher nobody besides me and my brother ever seem to talk about, but a movie I love intensely.  In that, he’s creepy as shit, but since the actor is just a fat white guy, he often shows up in other small appearances and I won’t even notice because he’s, you know, just a fat white guy and I can't tell them apart.  Anyway, here he is now and I am pleased to see him, even though this teeny tiny role of the mechanic providing exposition is totally microscopic and very easy to miss and nobody besides me would even care.

Anyway, at a certain point in the ep, we cut to Karen lying on the ground in some creepy ass little room that looks like a basement.  She looks beaten and bruised and possibly drugged.  How did Karen get here?  Okay, here we are reaching a point where I kinda remember stuff and I kinda don’t remember stuff.  I remember that Karen gets kidnapped, and I remember the actor who plays the guy who kidnaps her, but I don’t specifically remember why she gets kidnapped or what the motivation of the kidnapper is.  In any case, Karen’s kidnapping sets the stage for our cliffhanger.  The last scene of the ep is her scrambling around this basement, looking for any possible escape.  She’s working on getting a window open when this mysterious stranger enters.  We don’t get to see who he is; all we get to see if his arm and we hear his voice as he says, “I wouldn’t.”  Then Karen screams and the scary music gets scarier, starting to sound like the music from The Shining in the scene where Shelley Duvall finds all of the “All work and no play” papers.  Karen tries to run up the stairs only to find the door is locked, then the voice says, “You want out, Mrs. MacKenzie?” and then we do a freeze frame ending on her horrified face and that’s the end of season seven.  Real fast on Karen’s kidnapper: When we start the next season and get to know him better, we will find him to be a wimpy little nerd played by the guy from Real Genius, and obviously the powers that be didn’t know that quite yet.  The unseen kidnapper from the closing moments of this ep has a totally different voice than the guy we are going to see and hear in the coming eps, but actually the difference isn’t quite so striking as I might have believed.  I used to say that the kidnapper sounds like Darth Vader in this scene, but actually that’s not true; he just sounds calm and stoical.  I’ll try to explore this more when we hit season eight.

So that does it for The Longest Night.  There were great moments in this, but it was also kinda meh.  Seems to be my review of the whole last portion of season seven, doesn’t it?  I find myself unable to properly explain my feelings here, by the way, because I want to make it clear that I still enjoyed watching season seven start to finish, all thirty episodes, but there was just something far less engaging about the later eps, and most especially about the last third of the season.  Even though things are happening that I like and the characters are still super interesting and all that, it just lacks that certain extra something that seasons four, five, and six had down to an exact science.  When we reached the cliffhangers of those seasons, they felt totally earned, like we had spent the entire season leading us to that exact moment and it had all been planned out intricately.  With this cliffhanger, it’s more like, “Well, Karen’s kidnapped now, so tune in next season to find out why.”  I still find it compelling because I want to find out who kidnapped her and why, but it’s not written with the same finely tuned style that our previous season finales have been. 

Okay, so this is a pretty exciting moment because we have now watched seven seasons of KL and have seven more to go.  We are pretty much at the exact halfway point (almost; because of episode count and the first few seasons having less eps than the middle to later ones, we won’t technically be halfway through the series until we have watched through episode 172, but you know, that’s just being nitpicky).  We are about ready to start season eight and a new era for the series, but before we do that, I shall post my Reflection on Season Seven and discuss this year in total.  How does KL work or not work under the guiding hand of David Paulsen?  Also, just for fun, I thought I might post a bonus writeup comparing the dream season of Dallas that Peter Dunne ran to this season of KL run by Paulsen (click HERE to read it).  Even though one season of television is clearly miles and miles above the other one (try to guess which show I’m referring to), I actually think we will see both seasons suffering from similar problems.  So anyway, stay tuned for all of that stuff and then we shall get started with the season eight premiere, Just Disappeared.