Wednesday, August 1, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 183 of 344: NIGHTMARE


Episode Title: Nightmare

Season 08, Episode 23

Episode 183 of 344


Directed by Bill Duke

Original Airdate: Thursday, March 5th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Jean's superior tells her she needs to kill Greg. Mack, Greg, and an agent find out that Jean and her associate are trying to kill Greg. Mack punches out Jean's superior, and he's arrested. Not knowing he's on to her, Jean invites Greg to her hotel room. Greg says he knows what she's up to and pulls a gun. Mack and the agent come in and arrest her. Mack explains to Karen that he couldn't tell Val that Ben was alive, because she would give it away. Val, hysterical about Ben, tries to buy a gun. Unsuccessful, she goes to the ranch and takes Gary's gun. Val breaks into Jean's store, and almost shoots a cleaning woman by accident. Gary finds her and brings her home. Ben walks in and they hug and kiss and cry. That night Ben dreams that Jean kills Val. Abby tells Jill, "Let the second Mrs. Ewing give the soon to be third Mrs. Ewing some advice. The first Mrs. Ewing doesn't go away - ever!" Gary and Jill decide to get married some other time.





Okay, here we go.  All of our collective sphincters should be tightening up as we prepare to discuss Nightmare, because things are going to get very rough.  We haven’t seen an ep this bad in a long, long time, and I’m already yearning for, say, A Turn of Events, in which J.B. falls off a cliff and they repeat the scene 700 times in flashbacks while Peter speeds his car along for 72 minutes.  That ep looks like it was helmed by Stanley Fucking Kubrick when you put it up against this monstrosity, and the most awful part about it is that this ep is being directed by a genius who I love with all my heart and soul. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the swan song for one Bill “Cooke” Duke, a most fabulous actor and an even more fabulous director who has brought us so much joy throughout this time contributing to KL.  The fact that his brilliant collection of eps, which began way back in season three with Power Play and has now spanned up through season six’s The Deluge, is going to finish up with Nightmare just hurts me deep down in my soul.  It hurts me even more that has sorta been off the scene since The Deluge, not directing any eps from season seven, and that he now returns for one last ep and that the last ep he contributes is this.  Before I start shitting all over this ep, let’s make sure to put things in perspective.  Yes, this ep sucks and I’m sad that Bill “Cooke” Duke directed it, but he also directed nine other eps and I pretty much loved all of them.  He has been one of my favorite directors of the series alongside trusted veteran Nicholas Sgarro, Nick Havinga, and, of course, the amazing and brilliant Larry Elikann.  Rather than getting all upset that he directed this ep, let’s stay positive and remember he also gave us such stunning television accomplishments as Celebration, Forsaking All Others, and Out of the Past. 



I don’t think anyone comes out looking good in this ep, but the worst of the worst has to be Val.  I talked last ep about how J.V.A. says L & L turned her into “the village idiot” and that is absolutely true in every single scene of this ep.  Also, J.V.A. is giving us a pretty terrible performance throughout all of this, but I don’t even know if I can blame her or even completely understand why the performance is so bad.  We all saw season six and we all know the stunning range and depths of emotion that J.V.A. can display when she’s under the guided hand of an amazing writer and producer like Peter Dunne.  What I think is happening here is that J.V.A. is being handed shit by the writers and then having to figure out how to make it work, and she’s simply not able to.  I’m not even judging her for it; I don’t know if anyone could make this wretched dialogue sound good.  To set the stage, our very first scene of the ep is Val and Lilimae talking at the house and Val is all upset because Greg Sumner came back from the dead at the end of the last ep but there was still no sign of Ben.  She is now convinced that Ben is dead, and as she talks to Lilimae, she raises her voice all loud and she’s way over-the-top as she screams, “SHE TOLD ME SHE WAS GOING TO DO IT AND SHE DID IT!  SHE STOOD RIGHT THERE AND SHE DID IT IN GREG SUMNER’S OFFICE!  When Lilimae asks who Val is talking about, Val continues to scream,  JEAN HACKNEY, THAT’S WHO!  I COULD HAVE STOPPED HER, BUT I DIDN’T!  I DIDN’T EVEN RAISE A HAND!  I COULD HAVE STOPPED HER, I COULD HAVE…  Then there’s a short pause where we all hope Val will stop screaming, but she instead doubles down with a total Nancy Kerrigan, shrieking, “WHY DIDN’T I STOP HER, WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!  Oof, it’s bad, but it only gets worse.



Now that Val is convinced Ben is dead (Spoiler Alert: He’s not; the writers are just using the same lazy “Is this character dead or not?” device that they used one episode ago with Sumner), she decides she needs to get a gun pronto.  Her first stop is a gun shop, and this is actually one scene that I didn’t have a problem with, and let me tell you why.  We’re all watching this together (My Beloved Grammy, Brother, and myself, I remind you) and Val comes in to get her gun, and then I said how I don’t think Val should be able to get a gun because you need to wait two weeks or whatever.  My Beloved Grammy said how she doesn’t know the rules about buying guns, and then Brother jumped in by quoting Dick Miller in Terminator and saying, “There’s a fifteen day wait on the handguns, but the rifles you can take right now.”  Then a second later, the clerk says how she has to wait fifteen days, that’s the law, that the law exists to keep people from getting all angry and running out to buy a gun, but Val doesn’t wanna hear it and just storms out of the gunshop and says never mind.  So yeah, this scene wasn’t that bad mostly because at least it adheres to reality and doesn’t let her just get a gun immediately.

Oh no, wait, this scene is that bad and I almost forgot to bring it up except that I have it pulled up on the old computer as I’m typing this and I’m watching the scene again and, yup, surely enough there’s something stupid in this scene.  Right after Val tells the clerk that she wants to buy a handgun, we then do a dissolve to a flashback of her in Ben’s arms at that cheap Lotus Point broom closet party from Survival of the Fittest and we again see him kissing her and saying, “You take care of those children!” while she cries and says, “Please don’t do this.”  This scene was stupid back in that ep, so why show it again?  We get it, we’ve been watching the show, we know why Val wants to buy a gun, and we don’t need to have a flashback to that stupid scene shoved into the middle of this gun shop scene.  However, this scene is high art compared to what’s to come.



Next up, Val hits Mack’s office, not expecting to run into J.B., who’s burning the midnight oils in her own office.  The beginning portion of this scene functions to remind us that Gary and J.B. are going to get married, because J.B. tells Val how she and Gary are heading off to Lake Tahoe soon to get hitched (great place to get married, by the way, and if I ever decide to get gay married, I’d probably go do it there).  Then Val has another facepalm moment where she’s like, “Aren’t you a little afraid being up here all alone on night?  With all the things you and Mack do, with all the criminals you deal with, must make you kinda nervous.  I know it would me, but I’m sure you keep a gun up here for protection.”  In writing the dialogue out like that, it’s impossible to convey how hysterically funny J.V.A.’s acting here is, because she’s clearly trying to sound casual with, “Aren’t you a little afraid…” etc., but then as she says, “but I’m sure you keep a gun up here for protection,” her eyes get all wide and she cranes her neck up and over in another direction, essentially announcing to J.B. that she’s here snooping for a gun.  J.B. just has to be watching this crazy woman prowl around the office and be thinking to herself how much better a wife she’s gonna make for Gary than this deranged chick.


But wait, there’s more.  Val is not to be deterred, so her next stop is a late night convenience store, very 7-Eleven style.  She grabs, oh, something off the shelf, and then she goes up to the register and the guy says how much she owes him, and then, I kid you not, Val whispers, “I’ll give you two hundred dollars for the gun that you have in that drawer right there.  I know that you people keep guns there.”  The clerk doesn’t like this and says how she’d better leave or he’s gonna call the police, but Val then ups her offer to 250 dollars.  It’s only after the clerk picks up the phone and puts it to his ear that Val decides to stop embarrassing herself and take a hike.  Oh my, how this scene made us laugh.  This is another instance where I was able to have a nice time and enjoy watching because I was enjoying making fun of it with My Beloved Grammy and Brother, but when I gave it another look all by myself in order to prepare for this essay, it just made me feel sad and embarrassed for Val and embarrassed for J.V.A. for having to perform this scene and have it broadcast for all the viewers in 1987. 

But she’s still not done.  Next up, she hits Westfork to pay Gary a visit and act like she wants to talk about his engagement, but really she’s after his gun, which we learn Gary inherited from his grandfather (I did kinda like that little detail; Gary is a peace-lover and I don’t see him as the type that would want to be packing heat).  I will say that I appreciate the fact that Gary can clearly tell something is wrong with Val.  She’s acting like a fucking lunatic, of course, but the writing is so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if she hyperventilated and paced around in front of Gary and he didn’t even notice.  Fortunately, Gary points out how weird she’s acting and says, “Right now, this moment, I’m concerned for you.”  Then Val says how if both she and Ben were to die, she would want Gary to raise Bobby and Betsy.  Then the scene explodes to new levels of high camp, because Val goes into Gary’s bedroom and just starts…..trashing it?  She’s looking for a gun, but it’s just bizarre, because the first thing she does it fling open a drawer (which kinda makes sense), but then the next things she does is pull up all the covers on Gary’s bed.  Huh?  Does she really think the gun is just, like….under the blankets?  Does Gary sleep with a gun under his pillow like James Bond?  Also, why is she making such a fucking mess?  We’re supposed to think she’s just kinda nutty from all the stress and worrying about Ben, but it comes off like complete absurdity.  Surely this silliness is over after this scene, right?

Wrong.  Val manages to find Gary’s gun and she hits the road for Hackney’s dress shop.  Again, it’s like the creative team is trying as hard as possible to make this as campy as possible, because we have this ultra-dramatic music playing as Val parks her car, then we get another dissolve flashback to Hackney threatening Val, and then, brace yourself, we hear Val’s inner monologue as she says, “I won’t let her get away with this; I won’t let her do it.”  Oh dear God, no.  Actually, the inner monologue begins even before the stupid little flashback, as we see shots of the car driving and hear Val saying, “I love you, Ben.  I won’t let her do this to us.  She can’t do this to our family!”  Who thought this was a good idea?  In what world is a big group of staff writers and showrunners sitting around and somebody says, “This scene would really be good if we pipe in some terrible inner-monologue dramatic dialogue while Val drives!”  But, God help us, and I know I keep saying this, but Val’s still not done. 

Next up, Val slips into Hackney’s stupid little dress shop, it’s all dark and there are mannequins everywhere, and she makes her way into the office, where she finds a woman with her back to her, the woman bent over the office desk.  Well, Val’s got the gun in hand and she’s ready to go, ready to blow away this woman she assumes is Hackney. Well, I’m sure you’re all not surprised at all to learn that this is not Hackney, but rather some innocent cleaning woman who just wants to get her work done (what fucking time is it even supposed to be right now?  Isn’t it like midnight?  Why is this cleaning woman working so late?).  The cleaning woman would be suffering an exploding head like Tom Savini in Maniac were it not for the intervention of Gary, who comes powering into the scene to wrestle the gun out of Val’s hands.  Then they leave together and, well, that’s it.  I do wonder what ends up happening to this nameless, lineless cleaning woman.  Do you think she just continues cleaning and going about her life?  Do you think she reports this crazy woman with a gun to her bosses?  This is a situation where something happens and then the characters just walk away and I’m like, “But, wait….what happens to the cleaning woman?”    



Do you realize I’ve been going on for fucking ever about how stupid this ep is and yet I’ve only talked about the Val portions of it?  All of those scenes are so bad that they would be the worst aspects of any other ep, but in Nightmare, they are but one facet of the ep’s extreme badness.  Let’s move on over to Mack and Karen and Sumner and, of course, the main character of the series at this point, Hackney.  Things are finally starting to wrap up in the Hackney storyline with this ep, thank Christ, but my God is it stupid.  We catch up with Mack when he attacks Hackney’s co-conspirator or boss or whatever in a parking garage.  It’s all part of Mack’s epic plan to make this storyline stop, I suppose, because as the scene begins, this car is getting towed and then the Hackney boss guy is like, “Hey, don’t tow my car,” and Mack starts screaming at him about how he parked in a handicapped zone and he doesn’t like it.  Then the guy says, “I’m not handicapped,” and Mack, brace yourself, punches him in the stomach and says, “You are now!” in a line that sounds a lot like bad A.D.R.  Oh God, no, what a horrible line, the kind of line I would love if you had Arnold deliver it in a good piece of cheese like Commando but that makes me throw up in my mouth when watching this series.  Holy shit, what terrible dialogue, and even the staging of the scene looks stingy and cheap and badly choreographed.

 

At the same time, Greg is drinking Zombies, which I had never heard, so I looked them up and discovered it’s a classic cocktail from like 1934 that consists of fruit juices, liqueurs, and lots of rum.  I was briefly tempted to try one of these, but don’t think I will, as rum is one of my least favorite types of alcohol (I’m a vodka guy), so I highly doubt I would enjoy the taste.  So yeah, Greg is drinking zombies at a fancy hotel with, you guessed it, Hackney.  If I remember correctly, the scene starts with him and Peter talking about, you know, something boring involving Peter, and then Hackney shows up and Greg is like, “Take a hike, Peter,” echoing the overall sentiments of me at this point as far as Peter’s involvement in the series.  Then he and Hackney sit and exchange bad dialogue I’m not gonna bother to remember and sip Zombies, all happening concurrently with other scenes involving Mack and Karen and, of course, other scenes involving Val.



Karen has been fretting and ringing her hands a lot because she’s feeling left out, like she doesn’t know what the hell is going on with this story (she’s not alone).  Mack is evasive when she tries to get answers out of him, but finally Karen has had enough of being ignored and so, when Mack arrives home and then receives a phonecall and immediately goes running out of the house again, Karen chases after him and announces, “I’m coming with you,” which I have so very many problems with.  There’s no way that Mack would allow Karen to come with him on this dangerous mission; I know my Mack and I’ve known him well since season four and I know he wouldn’t just let Karen hop in the car and ride with him to go bust some bad guy (or bad girl, in this case).  What Mack would really do if they were writing true to character is he’d get all firm with Karen and maybe put his arms on her shoulders and say how this is very important and he’ll tell her all about it in a few hours but he needs her to trust him and leave him alone.  The real reason this is here is so that we can have an unbelievably terrible scene in which Karen and Mack drive around while Mack takes a big exposition dump all over the viewing audience.    

Look, I get that this story has been going on forever (TWENTY THREE EPISODES!!!) and it’s long and stupid and confusing, and I get that the writers probably wanted to get viewers up to speed if they were confused, but this is not the way to do it.  We begin the scene with a shot of the car driving and bad A.D.R. from Karen going, “I just don’t know how Ben could have considered such a thing!”  Then we cut to inside of the car so that Mack can recap the entire season.  I’d type all the dialogue out, but I don’t want to, because it’s awful, and typing the words out might make my fingers bleed (my ears are already bleeding as I re-listen to the speech while writing this essay).  Basically he just explains, complete with a lot of clips from previous eps throughout the season, all the shit that’s been going down, starting with, “Ben didn’t want to kill Sumner; we had it planned for Ben and his family to escape and Sumner blew it by showing up at the club opening.” This scene goes on for over three minutes and is just oozing with clip show style footage from prior eps and awful A.D.R. from Karen and Mack.  I’m embarrassed for The Dobsonator for having to deliver the dialogue, and as I listen to the A.D.R., I can just imagine him standing in the recording booth with those big headphones on and looking at the lines he needs to read and being like, “Really?” 



I’m gonna get bold.  This is the worst scene we have ever seen on the entire series.  There are so many better ways to keep an audience up to date on a long running storyline.  L&L and the creative team should have busted out their notebooks and given a really close look to seasons four, five, and six, and studied the way those years managed to balance long, complicated arcs throughout the year without becoming confusing.  Having watched those brilliant years of television very recently, I can tell you I don’t recall any scenes of characters hopping into cars to deliver over three minutes of exposition to the audience through bad A.D.R. and clips of old scenes.  Ugh ugh ugh, this is just the worst, and it was actually during this atrocious abomination of a scene that My Beloved Grammy opined, “This definitely feels much more like a daytime soap,” and I told her of course I agree.  This kind of shitty storytelling might fly on General Hospital, but KL is a classier affair and the writing has never stooped this low before.  So yeah, truly awful, and yeah, the worst scene we have ever watched in nearly eight years and nearly 200 eps. 


Let’s speed along here so I can be done talking about this piece of crap.  Greg has been sipping Zombies (double Zombies, if I’m not mistaken) with Hackney for awhile, and then she says how she’s in room 444 and what an easy room number that is to remember and she departs.  Greg follows after her and finds her in the hotel room, having slipped into something more comfortable, her legs spread open and waiting for Greg’s penis to enter her.  Actually, she’s obviously going to try to kill Greg, but I do wonder if she intended to shag him first before killing him, kinda like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or those spiders that eat their mates after sex.  I bring this up because the two do a whole lot of kissing and heavy petting before the camera pans underneath her pillow to show that she’s got a knife waiting there.  After Greg starts to, you guessed it, spit out expository dialogue (“That body you followed out to the ranch wasn’t me; I went to the airport, but I didn’t take Ben’s escape route”), Hackney whips out her little knife and, I guess, tries to attack Greg in a very badly staged sequence.  Then, and I can barely type this out without groaning, Greg pulls out a gun and says, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but I wasn’t that glad to see you; that was a pistol in my pocket.”  Oh dear God, no, and even though Devane is weirdly good at delivering pretty much any dialogue, no matter how terrible, and even though he actually does find a way to come out of this scene relatively unscathed, this is still awful.  Anyway, then the good guys bust in and take Hackney away and, well, that’s about it.  Oh yeah, Greg also throws in some dialogue about how Hackney’s evil buddies have all been neutralized, but nobody could possibly even care at this point.

All pretty campy and terrible, huh?  And yet, God help us, there’s still one more part, a scene that I can’t believe I had forgotten about, because it’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s the very ending of the ep.  Now that we’ve learned Ben is alive and well (we were all in such suspense), our final scene starts with Ben and Val in bed together, a bright new sunshiny day, and Ben declaring that he’s going to tidy up the garage.  Really stupid “happy” music plays over the soundtrack as Ben declares that he’s going to take a shower and hops out of bed.  A second later, who should come walking into the bedroom?  Why, it’s Hackney, a pistol in hand, and she shoots Val three times.  We get a quick shot of a bullet ridden Val (meaning a couple of red spots on her robe), then a very dramatic, Anakin Skywalker-esque “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” from Ben, and then of course he comes snapping awake because, duh, this was a nightmare (ooooh, just like the title of the ep, isn’t that clever?).  Then the ep ends there.  Oh boy.  Here’s another scene that, when I watch it all by myself, I’m just kinda embarrassed for everyone involved and it makes me sad, but when watching with My Beloved Grammy, it was a laugh riot. We all almost peed our pants at this; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen My Beloved Grammy laugh so hard.  In terms of scenes of high camp, this is maybe #1 out of everything we’ve seen so far.  “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIVES” looks as subtle and understated as Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part II when put up against this Hackney shooting nightmare.

Oh God, there’s just nothing good about this storyline or the way they wrap it up.  In fact, I wanna talk about that, because I didn’t realize when we started this ep that it would basically finish up the Hackney stuff.  See, early in the season I did a peek at her IMDb to see how many eps we’d have to suffer through looking at her and I saw her last appearance was in the 25th ep of the season, and this is the 23rd.  That’s accurate, but all we get of her in the next two eps is quick flashes where Ben thinks he sees her and then it’ll turn out to be someone else, you know what I mean?  For all intents and purposes, this finishes Hackney’s time on the show, and I’m happy about that, yet it’s still awkward and badly done.  It’s also weird how they finish this up and we’ve still got seven more eps to go in the season.  Now, by no means did I want Hackney to span all the way to episode thirty of the season, so I’m grateful we at least get to finish up with her here, but then it’s also awkward, its placement in the series bizarre.  In fact, a little later, I mentioned to Brother how we have one more disk in the season and he was very confused and said he thought these eps were the end of the season, as the Hackney stuff gets all wrapped up.  I told him no, that there’s still five more eps (please God let them be better than this).  So, the Hackney storyline somehow manages to span on wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too long while also simultaneously wrapping up way too abruptly and fast.  It’s just fucked in every way imaginable.

Now brace yourselves, because after all my bitching and moaning, there is one good thing in this ep, maybe I would even go so far as to call it a great thing.  It’s small, just one line of dialogue, but it’s a classic exchange all KL fans should remember.  It occurs in a scene between Abs and J.B., in which Abs has stopped by Westfork to pick up some of her stuff.  She and J.B. have a little chat and Abs is sharp enough to figure out that Gary has rushed off to go help Val with something, so she says the classic line, which is, “Jill, let the second Mrs. Ewing give the soon-to-be-third Mrs. Ewing a friendly warning.  The first Mrs. Ewing doesn’t go away, ever.”  Yeah, I do love this line and it’s definitely a classic, but it’s a line that takes up maybe ten seconds out of a 48 minute ep; is that enough to give Nightmare a pass? Um, no.



Time for my concluding thoughts, and as I sit here staring at my computer and typing, I find myself asking the difficult question: Is this indeed the very worst ep of KL we’ve ever watched or even, possib ly, the very worst ep of KL ever made?  My faithful readers may recall that season three’s Silver Shadows is my current vote for worst ep, and yet I think this one is possibly worse.  I did some serious chewing on this and thought about the two eps side by side and I realized that a lot of my rage against Silver Shadows came from its placement in the season, from being sandwiched in-between two very good eps, Best Intentions and Letting Go, for interrupting that flow for a boring, shitty ep about Abs and some old guy and his stupid butler.  But, in terms of simple competency and writing, I think if I just took a look at Silver Shadows all by itself and without the context of the eps around it, it might not be so bad, whereas Nightmare……aye yai yai yai yai.  You know what, who am I kidding by even having this debate?  This is obviously worse than Silver Shadows because nearly every second is terrible.  It’s Hackney heavy, has that awful scene with Karen and Mack and the exposition dump montage, has nearly 500 scenes of Val being stupid, and then ends with an unbelievably corny and campy dream sequence.  Not only that, but it soils Bill “Cooke” Duke’s legacy.  This Green Beret who gave us nine stunning eps of television finishes his KL legacy with this turd, and that makes me sad, though I also don’t blame him.  This is television, not film, and I know the directors aren’t nearly as in control with standard network TV as they are with their own films.  In this case, I’m sure he got the job and was handed the script he had to direct and was like, “Well, this is clearly terrible,” and then just did the best he could.  The show has morphed into something much cheaper and crappier in the gap between Duke’s last ep and this one, so I imagine he didn’t have the same artistic resources he may have had when working in the glory years of seasons four through six. 

So yes, Nightmare is, of the first 183 eps of the series, the worst of them all.  I really think it might remain the worst ep of all time when all is said and done, and I truly hope this is our rock bottom and that the series never gets worse than this.  I like to think this ep is Gary’s season four bender and everything after this bottoming out with be an upward swing.  Certainly I can tell you that our next two eps, while not great, were a huge improvement over this.  So let’s be positive and assume that things are going to get better, shall we?

Next up, we mercifully start to move away from all this Hackney nonsense and focus on some characters I actually like and care about with Neighborly Conduct. 


Thursday, July 26, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 182 of 344: IN MOURNING


Episode Title: In Mourning

Season 08, Episode 22

Episode 182 of 344

Written by Alan Goldfein

Directed by Nicholas Sgarro

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 19th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Val and the kids are brought home in a catering van. Val is frantic about Ben. Mack hires bodyguards posing as construction workers to protect Val and instructs Val to say that Ben is on a business trip. Lilimae asks Karen if she knows what's going on as Ben had her close her bank account, they drove around in a stolen car, then in a catering van all night, and now there are two carpenters at the house who aren't doing anything. Karen asks both Mack and Val what is going on, but neither will tell her anything. Greg's death is in the paper. Abby rushes to Peter's and says he'd better be prepared to take over Galveston Industries and pressures him to make a public statement. Gary and Jill had planned to marry in Las Vegas, but he postpones it. Val goes to the ranch to comfort Laura, then Greg walks in, and Val suddenly wonders if Ben is dead.




                Welcome back to the total turd sandwich that is The Jean Hackney Show.  I can already tell you even before I start writing that this is going to be one of my shortest essays.  I barely have any notes on the ep, almost nothing of significance happens in the ep, and to waste my time over-analyzing it and talking about all the different aspects of it would just be silly and futile.  My notes finish up with, “Kind of a blah episode,” and I suppose that’s how I felt after finished watching it with My Beloved Grammy and Brother, but after giving it a second watch all by myself, I think it’s gone from “kinda blah” to “just plain bad.”  Let’s discuss.


You should all recall where we last left off in the climactic moments of Survival of the Fittest, with Ben and Greg sitting up in Greg’s office and Ben holding him at gunpoint.  Hackney was listening down below on a big old pair of headphones and we heard a gunshot and then the credits rolled.  Is Greg dead?  Obviously not, but we’re going to have to spend an entire ep acting like he maybe might be dead and having all the characters running around and fretting, only for him to show up in the last two seconds and be like, “Hey, I’m not dead,” and every viewer in America in 1987 saying, “Yeah, duh.”  Ugh, let’s just talk about this as quickly as possible and then we’ll move on to an ep that manages to be even worse.



                We open on Hackney driving her car while terrible synth music plays on the soundtrack.  She parks the car and meets one of her co-conspirators (I think his name is Nick) and says how she knows Greg is dead.  Obviously she doesn’t really know this, and her co-conspirator is quick to point it out, saying how she just saw a body-bag and not an actual dead body.  He says how it could have just been a sack of potatoes and he’s absolutely right.  Hackney is really, really stupid and really really bad at her job.  She’s supposed to be all wicked and evil and she can’t even manage to confirm whether a person was shot and killed or not?  She hears a gunshot and sees a body bag and is just like, “Case closed”?  And I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; this woman playing Hackney is just about the worst actress I have ever seen.  I can’t believe she managed to squeeze out four more years of acting work after this performance.  Every line of dialogue she’s given to deliver is terrible, yet she somehow makes it even more terrible by the sheer force of her atrocious acting.  When the dude says, “You didn’t even go inside,” Hackney responds in this way over-the-top and overacted manner, “Have you ever heard of security guards?”  Oh yeah, and the scene also flashes back to the last two minutes of the previous ep, showing them to us again (ugh), only this time adding a little echo sound to the dialogue.  It’s shit like this that makes the show feel like a daytime soap.  You take the bad picture quality, combine it with the dreadful synth soundtrack, and then throw in super corny dialogue and bad flashbacks with echoes and it’s just all kinds of wrong.  There’s no way that the genius Peter Dunne would allow this kind of crap to fly, let me tell you. 

                Through the course of the bad expository dialogue, we learn that a van took the body-bag out to Sumner’s ranch and deposited it there.  Let’s take a quick detour to explore whether, if Greg was to actually be really and truly dead, he would want to be buried on his ranch.  Bobby Ewing got to be buried at Southfork under his “beloved treehouse” during the dream season, so I wonder if the same could be true of Sumner.  If you own property, can you bury yourself in that property?  Well, anyway, that’s not important, but what is important is that Hackney claims the death was legit and that they are just keeping it quiet “until the Stratadine acquisition goes through.”  I’m gonna go ahead and admit something, and that’s that I have no fucking idea what “the Stratadine acquisition” is and I’ve long ago stopped trying to pay attention to why Hackney even wants Greg assassinated.  The story is so stupid that it’s not even worth expending mental energy on trying to pay attention; all I’m doing now is waiting for it to end. 



                As I said, basically the whole ep is everyone fretting about whether Greg Sumner is dead or alive.  Laura gets a newspaper that blares the headline, “Sumner Rumored Dead.”  Mack tells Val that Ben successfully killed Greg, and also assigns two fake carpenters to come to her house and hang out with her for some indeterminate amount of time.  Lilimae goes to Karen’s and further fuels her suspicions by telling her all the weird shit going on, about how they rode home in a catering truck and now have carpenters at the house who aren’t even doing any carpentering.  As I said before, Lilimae is really getting the shit end of the stick with storylines by this point, and in this scene she’s only functioning as an exposition dump and to help get Karen further involved in the story. 

                Val tells Karen that Ben is off on a business trip and “will be gone for some time” and if I was Karen, I’d be immediately suspicious, too, because Val is really terrible at lying.  Sean Spicer would do a better job of convincing Karen that Ben is off on a business trip, because Val looks fidgety, avoids eye contact, and stammers all of her dialogue.  I reiterate that it hurts me to see Val being forced to act this way, and I can already see what J.V.A. meant when she said that L & L turned her into “the village idiot.”  I knew things might get a little silly for Val circa season twelve when she’s got that brain tumor or whatever, but this is only the first season to be shepherded by L & L and already Val is suffering tremendously under their leadership.  This particular scene is just the tip of the iceberg, because Val goes even more village idiot in our very next ep.    



                  The final scene of the ep begins with Laura and Val watching the news and seeing a press conference with Peter (yeah, he’s still on the show, and yeah, you are pretty safe running off to take a piss whenever you see his face pop up in a scene).  Peter aggressively pushes that everything is going just swimmingly with the business or whatever, then Laura says, “I just can’t handle it,” and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Greg comes strolling into the scene and says, “Can’t handle what?”  Oh thank God, Greg is alive, I was in such massive suspense on that one.  Then Val gets this look on her face like, “Oh, shit, where’s Ben?!” and we run our “executive producers” credit over that.  So, now that we have successfully filled an entire ep with a “Is this character dead or not?” mystery, looks like we’re going to have to repeat that again, only with Ben this time.  I’m in about as much suspense about whether Ben is alive as I was about whether Greg was alive.  Good God, I've never been so bored with this show before.



                Let’s look through my notes here and see if there’s anything else worth talking about.  Oh yeah, I make mention of this really bizarre little montage that occurs at about the twenty minute mark of the ep.  Hackney is giving some sort of anonymous tip to the newspapers, and then we keep switching over to different characters reading the paper and we hear their inner monologue as they read, know what I mean?  Like, Hackney says, “Okay, newspaper, you can print that…..” and then we swish over to Peter reading a paper and hear his inner monologue saying, “…well informed sources have confirmed that Galveston Industries has been rocked by internal rumors in the last 24 hours….” Then we swish (and I do mean swish; the camera flies from one image to the next, if that makes any sense at all) to Abs reading the paper and hear her inner monologue saying, “…that chairman and chief executive officer Greg Sumner,” and so on and so forth.  We swish to a lot of characters.  What’s weird is that I’m looking at my notes and I wrote, “A bit corny, but I like it.”  What?  Why would I have written that?  This is awful!  My conclusion is that I was probably in a good mood while I was watching this with My Beloved Grammy and Brother, and I think we all had a good laugh over the corniness of this storytelling device, but watching it alone, I see how stupid and awful it is. 

                Karen and Mack go out to dinner at Lotus Point and Karen challenges Mack to answer her questions about what’s really going on.  While watching, I found myself intensely aware of how boringly the scene was shot and how much it looks like TV.  Instead of doing something interesting with the camera, they just keep cutting from headshots of Karen to headshots of Mack.  I’ll bet you a million dollars the two weren’t even delivering their dialogue to each other when they filmed this, that Michele is probably talking to nobody and that the same is true of Mack and then it’s all just edited together to look competent.  I will say that we all got another great big laugh out of this scene, and let me tell you why.  The scene begins with Karen and Mack having their dinner and there are obviously other people around, but no reason to think Anne is merely three feet away watching the whole conversation.  We have no idea Anne is even in this building when the scene starts, right?  Then Karen is like, “Fuck you, Mack, you won’t tell me the truth, this storyline sucks, I’m going home!”  She takes off and Mack sorta sighs and starts to stand up from his chair, at which point My Beloved Grammy said, “Now he’s gonna be tempted to have an affair with Anne.”  Mack walks over to the bar and Anne is just there.  She looks super duper happy and immediately saddles up next to Mack to try and seduce him and it was just hysterical how this happened mere seconds after what My Beloved Grammy said.  None of us thought that Anne would just appear suddenly in the scene, but appear she does.  Oh yeah, and she also says, “A beer for the gentleman,” and the bartender just hands over a bottle of beer since it’s Television Land where nobody needs to specify what kinds of beer they like; they just say “a beer” and a beer appears.  It's not like there’s any different types of beers in the world or anything like that.



                Looking at my notes, it looks like Peter and Paige also shag in this ep, but who cares?  I don’t even have the energy to write about them right now, so let’s just wrap this up.  I did not like this ep because it was boring, it had no forward momentum, and it was obviously just killing time until we can get to the next ep (a common theme of the season).  So it’s a bad ep and I really didn’t like it, but fuck me if it doesn’t look a whole hell of a lot better after you watch what’s coming up next, a truly truly awful ep called Nightmare.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 181 of 344: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Episode Title: Survival of the Fittest

Season 08, Episode 21

Episode 181 of 344

Written by William Devane

Directed by Michael Preece

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 12th, 1987

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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