Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Brief DALLAS Interlude Part 4 of 12: RETURN ENGAGEMENTS


Episode Title: Return Engagements

Season 03, Episode 14

Written by David Jacobs

Directed by Gunnar Hellstrom

Original Airdate: Thursday, December 20th, 1979

The Plot (Courtesy of Miss Ellie is thrilled when Gary and Valene return to be remarried; J.R. takes Kristin on a trip.


                Hello all, and welcome to our last Brief Dallas Interlude for a short while. For those who are growing impatient and wondering why a blog entitled Knots Blogging has spent the last four weeks focusing on episodes of Dallas, fear not, for we shant be visiting Texas and the Ewings who reside there until J.R. gets shot and Gary comes to visit him in the two-part No More Mister Nice Guy, and that’s nearly a year away from this episode. In fact, I believe we can power through the entire first season of KL without having any crossovers into the Dallas universe, but when we hit season two, there will be lots of crossing over from show to show, so stay tuned!
             Let’s talk about David Jacobs for a minute, shall we? The man (pictured below with some of the fabulous ladies of KL) is certainly going to occupy a very special place in Heaven when all is said and done as he created both Dallas and Knots Landing. However, while you see his name at the end of the opening sequence of every single Dallas episode ever, in truth, I think Dallas was just his gateway to get to KL and focus all his attentions there. Why do I say this? Well, let’s reflect. Out of an enormous 357 episodes of Dallas, the man only wrote six episodes, all taking place either in the first, second, or third season of that series. He obviously wrote the very first episode, Digger’s Daughter, as well as the season one finale, Bar-B-Que. He wrote the last two episodes we just discussed, Reunion: Part One and Reunion: Part Two, which obviously introduced the world to Gary and Valene Ewing, as well as a third season episode entitled Ellie Saves the Day. And finally, the last episode of Dallas he ever wrote was, in essence, the backdoor pilot to KL, entitled Return Engagements, the episode we will be exploring today.

                First, a little history lesson and some context for the episode we are discussing.  As I mentioned before, David Jacobs (the genius) conceived KL first, and now that Dallas, the series CBS had shown much more interest in, was a runaway smash hit, the time had come to take Gary and Val and use them as his vessel to spin us off into the magical, majestic world of KL.  So, by this time (the 1979-1980 season), Dallas had officially found its home and its viewers in the Friday night timeslot, where it would remain until it went off the air in 1991.  However, this episode, Return Engagements, aired on a special night, Thursday, in the time slot that would be occupied by KL starting the very next week and it is, very obviously, the backdoor pilot for the series, so much so that I maintain they should have included it as, like, Episode 000 on the DVD boxed set of the first season, and put it on the menu as the episode to watch before the KL Pilot.

                Remember how last week I wrote that Secrets was very much a Dallas episode and really didn’t have all that much to do with my beloved Gary and Val?  Well, Return Engagements is the opposite.  In fact, aside from the storyline of J.R. taking his mistress, Kristen Shepherd (Mary Crosby, who will be crossing over briefly into KL during the second season) on a little excursion out of town, the majority of this episode focuses on Gary and Val and their second of what will turn out to be three marriages, along with the general drama that accompanies this event.

                We begin the episode (after the classic thirty second preview and opening credits sequence, of course) with Miss Ellie moping (a common theme on the series).  She’s sitting up in her bedroom, listening to some public domain record and being all sad.  Down below, we see the Ewing family attempting to enjoy breakfast but finding it difficult thanks to the music.  “Why does she have to play that record over and over?” J.R. bemoans, to which Lucy retorts, “It was my daddy’s favorite,” and we learn that today is Gary’s birthday.

                Let’s take a quick parlay here, shall we?  This episode aired on December 20th, right?  Now, presumably it takes place on or around that day.  Obviously the episode spans a couple of days in total (I think just two or three), but for the sake of argument, let’s just say December 20th.  I am very curious to keep my eyes open and see if Gary’s late-December-annoyingly-close-to-Christmas-birthday is ever mentioned again, or perhaps even contradicted on the KL series.  In fact, I’m thinking really hard now and I can’t even remember if Gary ever celebrates a birthday on KL.  Still, as we follow along, I shall pay strict attention to see if his birthday is ever mentioned again, and if it remains consistent with what is established in this episode, okay? 

                Miss Ellie is sad because she hasn’t seen Gary since, oh, around September 30th, 1978, over a year ago, now.  I do believe Gary is her favorite child, and she is sad that they have never been able to successfully form a solid mother-son-relationship.  She doesn’t even know where he is, for Pete’s sake!  No letters, no phonecalls, no telegrams, no E-Mails (oh, wait….), for all she knows, he could be dead in a ditch, or off on a bender.  As we head into the episode, we see that Miss Ellie is desperate to find her son and reconnect with him.

                Fortunately for her, Val is still in town, not scared away after her visit with J.R. in Secrets, and when Ellie learns that Lucy is meeting up with her mother, she insists on coming along with her.  At first, Val is surprised to see Ellie in the park, but Ellie quickly explains that she means no ill will towards her, that she simply wants to see her son again, and she actually has a line that I find very telling.  She says, “He’s my son in a different way than Bobby or J.R.  They’re more Jock’s.”  Interesting, no?  This line helps explain not only why Ellie has special feelings towards her middle child, but also why the other Ewing men (sans the angelic Bobby, of course), find it so hard to get along with Gary.  He’s Ellie’s son, not really Jock’s.  He doesn’t like to do all the things that Bobby, J.R., and Jock like to go off and do together, kill animals in the woods, drink a lot of beer, be wild, and so on (although he will prove to have a love of adultery not dissimilar to J.R.'s).  Gary is a more gentle soul, and as we’ll see throughout the next fourteen seasons, his interests lie more towards trying to make the world a better place.

                It’s not long before we finally see Gary, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the real Gary Ewing, no more of this David Ackroyd crap (no offense, David), for we are now introduced to the blonde haired man we will be following for nearly 350 episodes of television, Mr. Ted Shackleford, or Shack, as I like to call him.  As we first see him, he is in a crummy hotel (or motel?) room, packing up his bags and preparing to do, well, what we saw him do last time: Run away.  I guess being in Texas is too much for him; he’s too close to the fire.  I also get the feeling that Val is pushing him into something, something like marriage, perhaps a wee bit too fast for old Gary, and he’s gone into flight mode and is about to blow town.

                Fortunately Val comes in and sees what’s going on.  When she realizes Gary is about to run off, they have a whole big talk and work things out.  I remember watching this episode for the first time, when me and my brother were first getting really heavy into Dallas, and finding myself wondering why we were spending so much time with these characters who were, essentially, guest stars.  Thinking back, I don’t think I was aware at this point that Dallas even had a spinoff.  It was later on, when Gary and Val would occasionally guest star, that I did my research and found out there was this whole other show featuring these characters as leads.  But upon first viewing, I was honestly confused by this episode, as so much time is spent with Gary and Val and their relationship and barely any time is spent with, say, J.R. or Bobby or Lucy or any of the usual characters (I don’t think Ray or Cliff Barnes are even featured in this episode!).  However, with hindsight, this is all very juicy to me, and I repeat one more time that this is basically essential viewing for anyone getting ready to watch KL.  We have already learned so much about Gary and Val, and it’s only gonna make the experience of KL that much richer to understand all these intricacies and past histories.

                Basically, Val talks Gary off the ledge, convincing him not to leave.  We learn that, over the past few months, they have been working on their relationship, seeing if they can get back together.  This sets into motion a storyline for the early portion of the first season of KL, one I honestly find a little perplexing, but listen here.  They want to see if they can make it work, but they don’t want Lucy to know about it until they have figured it out for sure.  Hmmm, okay?  This might make sense if Lucy was a four or five year old girl, but at this point she is, I think, nineteen or twenty years old (she’s in college, in any case).  This bizarre protectiveness that Gary and Val have for her, as if she can’t know that mother and father are even speaking to each other, um, well it’s odd, and it gives J.R. leverage to do some evil in an upcoming KL episode, Community Spirit.

                Things escalate fairly quickly the next time we see the dynamic duo, which would be in, I believe, Bobby’s office at Ewing Oil.  Miss Ellie is there, Gary is there, Val is there, and it’s at this moment that Gary proposes to Val for the second time.  “Valene Ewing,” he says (prompting me to wonder if Val ever returned to being “Valene Clements” in the interval between 1962 and 1979), “Will you marry me?”  Now, if she said no, we wouldn’t even have a spinoff show, would we?  Fortunately for the sake of everyone who appreciates brilliant television, she accepts his proposal, they kiss, everyone is happy, and they start to get to work on wedding plans.

                Wheels are spinning fast here, because as Gary and Val run off to get ready, Miss Ellie learns of some property that’s recently opened up over in California.  Apparently accepting that Gary just can’t live in Texas and be around his power hungry father and brother(s), Miss Ellie has the bright idea to buy them a house of their own over in California.  She looks at a few sample pictures of the real estate choices, and we get our first glimpse of 16966 Seaview Circle (impressed?  Yeah, that’s right, I know my shit!), the beautiful and cozy little house that Gary and Val will soon move into (and which will end up being occupied by, oh, about nine other people throughout the course of the show, including Alec Baldwin!).  Miss Ellie gazes at the picture of 16966 Seaview Circle, an idea forming.  What a lovely house!  Look at the lovely gate in the front!  And the nice long driveway!  Oh, it all looks so sweet and so cozy, and I’ll bet the neighbors, aside from the toxic bores of Kenny and Ginger, are so nice! 

                There is quite a bit of very interesting character development in this episode, as well, and not just for Gary and Val, but for Ellie and Jock, as well.  You see, Ellie is extremely pleased that her son and his one true love are getting remarried, but she chooses not to tell Jock, probably assuming that Gary wouldn’t want him there, for one thing, but also imagining that he might stir the pot and ruin this special day.  Now, what’s important is that Jock finds out about the marriage and comes anyway, but he comes with respect, and he doesn’t say anything mean or degrading to Gary.  He gets all dressed up and is wearing a giant Stetson and he shows up at, I think, the courthouse, and says he would like to witness his son’s marriage, “If he’ll have me.”  Honestly, I found this moment remarkably touching, and very important for both characters.  Deep down inside, there is a soft spot in Jock, and deep down inside, he loves Gary as much as any of his children.  He also shows respect and understanding for Gary’s second wedding, and that Gary allows him to stay and witness it says a lot about his character, too.  Jock never crosses over into KL (and of course, some of that might have to do with Jim Davis’ death in 1981, when Dallas was finishing its fourth season and KL its second), but I feel like he really looms large over Gary throughout the run of KL, that Gary is always thinking about his father and what would make him proud.  Gary’s legendary bender during season four of KL is, for me, directly linked to the death of his daddy as well as Jock’s will, but we shall discuss that when we reach that juncture in, um, about a year. 

                J.R. is off having his adventure with Kristin, but he sorta flips out when he finds out that Gary and Val are remarrying and tries to return to Dallas as fast as possible.  Once again, I must ask why J.R. is so upset by these shenanigans, but I suppose he is still convinced that Gary and Val want to “Get a slice of the pie” and cut in on his action or whatever.  J.R. hasn’t yet realized (if he ever does) that his brother means him no ill will; he merely wants to go about his own life without interference.  But anyway, J.R. gets back to Dallas in time to see his brother and the blushing bride, although he misses the actual nuptials.  Of course, he grins and assures Gary that he’s delighted for him and all that, though Gary sees right through him.

                All of the pieces are falling into place, and there’s just one development left: Gary and Val’s home.  Miss Ellie shows them some pictures and tells them they can pick any house they like and she’ll have it all taken care of; she is a very rich woman and she will buy them a house as their wedding present and as good luck for their new life together.  At first, Gary is hesitant, insisting that he wants to run his own life, take care of his own problems and responsibilities, but Ellie gives a rather eloquent speech that I happen to agree with.  She says that she was weak beforehand and didn’t speak up when J.R. ran the dynamic duo off of Southfork and stole baby Lucy away from Val.  She sat back and let it happen, and she must atone for this.  She says buying them a home is really a very small thing in comparison to what they have been through and she hopes they will take this gift as a very small commiseration for all the past problems and spats.  Gary and Val agree.

                Next up, we get our penultimate scene for the episode, and I’m not gonna lie, watching it gave me a little half boner.  We get a quick shot of a plane flying off, and then we cut to Bobby, Gary, and Val, standing in front of their new home at 16966 Seaview Circle.  They all look so happy and the two simply can’t wait to move in.  “What’s this place called, anyway?” Bobby asks, to which Gary gets really whimsical, sorta gazes into the sunset, and says, “Knots Landing.”  Okay, yeah, in some ways it’s tacky, almost the equivalent of having Gary hold up a sign saying, “Watch Knots Landing, starting NEXT WEEK on CBS!” but I really don’t care cuz I am so excited to dive into the world.  Also, let’s be honest, aren’t all spinoffs sorta tacky, at least at the start?  There’s always that period where you have to get your spinoff launched and you need to use your parent series to do it, right?  This, of all the examples I’ve seen, is one of the best ones and actually feels organic to an overall story (unlike when The Jeffersons spun off from All in the Family and we had an entire episode devoted to the family moving into their apartment in New York).  The only thing that could have made this scene better would have been a little cameo by someone from the KL gang, perhaps my beloved Karen or the amazing Richard, but fear not, for we shall be meeting them very shortly.  Also, I know very little about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at this point.  For all I know, maybe the cast of KL hadn’t even been decided yet, who knows?  In any case, Gary and Val are the only KL folks who get to cross over onto Dallas anyway (although Karen does get a verbal mention from J.R. in a very important Dallas episode), so it’s really not that big a deal.

                The very last scene from this episode involves Sue Ellen and J.R. enjoying breakfast out in the Texas sun together.  At first, see, J.R. is all grumpy about his brother’s nuptials, probably convinced that Gary and Val will be moving into Southfork with the rest of the family, but when Sue Ellen informs him that the two moved off to a little house in California, J.R. is ecstatic.  Larry Hagman lights up with his classic grin and he laughs and he’s like, “Oh, California, how marvelous!”  The episode ends on a freeze image of J.R.’s laughter, although I like to imagine he’s already hatching an evil plot to open oil drilling out there in California for Community Spirit.

                Yay, we made it!  We have discussed all four Dallas episodes that glide us ever-so-smoothly into KL, and so now we’ve got the history, we’ve seen the setup, we’ve seen how Gary and Val have been married, been divorced, been reunited, been torn apart by J.R.’s evil, and now, finally, afer all these years apart, have been remarried and are ready to start a new life together.  Everything is set up and prepared, and so I think it’s time, boys and girls, that we all mosey on over to California and see how Gary and Val get settled into their new home with their new neighbors and friends.  Next week, we shall be discussing one of the most important events in television history, the very first official KL episode, entitled, um, well, Pilot (the rest of the episodes all have cool titles).  See you then!


Monday, September 21, 2015

A Brief DALLAS Interlude Part 3 of 12: SECRETS


Episode Title: Secrets

Season 03, Episode 04

Written by Leonard Katzman

Directed by Leonard Katzman

Original Airdate: Friday, October 12th, 1979

The Plot (Courtesy of Pam keeps Bobby in the dark about her pregnancy; Valene returns, seeking Lucy's forgiveness

                Welcome back to Knots Blogging, but once again, we will be focusing on an episode of Dallas.  For some context, at this point, which would be the 1979-1980 season, Dallas was a ratings hit (it would finish this season at #6 and would end with the infamous “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger that would propel its next season to #1 in the Nielsen ratings) and David Jacobs was ready to turn his attention to what he really cared about: KL.

                In the Dallas universe, a lot has happened since the last episode we discussed, and nearly one year has passed.  For the purposes of this blog, of course, we are only making the occasional stop over in Texas, and only when it relates to Gary and/or Val making an appearance.  So, let’s just try to ignore all the aspects of this episode that focus on Pam and her potential pregnancy and her neurofibromatosis (and yes, that’s a real disease), and let’s also ignore J.R. sitting in his office and hatching an evil plan for Cliff Barnes, and let’s also ignore the storyline regarding Sue Ellen completely neglecting her new baby and sitting in a chair, depressed, all the livelong day.  For this episode, we will strictly be focusing on Valene’s visit to Texas and her attempts to reconnect with daughter Lucy.

                Actually, after the classic opening credits sequence, the very first thing we see is Val driving into Texas, looking alert and nervous behind the wheel of her car.  It’s been nearly a year since J.R. ran her and Gary off the ranch for the second time in their lives, back in Reunion: Part Two.  We know that she’s back with some mission, some purpose, and we quickly learn that it involves Lucy. 

                We do cut away from Val and visit with our usual Dallas characters for awhile before we see her again, but there was an interesting line early in the episode, spoken by Bobby to Miss Ellie.  See, Miss Ellie is giving Bobby some sage advice (in her usual droll way; have I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of Miss Ellie?), and Bobby tells her that “Ever since I was a little boy, there were only two people I could talk to: you and Gary.”  Gary is not actually present in this episode, but he is still mentioned and it’s nice to see that he’s on the minds of the Ewing family members (probably the writers and David Jacobs were already planning to get the spinoff going and wanted to make sure that Gary was a remembered character who was consistently mentioned).  Okay, moving on.

                Val finds Lucy at her Southern Methodist University (I believe she also pays a visit to this university to see Lucy in the KL episode Home Is For Healing, the only episode of KL to ever feature Lucy) and pleads with her to speak with her.  “Why don’t you go see J.R.?” Lucy asks.  “Maybe he can give you more money.”  Poor Val (POOR VAL, POOR VAL!) quivers and looks like she’s about to cry, and Lucy walks off in a huff, pleased with her little burn.  We see that even though a year has passed, those wounds are still fresh, especially for Lucy, and it might be harder than Val imagined to get Lucy to speak with her again.  Not willing to take no for an answer, Val calls up Bobby, knowing that he is the most kind hearted of the Ewing family (Gary is kind hearted, too, but more complex, as we will soon see) and asks if he can help her get through to Lucy.  Bobby agrees to help, and they head off to hijack Lucy from her, um, cheerleading practice? 

                Let’s parlay for a moment and talk about Lucy being the smallest cheerleader who ever lived.  How tall is she?  Four feet?  Maybe four and a half?  I don’t know what the rules are for cheerleading, but isn’t being tall important?  I don’t know if I completely buy Lucy as a cheerleader, but maybe I’m mistaken; maybe height is not important.  Please write to me and correct me if I’m wrong.  I do know, however, that it is extremely unrealistic that Lucy later finds some success as a MODEL, which she does later on in the series.  Pretty sure that the #1 most important thing for modeling is your height; it’s the first thing they look at when they look at you, no?  Granted, her main photographer, Roger, was a bit of a psycho rapist stalker, but still, the fact that Lucy even got into modeling in the first place is pretty absurd.

                But wait a minute, what does that have to do with the episode at hand?  Oh yeah, nothing, so let’s return to Lucy and Val and Bobby.  I wanna point out that I see a pretty special friendship between Bobby and Val, and I would have liked to see it explored more, either when Val crossed over into Dallas or when Bobby showed up on KL.  It seems like they have an interesting shorthand with each other; they understand each other and they legitimately like and respect each other.  Is it because Bobby loves Gary in a special way and knows that Val is Gary’s one true love, perhaps? 

                When Val and Bobby show up at Lucy’s cheerleading practice, we get a gander of J.R. up in the bleachers, watching through a pair of binoculars, seeing Val speaking with her daughter.  Obviously this is a tremendous plot contrivance, as J.R. would have little interest in going to his niece’s after-school practice, especially since he clearly doesn’t like Lucy very much.  Fortunately, the writers throw in a little line where he looks over at his friend and is like, “You’re right, Bill [NOTE: I FORGOT THIS CHARACTER’S ACTUAL NAME], it was a great idea to come to this practice!”  Then he cackles in his usual, wonderful J.R. style and we know he’s hatching an evil plot.

                The evil plot is basically a repeat of the one we saw back in the two part Reunion episodes.  J.R. quite simply wants both Gary and Val out of his life completely.  I often have found myself wondering why, however.  As I wrote before, Gary has no real interest in the family business, the vast Ewing Oil enterprise, and Val would also have no interest in such things. J.R., however, is convinced that they want to remarry and come to Southfork for “A slice of the pie.”  This is not based in logic, but rather in J.R.’s own paranoid worldview.  Since J.R., God bless him, is a schemer and is always up to something duplicitous, he thinks everyone else around him is equally scheming.  His fears are not based in anything concrete but simply in how he views the world around him because of the person he is.

                Anyway, the date is set for Val and Lucy to meet up in her motel room and talk about things, but J.R. shows up first and orders Val to get out of town.  This time there’s no money or anything, just the fact that he told her to get out of town in 1962 and she has disobeyed him.  This is early in the run of Dallas when I still found J.R. to be, often, a frightening character (he definitely softens up as you get deeper into the series and his hair starts to turn grayer), and he’s actually pretty scary here.  Certainly Val is angry at him, but she’s also afraid of him (and I think always will be; we’ll discuss this more in the five glorious KL episodes where J.R. crosses over).  Fortunately, just as things are looking real shitty for Val, in comes Bobby with Lucy at his side.  They heard everything, you see.  Now Bobby is going to take J.R. out for a nice little chat, and Lucy has heard J.R. confess to some of his evil doings (along with the fact that Val really and truly never took any money from him).  Mother and daughter are reunited, Lucy has a great big old grin on her face (this shot of her smiling would serve as Charlene Tilton’s main image in the opening credits for, oh, two or three seasons, I do believe), and the episode ends on a pretty happy note.

                This was a much faster writeup than the last two, probably because the vast majority of this episode concerns itself with the Dallas folk.  Honestly, while I think the two part Reunion episodes from season two along with our next episode, Return Engagements, are basically essential viewing for anyone who is getting ready to dive into KL, I’m not sure if this episode is required.  It’s definitely more focused on Dallas than on the relationship between Gary and Val, especially since Gary himself doesn’t even show up this time.  However, we still get little glimmers and a few important things, mostly for setting up future events.  I also think it’s an important episode for reinforcing just how much the deck is stacked against Gary and Val, to the point where Val can barely even contact her own daughter without J.R.’s interference.  For instance, Val tells Bobby that, “We’ve been talking and might start seeing each other again.”  This is exciting news, and it definitely dovetails well into the next episode we will be discussing, the backdoor pilot of KL entitled Return Engagements.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Brief DALLAS Interlude Part 2 of 12: REUNION: PART TWO


Episode Title: Reunion: Part Two

Season 02, Episode 02

Written by David Jacobs

Directed by Irving J. Moore

Original Airdate: Saturday, September 30th, 1978

The Plot (Courtesy of                 J.R. saddles Gary with a failing business venture, hoping he'll buckle under the stress. Digger has harsh words for Pamela.

                Welcome back to Knots Blogging.  Despite the title, we are still in Dallas right now, and we have a total of three Dallas episodes left to discuss before we officially spin off into KL.

                This episode begins with one of those hilariously long “Previously On” segments that were standard in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  But instead of a simple “Previously on Dallas” and then thirty or sixty seconds of recap clips, this has a narrator telling us, “Here are some scenes from the first part of tonight’s story,” followed by, oh I dunno, three minutes of clips from the last episode.  Hell, it might even be four minutes.  Lord, we had so much more time in the olden days, didn’t we?  If I’m not mistaken, these early Dallas and KL episodes clock in at around 48 minutes once you remove the commercials.  Compare that to network fare nowadays, where, I think, episodes barely come to 42 minutes after all those pesky commercials are removed.  Anyway, after the extremely long recap, we get the narrator announcing, “In a moment, this story will continue.”  Oh, I’m so excited!

                After that, we have the classic Dallas opening sequence (not as good as the myriad of KL openings, but we’ll discuss that when we discuss that), and then we open on Pam visiting her drunken father in a hospital.  But let’s not discuss that, okay?  That’s strictly part of the Dallas storyline and does not relate to KL at all.  The reason we’re even discussing this episode is because it is the second of a total of twelve episodes, spread out all the way from 1978 to 1991, to feature Gary and/or Val in guest spots, functioning as a part of the plot.  As with last week’s episode, this is another pivotal one for understanding the characters of Gary and Val.

                If you’ll recall the last episode, we ended on a bit of a cliffhanger with J.R. putting an evil plan into motion, as is his wont.  This evil plan involved saddling Gary with a loser company that he has no hopes of saving, in order to make him live up to his “loser” reputation and continue being the black sheep of the family.  Well, as we begin Reunion: Part Two, J.R. comes up to Gary while Gary is also speaking with Lucy and Valene.  In classic J.R. style, he grins and spins a web of lies so intricate you really want to believe him, claiming that this company is a real winner and that Gary gets to be the head of it; oh how exciting!  Now, I’m not sure I completely go with the scene, and here’s why: Lucy is very excited by the news, but I can buy that, as she’s sorta dumb (particularly at this juncture of the series).  Valene is extremely suspicious and distrustful of J.R., and that I can buy very easily.  My problem is that Gary doesn’t immediately see right through J.R.’s deceit.  Instead, he only expresses a little nervousness about being saddled with a big company, like, “Oh jeez, I hope I can do this job well!” 

                Um, Gary, are you a moron?  You’ve known J.R. for years, he’s your brother, and you should be very familiar with his little bag of tricks.  Yes, we are told that Gary hasn’t seen his brother or any of his family since 1962 or thereabouts, so I guess that excuses some of this, but with the history they have, Gary really ought to know better.  Why would J.R. suddenly have this change of heart and become his brother’s best friend and hand him an amazing company that’s soaring to success?  Well, he wouldn’t, and I personally expect Gary to know this, but he doesn’t.

                However, I gotta say that I almost see David Ackroyd’s Gary as a different character from Ted Shackelford’s Gary, so it’s hard for me to lay the same expectations on this Gary, whom we barely get to know, versus Shack’s Gary, whom we will see in over 300 episodes of television.  Because of that, I guess I can sorta buy that Gary would be fooled by his brother’s deceit, kinda.  There are other aspects of the Ackroyd Gary that differ from the Shack Gary (such as his gambling addiction; is this ever mentioned again on either series?), and this is just another one.  When I think of the Shack Gary, I think of a sharp, smart man who quickly ceased taking any crap from J.R. (but who also makes a ton of mistakes and can’t keep his damn pants on, but then he’s only human).  However, he’s not here yet, so we’ll just have to wait awhile to experience his glory (just for the record, we will be seeing Shack as Gary for the first time in our fourth Brief Dallas Interlude, Return Engagements).

                One aspect of this scene that I appreciate a lot and find quite significant is Valene’s immediate ability to see right through J.R.  She makes a classic “Suspicious Valene Face” and then waits for J.R. to drive away.  As soon as he does, she pleads with Gary to pack his bags and to leave with her.  “J.R. is going to do it again!” she says, and she’s right.  She says how they can leave tonight, how they can maybe go to California (oooh, foreshadowing?) and try to work out their relationship over there, and then maybe later they can return for Lucy.

                Obviously there are other Dallas related stories at work here, but let’s just skip over them, shall we?  J.R. keeps Gary hard at work in the study, going over files and papers and generally numbing his brain.  Gary attempts to express his discomfort with the situation to Miss Ellie, but of course she’s like, “Oh, what happened before won’t happen again.”  Obviously she is wrong and totally oblivious, and obviously she’s going to try and trap Gary here at Southfork forever and ever, like the evil twins in The Shining.  Anyone who’s watched Dallas knows that Miss Ellie does not like people to leave Southfork; it’s like a Bermuda Triangle that people get lost in.  Honestly, I don’t think Gary really needs J.R. to sabotage him and frighten him away from Texas; all it will take is Miss Ellie’s annoying, creepy nagging (can you tell I’m not an Ellie fan?).

                The big culminating scene in the episode occurs in the wee hours of the night, as Gary sits in the study and tries to wrap his mind around all these documents.  Enter Pam, Miss Ellie, and Lucy, hoping to give him a word of encouragement and a nice glass of milk.  But then Gary spills the milk; OH NO!  This scene is way over-the-top and, honestly, I would be annoyed if I was Gary, too, because oh boy do those three women overreact, acting like he spilled volcanic acid rather than milk.  Pam’s eyes get all big and wide and she looks directly at the camera and says, “Do you think J.R. made a copy?  Did he make a COPY?!”  Everyone acts like the world’s about to blow up, even though it’s really nothing so serious, merely a spilled glass of milk, and then Gary snaps and says, “It’s just a damn glass of milk; leave me alone!”  An overreaction?  Maybe, but then the three women were way overreacting to the milk, so I understand his feelings.

                We’re about to go to a commercial break, but the writers have devised a great hook to keep us watching, because Gary walks quickly into the Ewing living room, where one of their many, many fully stocked bars awaits him (I have a theory that the Ewings had a full bar in every room of the house, including the bathrooms, the broom closets, the attic, anywhere you can think of).  Gary pours himself a nice big glass of, I think, bourbon (if I remember correctly, that is his drink of choice whenever he goes on an epic bender in KL).  The glass is filled, the drink is there, it’s staring at him, he’s staring at the drink, he’s all revved up and ready to go, let’s pour this drink down my throat and officially go on a bender and ruin my life some more, shall we?  In the background, we can see Val observing this with a mix of horror and resignation.  Same old Gary, right?  As soon as some conflict enters his life, he runs straight for the alcohol.  We black out and go to a (probably very short) 1978 commercial break.

                When we return from commercial, Gary has his bags packed and is quietly sneaking out of Southfork, heading for God only knows where.  Val comes running out to try and stop him from going.  She tells him that she thought of coming to him last night, that they could have had some sexy sex and renewed their epic love affair from way back in 1962.  She pleads that this doesn’t have to be the end for them, that just because J.R. has made it impossible for them to live at Southfork doesn’t mean they can’t find their own happiness somewhere else.  Even so, Gary gives Val a kiss and walks off into the sunset, bound for a plastic surgery center that will change him from an olive skinned Italian looking man with dark hair to a blonde haired Nazi poster boy with a much slimmer physique. 

                Val’s all upset and crying, when who comes walking out to enjoy the morning sunshine?  Why, it’s J.R., who has now completed fifty percent of his evil mission.  All that’s left is to get rid of Val and, somehow, make it look like she’s the evil one, not him.  So he says he will cut her a check for $5,000.00 if she blows town and never comes back.  This is a great Val/J.R. confrontation scene (and we’ll be seeing a few of them on both Dallas and the J.R. crossovers to KL), as we see that Val might seem dumb and blonde and country and what-have-you, but she’s also pretty sharp in her own way.  She can see right through J.R. and she refuses to be bought.  She also has a significant line here, as she calls him out on his bullshit and says, “There was no reason to do this.”  Indeed, there wasn’t.  Gary would not have interfered with the family business; Gary doesn’t even care about the family business.  He would have been happy working on the ranches with the horses and the cattle, unconcerned with business, with money, or with politics.  But J.R. is a paranoiac who believes the entire world is against him, and so Gary had to go.

                Our final scene is a classic Ewing family confrontation during the cocktail hour (although, of course, in the Ewing household, the cocktail hour lasts from roughly 12:00AM to 11:59PM, before refreshing again at 12:00AM).  J.R. appears to have gone through the trouble of cutting a fake $5,000.00 check to make it appear that Val took the money and ran.  He shows this to Lucy as explanation for her mothers’ abandoning her yet again.  Bobby confronts J.R. and says that Gary would have “Brought nothing but himself, his old, good self.” One can tell that Bobby yearns to have Gary around, to have a brother who won’t hatch evil plots every day and try to ruin his life constantly. 

                J.R. does manage to fool Lucy into believing that her mother took the money and disappeared, although when he lets his tongue get a bit loose and insults Gary one too many times, Lucy comes at him with a (very fake) stage slap.  J.R. has a good final line, something like, “Well, they used to shoot the messenger; I guess I got off lucky,” then we get shots of everyone in the room glaring at him, and then we roll credits, marking the end of Gary/Val episodes for, oh, about a year.  They will be back for two episodes of season three (well, Val will be back for two; Gary only shows up for one) that effectively launch them off into their own show.  But before we get on to those….

                This double episode is not only an excellent season two premiere of Dallas, but pretty much essential viewing for anyone who wants to watch KL.  Yeah, I know plenty of spinoffs have been enjoyed by people who never bothered to watch the parent series (for instance, I watched the entirety of Melrose Place without watching so much as a single episode of Beverly Hills, 90210), but these early Dallas episodes set up so much about Gary and Val and the fourteen years we are going to spend with them that I feel a new viewer would really be doing themselves a disservice if they simply picked up season one of KL and started watching.  Yes, KL begins with a tremendous Pilot and we learn a lot about Gary and Val in that Pilot, but the experience is so much richer if you watch these Dallas episodes first to learn about their history.  Think of everything revealed in these two hours of television: We learn about how Gary and Val met, how they fell in love, how they conceived Lucy, how the relationship fell apart, how J.R. stole baby Lucy away from Val, and how their relationship was effectively dead for sixteen long years until they reunited here.  Then we get to witness J.R. destroy their plans again with all the ease of a trip down to the market for a carton of milk.  Seeing how the deck is stacked against this couple right from the get-go only makes diving into KL that much richer.

                I do have one random query I’d like to address.  It’s a question I have that, at this moment, I really have no way to answer.  I know it’s early in my blog to start talking about stuff like this, but pretty much my ultimate dream for this blog, in addition to gathering some much needed attention and love for the brilliance of KL, is to one day interview some people involved with the show, and quite honestly I would just love to interview David Jacobs, as the man created both Dallas and KL and I have a lot of respect for him and his storytelling abilities.  If I ever do interview him, I plan to ask him if these two episodes of Dallas were done with him playing the long game, if he knew that when the time was right, he would spin Gary and Val off into the show his heart truly belonged to, the show he pitched to CBS in 1977 originally, KL.  Or, was he simply writing two episodes of Dallas and introducing another Ewing character to the mix?  I want to think that, in his mind, he had a grand plot and knew that he would use Gary and Val very soon as his gateway to another series, but at the same time, these are only the sixth and seventh episodes of Dallas altogether and the show was not yet the ratings sensation it would quickly become during the 1979-1980 season, so it would make sense that, at this juncture in time, he was only concerned with getting Dallas off the ground and wasn’t thinking about KL yet.  Who can say?  I certainly don’t know, but in any case, I still think these episodes are very rich and should be seen as something of a pilot before the official Pilot for KL.

                Oh yeah, and one last thing I think I’d like to cover before I end this post.  Now, at first I didn’t know if I was gonna do this when discussing these particular Dallas eps from 1978, but what the hell, why not?  See, KL runs a mammoth fourteen seasons all the way from 1979 to 1993, and whenever we cross a year while discussing KL, I’d also like to have a quick discussion of some of the important cultural events that occurred throughout that year.  Now, KL wasn’t on TV in 1978, so at first I was just gonna jump to 1979 and discuss some 1979 touchstones after the KL Pilot, but let’s go on and discuss a few things that happened in 1978 that were significant, shall we?

                Well, I love Stephen King and he has published at least one book per year since his first published book, Carrie, in 1974 (the only two years since 1974 to not feature at least one new King book are 1976 and 1988).  So, in 1978 Mr. King published two books, his collection of short stories called Night Shift (published in February of 1978) as well as my all-time favorite King work, The Stand (published September of 1978).  Brian De Palma released the incredibly silly but still very enjoyable and stylish film The FuryAlso, the serial killer David Berkowitz was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on June 12th.  Roman Polanski fled to France in February of that year because he did, um, some questionable things in a hot tub.  During June of 1978, the very first Garfield comic strip appeared, created by Jim Davis (not Jock Ewing, by the way; a different Jim Davis).  Some of the top grossing films of that year were Grease, Saturday Night Fever (which, by the way, is pretty cool since that movie actually came out in 1977), Jaws 2, and The Deer Hunter.  On the horror landscape, John Carpenter’s landmark movie Halloween also came out that year, as well as George Romero's brilliant Dawn of the Dead.  Finally, and bringing us back to the subject of television, the top ten shows of the 1977-1978 schedule were (going from #10 to #1) One Day at a Time, MASH, Alice, Little House on the Prairie, Charlie’s Angels, All in the Family, 60 Minutes, Three’s Company, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley.

And that’s gonna do it for 1978.  But before we move on to California with the KL Pilot, we still have two sunny Texas episodes left to watch.  We’re going to jump forward almost one full year to our next “Brief Dallas Interlude,” this one from the third season episode entitled simply Secrets.  Talk to you then!


Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Brief DALLAS Interlude Part 1 of 12: REUNION: PART ONE


Episode Title: Reunion: Part One

Season 02, Episode 01

Written by David Jacobs

Directed by Irving J. Moore

Original Airdate: Saturday, September 23rd, 1978

The Plot (Courtesy of J.R. tries to stop Gary and Valene from mending their relationship.  Lucy tries to seduce Ray.

                Here we are at the start of Knots Blogging.  Now, in case you didn’t read my Introduction to KL, I should explain why we are beginning this blog with not one, not two, not three, but four straight Dallas episodes in a row.  This blog is supposed to be about KL, right?  Precisely, but in any show, you establish characters that hopefully have a rich history and an interesting background, right?  Now, with most series, the first episode marks the first time we are seeing those characters, but in the case of KL, we have the unique fact that Gary and Val, the couple we will be following for fourteen years, already had a prior history that had been well established on Dallas.

                As I begin writing, I wonder how much attention should be paid to the twelve Dallas episodes I will be talking about.  As My Beloved Grammy and I watched these four particular episodes in preparation for KL, I found myself really intensely focusing on any dialogue or scenes featuring Gary and Val, but having to ignore a lot of the other storylines going on around them.  After all, once we move to California and start meeting all our friends in Seaview Circle, we’re not going to be seeing the majority of Dallas characters again aside from when we cross back over into that series every now and then (less and less frequently as we get deeper into the ‘80s).  If I recall correctly, only J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton), Kristin Shepherd (Mary Crosby) and….um…Christopher Ewing (played by the baby Eric Farlow, or as I like to call him, The Elephant Baby) ever show up on KL in crossover appearances, and all of those appearances are early on, within the first four seasons of that series. 

                Thusly, after doing some thinking, I decided my Brief Dallas Interludes will be just that: Brief.  This blog is about KL and while I plan to go into excruciating detail about all 344 episodes of KL, the only real reason I’m writing about these Dallas episodes is because they came from the same creator, they exist in the same universe, and they provide important information about our lead KL couple, Gary and Val.  So as I write about these eps, I'm just gonna try to keep focused on stories pertaining directly to Gary and Val and ignore the sheanigans of the main Dallas cast and characters.

                In Reunion: Part One, Pam (Victoria Principal) is feeling blue thanks to her recent miscarriage from the previous episode.  In an attempt to lift her spirits, Bobby takes her on a weekend getaway to Las Vegas, where they run into none other than Gary Ewing, the middle child and black sheep of the Ewing family.  See, Bobby is seeing some guests out of their lavish Vegas suite (it looks like a fucking house, complete with a full bar and a staircase that leads up to another floor; seriously, this is nothing like the hotel room I stayed at in Vegas) when this crazed member of the hotel staff comes in and starts running around cleaning up everything in sight.  Bobby is all like, “Look here, my wife and I are going down to the pool, could you please come back,” and blah blah blah, but then the man spins around and….GASP!’s Gary!

                Or is it?  Devoted members of the KL fan club may find this episode and the next one a little bit off-putting, as Gary is not being played by our beloved Ted Shackelford but, rather, David Ackroyd.  What’s going on here?!  Well, a quick listen to the commentary track on the DVD along with a helpful Dallas book I own answered my questions about this.  See, Mr. Ackroyd plays Gary here and in the very next episode, and apparently he would have been more than willing to continue appearing on Dallas as a recurring character who only showed up every now and again, but when the producers decided to get KL started, he wasn’t willing to commit to an entire series (one wonders how he must feel looking back and realizing he lost fourteen years of solid television work and probably a fair bit of money).  Anyway, while we thankfully also meet Joan Van Ark as Valene in this episode, things do feel a little bit off as she interacts with this Gary, I guess technically Gary #1, although I prefer to think of him as Fake Gary.  Fear not, though, because if you power through these episodes, you get to meet Ted Shackelford in the Dallas episode Return Engagements.

                A few more notes on David Ackroyd.  He plays a rather different version of Gary Ewing than the one we will come to know over fourteen seasons.  For one thing, he looks so damn different.  Whereas Ted Shackelford has the blonde hair and blue eyes that make him look like an all-American-boy as well as making him look much more like a father to young Lucy Ewing, David Ackroyd is more olive-skinned, almost Italian looking, and there’s a certain hint of darkness to his performance that is not nearly as prevalent from Ted.  He gives the sense of some deep unhappiness, and he also comes across as uncomfortable in the family dynamics (this, of course, may just be a product of the situation he finds himself in).  One can never know how different KL would be had Ackroyd kept playing Gary, but I will say right off the bat that I’m glad we got Ted and that Ackroyd went bye bye (although, believe it or not, we will be seeing him in one KL episode, season three’s Mistaken Motives, playing a romantic interest of Karen’s!).

                Anyway, Gary explains to Bobby and Pam what he’s been up to the last few years.  We learn that he is an alcoholic and had a long period of hard drinking and even lost as much as two weeks during an intense blackout.  Apparently he also had an addiction to gambling that, correct me if I’m wrong, is never once brought up on KL (another random note: In the very first episode of Dallas, Lucy says that Gary used to beat Valene if he had been drinking too much, something which seems very out of character and which I also think is never mentioned again on either series).  Anyway, the solution for him was to move to Vegas and work as both a blackjack dealer and a bartender, keeping his addictions nicely lined up and right in front of him, no longer threatening.  He’s been getting his life back together and seems to be fairly happy living in Vegas, but Bobby of course insists that he return to Texas for a happy (?) family reunion at Southfork.

                I think it’s important to understand all the shit that went down in Gary and Val’s relationship up to this point.  Basically, the two were very young (I believe Val was 15 and Gary was 17, if I’m doing my math correctly) and were going together and accidentally got pregnant with little baby Lucy.  This would be like 1962 or 1963 or so, and Gary was drinking too much and simply couldn’t handle the responsibility or the pressures coming from his daddy and from brother J.R., so he took off, leaving Val all alone.  Val tried to stay on Southfork but got thrown off the ranch by J.R., who then sent some of his good old boys after her and baby Lucy to snatch the baby back (interestingly, we are actually going to get to see this baby snatching in a very early KL episode, Will the Circle be Unbroken?).  From there, Gary, Val, and Lucy just sorta drifted apart from each other until we reach this point in the saga, in late 1978 when the Reunion of the title is finally taking place.

                See, back in Texas, Lucy is meeting up with her long-lost mother, and it is here that we meet Joan Van Ark as Valene Clements Ewing, a character she will continue playing until 1993, fifteen years later.  In our very first scene with Val, she is working as a waitress at The Hot Biscuit (best restaurant name ever, by the way), which Lucy will actually end up working at during season eight of Dallas (but I digress).  We see that Val is a good waitress and is well liked by her customers, and we also get the sense that Lucy and Val are really trying to forge some kind of new connection. 

                For me, this is the most pivotal sequence of this episode and sets us up very well for the voyage we are about to take, because Val takes Lucy out for a walk and explains the story of how she met Gary.  She was fifteen and he was seventeen and he came walking into the restaurant she was working at and, according to Val, “He was about the prettiest thing I ever saw.”  If I recall correctly, we actually get to see this first meeting acted out in a flashback during season six of KL, so it’s nice to hear its origin here. 

                Okay, so Bobby, Pam, and Gary return to Southfork, where the Ewing family is happy yet nervous about the reunion.  Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Jock (Jim Davis) are excited to see their son and hoping to rebuild a relationship with him, but of course J.R. is already up to work scheming.  He does not want Gary around and he does not care to have him as a part of his life.  I find myself wondering why this should be, honestly.  We all know J.R. loves power and he loves being the top dog, of course, so I guess he fears that Gary will return to the family and suddenly he will be working at Ewing Oil as well, diluting J.R.’s powers there.  Of course, Gary has no real interest in this; he would much prefer to work outside with the cattle and horses (“Gary loved the laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand,” as Miss Ellie would say).  But whatever, J.R. is a paranoiac and is convinced that Gary will be a thorn in his side, so he quickly starts hatching a scheme to screw Gary over.

                The last important plot detail comes after Gary’s been home a few days.  Lucy accosts him and says, “Take me into town!”  What she doesn’t tell him is that she’s tricking him into a reunion with his one true love, Val.  Anyway, she brings him to The Hot Biscuit and, for the first time in 16 years (meaning, presumably, that the two have not seen each other since 1962, when Lucy was just a baby), Gary and Val are reunited.  This is all very well and good but, again, would be better if we had the real Gary here.  Still, it is interesting to listen to the two talk about their tumultuous relationship and try to figure out if they can get back together.  Val might seem dumb, but she actually is fairly perceptive about many things (I will discuss this further in the next episode), particularly about human nature or a person’s true intentions.  For example, when Lucy is like, “Let’s go back to the ranch and surprise everyone and they’ll all be super happy to see you two!” Val reacts with, “Call them first.”  She knows she will not welcome back at Southfork, certainly not from J.R. 

                Anyway, the whole gang returns to Southfork and everyone tries to be real nice and friendly with them, but then we reach our final scene of this episode.  In it, J.R. is working on his evil plot, where he will put Gary in charge of a company that is a loser and is about to go belly up.  Instead of just selling off the company or whatever, he gives it to Gary.  He’s on the phone with one of his guys, who tells him, “That company is a loser, Mr. Ewing!”  “Fine, fine, I’ve found just the loser to run it,” says J.R., smiling with his usual mirth.  And that about does in for Reunion: Part One.

                Hmmm, for a “Brief” Dallas Interlude, this actually turned pretty lengthy (and I didn’t even discuss any of the plot points that relate strictly to the Dallas story!), but I guess it’s fitting, as this is the first time we are seeing these characters who we will be following for fourteen seasons.  While it’s strange to have David Ackroyd as Gary, this is still a pivotal episode and I would encourage anyone interested in watching KL to begin with this little batch of Dallas episodes.  The prior history that we learn about Gary and Val, how they were married in their youth and had little baby Lucy but that everything crumbled into pieces thanks to J.R's evil doings along with Gary’s own weaknesses and insecurities, all of this is very important stuff and adds an extra dimension to their relationship, versus just starting with the Pilot episode of KL. 

                Anyway, this was part one of a two part episode, so join me here next week as we move on to our next episode, Reunion: Part Two.