A BRIEF DALLAS INTERLUDE: PART 1 OF 12
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 TV.com): 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!....it’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.