A BRIEF DALLAS INTERLUDE: PART 4 OF 12
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 TV.com): 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!