Episode Title: Community Spirit
Season 01, Episode 02
Episode 002 of 344
Written by Elizabeth Pizer
Directed by James Sheldon
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 3rd, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): J.R. Ewing is in town planning an offshore drilling project on the beach, which everyone is opposed to, except for Richard who asks Laura to get together with Chip Todson, J.R.'s PR man. He asks her to do this so he can get the account. J.R. has an afternoon rendezvous with Karen (big mistake!). Gary goes to J.R.'s office to steal an important file he can use against his brother. Along with the rest of the community, Gary protests by picketing on the beach.
Well, it certainly didn’t take them long to cash in on the success of the parent series as they were getting the spinoff series off the ground, did it? We already had Patrick Duffy as a guest star crossing over from Dallas in Pilot, and now, one week later, we have Larry Hagman showing up as J.R. In the totality of the series, there really aren’t that many crossovers from Dallas to KL, with only nine crossover episodes out of 344 (and none whatsoever after season four), but as you are first getting started with the series, it might seem like the crossovers are constant.
Not that I’m complaining. In fact, I really like it and kinda wish the crossing over could have gone on longer (mostly because I would have loved to see Larry Hagman as J.R. cross paths with William Devane as Sumner). I also get a boner for the idea that the two shows exist in the same world, that at the same time J.R. is doing his evil deeds in Texas, Gary and Val and the whole gang are doing their thing in California, both existing at the same time.
This episode actually starts out in Texas with an exterior shot of the Ewing Oil building and a little bit of Jerrold Immel’s Dallas theme. From there we go into J.R.’s office as he holds a small conversation with some lackey. This is what I’m talking about, really; it’s cool to be in J.R.’s Dallas office here, at the head of an episode of KL, and even though it’s an extremely brief scene (less than two minutes long), it provides more of that linkage I discussed last week, keeping the two shows caught up with each other. The gist of this sequence is that J.R. is discussing expanding Ewing Oil’s influence even more, perhaps into, dare we say it, California?
Now what is J.R.’s motivation here? Is it really as simple as wanting more money and having more influence? Is it the simple fact that Ewing Oil is not doing much in California? Or is it that he likes the idea of heading out to his brother’s new home and rocking the boat a little? Hmmm, I’m gonna go with option three. J.R. loves to stir the pot, create trouble, and generally be a pest to those that annoy him, and he certainly holds a special distaste for Gary.
After this brief scene, we get the episode credits proper run over footage of the cast gallivanting on the beach. I’ll take a parlay here to say that one of the many, many things that make KL far superior to Dallas, at least in my eyes, is that setting. Yeah, the Texas ambience is cool, too, but I would much rather live out here in sunny California on a nice cul-de-sac, going to the beach all the time and getting good and tan. Also, I feel like there’s a lot more beach location footage in these early episodes versus later. Yeah, the beach is always around, a constant theme, but in the first season and, maybe, the second and third, I feel like they’re going to the beach in practically every episode.
Anyway, while at the beach, the gang spots a mysterious sorta tanker far off in the distance. What could this be?, they wonder, and then we get our first KL Rapid Cut. Let me explain the meaning of the KL Rapid Cut; this is basically whenever a character says something and then we abruptly cut to another character sorta saying the same thing, you follow? In this case, Gary is reading the newspaper article about J.R.’s offshore drilling coming to California, and then he says, “I can just hear Richard saying ‘I knew it all along.’” From here, we cut to Richard standing out on the street, looking at the paper, and saying, of course, “I knew it all along.” This little cutting device will be used pretty consistently throughout all fourteen seasons, although it does become much more elaborate as we go on, often cutting back and forth from scene to scene, usually for comedic effect; here, it’s just that one simple edit.
Next up, there’s a big town meeting, and oh my goodness, are those BLACK PEOPLE I see in the audience? This is definitely worth noting, as black people were allowed to exist on KL while they were pretty much absent from all fourteen seasons of Dallas (with the exception of, like, Dora Mae, the hostess at the bar everyone went to all the time). These black people aren’t really doing much, mostly just sitting there and listening to a speech, but they’re there, damn it! Later in the series, we will even have black people as full-fledged cast members; how very exciting! Aside from the black people, this meeting’s actually pretty boring, just a not-very-crowded auditorium and a few boring speeches and blah blah blah, so let’s move on.
Probably my favorite storyline for this episode gets revved up as Richard and Laura leave the auditorium. If I haven’t said it yet, Richard and Laura are two of my favorite characters of the whole series, and probably my favorite “Original Couple” from the first four seasons of the show; I just find them endlessly fascinating to watch and to contemplate, as both characters are so rich and layered. Yes, their relationship is totally dysfunctional, but that's what keeps them so interesting. Plus, both actors are just so good that you can't help but be fascinated to watch them interact. Anyway, in the parking lot, they run into, um, some guy, um, let’s look into this….ah, yes! This character’s name is Chip Todson and he is played by Joseph Hacker (pictured below). Interestingly, a quick glance at his IMDb page shows me that he will be back as a different character in a season five episode, The People vs. Gary Ewing. In any case, he’s just sorta a generic white guy and by the time I make it to that episode, I will probably have forgotten about him here, but whatever. See, what’s so interesting is that we get weird, random dialogue hinting that he and Laura had some sort of a thing in the past, but we never really figure out what. See, she introduces him to Richard and says they were camp counselors together a long time ago, and then a second later, Chip is like, “Ooh, good lie!” So what really went on? It’s all very mysterious and it culminates in an amazing scene that has always stuck with me (more on that later).
J.R. comes rolling into Seaview Circle in his big, fancy limo, prompting everyone to wonder who the rich guy is. I actually theorize that he knows Gary is not at home and has specifically come at this moment just to terrorize Valene, which he does. She is clearly afraid of him, but ever the Southern lady, she allows him to come in and have some coffee, even though she looks like she’s about to poop her pants. Gary arrives home shortly afterward and J.R. delivers a wonderful line when he holds up his coffee and says, “You wouldn’t happen to have a drop of bourbon for a weary traveler?” Oh, J.R., you’re so wicked and I love it.
After leaving the Ewing house, J.R. stops to say hi to Karen, who is working in her garden. Ah, what a delicious bit of chemistry we get between the two. I can’t remember offhand, but I’m willing to bet that in all five of the J.R. crossover episodes, he gets at least one dynamite scene with Karen. Since she’s obviously no fool, she knows that J.R. is bad news and when he tries to get her to take him for a tour of California, she gets a big, sexy grin on her face and says, all slow, “Mr. Ewing….buzz off.” On paper this looks like a dumb line, but you just gotta see the way Michele Lee delivers it and Larry Hagman’s beautiful reaction. Oh, how delicious this all is.
The basic gist of J.R.’s visit to town concerns some files that Gary needs to steal from him, and he needs the help of Karen to do it. This leads to a tremendous sequence where Karen comes to visit J.R. at his PALACE hotel room and basically leads him on to believe a seduction is taking place. Meanwhile, Gary is sneaking into some offices (presumably Ewing Oil offices; are these new offices or do the Ewings just have offices all over the world? Oh yeah, and it's also worth noting that this office is CLEARLY just a redressed version of the set for Kenny and Ginger's house) and stealing this file from J.R. He calls Karen to alert her that the job is done and she leaves J.R. hanging high and dry, which is also tremendously funny. I think at this point, J.R. realizes he’s been tricked, but I honestly don’t think it makes him mad. I think he enjoys a clever woman who can get the best of him, and as a duplicitous person, I think he also respects when someone is able to get the best out of him (perhaps one of the reasons he gets along so well with Abby when he meets up with her later on).
Let me return to the Richard/Laura stuff for awhile. Basically, Richard wants Laura to get close to this Chip guy, who is some sort of an advisor to J.R. Richard is the only person who is sucking J.R.’s dick and trying to get on his good side, probably because he believes it will benefit him in some way in the future. Because of Laura’s bizarre past history with Chip, the past history that’s never fully explained (and I like it that way), she is reticent to go and see him or spend any time with him. Here’s our first real hint of Laura and Richard’s tumultuous relationship, which we didn’t get a whole lot of in the Pilot episode. As she tries to explain to Richard that she wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this, he yells, “What is the matter with you?!” at her.
Now, this is pretty much the epitome of why I love KL and its characters. I understand both of these characters very well, and even though Richard is behaving like a jerk and treating Laura badly, the show is not painting him as a villain. He is a small man who wants to be a big man, a lawyer who is unhappy with his life and so he lashes out at his wife. But he’s not a bad man, and there’s definitely heart in there, as we will see throughout his time on the show, instances when he shows real caring and acts like a real gentleman. At the same time, Laura is (at this point in the series) a bit of a weak woman who has a hard time standing up for herself. But my point is that on most other shows, one of these characters would be portrayed as being "the wrong one.” Here, they are both complex and three dimensional with flaws and good qualities, like the real people we meet every day.
I don’t know if I would go so far as to call what happens next a rape, but I do think it’s pretty close. Laura goes to visit Chip and he takes her straight to the bedroom. It’s basically a business arrangement: Oh yes, your husband wants something from me and he’s using you to get it; therefore, you will sleep with me and that is our arrangement. As he leads her into the bedroom, Laura asks, “Does it bother you that I really don’t want to do this?” Chip’s response is that it only makes it more exciting, which frankly turns my stomach. Here’s a man who views the conquest of a woman who does not wish to have anything to do with him as a victory, some sort of a score for himself, something to feel proud about. Maybe it’s not a rape scene like the one we will be getting in an upcoming episode (The Lie), but it is still a man having sex with a woman who has told him flat-out that she does not wish to have sex with him.
All of this culminates splendidly on the beach near the end of the episode, when Chip starts to get a little rough with Laura and Richard comes to intervene. Richard doesn’t seem to understand what really went on between the two, and he starts to think that Laura’s embarrassed because she had sex with Chip at some point in the long long ago. Richard is lovely here, saying something to the effect of how “There is life before marriage.” While he’s saying this, Laura is crying and I gotta say, Constance McCashin is one of the best all time criers. Whenever she cries, I totally buy it; she doesn’t make it into this “actress” thing and she doesn’t make herself look glamorous; she cries the way real people cry. I don’t believe she ever tells Richard that she actually slept with Chip the other day, but she does say, “Oh Richard, I love you,” and gives him a big hug, and it’s a very powerful scene. It’s one of those small scenes that has always stuck in my mind, mostly because of the great acting from Constance and The Plesh.
I’m gonna be honest and say that, sometimes, I have a hard time following the exact outlines of a plot, so the exact very conclusion of the episode is a little hard for me to remember, just like I can’t quite remember exactly what the file is that Gary steals from J.R. or exactly how they manage to get J.R. out of town. Basically, though, J.R. does leave town, perhaps just because he sees that Gary has grown some balls in the two weeks that he’s been living in Knots, plus there’s a bunch of angry picketers at the beach. Anyhow, J.R. decides to leave California, but he gives a big nice speech to the crowd that makes it sound like it was his decision and not pressure from his brother. Everyone is happy and smiling as they walk up the ramp away from the beach, and then it freeze frames (this is how many of the early season episodes will end, by the way, with some sort of super happy freeze frame shot of the gang together; I get the feeling that the show ditches the freeze frame endings around seasons three or four).
Okay, so what did I think of this episode? I thought it was very solid, and so far we are two for two on KL episodes (only 342 to go!). However, much as I enjoyed this, I would still vote for Pilot as a superior episode, maybe just because of that warm and fuzzy feeling I get from seeing all my friends for the first time. Also, I don’t recall the first episode having any scenes that were boring or dragged on forever, and the little auditorium scene near the head of this episode was pretty dull (definitely an okay time to run off for a quick pee). At the same time, there’s just so much I love here, and I filled my notes with random stuff that delighted me. Look at a scene as simple as Karen and Laura painting signs in the living room. There’s just something about the simplicity of this scene that makes it feel incredibly realistic. It’s scenes like this that I love, because it just feels like life to me. There’s nothing on Dallas that I could really relate to, but two neighbors hanging out and working on something in their living room, painting some posters? This just feels totally true to life for me. Also, since Richard and Laura are two of my Top Ten Characters, I was happy to see them given more of a story than they had last week, and I was also pleased to see NO KENNY AND GINGER (it’s probably a bad sign when the writers have already run out of stuff to do with characters in the fucking SECOND episode of the show, LOL). The less we see of those toxic bores, the better, and it’s just a shame that we’re gonna be stuck with them until the end of season four, but what can you do?
Finally, I loved Hagman’s crossover, and he played the role brilliantly, as always. I think there are many actors who might view playing an established character in a guest spot on a new show as a mere paycheck; they might just show up, read the lines, and then cash the check, but Hagman is totally 100% J.R., the same J.R. we know and love from 357 episodes of Dallas, and he brings his A-game to this guest spot. So, even if I wasn’t as over-the-moon about this episode as the previous one, it’s still very solid and, despite my initial reservations about the earliest years of the series, I think we’re doing really well so far, with two great episodes in a row!
However, I predict that our next episode coming up will be even better as we ditch Dallas crossovers for a little while and get to deeply explore the character of Karen Fairgate in an early season KL highlight, Let Me Count the Ways.