Episode Title: The Lie
Season 01, Episode 04
Episode 004 of 344
Written by Claudia Adams
Directed by Edward Parone
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 17th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura is feeling unappreciated, so she goes to a cocktail lounge in the middle of the afternoon and meets an artist. The artist buys her a drink, then invites her to his studio to do a portrait of her as a ruse to rape her. She hides the truth from Richard by saying a serial rapist that is on the loose in Knots Landing had just raped her at home before Richard got home. Val knows that this is not the case, and as she goes down to the police station to identify her attacker, the police end up arresting the wrong man.
Hurray, it’s time for our first Laura-centric episode! While it’s true that we got a bit of her in all three of the previous eps, and she did get a pretty memorable storyline in Community Spirit, this is where we really get to know her and start to understand her. Laura is played by Constance McCashin, of course, and she will be with the show for over eight years, leaving at the start of season nine in 1987. She is a character who really grows and changes throughout her eight years, and here is our first real opportunity to get to know her.
I think Laura’s real arc is that of growing from a weak and fragile housewife to a smart, tough, working woman. By the time she leaves the series, she is truly independent, strong-willed, and she doesn’t take any shit from anybody. As such, it’s very interesting to return to the early seasons and see her as a woman who pretty much does nothing but take shit, particularly from her husband. The Lie is a pivotal episode not just for the understanding of Laura, but for the rich themes and feminist issues it explores. Let’s dive in, because this is another one of my favorite episodes and one that, of the first three seasons, has always jumped out at me as being particularly memorable, so let’s explore.
I’m noticing that these early episodes generally start out by giving us a pretty clear idea of what this week’s story will be about. Around season four, we shall switch into the official nighttime soap category, and at that point it’s more like this ongoing saga that runs from episode to episode, but these early episodes are basically little movies, almost art movies, really. The Lie opens, like last week’s episode, in the Fairgate kitchen, with Karen reading a newspaper and bemoaning the fact that there has been another rape in the area. Ah, so we know that this episode will probably be about the lovely subject of rape.
From there, we can all leave the room for a minute or two, because we have a Kenny and Ginger scene. Remember how peaceful the last two episodes were without having to look at these two? Well, now they’re back, so get your pillow and your nightcap ready. Kenny enters the house, presumably finishing up with a morning jog, as he is wearing the most ridiculous pair of ‘80s short shorts I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw his balls dangling down, rather daring for network TV. I guess Kenny is supposed to be our “Neighborhood hunk,” because he peels off his shirt to reveal his nasty hairy chest (this was fashionable in the ‘80s, FYI) and he’s all sweaty and shit. Naturally, Ginger is being a horrendous nag, whining about, oh, I dunno, something. Honestly, in my notes I just scribbled, “Kenny and Ginger scene=Boring.” Kenny has some line about, “Oooh, what Ginger wants, Ginger gets.”
At this point, I’m about to fall asleep, but fortunately we cut to a scene with Richard and Laura and I immediately perk up as if I’ve just downed four or five espresso shots. Now here’s a couple worth talking about. At the head of this episode, Richard is, of course, being degrading towards Laura. See, she’s prepared his eggs, but they’re not the way he wants them. She assures him she can make them again the right way, but Richard gets this classic Plesh look on his face and is all like, “No, I don’t have time!” Then he asks if she ironed his shirts and she looks all guilty and tells him she took them to the laundry, oh no! As we can see, Laura is trying to be a good wife, but she seems to keep making mistakes. Hmm, maybe that’s not accurate; maybe Richard is just being overly demanding. So what if you don’t like your eggs that way? Just fucking eat them! And so what if she dropped some clothes off at the laundry? You don’t have a spare set or two lying around? The magic of KL is that we can have a scene like this, that lasts probably less than two minutes, yet it speaks volumes about the relationship these two people share.
Next up, we have Laura getting herself dressed up in a rather fabulous red dress and a classic pair of sunglasses. As long as Constance is on the show, we will see that she has an affinity for HUMONGOUS glasses (look no further than in the opening credit scroll for season seven, where she is wearing the most hideously huge pair of Librarian Glasses I’ve ever seen), and this may indeed be her first pair. She runs into Val, who needs a ride to the community center. “Oh jeez, I gotta go to the dentist,” Laura says, but we can tell she’s lying. Who gets so dressed up to go to the dentist? But anyway, Laura is a good friend so she gives Val her ride and then she heads off to a seedy bar.
We immediately get the sense that Laura is known at this bar. The bartender is very friendly with her and immediately knows her drink, a white wine spritzer (does anybody drink these anymore? I’ve always wanted to try one). We get the sense that Laura has been spending many an afternoon here, in that magic gap where the husband is at work and the kid is at school. Laura pulls out a pack of cigarettes, and I want to make a quick note of this. Barring some sequence in the next eight years that I’m not familiar with, I believe this is the only time we ever see Laura smoke. She smokes exactly twice in this episode and both times, the smoking seems rather significant. I wonder if Laura is just one of those “Smoke every now and then” people or if this is another part of her little act of rebellion; that not only is she going out to a bar in the middle of the day and drinking with strange men, but she’s also going to smoke cigarettes, damn it! Anyway, a gentleman with a classic ‘80s Rapist Beard approaches her and lights her cigarette for her (this little act of chivalry is pretty much extinct from all current movies and TV shows unless we’re talking about, like, Mad Men or something).
‘80s Rapist Beard is played by Christopher Allport, and I knew I recognized him from something. A glance at his IMDb page shows that he’s just the guy who’s in one episode of every TV show ever made, but what I recognized him from was a very early (and not very good) episode of The X Files. He didn’t have the beard there, but he played Scully’s ex-partner and, apparently, ex-lover who got possessed by the spirit of some evil guy, or something. Anyway, Christopher Allport, ladies and gentlemen.
No one can argue that Laura is not rather naïve here. In my memory, ‘80s Rapist Beard had a harder time getting her to come to his apartment, but watching the episode again, it’s really remarkably easy. He shows her a photo he drew of her, and she’s impressed, and then he says he’d like her to come to his place so that he can do another portrait. We cut to the next scene and they’re in his apartment! Wow, that was abrupt. On one hand, this is extremely foolish of Laura. All the women are talking about the scary rapist running around town, yet she goes right home with this stranger. At the same time, I can’t fault her, because I understand her feelings. When Laura is at home, she feels like she gets nothing but grief, that Richard doesn’t appreciate her; all he does is get mad at her for screwing up the eggs or sending his clothes to the laundry. Laura wants to feel appreciated, to feel sexy, to feel desirable, and this strange man is making her feel all those things. He’s telling her that she is beautiful enough that he felt impelled to draw her, that he wants to draw her again, that she caught his eye weeks ago when he first saw her in the bar. It’s certainly nicer to hear someone say they appreciate your beauty then to get scolded for screwing up the eggs, no?
But anyway, it doesn’t take long for ‘80s Rapist Beard to reveal his true colors and rape Laura. Boy, this is an intense scene, and even though we go to a commercial just as the raping is really getting started, in my brain it felt like I witnessed the entire rape, probably because of the acting from Christopher Allport and Constance McCashin. Seriously, poor Laura, she tries to push him away, she insists that they “just talk,” but he’s having none of it. He pushes her down onto the bed, he gets on top of her, she’s struggling, your mind can fill in the blanks.
When we return from commercial, Val is watering the lawn (very, very, very slowly) when she sees Laura come pulling up in her car and go running into the house. Hmmm, that’s unusual, right? About two seconds later, Richard comes driving up, and he shouts at Val, “Would you teach my wife how to park her car?!” LOL, classic Richard; it’s just those little comments like that which form together and cause his wife to sneak out to bars in the afternoon. Anyway, it appears Richard is just stopping off at home because he forgot something, some files or papers or something. So he’s rushing through the living room, looking all over, all hectic, and he’s like, “Where the hell did I put them?” Then he goes upstairs and finds Laura in the bedroom, all beat up.
Let’s go ahead and just give Constance and The Plesh some very belated Emmys, shall we? Seriously, both of them are heartbreakingly good in this whole episode, but in this wonderful scene especially. I’ll see if I can get a link up to this scene so everyone can understand what true acting is all about. Again, we see how multifaceted Richard is, because he is super concerned about Laura and he behaves very tenderly towards her for the rest of the episode. Poor Laura is lying on the bed, her red dress all ripped, burying her face in a pillow. Yup, it’s powerful stuff. Also, rather than admit to Richard what she was up to, Laura lies and says that the rapist was in the house, waiting for her, when she got home, and that he left just fifteen minutes before Richard came home.
There’s a really palpable sense of 1980 paranoia permeating this episode, and I note it even in small ways, such as in the next scene. Pretty much everyone gathers around in the Avery living room, and while they’re talking, Richard is just going around, making sure all the doors and windows are locked up tight. Also, we can see that Richard is very upset with himself, blaming himself for stopping at the bank rather than coming straight home. “If I hadn’t gone to the bank, I could have stopped this,” he bemoans.
There’s one little segment of this episode that goes down like an absolute lead balloon for me, and it pretty much collects all together here near the middle of the episode. See, Diana comes home from school and tells Karen very casually that she hitchhiked. “I mean, what’s the big deal?” she says, delivering it with all the conviction of someone in an afterschool special. Karen grounds her and sends her to her room and is all upset. Okay, I guess that part’s fine, if a little bit on the lecture-y side (I remember that 1980 was a big year of “You shouldn’t hitchhike, because Ted Bundy might pick you up!”), but the truly bad scene occurs when Karen goes to speak with Diana in her bedroom. This is after everyone’s found out about Laura’s rape, okay? Anyway, they have a little heart-to-heart talk, and I love Michele Lee, God bless her, and she does nothing wrong in this scene, but oh boy, Diana.
I’ve mentioned it before, but Diana is played by Claudia Lonow, and she will be with the show for the first five seasons (she pops up in the first two episodes of season six and then she leaves the series, only showing up for a couple of eps in the final season). Now, Claudia Lonow may be a very nice person (I’ve actually spoken with her on Twitter and she’s always been very friendly towards me), but a great actress she is not. I hesitate to say this, becuase she has been so sweet and friendly to me whenever we've spoken, and also because I hope to score an interview with her at some point, but I actually don't think she'd mind me saying that she's not the finest actress; I think she actually knows that. In the last twenty years or so, she has transitioned smoothly from acting to a pretty great writer and producer in her own right, so I think she has found where her talents lie (random: I've always wanted to watch the show she created, Rude Awakening, starring Sherilyn Fenn). So anyway, if I'm critizing her acting here, just know that I'm criticizing it with love and Claudia, I think you're a lovely person! Anyway, Diana and Karen talk about the rape, and Karen has a response of how rape is turning the beautiful act of lovemaking into some sort of monstrosity. Yeah, this is the worst scene in the episode and I would have immediately thrown it on the cutting room floor if I was working on this episode. There’s a fine line between exploring interesting and important issues and just bopping your audience over the head, and this horrible scene is doing the latter.
Fortunately, we quickly get away from that awful scene, and then we return to characters I that I love, Richard and Laura. There’s a super scene where they are getting ready for bed, and Laura is already in bed, and Richard climbs in and is like, “Laura, you awake?” We can see that she is awake, but she’s really quiet, and when Richard makes some efforts to talk to her about what happened, her eyes get all watery and she just sorta manages to say, “Richard, don’t talk, okay?” Now, just written out like that, it seems like a very cold line, but the way Constance delivers it is just perfect; she looks and sounds like she’s truly in pain and can hardly even speak.
Things start to get convoluted at this point in the episode, so let’s all pay attention. Laura gets a call from the police that they’ve apprehended a suspect, okay? She goes down to the police station for a lineup (bizarrely, all the potential rapers are just sitting at a table, but whatever). Right before she goes in, another woman who got raped comes walking out and is like, “Oh yes, the one with the scar; I would NEVER forget that scar!” So, naturally, Laura goes in there and identifies the guy with the scar, as well. She doesn’t want to admit it was someone else, because then the police will start to poke holes in her story, and she wants to take that secret to the grave with her.
Now, as everyone’s leaving the police station, they spot Scar leaving, as well, just hopping in a car and driving away, a free man. What’s up with that? Richard is upset, but then the police woman says that Scar was already AT a police station during the time that Laura claims he was raping her. Because of that, the whole case is getting thrown out, and he’s gonna walk. So while Scar probably did rape at least two or three other women, thanks to Laura’s lie, he’s free to leave. Now Laura has to think about just what problems her lie is causing.
Now, remember how in last week’s episode, Let Me Count the Ways, I noted that Val often plays the role of the silent observer, smarter than she appears to be at first glance? Well, she’s playing that role here, as well. She knows that Laura is not telling the truth because she saw her arrive home all beat up just two seconds before Richard got there. Val doesn’t tell anybody this, but she keeps it in her mind as she observes Laura’s behavior throughout the rest of the episode. This all culminates in a tremendous scene that is not only a highlight of this episode, but also a pivotal sequence for the series.
The scene I’m speaking of is where Val and Laura finally sit down together, one on one, and have a true heart to heart. It takes place with both of them sitting on the stairs, and it’s basically Val saying that she knows Laura is telling a lie. Now, Laura never comes right out and says that she’s lying, nor does she admit to Val what she was really up to that afternoon, but she gives a wonderful speech about the life she has lead up to this point. We learn that her mother died when she was twelve and that she basically turned herself into the woman who could hold her family together. She found that she liked being needed, that she liked helping her father with whatever he needed help with. She says how when she met Richard, she dropped out of school so that she could pay for him to go to law school, and that this made her happy. Now she is beginning to feel that Richard needs her less and less. Again, Constance is great here, and this may be the single scene where Laura is at her most weak and vulnerable. Trying to imagine her behaving this way in seasons six, seven, or eight just boggles the mind, because at that point in the series, she has become such a full, tough woman. Here, though, she says, “I feel so trapped,” and her voice actually squeaks. This would almost be comical in another circumstance, but here, it is just pure real; Laura is not crying in a glamorous, "actory" way, but the way a real human would cry as she lets all this emotion out. Tremendous scene, and one that is referenced once or twice over the course of the rest of the series.
The climax of the plot occurs when Laura finds out that Scar is actually going to jail, after all. She calls the police woman to confirm this, and this is a very interesting little scene, as she basically tells her that this is not the man who raped her, that was someone else. “Are you looking for that man?” she asks. The police woman has this very interesting line where she says, “Should we be?” and Laura just says, “No.” What to make of this scene? I’d say that this is the closest Laura comes to confessing the truth, although she doesn’t go all the way. At this point, I think she is realizing that she made a mistake and she needs to not make that same mistake again, but that she’d rather carry her deep dark secret with her and try to get over it, not tell anyone about it. I also get a small sense of judgment from the lady police officer, that she’s losing her patience with Laura and is basically saying, “Do you wanna tell me the truth or not?” She knows something is not right, and she’s probably smart enough to figure out the truth, but why bother if Laura doesn’t care to seek true justice for the real rapist?
Richard is in a cheery mood thanks to the news of Scar’s incarceration, so he takes everyone on the cul-de-sac out to a fancy schmancy dinner (at a restaurant where, Val notes, there are no prices listed on the menu, LOL). Here, as with last week’s show, we have just the perfect ending. See, Laura is trying to be in good spirits, but every single thing she considers ordering from the menu, Richard swoops in and vetoes it. He tells her how the duck wouldn’t go well with the onion soup, how she shouldn’t have the escargots because of the fact that they ordered a bottle of red wine, and so on and so forth. Richard is being a classic control freak, but you have to wonder if he even knows he’s doing it. Perhaps in his mind he’s thinking how he’s paying for this meal, and it’s his gift to everyone, so he wants it to be just perfect, and it can’t be perfect if someone’s ordering onion soup with duck!
Laura excuses herself from the table and walks outside, and we have the second cigarette. She puts the cigarette in her mouth and a strange gentleman approaches her with his lighter held out. Laura leans forward so he can light her cigarette, and as the flame touches the tip of her smoke, we freeze frame and have our “Executive Producers” credit, a truly haunting final image for the show. I spent a lot of time pondering on the meaning of this ending, and my conclusion is that it’s meant to be circular. Laura should learn a lesson from what has gone on, but because of the almost unconscious way that Richard speaks to her, she is going to continue finding herself drawn to the attention of strangers, potentially getting into the same sort of trouble all over again.
I started this little blog by saying that, in my memory, the first three seasons of KL are the worst, and yet so far we are four for four on recommendations; I would wholeheartedly recommend all four of the episodes I’ve discussed so far to pretty much anyone who appreciates quality television. Rest assured, we are coming up to episodes I truly dislike, but this is not one of them. The Lie is a great Laura-centric episode that helps us get to know and understand her character, and it’s aided by some amazing acting and rich feminist themes. The only flaws I can think of are the Karen/Diana scenes that border on just hitting you over-the-head with a lecture on the evils of male violence against women. But those scenes are a teeny portion of a magnificent 48 minutes of television, and so far I would say The Lie is the second best episode we’ve seen, coming in behind Let Me Count the Ways (which, at this moment, is the crown jewel). As a big fan of the Richard and Laura characters, I would call The Lie essential viewing for anyone interested in watching and appreciating KL.