Sunday, November 29, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 009 of 344: THE CONSTANT COMPANION


Episode Title: The Constant Companion

Season 01, Episode 09

Episode 009 of 344

Written by Rob Gilmer

Directed by Henry Levin

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 21st, 1980

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ginger is terrorized by a mysterious person, whose odd gifts bring up a long-buried secret from Ginger's past.

 

                Uh oh, we’ve reached our very first Ginger-centric episode.  Bear with me, patient readers, and if we are strong, I know we can make it through this.  Also, it helps to note that, really, we’re not gonna have that many Kenny or Ginger centric episodes throughout their four-year-stay on the cul-de-sac.  True, every now and again we’re asked to care about, say, Kenny’s infidelity or Ginger’s boyfriend, the guy with the beard from Body Double, or perhaps, gulp, Erin Molly.  But, for all of that, Kenny and Ginger really don’t take up that much time throughout their four years on the series.  Also, despite all this griping, I didn’t think The Constant Companion was a terrible little episode of KL.

                Like I said, this is the first episode of KL to focus heavily on Ginger.  Let’s note that the original conception of the series was that we had four married couples on a cul-de-sac and each week we could focus on a different couple, sorta jumping back and forth.  We’ve obviously had a lot of Gary and Val thanks to their appearances on Dallas as well as episodes like Pilot, Community Spirit, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, and Home Is For Healing.  We’ve had some great Sid/Karen episodes with both Let Me Count the Ways and Civil Wives, and of course we’ve had fascinating material for Richard and Laura with The Lie.  So here we are with our ninth episode of the series, and it’s time to give Ginger some attention.  BIG ASS SPOILER ALERT CONTAINED RIGHT HERE IN THIS LITTLE BLOCK OF WORDS: As I’ve said before, this original conception of the series will be completely gone by the time we rev up and begin season five, as by that point Sid is dead, Richard has left town, Kenny and Ginger have both moved away, and Gary and Val are split up.  But that’s still a bit of a ways into the future, isn’t it, my dear reader?  END OF BIG ASS SPOILER; YOU CAN SAFELY READ ON NOW!

                The Constant Companion is actually something of a mystery episode, a little bit unusual for KL (although I guess we do have a few mystery type storylines in, say, seasons four and twelve and I'm sure there are more throughout the series that I'm not remembering).  See, the episode actually starts out with Ginger at work as a kindergarten teacher.  I’m trying to remember if, at any point in the last eight episodes, it was mentioned what Ginger did for a living.  Oh wait, sorry, I don’t care; let’s move on.  Anyway, Ginger is working, and it’s the first time we’ve seen her working, and she gets some flowers from a mysterious stranger.  Naturally, she assumes they’re from her husband Kenny, but they’re not.  Who could they be from?  Let’s just say the extremely gruff janitor is of absolutely zero help to her or to us in solving this mystery; mostly he just scoffs and makes little angry comments because he hates his life and wants to kill himself.

                From here, we jump to two characters I care much more about: Gary and Val.  Now, these two (well, mostly Val) definitely get the B-story here, sorta like how Eric’s little crush on Ginger formed the B-story for Civil Wives.  See, Gary is up early, coffee in his stomach, ready to head to work.  As soon as he leaves the house, Val runs into the living room and starts pulling out….BOOKS!  Yup, she’s got a secret stash of books hidden in a cupboard, so we know she’s doing something covertly, but what?  Well, we quickly learn that Val feels a little insecure having never finished high school, and she’s working on getting her G.E.D.  This obviously requires a lot of studying and hitting of the textbooks, but she’s a little embarrassed by her lack of education and is afraid of failure.  Hence, she studies in secret while Gary is at work, as if hiding a nasty little secret.  Honestly, I might have preferred an entire episode that focused on Val’s adult education (“Adult education is a wonderful thing; you meet a lot of interesting people!”) rather than having it sorta shuffled into this episode as a less important side story.  But whatever, I digress.

                The school day is over and Ginger is ready to go home.  Unfortunately, she discovers her car won’t start.  Hmmm, random automatic malfunction or a Machiavellian plot by some evil stranger?  I guess we have to keep watching to find out, but in any case, this really short guy shows up, and I guess he must work at the school (although doing what, I have no idea) and he offers to give her a ride home.  This little short guy (who I think might legally be called a “little person”) is named Arthur Sedley and Ginger seems familiar with him.  He is played by Alan Braunstein, a man who works, at least according to his IMDb, very very sporadically.  For instance, there’s a 12 year gap in his resume from 1980 to 1992, followed by an even bigger gap from 1992 to 2014.  Who is this person?  At first, it’s very obvious that we’re meant to think he’s the creep.  After all, he’s short, and we all know that short people are evil.  Secondly, he seems way too quick to help Ginger out.  He doesn’t just give her a ride home; he also invites himself into her house and starts nosing around and commenting on their records collection ("I just love your hip record producer husband's collection of public domain big band music!") and the d├ęcor of the house and what have you.  If that’s not enough, he also drops constant references to his mother, who he apparently lives with.  A little Norman Bates, perhaps?  However, even upon a first viewing, I knew Arthur was not the guy sending mysterious gifts to Ginger; it would be far too obvious.  Much like I never once suspected Leo Johnson of killing Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks (and, spoiler alert, he didn’t), I thought having Arthur be the mystery man would just be far too obvious.

                Anyway, Arthur is just sorta hanging around the Ward house, wanting to listen to records, clearly annoying Ginger a bit, and when Kenny shows up, he’s no help.  He obviously views Arthur as a silly, amusing little man, and he happily puts on one of his public domain records to play for him.  While Ginger is trying to hint to Kenny that she would like Arthur to leave, Kenny is either clueless or just doesn’t care about his wife’s feelings (or both). 

                Okay, the cycle repeats at least one or two more times.  Ginger shows up to work and finds flowers on her desk again, and at one point, she even sees Arthur peering creepily into the window of her classroom, bolting away as soon as she spots him (very subtle, Arthur).  Arthur also boldly announces that he bought her a pot-holder because she mentioned she didn’t have one, so naturally Ginger assumes that the other gifts are from him, as well.  However, she is mistaken, and later Arthur confirms it for her; he did indeed by her a pot-holder, but that’s it.

                Things quickly escalate towards the creepier.  In fact, there are portions of this episode that feel decidedly horror-movie esque.  I don’t know if it’s just the way 1980 looks when it’s photographed or what (after all, 1980 was a huge year for horror with the release of the original Friday the 13th, not to mention Prom Night and a ton of other exciting slasher movies), but there’s just something about the overall look and the overall sound of the episode that makes me feel like I put in When A Stranger Calls or He Knows You’re Alone or something.  See, the mystery person doesn’t stop with simple gifts to Ginger.  Around the halfway mark of the episode, she starts to receive these super creepy phone calls (and super creepy phone calls are just 100% super creepier when involving an old style rotary dial phone).  These phone calls pretty much just go over the same material again and again (see, if I was making creepy phone calls, I would go the more Black Christmas route and try to spice it up with something new for every phone call), mostly a little creepy voice repeating, “Mommy!  Daddy!” over and over again.  We the audience are left thinking WTF?

                MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE UPCOMING EVENTS OF SEASONS TWO AND THREE CONTAINED WITHIN THIS PARAGRAPH.  Let’s return to Gary and Val for a moment.  It doesn’t take long for Gary to realize that Val is hiding something from him, but when he finds out it’s not a torrid affair or an addiction to prescription medications but, rather, just a desire to get a G.E.D., he is relieved, amused, and supportive.  Boy, is it just me or are Gary and Val like the model couple at this early juncture in the series?  It’s funny to note that we are only about a year away from Gary having an ongoing affair with that really dykey-looking broad, and we are about two years away from Gary dumping Val in order to shag Abby.  I only note this because, at this point in the series, boy is Gary supportive!  They make the model couple of the cul-de-sac, at least for this brief thirteen episodes or so.  Anyway, rather than force Val to study alone, he helps her out, gives her the support, checks on her at night when she is passed out on the floor, surrounded by educational textbooks; he’s ever the doting husband.  END OF MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE UPCOMING EVENTS OF SEASONS TWO AND THREE.

                Val goes to take her test and she finishes ON TIME.  However, and I don’t know if this is just me not paying attention or what, but I can’t for the life of me remember if she actually passes or not; does she even mention it?  When Gary comes to pick her up, she makes a big fuss about how she finished with time to spare, but I don’t know if she tells him whether or not she passed.  Of course, I’m sure the tests haven’t been graded just yet, so I guess she has to wait, but I don’t think we’re ever told within the confines of this episode the outcome of her test.  I’m gonna just assume she does pass, cuz it would be kinda a bummer storyline if it concluded with her failing to get the G.E.D. and feeling really stupid and lame.  So, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume she passed, okay?

                Returning to the main storyline of this episode, things get decidedly strange when Ginger calls the police and reports all the stuff that’s been happening to her.   At this point I invite any and all readers of this blog to write in to me at brettmroberts2@gmail.com or leave a comment to please explain to me just what the hell this scene is about.  See, the cop that’s helping Ginger out shows up at her house to speak with her.  This cop is played by, lemme see here…..Daniel J. Travanti, and I note with some surprise that he has nearly 100 acting credits on IMDb.  Oh yes, it looks like he was a series regular on Hill Street Blues, a show I’ve never watched but might be interested in (police shows aren’t generally my thing).  Anyway, she tells the officer that she got this creepy tape, so he asks her to play it, but there’s something somewhat lascivious in his tone, something creepy, as he’s like, “Go ahead Ginger…..play me the tape.”  Okay, so Ginger plays the tape, and we hear the same “Mommy!  Daddy!”  Then the cop gets up behind Ginger and is like, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” but it’s all super spooky and then she looks at him and says, “You bastard!” and throws him out of the house.  Um…..huh?  The scene plays out as if a plot twist has been revealed, almost like the cop is the one who’s been sending her the tapes and the gifts, and her random outburst at him and his general creepy demeanor just leave me confused, particularly as he has nothing to do with this, as we are going to come to reveal.  So if anyone can tell me what I was meant to take from this scene, please feel free to contact me and I will be ever so grateful.

                We still have a bit further to go before the mystery of the episode is solved.  See, Ginger starts to think the mysterious calls could be coming from an old boyfriend she broke up with eight years ago, John.  I guess she got pregnant by John and then chose to have an abortion, and she thinks he must be upset about it.  So, she heads off to visit with John’s mother, Mrs. Handleman, played by, um…..Priscilla Pointer?  Let’s take a big detour here so I can talk about what may very well be the biggest Transmorpher in the series history.  Follow me for a minute.

                Priscilla Pointer is a character actress who I’ve seen in many movies and television shows.  She is also, in real life, Amy Irving’s mother and even plays her mother onscreen in Brian De Palma’s brilliant Carrie.  In addition to that, she shows up in, oh gosh, a ton of movies.  I’ve seen her in a guest spot on E.R. as well as in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, in Mommie Dearest, and in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.  Why do I bring her up?  Well, in addition to her little guest spot here (which, by the way, is her only KL appearance), she was on Dallas for nearly three years playing Pam and Cliff Barnes’ mother!  She showed up for 44 episodes of that series during the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons (spanning from 1981 to 1983, for those having trouble keeping track).  In fact, in a bizarre bit of coincidence that I'll be paying attention to in the future, she will even be showing in three of our Brief Dallas Interludes in the future (for those curious, those Interludes will be The Split, Five Dollars a Barrel, and Jock's Will).  However, we should note that this would be after her appearance here, as her character was introduced on Dallas during the next season.  It’s a fascinating reminder that this was a simpler time for television.  I imagine the writers and producers knew Priscilla Pointer had been in a KL episode when they gave her a big role on Dallas, and they probably just didn’t care.  After all, these episodes would air and that was pretty much it.  I’m sure nobody thought we’d be watching these old nighttime soaps coming on 35 to 40 years later, now did they?

                Anyway, at first Mrs. Handleman seems nice.  She gives Ginger the sad news that John was killed in Vietnam years ago, which shows that he can’t be the one harassing her.   There doesn’t appear to be anything creepy about Mrs. Handleman at first, as she is polite and cordial to Ginger and they sip afternoon tea together and enjoy the sunshine.  However, a few scenes later, Ginger has that lightbulb moment and comes to realize it’s been Mrs. Handleman all along, so she goes to confront her.

                In an episode littered with creepy moments, none is creepier than Mrs. Handleman’s confession here.  She turns away from Ginger and pretty much peers into the distance as she recounts, get this, watching Ginger and John make love in the garden.  How’s that for a creepy pervert mom?  Then she goes on to say that after John died in Vietnam, Ginger went off and killed his baby, effectively ruining her chances at having any grandchildren.  It’s a creepy little speech and it’s delivered quite well by Mrs. Pointer, if I do say so. 

                Ginger returns home to Kenny for our final scene of the episode, and we actually end on a rather cryptic mysterious note, something I’m noticing occurring a lot with these early episodes (remember Laura and the cigarette in The Lie?).  What’s interesting to me is that she does not tell Kenny the whole truth.  She basically just tells him an abbreviated version of the story, that she had a boyfriend years ago, that the boyfriend died in war, and that the mother went a little cuckoo.  She doesn’t say a word about having an abortion, leaving Kenny in the dark about that little secret.  The two hug and, well, that’s it; the credits roll. 

                This is an interesting ending, honestly, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of it.  I also note with interest that Ginger has mentioned to Kenny her desire to have a baby, in a very fast, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene from Will the Circle Be Unbroken?  So I wonder what the writers were doing here by bringing up her desire for children in episode five and then giving her this abortion back-story in episode nine.  And does the ending imply that Ginger is ashamed about her abortion?  Does she not trust her husband to be understanding about her and her past?  I’m not really sure what it means, honestly, but it was a notable way to put the bow on this episode.

                In fact, let’s talk about abortion on TV for a minute.  I feel like there’s a period, spanning, say, 1972 to 1982 (although that might be going a little too far; perhaps it’s more like 1972 to 1978) in which abortions were everywhere on TV.  Also, if we keep track of the timeline, this is 1980, and Ginger says her abortion was eight years ago, which would be 1972, the year of the famous Roe V Wade decision, meaning that she probably got her abortion the second it became legal in the United States, right around the same time Maude was having her abortion (remember that?).  In addition to Ginger and Maude, though, we had a ton of abortions on Dallas.  In an early episode, we learned that Cliff Barnes had a girlfriend who got an abortion before it was legal and died, plus we had Lucy getting an abortion early in season six after being raped by her creepy but amazing photographer, Roger.  Abortions were very trendy on TV during this period, no? 

                This is hardly one of my favorite episodes of KL, even within the confines of the thirteen-episode first season, but rewatching it wasn’t too bad, actually.  As soon as I hear the words “Kenny and Ginger,” I usually fall asleep, so I approached this episode with real reticence, having to spend 48 minutes focusing on the two lamest characters in KL history, but I was a bit surprised by it, honestly.  Okay, James Houghton is still about as interesting to watch onscreen as a block of wood, but Kim Lankford surprised me here.  Her character has to deal with a lot of different emotional issues here, and she actually does pretty well, particularly in scenes of high emotion or crying, like when she has her showdown with Mrs. Handleman, for instance.  Also, I have to credit this particular ep for having a pretty unique flavor; this may be the most "horror movie" episode we ever get in the series (although we will get to The Three Sisters in season three and, um, yeah, we'll discuss it at that jucture).

                I’m racking my brain now and trying to remember if Ginger ever gets material this weighty to work with again, and I really don’t think so.  I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the writers not giving her material to work with, or if it’s the writers knowing that they had such better actors and characters on their show and just choosing to not really focus on Ginger, but I think this is really the most we get to know the Ginger character during her four years on the show.  Mostly, we’re gonna see a lot of her dealing with Kenny’s boring infidelities and giving birth to that baby with the stupid name, all this before the characters are unceremoniously shipped off to Nashville at the end of season four (I don't even bother to put this information in spoiler brackets because I simply can't imagine anyone in the world possibly caring about the fate of these characters in the future).  Therefore, I predict that this will be the most interesting Ginger ever gets to be on the series, the only time I sorta care about her character.  Perhaps future episodes will prove me wrong, who knows?  In any case, The Constant Companion is a serviceable episode of KL, but really nothing special.  Obviously it’s better than Land of the Free, but it’s still ranking fairly low at this juncture, mostly because I would rather focus on characters like Karen and Sid or Laura and Richard versus Kenny and Ginger. 

                So isn’t it lucky for me that our next episode is a wonderful Karen-centric episode concerning pregnancy late in life and all the turmoil that can cause?  That’s right, readers, our next episode is Small Surprises, and I predict a huge improvement over this particular episode.  See you next Sunday to discuss it!

4 comments:

  1. Another great post, Brett. Your commentary is better than any professional critics that I have read. Great stuff.

    So the Daniel J. Travanti thing...this event bugged the crap out of me because it didn't make sense. What we saw happen did not jibe with Ginger's over-reaction. So I figured out a way to make it make sense. I chalk it up to bad editing. Maybe he said something racy and sexual, and the censors made them take it out either before the original airing or at least before syndication. If that was the case, it would make a lot more sense, so that is my explanation without any proof whatsoever.

    As far as Erin Molly...who wants to make bets on what became of her? Even when Ginger came back for Mack and Karen's 25th anniversary party during the reunion special, she never mentioned Erin Molly. So we can make up her life. I have whittled it down to 3 choices: 1) stripper [what else could she do with that name?] 2) sex tape 3) took after her parents and became so boring that she literally bored herself to death.

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  2. I do generally agree with your assessment on Kenny and Ginger, i.e they're a bore, but I do think that Ginger at least had some potential, and this episode shows it. Kim Lankford is quite the budding actress here and I think, with time and the right material, she could have improved greatly. Alas, we know how this turns out and how little she is going to contribute to the next 3 years.

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  3. I actually find Ginger a bit interesting in season 4 when is she is somewhat involved in the Kenny/Ciji/Gary/Abby stuff. I do think there was a bit of potential with her character. I'm not defending her place in the show and as far as favorite characters go she rates somewhere around the same place as Amanda and Aunt Ginny--which is to say very low.

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  4. I will never re-visit this episode. The less Ginger the better. Kenny I could tolerate. I kinda liked that he was a horn dog, and was almost always wearing tight pants.

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