Episode Title: Small Surprises
Season 01, Episode 10
Episode 010 of 344
Written by Rob Gilmer
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 6th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): When Karen learns that she's pregnant, she isn't sure she wants the baby, while Sid can't understand her mixed feelings regarding the pregnancy. When medical complications develop, Karen decides she wants to have the baby, but she miscarries. Eric takes a liking to Ginger's 14-year-old sister who is visiting Knots Landing. However, when he takes her out on a date, he finds her too sophisticated for him. Ginger tells Kenny she is ready for them to start a family.
Ah yes, gentle readers, after having to sit through a Kenny/Ginger-centric episode with The Constant Companion, we can now bask in the glory of a splendid Karen-centric show. Yes, Small Surprises is all about Karen and it, along with Let Me Count the Ways and Civil Wives, provides some terrific early content for Karen and displays fantastic acting from Michele Lee. Being that this episode will be, more or less, all about Karen, it’s fitting that we begin on her, sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, wearing a fabulous red dress (Karen always looks fabulous in red). She gets called in to see the doctor and then we cut to….
Eric, Ginger, and…..Jill? Well, I was surprised by this, and it honestly provides very nice linkage to our episode just two back, Civil Wives. You may recall that in that episode, Eric developed a little crush on Ginger, but after a bit of time, she killed his boner by saying, “Oh, you should meet my sister, Jill!” Well, here we are now, two episodes later, and her sister Jill is visiting town. I like this, as it shows foresight and pre-planning on the part of the writers. In fact, now’s probably a good time to ask: Did they just write, produce, and shoot all thirteen episodes for the first season prior to even airing the first episode? This is the shortest ever season of KL, coming in at just thirteen episodes (as we get deeper in, around seasons six, seven, and eight time, we will skyrocket up to THIRTY episodes per season!), so I am a bit inclined to believe that the entire season was shot prior to airing. If that’s the case, I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised to see things mentioned in episode eight and then returning in episode ten. Anyway, as I’m really paying strict attention to each episode during this viewing, I appreciated that continuity, so good on you, writers!
So as soon as I saw Jill, I was like, “I totally know that chick!” Well, it turns out I don’t. The actress’s name is Jennifer McAllister and she’s been in absolutely nothing that I’ve ever seen; she just looks super familiar. Anyway, in her little role here, she’s okay. I also note on her IMDb that she does not return for the season two episode Man of the Hour. Hmmm, that’s odd, as I thought Ginger’s sister played a vital role in that episode. Perhaps I’m misremembering? Perhaps it’s a cousin or something? Oh well, we’ll talk about it when we get to season two. In any case, Jill shows herself to be a bit of a tomboy, asking Eric if he would like to play some basketball and then actually playing pretty rough with him. Turn on? Turn off? Well, Eric is a horny teenage boy, so I imagine anything with a vagina is okay with him, tomboy or not.
Back at the doctor’s office, we find out that Karen is PREGNANT! See, her doctor (Georgann Johnson, who is a Transmorpher, by the way, as she also appeared in the 1979 episode of Dallas entitled The Silent Killer) tells her how she is pregnant and oh boy, isn’t that good news?! But when Karen doesn’t jump up and down with excitement over this news, the doctor can see that something is bothering her. Well, of course! Karen is nearing forty, already has three kids, the youngest of whom is eleven or twelve (I’m actually not sure of what Michael’s age is supposed to be, but I’ll pay attention in future episodes; I do know that in real life Pat Petersen was born in 1966 so he would be around fourteen years old here) and she isn’t sure she wants to do the mom thing yet again. So, naturally, the doctor says, “We can go forward with the pregnancy or we can terminate the pregnancy.” Oh boy, more abortion! I feel like the last episode we watched was also about abortion. Oh wait, it was! So we’ve got two abortion episodes in a row; how scandalous!
Karen returns home and is not in good spirits. I’m trying to think if we’ve seen Karen moody and grumpy on the series yet, and I don’t think we have; this is the first time (well, aside from the very first episode when she was rightfully frustrated about Annie causing all those shenanigans). First, she drives up onto the driveway even though Eric and Jill are playing basketball, and then when Laura and Val are like, “The kids are playing basketball,” Karen is all like, “Huh, what?” like she’s stoned or something. Then she lethargically moves her car and parks it on the street instead. Next, she goes inside and has to deal with Diana. Oh boy, Diana, you are just not a good actress, are you? First off, Diana shouts out “Mother!” to her. What’s that about? I hate the way Diana says “Mother”; it reminds me of the way Becky 1 would always say it during the early seasons of Roseanne (the difference being that Becky 1 played her character very very well and Diana….not so much). But anyway, Diana is like, “Mother, I hate my room, I’m a grown woman now and my room is for a child, blah blah blah!” In a very unintentionally funny little sequence, Karen gazes around the room, acting like she’s stoned, and when Diana says, “I wish I had a grown up room,” Karen says, “Don’t wish your life away, Diana,” and then walks away, leaving her daughter rather perplexed.
Meanwhile, over in Storyline B, Eric has successfully gotten Jill to go out on a date with him, and we get a very charming little man-to-man sequence between him and Sid. It’s very cute to see how excited Sid is for his son’s date, and he’s so sweet and accommodating when Eric asks for some money for a cab ride (cuz it’s not cool to have to ride with your daddy, you understand) and the movie. What movie they are going to see remains a mystery (although Eric displays good taste in a later scene when they return home and he says he liked Close Encounters better than Star Wars), but it’s March of 1980, so what the heck could they be seeing? Hmm, let’s take a quick look at movies that came out in the February/March 1980 region, shall we? Hmmm, looks like both Caligula and Cruising would have been out in theaters around this time. Oh, how I’d like to imagine Eric taking his date to either Caligula or Cruising (or maybe a double feature of both!), but I am willing to bet that’s not what happened. Oh yeah, also, if Eric did take Jill to Cruising, he would probably get very confused at how Annie Fairgate became a movie star so fast. Looks like the timeline would match up for them to go see The Coal Miner’s Daughter; maybe that was it? Oh hell, I dunno, maybe they were even just seeing something that has been in theaters for over a year or whatever; movies were different back in 1980. In any case, it’s not important and I am just being a nerd, so let’s move on.
Sid finds Karen upset in the kitchen. She asks him if they can have a talk soon and he says sure. A little later, the two get together and she starts to give a big speech about her life and how she’s happy with her life just the way it is. This is a well acted scene by both Michele and Don Murray, and I like the little detail when he’s all like, “What’s going on?” and she gently says, “Just let me tell it my way, okay?” But when she finally says, “I’m pregnant,” Sid is like, “Oh, that’s great! We’re gonna have a baby!” The fact that Karen is maybe not peeing her pants in excitement about this development sorta goes over this head.
One person who is very not excited to hear about Karen’s pregnancy is everybody’s favorite character, Diana. She hears Sid and Karen having a fight in the bedroom and Sid tells her what’s up. Next, she goes downstairs, where Michael and Eric are having breakfast, and there’s a pretty great exchange where she’s like, “The world is ending!” and Michael says, “What happened; did your face break out again?” Gotta love Michael’s wit, especially when it’s used to degrade and hurt Diana. Anyway, Diana acts like a little whiny bitch for awhile and then, close to the end of the episode, she gets over it.
Meanwhile, over in Storyline B, Eric splashes on some of his dad’s aftershave and heads out for his big date. The big date takes place on the beach and also includes, get ready for this, Gary Sinise as a drunken teenager applying peer pressure to Eric. This is a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, by the way. I knew Gary Sinise showed up on KL somewhere, and before watching this episode, I read that he’s in it, but at first, his appearance passed right by without me even noticing. Then I rewound a little bit and was like, “Oh yeah, that is Gary Sinise!” Fans of this great actor don’t need to seek this episode out to complete their viewing of his filmography, as he just has one or two lines. Basically he is like, “Come on, Eric, have another beer; one more won’t hurt!” It’s a classic scene of one teen feeling pressured into drinking by another, very standard and not particularly interesting, honestly. One thing that I note with interest is that he was actually 25 when appearing in this episode, another in a long line of actors over the age of 20 playing teenagers (just wait until we get to Diana’s really old boyfriend in the very next episode). This is also interesting because it means that Gary Sinise didn’t really find fame until he was almost 40, when he starred in both The Stand and Forrest Gump in 1994. Anyway, he’s a wonderful actor and it’s kinda fun to see him here, even if it’s just a two-second appearance. I believe he also marks the first famous-actor-who-wasn’t-famous-yet appearance on the show. Later seasons will give us Helen Hunt, Billy Bob Thornton, and Halle Berry, to name just a few.
Watching this episode, I kinda assumed something really bad was gonna happen at this beach party, like one of the kids might get too drunk and go off swimming and get eaten by a shark, Jaws-style. Nah, nothing that exciting. Mostly, Eric doesn’t feel like having more beer and he’s uncomfortable with the whole situation, so he sorta stomps off and leaves Jill alone. The suspense here, I suppose, is how she’ll react to this behavior. Honestly, I could live without this B-story. My interests lie with Karen and Sid; I wanna see what’s gonna happen with Karen’s baby, and whenever we return to Jill and Eric, I’m like, “Can we just move on, please?”
We see Karen the angriest she’s ever been pretty soon after this. She’s working on her volunteer work and Sid comes in to make conversation. This doesn’t go too well, as she feels he isn’t taking her work seriously just because she doesn’t bring home a paycheck, and I think this is the first time we hear “Saint Sid” uttered. She says how he is judging her in his sanctimonious, black-and-white way, and she’s going upstairs and she doesn’t want him to come up because, “I don’t feel like being judged right now.” Wow, what a scene! Honestly, here in this sequence, I feel pretty bad for Sid. Who could be mad at Sid? The man is pure ethics and decency, and he has a great heart and soul. I understand Karen is angry, but damn, she is pretty hurtful to him here. However, one of the very next scenes is her visiting him in his garage (where he is working on the most fabulous car I think I have ever seen in my life) and apologizing for snapping at him.
Again, this entire situation is classic KL. We the audience love both Karen and Sid, and we understand both of their points of view. So many other shows, particularly in this era, would want to present one character as being right and one as being wrong, but here, they are both valid. Sid loves his children and his life and he sees no reason to be unexcited about another baby. However, Karen is 37 and feels like the last sixteen years of her life have been nothing but making babies and raising them; she’s ready to be done with it, she doesn’t want to be sending a kid off to college when she is 55, you know? I feel I can’t say it enough, but both of these actors are just so great in all these scenes that you can’t fault either of them for their points of view, however contentious they might be.
Next up, we get one of my favorite conventions of the nighttime soap (or perhaps just television in this era, really), some really, really bad A.D.R. See, Karen stays at home, but Sid takes the three kids out roller skating, and as they roller skate, basically their entire conversation is done through extremely obvious A.D.R. This is maybe the worst scene in the episode, even though I love Don Murray in it. Sorry, Rob Gilmer, but this isn’t some of the best writing in the world, is it? Basically, the scene is Sid explaining to the kids how their mother is more than just a baby-making machine, and that they need to make sure and recognize that. The sentiment is good, but the scene overall is a little corny.
Karen has a bit of an epiphany while cleaning Michael’s room. Knowing what shenanigans Michael gets up to around the time of seasons eight and nine, I almost expected her to find a dirty magazine lying under his bed or something, but instead she finds a nice picture he drew of the entire family, and that sorta turns her around. She realizes that she loves all three of her children (yes, even Diana, I guess) and it’s at this moment that she realizes she wants to have this baby. The kids return home and Michele delivers a fabulous speech about how she wants to have this baby because of the three kids she already has. Then she announces that they’re all going out for a fancy dinner so they’d better go get dressed up nice.
It’s at this point that it starts to become clear, at least for me, that this pregnancy is not going to last long. Obviously I had seen this episode before, and of course I remember that Karen does not have a child since, you know, there are thirteen more seasons and she doesn’t have any more children in them, but even within the confines of this 48 minutes of television, I think it’s pretty clear that she’s going to have a miscarriage. This is the “Everything is okay” period right before something bad happens. They go out to dinner, everything seems nice, but then Karen disappears to the ladies room and the hostess comes out to Sid and says how his wife is lying down and she has called the hospital. From here, we go to a commercial. When we return, Sid is waiting at the hospital and we find out that Karen lost the baby.
Now I love KL and I always will; that much should be obvious, but I can recognize objectively that this turn of events is a bit of a contrivance. Having Karen get pregnant and then immediately have a miscarriage is basically a way for the writers to explore the subject of abortion and have Sid and Karen have conflict but then just flush (no pun intended) the whole dilemma out at the end of the episode. Yes, I recognize that and I acknowledge it, but it also doesn’t particularly bug me. I love seeing my beloved KL characters deal with big issues like these. I love that we have an entire episode of just real mature, adult problems, seeing two people try to work something out. Because of that, I forgive this writing contrivance, although I do note with interest how differently this would be handled if the storyline was done in, say, seasons four, five, or six time. I imagine that at that point, they would have Karen’s pregnancy and thoughts of abortion and then miscarriage span, say, half a season or something. Early in the series, we have this storyline come up and be resolved all within the course of the one episode, but if this was done just a few years later, it would span probably fifteen or twenty episodes and be a huge part of the season as a whole, don’t you think?
Even if this portion of the episode is a bit of a contrivance, you can’t say one bad word about either of these actors; they give it their all. While waiting outside of Karen’s room, you can actually see the tears forming in Don Murray’s eyes, and when he goes to visit her and she says, “I’m sorry I lost the baby,” you really feel the emotion coming from both of them. And the piece de resistance of this has to be when Karen’s getting ready to leave the hospital. Despite what has happened, she appears in good spirits, and she’s getting wheeled out of her room and to the elevator, and then the elevator doors open and there’s a happy new mother in the elevator, holding her brand new little baby and just looking oh-so-cute. Karen just stares at this woman and her baby for a few seconds, and then the elevator doors close and she collapses into Sid and starts crying her eyes out. Jesus, this is acting, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s some powerful work on display. Now, honestly, being a bit of a cynical viewer and preferring my entertainment to end with misery and sorrow, I think I would have been happier if the episode had just ended here, like the end of Blow Out or something, but it doesn’t; we have one more scene.
Since everyone was waiting on the edge of their couch to see what would happen with Eric and Jill, we get one last scene of them together. She comes up to him outside the Fairgate house and says she admired his convictions, that he didn’t let anybody pressure him into doing anything he didn’t want to, and blah blah blah. The two decide to play a game of basketball. We get a nice little pan across the neighborhood and see all our characters out and about, doing their thing, including Richard in his only scene, washing his car. Fuck, man, Richard only has one line in this episode, and that bothers me, I confess. I love Karen and I love Sid, but I need me some Richard. I know he’s only in these first four seasons, so time is limited and I need as much of him as I can get and it hurts me to see an entire episode go by with only one line from my beloved Richard.
Anyway, Sid and Karen get home and everyone is very welcoming to them and then the episode freeze frames on Eric and Jill playing basketball and everybody lives happily after. I'm of two minds on this final scene. Like I said, I would prefer the episode to end with misery and heartbreak, with Karen weeping into Sid’s arms, but I also understand the function of this final scene. It helps to emphasize the neighborhood atmosphere, that all of Karen’s friends are around and waiting for her when she gets home, ready to lend support. I get it and it’s fine, but did we really have to close out on that freeze frame of Eric, like, making a slam dunk? This is basically one little notch above freeze-framing on two characters doing a high five or something. This is a reminder that primetime TV in 1980 still was probably not comfortable ending a show on a really sad note; there has to be one last happy scene to make everyone feel cozy before the show ends.
Looking over this, it might sound like I did a lot of whining, but I don’t mean to sound negative at all. I still thought this was a terrific little episode and a huge improvement over The Constant Companion. I could have lived without the Eric/Jill storyline, but even that wasn’t toxic or anything, just kinda boring. I think Michele and Don both carry this episode tremendously and, at this point in the series, I really don’t think there’s any debate that they are our two main characters. It’ll be interesting to get deeper and deeper into the series and see the cast start to change and grow, with people going away and new people coming in to join the show, but at this early juncture, if I was a viewer in 1980, I would say Karen and Sid are the main focus point of the show and that all the best episodes are the ones that focus heavily on them.
But, as I said a moment ago, I love me some Richard and I really missed him in this episode. Because of that, I am very excited to move on to our next episode, which is pure Richard from start to finish, 100% Richard. Join me next week for season one, episode eleven, with the episode entitled Courageous Convictions.more