Episode Title: Courageous Convictions
Season 01, Episode 11
Episode 011 of 344
Directed by Henry Levin
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 13th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): When Richard lands in grave financial trouble, Laura wants to get a job to assist with the debt, but Richard won't hear of it. Richard throws a barbecue to try to borrow money from his neighbors to pay off the $20,000 he owes. When Sid finds he is missing a one hundred-dollar bill, Karen thinks it is merely coincidental. When Laura's father, who's visiting from out of town, lends them the money, Richard is relieved. After Karen worries that Diana is spending too much time with her boyfriend, the boyfriend turns out to be the thief of the hundred-dollar bill.
Remember in our last episode, Small Surprises, when I bemoaned the fact that Richard barely had anything to do and only had one scene and one line? Well, the episode up for discussion today, Courageous Convictions, more than makes up for that. In a way, this is our first Richard-centric episode, really. Yes, he’s been present in all ten of the previous episodes, sometimes given a lot of material and sometimes not very much, but he hasn’t been the focal character yet. Even in an episode like Let Me Count the Ways, he was very much a part of the plot, running for politics and what-have-you, but that episode was really about Karen. Same with The Lie. While he was a big part of the plot of The Lie, at the end of the day, that episode was really exploring the character of Laura. So finally, after ten episodes of waiting, we get to spend a solid 48 minutes really getting to know and understand the magnificent and complex character of Mr. Richard Avery.
So many of the early KL episodes begin with some sort of neighborhood gathering, and Courageous Convictions begins with a friendly neighborhood poker game. Present at this particular game are Karen, Sid, Laura, Richard, Diana, Diana’s new boyfriend, and Laura’s father. I believe this is the only time we ever see Laura’s father, by the way, which is interesting, because unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t think he dies during the course of the series or anything. Why don’t we see more of him? In fact, let’s talk about this actor for a moment. His name is Harry Bellaver, and I noticed that he got a special guest star billing right at the head of the episode. Well, it looks like he was in some prominent films, so that makes sense. Probably From Here to Eternity would be the most well-known film on his resume, but I also notice he was in the show Naked City as well as a movie I really enjoy, The Stuff. In his role as Laura’s father, I think he does a pretty excellent job, although most of his best material comes in the latter half of this episode, so let’s discuss it when we get there.
The A-storyline of this episode involves Richard’s financial troubles, but we actually get the start of our B-story before we get any of that. The B-story, unfortunately, involves Diana and her new boyfriend, the oldest high schooler I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if this guy wasn’t at least 30 at the time of filming, I will personally write him a letter and apologize. Anyway, this actor’s name is Kevin O’Brien, which I didn’t know while watching the episode (his name is listed over the ending credits, not in the start of the episode). So I’m watching the episode, and I’m thinking not only does this guy look really fucking old, but I also turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “I feel like this guy was in a Friday the 13th movie or something.” Turns out I was right, as after the episode I looked it up and he was, indeed, in Friday the 13th Part III (which, by the way, might very well be my fave installment of that whole series). This actually inspired me to look for other Friday the 13th alum as we make our way through KL. Since KL spans all the way through the entire ‘80s and there was a new Friday the 13th movie almost every year in the ‘80s, I feel like there may be quite a few faces showing up for both series (in fact, I already know that the evil doctor guy from Friday the 13th Part VII shows up for one KL as an old boyfriend of Karen’s!). So therefore, from this moment on, I will keep my eyes open for any and all actors who popped up in both a Friday the 13th movie and a KL episode.
One last thing, a look at both Kevin O’Brien’s IMDb page as well as his Wikipedia entry is of absolutely no help to determining his age, as his birth year is not listed. However, I am going to declare right now that he had to be at least 30 while making this, and the fact that he’s constantly making out with a 15 or 16 year old Diana is, well, a little unsettling. Also, and I don’t mean to blow my wad too early here, but it’s safe to say that you can go take a nice long pee or make some popcorn or prepare a delicious martini any and all times that Diana and her 30 year old boyfriend are onscreen. Christ, is this story uninteresting, plus the acting between the two obviously leaves more than a little to be desired. The best thing I can say about the B-storyine is that there is a little bit of a mystery involved, and I like that. For instance….
We see Richard go up to Karen and Sid’s bedroom in order to take a private phone call. During this phone call, we realize that Richard is in some sort of deep financial trouble and needs a big wad of cash, and fast. Well anyway, later in the episode, Karen and Sid are preparing for bed (Random note: The Fairgate/MacKenzie bedroom set has always looked like the coziest bedroom of Seaview Circle, in my humble opinion) and Sid notes that he’s missing some money. See, he has this money clip that’s supposed to have, I believe, five hundred dollars in it, but now there’s only four hundred. “Did you take it?” he asks Karen, and she says no. Of course, since Richard was up there earlier (as the two characters note) we are meant to assume that he took the money. However, and yes, I have seen this episode before, so that might be it, although I honestly don’t remember these early episodes all too well, but something in the back of my head told me it was not Richard but, in fact, Diana’s 30 year old boyfriend who took the money. Anyway, I do appreciate the addition of a little mystery to the show, that the audience is hopefully a little taken by surprise being led to think Richard is the thief, but then finding out it's someone else. Of course, using a smidge of logic, it doesn’t make sense to blame Richard, anyway. After all, we find out in the episode that he’s in debt by $20,000.00, so would he really steal a measly one hundred dollars from Karen and Sid? It wouldn’t help him get out of his debt much, now would it?
Moving on from our early sequence, we follow Richard around as he has a talk with his, I think, broker? In any case, it’s a man with a moustache and it’s 1980, so that means he’s cool and rich and probably gets laid a lot; we should all seek advice from him. Anyway, the scene takes place on a golf course (naturally) and it’s here that we learn how much trouble Richard is really in. I guess he made some sort of bad investment, and that coupled with his generally reckless spending has put him $20,000.00 in debt. He needs to come up with the full amount in seven days or else, well, I guess he’ll be in trouble. I’ll confess that I didn’t pay as much attention as I maybe should have, so I’m not clear on exactly what Richard invested in or how it went bad for him. However, I don’t think that’s really all that important. Who cares how Richard lost money? All that’s important is that he did, in fact, lose it.
Step Two in Richard’s get-a-lot-of-money-really-really-fast-plan is to throw a friendly neighborhood barbecue and harass all the neighbors for money. This scene is key, I think, in beginning to further understand Richard’s character. The man is already thousands of dollars in the hole, so what does he do? He buys all the liquor you could possible imagine as well as a whole bunch of very expensive steaks (which, by the way, he burns to a complete crisp, essentially lighting his money on fire) and throws a party. Yes, he’s throwing the party to get some dough from his friends, but it’s the show he puts on that I think is significant. It’s not enough for Richard to simply take aside one of his friends and confess that he’s in financial trouble; instead, he has to do it while keeping up appearances of everything being hunky dory.
So anyway, in the midst of pouring everyone expensive liquor and cooking up expensive steaks, Richard also pulls aside Sid and quietly asks him for some money. Now, I find this scene very striking, because Sid mentions that Richard already owes him some money and he hasn’t seen a nickel of that money yet. I like this a lot because it tells me that, in the previous ten episodes, even if we haven’t actually seen Richard struggling with money or borrowing from his friends, it’s been going on, and the tone we get from Sid suggests that this has been going on for a long while, since before the show started, since before we got to know and love our wonderful friends living at Seaview Circle. I’ve praised David Jacobs’ skill with creating characters who you feel have authentic and intricate histories, and while it’s true he didn’t pen this episode (it was actually written by two guys, Rogers Turrentine and Rob Gilmer), it’s still a good example of that; we get a sense of what Richard has been up to since before we ever met him, and this insight tells us a lot about his character. Anyway, Sid refuses to give him the money (I believe Richard doesn’t ask for the full twenty thousand; instead only asking Sid for ten thousand and then even five thousand to tide him over), citing the fact that Richard has never paid him back for his old loans. Oh Richard, when will you learn? From there, Richard goes over to talk to Kenny (except he finds himself suffering from a sudden bout of narcolepsy as soon as he actually has to look Kenny in the face and speak with him). Kenny, despite being a “hip young record producer” (that public domain music is what all the kids love in 1980) doesn’t have enough money to help Richard out. Jeez, Richard, what are you doing to do?!
Well, Sid has a change of heart and takes Richard aside to tell him he will lend him the $5,000.00 he asked for, but that he wants it “Strictly business;” he will draw up papers and make it all nice and legal, so that Richard can’t screw him out of the money he owes him, as he probably would. Is Sid right in this situation? I’m not sure, but I admire his dedication to his friends. Even if Richard may be an asshole (particularly at this juncture in the series; we really haven’t seen too many moments of warmth or caring from Mr. Avery), he is still Sid’s friend and Sid does want to help. Perhaps he’s misguided for trusting Richard again, but then he does cover his butt by making it nice and legal. I think Sid is inherently a man of ethics and decency and he just can’t make himself sit idly by and watch his friends be in trouble, no matter how much they may deserve the trouble they’ve gotten themselves into. Okay, so now Richard has $5,000.00, but what about the other $15,000.00?
Now, before we get back to Richard and his financial woes, we gotta return to the storyline everybody cares about: Diana and her 30 year old boyfriend. See, he takes her out and shows her this sexy car (allegedly sexy car) that he got a buddy of his to do some repairs on. He makes a big production of all the things his buddy did to improve the car, and then he says, “And only for a hundred bucks!” and he hands the guy a hundred dollar bill and there’s this big epic closeup and we realize, ah hah!, that the 30 year old boyfriend stole the money! We realize this, but it takes a little longer for Diana to put the pieces together. I think she goes home and finds out that Sid wound up missing a hundred bucks a night or two ago, and she’s like, “Jeez, that’s strange, I wonder if my 30 year old boyfriend stole it?” Well, of course he did, and eventually she confronts him, and he’s all like, “I’m sorry; I just saw the money lying there and I had to steal it!” Diana is mad and she severs ties with him, which I think is perfectly acceptable, but then we get a rather odd scene between Diana and Sid.
See, Sid goes into Diana’s bedroom and gives her a little speech about forgiveness, that people make dumb choices sometimes and maybe you shouldn’t hold a permanent grudge against anybody. Okay, I appreciate the sentiment, and I think Sid is right in some circumstances, but what point is he making here? Diana brought home her 30 year old boyfriend, the Fairgates made him feel welcome and at home, and he immediately took advantage of that and stole their money. Why would Sid even encourage Diana to give him a second chance? Again, I repeat that Sid is a man of decency and ethics, and probably a generous steak of forgiveness is a part of that, but frankly what father would encourage his daughter to stick with the dude who stole a hundred bucks from him? I’m at a loss to explain Sid’s motivation here, and so was My Beloved Grammy, by the way (we tend to pause each episode about ten thousand times to discuss all the intricate plot details and character motivations). My conclusion is hasty but I think it works, and that is that Sid probably did something stupid in his youth like, perhaps, stealing money. So I like to think he’s reflecting back on that poor choice he made and thinking of how much he changed over the years and giving the 30 year old boyfriend the benefit of the doubt. This makes sense, but I also still think any father would be breathing a sigh of relief over his daughter dumping the loser thief/statutory rapist.
Next up is a scene that gave me a little bit of a KL boner; I’m not gonna lie. Why? Well, because I think this scene may very well be the genesis of Laura’s growth and journey into tough independence, a journey that will last until early in season nine. See, for ten episodes now we’ve seen Laura as the submissive and quiet wife of Richard, never making trouble, never causing a fuss (just occasionally sneaking out to bars in the middle of the day to get raped by guest actors from The X Files). Anyway, here’s where she finally takes the first small steps towards being an independent woman. When Richard tells her that she needs to ask her father for the other $15,000.00 and that he can mortgage his house, the only possession he really has, in order to help them get out of financial trouble, Laura absolutely refuses, and it’s pretty glorious. She is so wonderfully firm and candid with Richard in a way we haven’t seen displayed on the series just yet. She sits next to him and looks him in the eyes and says, “I’ll do what I need to in order to help you, but I am not going to ask my father for money.” Obviously Richard is rather upset by this refusal, but I’m personally cheering, relishing the growth I’m witnessing before my very eyes. We are only a few years away from Laura being one of the toughest girls on the block, and it’s all starting right here, ladies and gentlemen.
Never one to accept such defeat, Richard takes aside Laura’s father himself, in another rather glorious scene taking place in the park. Jason is playing on the swings or whatever (oh, and by the way, we are currently at Jason #2 in the series; in Pilot he was played by Justin Dana, but in Community Spirit he morphed into Danny Gellis, who will play him for 22 episodes, before morphing yet again and then, I think, one more time after that, hah hah) and then Richard takes aside Laura’s father and levels with him. Well, Laura’s father gives a pretty great little speech to Richard and we learn that he has also lent money to Richard in the past, money he never got back. At this point, we realize that there’s probably no one near Richard who hasn’t loaned him at least a little money at some point. Hell, has he even harassed Gary and Val for a loan somewhere earlier this season? Again, I love the fact that we only find out here about previous loans; we get the continued sense that Richard has always been in trouble with money and he’s only now having to really face the problems. Anyway, Laura’s father refuses to give him any money, and I think he’s perfectly justified. He reminds Richard that it’s his own fault and his extravagant lifestyle that have lead to these problems, and he’s not going to mortgage his own house just to help Richard out of a jam.
In an episode positively littered with fantastic scenes and great acting, another one of my favorite sequences occurs just a moment later, between Laura and her father. When Richard very rudely leaves the dinner table and ignores pretty much everything Laura says, she finally breaks down and starts crying in front of her dad. Fortunately, her dad is ready with yet another terrific speech, this one all about how life was back when Laura was 12 and her mother died, how she had to take care of her father and how she did it so beautifully. Seriously, this is a fantastic bit of acting from both Constance McCashin and Harry Belaver. I love how we continue to know more and more about Laura’s past as we get deeper into the series; we’ve already learned about how her mother died, but now we get her father’s perspective, and it’s actually a rather moving scene, culminating with him saying that he knows she’ll figure out what to do.
Okay, but before we get to the last ten or fifteen minutes of the episode and start wrapping things up, we gotta finish our exciting B-storyline. The 30 year old boyfriend comes to Diana and pleads with her that he’s not such a bad guy and that he’s sorry for what he did. He even produces a hundred from his pocket and hands it to her, but she reminds him that he didn’t steal from her. Now here’s a real mystery decision on the part of the writers, because Sid arrives at home and the 30 year old boyfriend comes up to him to return the money. At this point, Sid puts his arm around him, ushers him into the garage, says “Step into my office,” and then we cut. And that’s it. End of story. What transpired in that garage? Did Sid chew him a new one or did he just gently explain why his behavior was unacceptable? Or did he perhaps tell him about his entire past history that I just invented in my own brain a few minutes ago? Perhaps that’s it, perhaps Sid sat him down and said, “Look, when I was 30 like you and still going to high school, I also did a dumb thing once.” In fact, I like my theory and I’m gonna stick to it. Art is subjective and we are allowed to interpret it as we desire, especially when the writers don’t give us any clear answers.
But that’s kinda my problem, at the same time. Why don’t the writers give us any clear answers on what goes on in that garage? They step inside and then we cut back to our main story, but we never see the 30 year old boyfriend again and we never find out what Sid says to him. Why? Were they going for a little mystery again? In truth, it does sorta bother me and leave me feeling a little unsatisfied. Like I said, I had no great interest in this story and would have been fine with them removing it completely to make more room for Laura and Richard, but as the story is here and it does exist, I find myself wishing it could have been wrapped up a little more efficiently, or with a little less mystery.
In any case, that dull storyline is completed and now it’s time to complete the storyline I really care about. That boner I mentioned from earlier only grows larger in this next scene, where Laura toughens up even more and lays down the law for Richard. She tells him that she got the money from her father, but there’s a catch. The check is written out from her father to her and not to Richard. She says she will give the money to Richard but he must accept the fact that she’s going to get a job of her own and she’s going to pay back her father for every penny he loaned. If Richard won’t agree, then he doesn’t get the check. Of course, Richard, being a small man, refuses to accept this and tears up the check right in front of Laura. He is not going to accept his wife going out and getting a job; in his world, that is completely unacceptable.
He goes out for a drive and comes upon a Sexy Dream Car with a big old “For Sale” sign plastered on it. He immediately hops out of his car, takes a look at the Sexy Dream Car, and is starting to collect information on who to call and write a big check to when he finally pauses, puts his pen away, and realizes what he’s doing. If he really buys this Sexy Dream Car, he will simply be continuing the same bad behavior he’s been displaying his whole life, spending money he doesn’t have in order to make some sort of point. Finally accepting this fact about himself, he leaves the Sexy Dream Car and drives away in his own, perfectly ordinary, vehicle.
Our final scene is a private moment in Laura and Richard’s bedroom. Richard enters and hands her a little brown bag. Inside the bag is some tape, obviously meant to tape the check back together again. He tells her he accepts her ultimatum, that she can go out and get a job and help the family out, and it’s a rather beautiful confessional moment for Richard. He explains to her how, in his world, the man goes out and works and brings home the bacon. That’s how he was brought up and that’s how he wants to live his life. He’s so full of pride that it’s hard for him to accept that he needs help from his wife. He tells her about the Sexy Dream Car and how close he almost came to buying it, but that he finally realized that would only be contributing to his overall problem. They shut the lights out and he has some funny line about Laura wearing the pants in the family now, and the episode concludes.
Pretty great, huh? Well, I guess I should add a caveat to that summation and say that the main Richard storyline is pretty great. Basically any time Richard or Laura or Laura’s father are onscreen, the episode is A+ material. However, that B storyline of Diana and the 30 year old boyfriend really does sink the episode quite a bit for me. As I said, I could have lived without the whole thing; who cares about this stupid plot? So my perfect edit of Courageous Convictions would just be pure Laura and Richard from start to finish with no stupid interruptions for stupid Diana. If done that way, this would be a classic episode, but sadly it’s bogged down quite a bit by this unneeded second story. At the same time, I think the A-story is so strong that it makes it easier to sit through the boring B-story.
I think I might love Laura/Richard episodes the most in the first four years of the show. While at this juncture, Karen and Sid are the rocks of the series, the stable couple who conduct their life with honesty and decency, Laura and Richard are just endlessly fascinating to watch. Their relationship is kinda a mess, but both characters are so complex and interesting that I could just watch them all day, and both actors are always so solid in their performances. Plus, I felt like every scene between the two of them in this episode was just perfect, a real classic, and I love the seeds I see being planted for future episodes where Laura toughens up even more and starts to take more of a stand against the way Richard treats her.
I also love just how grounded in reality the episode feels. This is obviously a product of the show’s early years; later years will get quite a bit more glamorous and over-the-top with the introduction of William Devane as Greg Sumner and the more soap opera style of storytelling, but I’m noticing that these early eps (excluding the ridiculous biker invasion in Land of the Free) are really quite grounded in reality with nothing too silly or extravagant. These are stories that any normal American couple can relate to. After all, who hasn’t experienced some financial trouble at least once in their life? I’m reminded of a quote from David Jacobs that he allegedly said to Joan Van Ark, and that is, “Dallas is about them; Knots Landing is about us.” Yup, he’s right on the money there. After all, there was certainly never a Dallas episode where the Ewings found themselves suddenly strapped for cash (in fact, J.R. would spend millions of dollars in any given episode of that series with hardly the blink of an eye), but we see clearly here that the KL universe is a more realistic world where couples do struggle with financial problems.
We’re coming up to the ending of the short first season; all that’s left are two episodes handling the same continuing story, Gary going off the wagon. Join me next week when we discuss Bottom of the Bottle: Part One.