Episode Title: Bottom of the Bottle: Part One
Season 01, Episode 12
Episode 012 of 344
Written by Calvin Clements, Jr.
Directed by Roger Young
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 20th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Alcoholic Gary goes off the wagon after he celebrates his promotion at Knots Landing Motors by drinking champagne.
Ah, now here’s an episode, or perhaps I should say episodes, that’s really rich with discussion and talking points. For today we have reached the finale of season one of KL…sorta. This is a two-part episode, but it’s not one of those two parters that airs as a big huge two-hour block of television and then is later split up for syndication. No, rather it’s a two-parter in which both parts aired a week apart. This is hardly the last time we will see the show do this; in fact, we will pick right up in the second season with another two-part episode right off the bat (Hitchhike: Part One and Hitchhike: Part Two). So I guess technically this isn’t the season finale; that would be our next episode, Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two, but it’s sorta getting warmed up for that, isn’t it? Let’s dive in.
For eleven episodes now, Gary and Val have seemed remarkably stable and happy, but there’s been a ticking time bomb for all eleven of those episodes, and when you start an episode entitled Bottom of the Bottle, I think you pretty well know what’s in store for the characters. See, it’s been established since Gary was first introduced back on Dallas that he is an alcoholic and has a history of letting his life be ruined by too much drinking. Having an alcoholic character as part of your main cast is pretty much a must for any nighttime soap opera. We obviously had Sue Ellen over on Dallas, and every time she got drunk and went on a bender, disaster would strike and people would die. Well, over here in KL, we have Gary, and ever since Pilot when he sat in bed with Val and said, “I know what I am and I know I can’t take a drink,” we’ve been waiting for that moment when he finally slips and does so.
This is one of those episodes where I really wish the little intro didn’t spoil so much. You all know what I’m talking about, right? Just like on Dallas as well as lots of other shows of the same era, all the episodes actually begin with a little preview that lasts thirty to sixty seconds and gives you some hints of what the episode is going to be about. Sometimes I find these very charming and they work to make me even more excited about the upcoming episode. For me, though, this particular preview gives away way too much about the episode. It seems to go on longer than the previous episodes, and it really just seems to walk you through the whole episode, spoiling everything. In a way, I’ll be glad to move on to the season two DVDs, because they just completely removed the previews from that set. It’s a tradeoff, I suppose, cuz I like to try and see the eps exactly as viewers saw them way back when, but I also get annoyed when the previews are so completely full of spoilers that there are no surprises in the following 48 minutes, you know?
But anyway, after the preview and the opening credits, we come in on a happy party at the Fairgate house. For a two-parter that’s going to descend into darkness rapidly and extremely, we actually start at a very joyous moment. See, Gary is getting nice and established in Seaview Circle as well as at Knots Landing Motors, so we start with Sid giving him a big promotion to being, like, vice president or something, basically the second-in-command after Sid himself. Everyone is overjoyed and then the champagne bottles start popping open and, before he knows it, Gary has a drink of champagne in his hand.
At this point, I searched my brain to see if any of the other neighbors knew Gary was an alcoholic yet. The answer is no, actually. Yes, in Pilot there was an awkward moment during the first happy neighborhood barbecue where Richard was mixing drinks and Gary said, “Just club soda for me,” but that was it. He didn’t say anything like, “I can’t drink,” or “I don’t drink,” all he said was he would like a club soda. And in the other ten episodes of the season, at no point did he stop to tell his neighbors about his past and his problems with the bottle. For me, though, Gary’s alcoholism and his eventual ability to get past it is such an ingrained part of his character that I forget others aren’t aware of it at this early juncture. Again, it’s somewhat like Sue Ellen on Dallas. In my mind, everybody on that show knows she’s an alcoholic who can’t go near a drink, but then you watch the first two or three seasons where she’s drinking all the time and no one is saying anything and you’re sorta like, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
Anyway, since nobody besides Val knows about Gary’s issues with alcohol, they pour him some champagne and hand it to him and it’s all very casual. Gary looks at the champagne and tries to say no thank you, but Richard is like, “Oh come on, Gary, you can just jog ten extra laps tomorrow.” Richard assumes that Gary’s non-drinking lifestyle is simply based on calories or even just a preference for a certain taste. He also says, “This isn’t alcohol; this is champagne,” emphasizing the social pressure one sometimes feels to drink champagne for reasons of celebration. Because of that pressure, Gary does, indeed, take a drink.
Boy, it doesn’t take long for everything to spiral out of control for poor Gary. At this point, I would argue that the glorious camp value of KL is on full display. Please remember I say that with love; I love all things about KL, and the campy and often over-the-top nature of the stories is obviously one of the things I really love. At the same time, I love these characters as if they are real people and I take seriously their issues and setbacks. Therefore, I can laugh at the campy nature of Gary’s descent into drinking, but I can also feel bad for him and feel sad that he’s ruining his life.
At first, things seem okay. Gary has a few glasses of champagne and is in happy-drunk mode at first. Gary and Val leave the Fairgate house and return to their own home, and Gary is in a good mood, like, “Oh boy, that was fun; can you believe I got that promotion?” But Val is not having any fun; you can see the concern and fright in her face as she looks at Gary, and when she mentions to him that she doesn’t like him drinking, he flips out. “I’m a grown man and I can handle a few lousy drinks!” he yells, and it’s our first time seeing drunken, angry Gary. Even in those previous Dallas eps we discussed, he almost drank back in Reunion: Part Two, but he didn’t actually end up doing it. So far, Gary’s drinking has been discussed but never shown, but now we’re seeing it, and it ain’t pretty. He immediately turns into a yelling, mean man who screams at Val and frightens her before he goes running out of the house and takes the car away for a nice drunken joy ride.
I gotta say the casual drinking-and-driving really brings me back to an older time. See, the Fairgates come running out to see what all the commotion is about, and Gary is barreling out of the driveway like a madmen, and nobody says one thing like, “Oh, drinking and driving is bad; I hope he doesn’t get in a crash!” Nope, that’s not the main concern at all. Val is worried because he’s drinking in the first place, but nobody gives a crap about his intoxicated use of the motor vehicle. In fact, Sid is very casual about it, saying, “Oh, he’s probably going to an all-night movie; that’s what I used to do!” At this point, Val finally admits to everyone what’s going on, explaining that this isn’t just a regular thing where Gary had a few too many, but rather that Gary is an alcoholic and needs to never drink or else horrible things happen.
Gary runs off to the nearest bar, and I had a big old grin on my face when I saw who was playing the bartender: Jerry Hardin. Does the name not ring a bell? Well, that’s okay, cuz you’ve probably seen this guy in a million movies or TV shows and just never knew his name. I would say his most known role (certainly the one I immediately know him from) is playing Mulder’s first informant, Deep Throat, in really early X Files episodes, like the very first season. In addition that that, he’s been in lots of movies like The Firm, Big Trouble in Little China, and one of my very favorite movies, Cujo. Finally, looking at Mr. Hardin's IMDb page, I also find that he is a Transmorpher! In addition to appearing in this episode of KL (as well as another episode much later in the series, playing a different character in the 1992 episode The Torrents of Winter) he also showed up in not one but two episodes of Dallas, once again playing two different characters! He showed up in the 1981 episode Making of a President as Elroy Askew as well as a 1987 episode where he played Judge Loeb. So not only is he a Transmorpher, but he’s also, like, a Super Transmorpher cuz he showed up on both shows twice, playing different characters in all four different episodes!
Anyway, Jerry is rather excellent in his small role here, offering some sage advice to Gary about how hard he’s hitting the bottle. He explains to Gary the difference between having a few drinks to have a good time and drinking strictly to get drunk, which is what Gary is doing. Of course Gary is more than a few drinks deep, so he is dismissive of the wise bartender’s advice. Too bad, too, because if he listened to Mulder’s informant, things might turn out different for him. See, next up is some whore who saddles up to Gary and offers to show him a good time. Intrigued, or perhaps just too drunk to even know what’s going on, Gary takes her up on her offer and disappears with her.
Things are going along absolutely swimmingly with this episode….and then the B story kicks in. Oh boy, talk about a boring storyline, mostly because it features, you guessed it, Kenny and Ginger. Okay, so obviously Kenny has been having an affair for awhile, right? We met his little hussy, Sylvie, a few episodes back, I believe when Lucy Ewing came to town in Home Is For Healing. Well, the hussy is back again, and she’s gonna be back until about mid season two. Anyway, Ginger is laying in bed and Kenny comes sneaking in deep in the wee hours of the night (technically the early hours of the morning, probably). He’s trying to be all covert about it, but Ginger knows what’s up. Kenny is screwing Sylvie, but we have to suffer through a lot of Kenny/Ginger footage before this is finally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sigh. Let’s return to the actually interesting story, shall we?
Val and Sid team up to track down Gary, wherever he may be. Val’s had experience with this before, presumably back in like 1961 in Texas when they were first married and living with the Ewings on Southfork. Therefore, she is smart enough to know where to look for Gary: Every bar and liquor store in the area. So they head off and find the same bar Gary was just at. Mulder’s informant tells them that Gary was here and that he was drinking hard, and then he acts ever the gentlemen and pulls Sid aside to tell him that Gary went off with the whore. Pretty decent, huh? He doesn’t want to say such embarrassing and incriminating things in front of Val, so he has a little man-to-man with Sid to keep him informed. It’s a small detail, but I like it.
Mulder’s informant’s, um, information (forgive my wording) leads Sid and Val to a crappy apartment complex where the whore lives. The whore tells them that Gary pretty much had no interest in sex and was only interested in finding more liquor. Apparently he sold his car to her for a measly 400 dollars, enough money to stay good and drunk for a little while longer. The whore concludes her tale by saying, “That man doesn’t care about anything but his next drink.”
Coming up next is a very epic fight in some seedy bar that Gary is now haunting. He puts some country music on the jukebox and these two other drunk guys are like, “Hey, your music sucks,” and then angry, drunken Gary is like, “This is the music of America, man!” and then he attacks both dudes and things quickly escalate. Before you know it, Gary is going after them with a pool cue, breaking glasses and lights and everything else in the vicinity, although the two gentlemen pretty efficiently take care of him and he winds up on his back, all bloody and beat up, and then the cops show up to take him away. Just as they’re yanking him out of the bar and into a police cruiser, Val and Sid pull up and are just in time to see Gary getting taken away.
If you were hoping to see Gary get butt raped in prison or something, you’re gonna be disappointed because the next scene is him being released. I feel this scene is significant because, at this point, Gary is no longer drunk, but he’s still behaving like an asshole towards Val. They come home together and go upstairs so he can shower and get to work. When Val tells him he probably shouldn’t be going into work, he’s like, “Don’t tell me what to do!” I think it’s interesting to note that Gary’s temper flairs up so violently even though he’s not drunk at that moment.
He heads to work at Knots Landing Motors, and obviously things are a smidge awkward between he and Sid. Gary is doing the uber-hyper, super happy, “Oh, it was no big deal” thing, but when he mentions he’s going out to lunch with two dudes for some sort of business deal, Sid tries to intervene, but to no avail. Gary is gonna prove that he’s still got it together, dammit! Therefore, he goes off for the business lunch all by himself, leaving Sid quietly worried. At this point, I still don’t think Sid has registered how serious Gary’s problem is; he thinks he had a little setback but he’ll get over it. A little later, the whole block will see how big Gary’s drinking problem really is, but not quite yet.
Obviously the alcohol is flowing at this business lunch. The two forgettable middle aged white guys are guzzling martinis as if prohibition is gonna be reinstated the next day, and obviously Gary is feeling some pressure from them. He’s trying to be a good boy and just sip his coffee, but the temptation builds and builds and when he sees the waiter preparing two delicious gin-infused martinis and plopping some olives in them, he simply can’t resist. “Make that three!” he yells out, and we all know what’s gonna happen next. Gary returns to work slightly drunken, which does not please Sid. When Sid brings this up, Gary throws a hissy fit basically telling Sid he doesn’t need this job. He storms out and, for the time being at least, is jobless.
Since I suppose we must talk about it, we return to the B-story of Kenny, Ginger, and Sylvie, but only briefly. We finally get to see that he’s having the affair, as he’s in bed with Sylvie and is getting dressed, going on about how, “I’m a married guy and you knew that going in!” While I’m increasingly bored and annoyed by this story, I also must point out again that I appreciate the writers’ abilities to establish that things have been going on for awhile without having to show them. Remember how they did with Richard’s financial troubles in our previous episode? Well, same thing here; through simple dialogue, we know that this affair has been going on for awhile (probably since Home Is For Healing, and that was like six episodes ago) even though we haven’t been physically seeing it until this very moment. Anyway, this little affair scene between Kenny and Sylvie is mercifully short, and then we can return to our main story.
This is our first two-parter of KL, so don’t be alarmed when the episode doesn’t wrap up with a little bow the way our previous eleven did, for the most part. See, Gary stumbles into a liquor store being run by a surly black man with a gross looking little cigar dangling constantly from his lip. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this, but I wanna make note of the fact that Gary had his money stolen while drunkenly wandering the beach. See, this gang of toughs comes up to him and starts harassing him, and when they realize how drunk he is, they sorta sneak his wallet out of his pocket and run off. Why do I mention this specifically? Well, because one of these toughs (I’m really not sure which, but he’s listed in the ending credits as “Tough”) is played by Ted White. I know, I know, you’re probably saying, “Ted who?” Well, get ready, because Mr. Ted White gets to join Kevin O’Brien from our last episode as someone who appeared in a KL as well as a Friday the 13th movie. Not only did he appear in one of those films, but he actually played the man behind the mask! That’s right, he is Jason in the fourth installment of that classic franchise, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (that title is a lie, in case you were wondering).
Anyway, Jason Voorhees steals Gary’s money, so therefore he has no money when he gets to the surly black guy’s liquor store. He is desperate for some bourbon, but all he has is a few measly cents! The surly black guy tells him the coins are enough for a bottle of wine, but that’s not good enough for Gary; he wants that bourbon at all costs! When he tries to just steal it, the surly black guy produces a pistol and holds it right at Gary’s throat. Debating between the merits of the bourbon versus the cons of being shot in the face, Gary decides to leave without any alcohol.
The last image of the episode is one that pretty much makes you want to go and kill yourself right away. See, Gary is now completely lost and isolated, hanging out under a bridge in front of the ocean with only a passed out homeless guy and a really scrawny dog as his company. In a real ROCK BOTTOM moment, Gary sneaks up to the sleeping wino and yanks his bottle away from him (I think it’s wine, but it could be some harder liquor). The wino is all like, “Hey, don’t take my bottle,” but Gary chugs the entire contents of the bottle in about two seconds flat, before very politely returning the empty bottle to the wino. I gotta say this whole scene made me gag a bit, just imagining Gary putting his lips on the same bottle that was being used by this disgusting homeless guy. Gary crouches down on the sand and we go out on that image, him just sitting there on the sand, a completely drunken mess.
As we get wrapped up on this episode, I wanna take a moment to note what makes this double-whammy series finale very different from all finales to follow, and that is: No cliffhanger. If I recall correctly, all of the remaining seasons conclude with some sort of cliffhanger, sometimes a whole bunch at once, leaving you eager to tune in next fall. I think if this episode (or episodes) had been done in a later year, this image of Gary under the bridge would have been the final shot of the whole season; we the audience would be left in suspense about how things will turn out for him, having to wait all summer to find out. However, in this case, we still have one episode of the season left, and I don’t mean to spoil it too fast, but it sorta ends the season with a feeling of closure versus the “I gotta tune in next season” feeling that all the future seasons will give.
Since this is a double episode, I’m sorta tempted to wait until I finish my write up on Part Two to give me thoughts on the eps, but at the same time, these were two separate episodes that aired one week apart, so I think I’d better give my thoughts on this episode now. Well, I like it. I could live without all the Kenny and Ginger stuff (as always), but the Gary stuff is solid. It’s pretty incredible to watch Gary, who has been a mellow man and a good husband all season long, descend so quickly into drink and violence and shameful behavior. In a way, it’s almost funny that all of this transpires over the course of, what, three days? I will say that’s a bit exaggerated, obviously for dramatic effect, yet at the same time there are many little facets of this episode that ring true. In particular, the fact that Gary’s entire descent begins with one simple glass of champagne I found rather truthful. For your serious alcoholic, that really is all it takes; once they’ve had that alcohol, even just a tiny glass, they are off that wagon and things are not going to be pretty.
I would call this an “Action” episode, really, in that it gets started right off the bat and it doesn’t let up once throughout the show. As soon as Gary has that first drink, he’s off on a horrible, drunken adventure, and there’s really no time to breathe throughout the course of the episode. At the same time, even though the episode is relentless in its pacing, it’s still a character-driven story, one of the first episodes of the series to focus hard on Gary and just Gary. We finally see just how bad it truly gets for him if he starts drinking, and this in turn tells us more and more about Gary’s general feelings of self-worth and his place in the world and in his family, specifically.
Where is there left to go after Bottom of the Bottle: Part One? The answer, of course, lies in our first season finale, aptly titled Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two.