Episode Title: Chance of a Lifetime
Season 02, Episode 04
Episode 017 of 344
Written by John Pleshette
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 11th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):. Gary makes a car deal with "Orchid Cab Co." against Sid's better judgment. Gary also hires a female mechanic, Linda Striker. Laura starts her real estate job. After her first sale, her boss, Scooter Warren, kisses her. Val starts college. Richard thinks a prestigious Chicago law firm will hire him, so he tells off his boss and quits his job. Then he finds out the Chicago firm's offer is for a salary several thousands less than he was already making. He cannot accept the job. He tells Laura he declined the job since she didn't want to move, but then starts crying.
Boy, talk about your delightful surprises, for here we are still at the start of season two of a series that will span fourteen years and 344 episodes, and yet I’m ready to declare this very episode as one of the greatest of the entire series run. Certainly, of the seventeen episodes we have watched and discussed so far, I think this is far and away the best one up to this point (with my much loved Let Me Count the Ways coming in at second place). You all know how much I love The Plesh as Richard Avery, and that’s not just because he’s a fabulous actor who plays a fantastic character whom he brings to life amazingly, but it’s also because he’s a great writer who always seems to write my favorite episodes. Seriously, how did The Plesh not continue on this path as being some amazing writer for television? It’s very clear to me that he has what it takes to write a fantastic hour of television, as displayed very well here. Now, remember that this is actually his second time penning a KL script. He also wrote the season one finale, Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two, and that was a great ep, too. The difference is that Bottom of the Bottle was all about Gary, but with Chance of a Lifetime, The Plesh gets, um, the chance (please ignore the pun) to write all about his own character and explore him in all his beautiful contradictions.
The plot of Chance of a Lifetime is a prime example of what made KL so realistic (sometimes, hah hah) and so relatable to the common viewer. While Dallas was all about impossibly rich people doing nasty things to each other (fun to watch, but not necessarily relatable to the majority of American television viewers), KL is about issues everyone deals with. This particular ep is about Richard being 37 years old and feeling like he’s not getting the respect he deserves down at the law firm he works at. Because of that, when a potentially more exciting job opportunity comes his way, Richard immediately burns his bridges with his boss only to find that the enticing job offer was not really all that it seemed. This is a simple story about something anyone can relate to, and in many ways, that is when KL is always at its best. Even as we get deeper into the series and the plots become more and more outlandish and soapy, there is still a core of realism that keeps the series grounded.
Now, I was really looking forward to watching this episode because I remembered enjoying it so much before, and also because I was excited for another Plesh-penned script, but what I had forgotten was how many different, separate storylines get started here that are going to wind up paying off throughout the season. Seriously, it’s a virtual cornucopia of plotlines that are just getting revved up here, and I’m amazed to see so many of them all contained within the same ep. As we go through the episode, I’ll try to keep track of all these separate storylines so we can observe how they will grown and evolve throughout the rest of the second season (or, in the case of a certain storyline, all the way into the fourth season!).
At the head of the episode, that lovely village bicycle Abs is late for a very important job interview. Where? Well, she doesn’t say, but let’s take a moment to hypothesize on what kind of job Abs would be good at, at least here at this early point. Abs is a recent divorcee after several years of marriage to Transmorpher Jeff Cunningham. Did she hold a job while they were married? Or was she a stay-at-home mom whose job was to take care of Brian and Olivia? I get the feeling that Abs didn’t go out to a nine-to-five every day and that her job was to take care of the kids. However, I also get the feeling that Abby's generally slutty behavior on the cul-de-sac is not a new thing; I get the feeling she was stepping out on Jeff frequently during their marriage. So now here she is as a new divorcee and single mother; where is she gonna work? My vote goes to someplace respectable and yet degrading at the same time, like perhaps a perfume lady at Macy’s. After all, Abs is obviously a very great character the second she is introduced, but she’s not really a powerful character yet in the same way she will be by the time she exits the series in 1989. There, at the closing of season ten, Abs has become a successful independent career woman and, thanks to her union with Gary, a very powerful woman socially. Here, however, she hasn’t reached that level yet, and it’s going to take time.
Anyway, the basic point is that Abs is late for her job interview and she doesn’t have time to take the kids to school, so she asks Richard, who is also already running late. However, Richard agrees, obviously because he has a boner for Abs (although they won’t make good on that boner until a little bit later in the season; I’m eager to find out just when!), and from there we have a fabulous cut. For more randomly hypothetical questions, I have to ask: Is an edit such as this generally contained in the script or do you think it was bred in the editing room? Do you think The Plesh’s original script said to edit this scene in such a way or did the director (Nicholas Sgarro this week) come up with it himself?
I can hear you asking, “What edit?” Well, basically Richard agrees to take the kids to school, saying something like, “It’s no big deal,” but then we RAPID CUT immediately to a close-up of his flat tire and then we see that he’s stranded on the side of the road, trying to fix this tire and having no luck. Immediately, thanks to this clever edit, we have infused a bit of humor into this episode and we’ve also set the tone for the kind of frantic day that Richard is going to be having. Again, you rarely saw edits this clever over on Dallas.
Richard arrives late to a big office meeting with a bunch of big, important lawyers, including our special guest star Brian Dennehy as James Cargill. And I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll get right to it; YES, Brian Dennehy is absolutely a Transmorpher, as he appeared in one of the very earliest Dallas episodes (it would be season one, episode four, The Winds of Vengeance) as Luther Frick, who spent the majority of the episode claiming he was gonna rape Sue Ellen and then just….um….sorta…didn’t. Yeah, that was an exceptionally lame hour of Dallas, but whatever, here he is now on a much better series playing a much more interesting character. As I watched this episode, I reflected on how there’s really nothing that special or interesting about this Cargill character, yet there is just something wonderful in the slightly sleazy way Dennehy plays him, elevating this character up and making him rather memorable. When he’s first introduced, he’s sitting at the table with all the other lawyers, but he’s just sorta doing this jaw motion like he’s chewing something and it made him immediately more interesting to watch.
Cargill invites Richard to come and hang out on his boat that would be right at home on Miami Vice (although that series is still a few years into the future) and smoke some cigars and have some liquor. I note with interest that we didn’t have to wait long to see Richard indulge in tobacco products again. You’ll recall that he was shown smoking a pipe in Pilot and we saw him smoke a couple of cigarettes in Hitchhike: Part One. Well, now here he is smoking cigars, so he is clearly a man who enjoys a wide variety of tobacco products, but I’m starting to think Richard is one of those occasional smokers, a guy who enjoys a nice pipe, cigarette, or cigar, but not all that often, only every now and again. I’ll continue to keep my eyes open for the next time Richard enjoys some tobacco, although I don’t know if we ever see him smoke again or not.
Basically Cargill insinuates to Richard that he could have a better life if he came to work for him, and he uses the cigars as his example, I.E. “You could have a lot more of these fine hand-rolled pre-Castro cigars if you came to work for me!” Richard immediately gets a little cocky and starts to announce to anyone who will listen that he’ll be up and moving the family to Chicago any second now, as he has a big, sexy job waiting for him over there.
This bleeds well into Storyline B of this episode (however, and this is something we haven’t seen up to this point, this episode is going to have a Storyline C and, yes indeed, even a Storyline D running through it, as well), which involves Laura in her new job over at the real estate office. Let’s take a moment to recognize the first appearance of Allan Miller as Scooter Warren, Laura’s boss who clearly has a crush on her. Mr. Miller will be playing Scooter in a total of seven episodes, making his final appearance in Best Intentions in 1982 (and there is one random episode where Scooter is randomly played by some Mexican-looking dude with a killer moustache, before he morphs back into Allan Miller again). In addition to that, Allan Miller is also a Transmorpher, having appeared in three Dallas eps in 1985 (during the super boring saga of Jenna Wade’s trial).
Anyway, in another wonderful example of storylines being set up, we actually see Scooter planting a big, fat, wet kiss on Laura right there in the office. The beauty of this is that it’s presented as no big deal; it doesn’t even get a close-up or anything. They’re all excited because the two of them managed to sell a house that afternoon, and Scooter just leans on over and gives her that kiss and then the scene continues to play. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-kiss, yet it speaks volumes about storylines that are going to be starting, namely an affair between Scooter and Laura that will last well into the latter section of season three.
Storyline C may very well seem superfluous if you watch just this episode and this episode alone, but it’s also gonna grow and evolve over the course of the season. This storyline involves the new young female employee at Knots Landing Motors, Linda Striker, played by Denise Galik. She will be in a total of four episodes throughout the second season of KL (making her last appearance in the ep entitled Players) as a potential adulterous romance for Sid. Of course, we don’t know that just yet. As introduced, it just seems like the storyline will be that she is too young and/or incompetent to work at a car business. See, she seems to make a lot of screw-ups throughout her first shift. Most specifically, at one point she jacks up a car but, like, forgets to put the parking brake down or something, so the car goes tumbling violently down to the ground. Fortunately nobody is hurt, but Sid is not happy about this little accident and we even get to see a hint of misogyny coming from Saint Sid. Seems that he doesn’t think women and cars mix (interesting, considering that Karen is going to take over as the boss of Knots Landing Motors starting in season three). Watching this now, I know that Linda’s introduction signals a new storyline for Sid, but if I didn’t have that foresight, I’m not sure what I’d make of this little story, aside from it giving us a new slant on Sid’s character and showing he might not be quite as progressive as he looks upon first glance.
Finally, we also have Storyline D, and this one is a doozy and has repercussions lasting longer than any of the other stories going on this week. Specifically, some shady dudes show up at Knots Landing Motors and say they wish to purchase fifteen cars. Gary is over the moon about this, and he says they’ve only moved two cars in the last few months (prompting me to wonder how Sid is keeping his business running at all) and that this is just the greatest news ever, yet Sid is not so enthused. Obviously these dudes are mobsters, and quite frankly Gary is acting like a bit of an idiot by not realizing it. These dudes wandered straight off the set of The Godfather, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that their business is probably dirty.
Even though Gary wants to immediately sell the fifteen cars to the mobsters, Sid is smart enough to call the Better Business Bureau, where he discovers that the business the mobsters claim to run is completely made up; it doesn’t exist. He tells Gary this, but somehow we still wind up with Gary sitting in a car with the mobsters and working out some sort of deal with them. This little sequence might represent my only criticism of the episode: How the heck did Gary get into this car? We just cut and the scene is already underway, with Gary chatting it up with two mobsters in their vehicle. I feel like a scene had to have been written showing how the mobsters lured Gary into their car, and it must have been either shot and then scrapped or not even shot at all; who can tell?
BIG ASS SPOILER ALERT CONTAINED IN THIS PARAGRAPH. Anyway, there’s not that much time devoted to the mobsters in this particular hour, but this is going to launch off pretty rapidly into a really important story that will usher in the tragic death of Sid Fairgate at the start of season three. In fact, this story is going to reach all the way to the opening hours of season four, when Karen finally takes it upon herself to solve the mob mysteries surrounding Sid’s death and make sure the mobsters pay for their life of crime. So basically we are planting seeds right here and right now that are going to grow into storylines over the next two years, and I think that’s mighty impressive, don’t you? END OF BIG ASS SPOILER ALERT.
I love all the storylines, but my heart truly belongs to Richard and his job issues. In fact, not only is heavy attention paid to Richard’s woes down at the law firm, but things also start to get heated up between he and Abs. No, there’s no consummation or anything that exciting, but the two enjoy taking their kids out for dinner together (at some horrific looking roadside fried chicken place; barf) and then later they enjoy each other’s company while sipping white wine out in Richard’s backyard. Abby’s methods of seduction are delightfully obvious, and I say that with love. For instance, while discussing why her marriage didn’t work out, she says, “Me and Jeff just weren’t sexually compatible,” and then she also opines, “I really think the man should always be dominant.” Yup, we all know where this is going, but we’re gonna have to wait just a few more episodes before we get to see any good action.
Richard stays up all night working on the big case for Cargill, and the whole thing goes swimmingly, although we the audience are not privy to this information at first. In fact, we don’t even see the big case coming to its conclusion, but why should we? Who really cares about this case? Nobody, that’s who, and what’s really important is how the case effects Richard’s character; that’s the interesting part and that’s the part I love watching.
Basically, everyone comes out happy as a clam, and Richard’s boss can see how chummy Richard is getting with Brian Dennehy. He invites Richard into the completely abandoned bar for a drink (prompting me to wonder exactly where the characters are at this moment; do most courthouses come adorned with fully stocked and completely unsupervised bars?). Anyway, it’s at this moment that Richard finally gets the offer he’s been waiting nearly a decade for: His boss asks him if he’d like to be a partner in the firm. Richard would obviously be smart to say yes and shake his boss’ hand and enjoy all the new privileges of making partner, but as I’ve reiterated in the past, Richard has Short Man Syndrome and now he’s feeling cocky. He gives a pretty awesome speech to his boss about how he’s been working here for nine years and nobody has paid any attention to him until now, that nobody bothered to recognize that he was a good lawyer. He essentially tells his boss to take his offer and shove it, then he finishes his scotch or bourbon or whatever the hell he’s drinking and he marches right out of that office.
Next up, we have a wonderfully embarrassing scene, a scene that wouldn’t be out-of-place in, say, a movie like The King of Comedy or perhaps the series Curb Your Enthusiasm, those situations that are painful to watch but the humor comes out of the awkward situations. See, everything is going just dandy down at the real estate office, and Laura and Scooter are enjoying going over some blueprints together, when Richard comes charging in drunk as a skunk and brandishing a bottle of champagne. He pops the cork and champagne goes flying everywhere, including all over those important real estate blueprints. It’s a fabulously uncomfortable sequence and I think we are all starting to feel pretty nervous for Richard. After all, he hasn’t actually gone and spoken with Cargill about this potential new job; he’s really putting the cart before the horse at this moment. I think any viewer in 1980 knows that Richard and Laura are not going to move to Chicago and leave the series; we all know that Richard’s gonna get a rude awakening when he speaks with Cargill.
And a rude awakening is just what he gets. He returns to Cargill’s Miami Vice boat to talk about his new job. Cargill says he’d be happy to employ him, but then he drops the bomb that he would actually be making less money than he’s making now. Richard explains that he can barely survive at his current salary, let alone one that’s even smaller, and that the move to Chicago will drain his bank account. He can’t move all the way out there for a job that’s going to give him less than the one he just walked away from.
One thing I really like, and please feel free to contact me if you disagree, but I don’t feel that Cargill is presented as villainous here. It would be so easy to turn him into a stock villain who promises Richard one thing and then reneges on it. No, instead he is presented as a realist who speaks very plainly about the facts of his business. He tells Richard that he gets people for real cheap because people want to work for him because he is the best there is, sorta the way Woody Allen can get great actors to work for cheap. In this situation, Richard is the true fool for telling off his boss and taking a walk all before this new job was a sure thing.
The episode ends on a beautifully cryptic note in the Avery bedroom. Richard is once again working on his little calisthenics routine before bed (he’s working up quite a sweat this time!) and Laura is talking about the move to Chicago. Richard finally admits to her that they won’t be moving to Chicago, and he also tells her how he quit his job that day. Well, that’s all fine, but the real cherry on top is that Laura gives him a great big hug and Richard just starts openly weeping. Laura is a little surprised by this and is like, “Hey, don’t cry, don’t cry,” and then we just end the episode on that. Pretty fabulous way to end a show, huh? I am very pleased to note that we are moving away from the season one style of episode ending that, generally, involved making the last scene of the episode more uplifting. So many eps in that first season ended with, like, people playing basketball and freeze-framing on a slam dunk or something, but now we are reaching a point where eps can just end with a man weeping into his wife’s arms, and I really like that. It’s a wonderfully uncomfortable way to end the show, and I imagine it would feel very ominous to a first time viewer in 1980.
While Let Me Count the Ways (that was season one, episode three, in case you’ve all forgotten already) is still one of my very favorite episodes of the series, I do feel it has now been outclassed by Chance of a Lifetime. Let Me Count the Ways was beautiful in all departments, but it also was extremely self-contained and was non-essential to watching KL and understanding a greater overall plot, you know what I’m saying? Chance of a Lifetime, on the other hand, is a beautifully mature script about a realistic subject matter, and yet it’s also planting seeds left and right. Pretty much every story I mentioned, right down to Richard losing his job, is going to have far-reaching repercussions that span way beyond this episode and even this season in the greater overall story. I have to wonder if The Plesh was given a mandate to get a certain number of new storylines rolling or if he just came up with them himself, if he was just working on the script and was like, “Hell, I’ll introduce some mobsters into the story; why not?” Perhaps if this little blog of mine ends up generating any attention whatsoever, I might be able to contact The Plesh and interview him, perhaps ask him questions like that directly. Wouldn’t that be a dream? John, if you're reading this, please contact me!
In conclusion, everything about this episode works, and it is the current reigning champion for the best episode of KL (but remember we’ve still got over three hundred more eps to talk about, so I’m sure a new champion will emerge very shortly). Can this high quality be maintained by our next episode? I guess we’ll have to proceed onward to find out, as our next episode represents our first Dallas crossover episode since Lucy came to California for a visit back in Home is For Healing. Join me for an exciting discussion as special guest star Mary Crosby comes to pay Gary and Val a visit in the episode entitled Kristin.