Episode Title: Choices
Season 02, Episode 10
Episode 023 of 344
Written by L. Virginia Browne
Directed by Kim Friedman
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 29th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):. Linda asks Sid to go away to a race for the weekend. Sid decides not to go, but doesn't pick up on the fact that Linda's interested in him romantically. Gary sells the illegal parts to Sid's supplier so that Sid won't know about it. Laura tries to initiate romance with Richard, but he rejects her. Meanwhile, Abby has started to reject him. Abby and Judy argue over who will 'get' Gary. Judy tells Val that she and Gary are having an affair and love each other. Gary finds Val at the beach. She slaps Gary but they make up. Judy comes to Knots Landing Motors the next day. Gary's mad that she told Val, and says he will never leave Val. Judy leaves, and Abby says "Are you ready for ME now Gary?"
After our brief stop off in Texas to see Lucy’s wedding, we now return along with Gary and Val to California for more affairs and shenanigans on the cul-de-sac. I feel like Choices almost serves as a mini-conclusion to a lot of storylines that were going on consecutively, while also getting heated up for new storylines on the horizon.
At the head of the episode, we have Gary in his kitchen talking to Judy on the phone. Now, this is one of those situations where we only see Gary’s part of the conversation (we don’t actually hear Judy’s voice), but based on his reactions, we can tell she’s nagging at him and annoying him. Yes, it seems there’s a parallel theme running through the episode involving adulterous affairs and that moment when they stop being fun and start to seem like work. Of course, I honestly don’t think Gary got into this affair hoping for fun; I think he had other more understandable reasons, which he will explain to Val a little later on. But in the same way that we later see the Richard/Abby affair starting to fizzle out, I feel the same thing is happening with Judy and Gary.
A little later, Judy comes to speak with Gary at Knots Landing Motors. The two of them make a date for later at some fancy restaurant over a candlelit dinner, but unbeknownst to them, Abby is lurking in the shadows and listening in on their conversation. I think this marks our second time seeing Abs snooping in on a private chat; she also previously listened in on Gary’s talk with the mobsters back in A Family Matter. She’s clearly starting to get pretty good at it, and in this instance she finds out the time and the place where Gary and Judy will be meeting, and a plan is immediately set in motion within her conniving little brain.
Before we get to the payoff of Abby’s scheme, we also have another storyline heating up nicely over in a different section of Knots Landing Motors, and that would be Sid and Linda. Now, you’ll all recall that Linda is Sid’s new female mechanic, played by Denise Galik (and I looked it up and she would have been freshly turned 30 years of age at this exact moment in time, whereas Don Murray was 51). This marks her third appearance on the series after Chance of a Lifetime and Scapegoats. You’ll remember that in Chance of a Lifetime Sid was displaying little bit of old-school sexism with the idea of a lady mechanic in his workplace, and you’ll also remember that she screwed up and almost hurt herself when she tried to jack up a car. Then, in Scapegoats, well, she didn’t really do much in that episode, but she was around when Michael was out of control and spraying a hose all over the place, right before he fell and hurt his head.
This is a situation where we the audience are perhaps privy to more information than the characters in the series, if that makes sense. I’ve talked before about how Sid is an honest and decent man and he is a smart man, yet at the same time he can be a little bit naïve about certain things because he’s looking at the world through sorta rose-colored glasses. We saw a hint of that naiveté back in, oh, say, Civil Wives when his ex-wife came to town and tried to stir up trouble, and we definitely saw it more heavily in the two Hitchhike eps at the start of the second season. Sid just inherently believes in the good inside of everyone, and he often won’t notice a duplicitous person even if they’re right in front of him (such as the way he cheerfully interacted with J.R. in A Family Matter, even giving him way too much information about his new, exciting secret engine).
The reason I bring this up is because Linda invites Sid to, um, something. In my notes, I wrote down, “A concert or something,” but that’s not it. According to the plot description from TV.com, it’s a race she invites him to, and that makes more sense, as they are both in the motor vehicle industry and would probably get a boner for going to see fast cars driving along in a race. Now, when Linda invited him to this race, I actually thought we were getting ready to watch a different episode, the one where Sid and Linda go out for a drive and get stranded. In actuality, that does not occur in this episode (quick note: That episode is actually Players and it’s coming up very shortly; it’s not our next episode but it is the one right after). In fact, nothing much occurs at all between Sid and Linda, but it’s mostly the writers getting the story set up. I say that because when we see Linda asking Sid out, we know that she probably has more on her mind that a simple car race. She’s attracted to Sid and finds him enticing; she’s allured by the maturity of the older man. Conversely, when she asks him out, Sid thinks nothing of it. He doesn’t pause to think maybe this young woman has the hots for him; it simply doesn’t occur to him because that’s not the way his mind works. These are all important character traits to remember for a little later.
But the really good stuff, as always, comes in the form of The Plesh as Richard and Constance McCashin as Laura. My God, are they not the most fascinating couple on the block? Even though I’ve already declared Karen as my singular favorite character (and she is and always will be), I think I’m gonna officially declare that, for the first four seasons (the Scenes from A Marriage seasons, you could say), Richard and Laura are easily the most interesting couple on the block. I just never tire of watching them and I think both actors play their roles with such maturity that it really does feel like an intimate peek into the private lives of an unhappily married couple. In the case of this episode, we have Laura trying to heat things up with Richard in the bedroom, but to no avail. We begin with the two in their living room (where Richard is, of course, drinking) and Laura says how Jason is out of the house for the moment and they have the place to themselves. She’s trying to get Richard interested, but he’s just having none of it, and we get one of my favorite brutal Plesh deliveries when he sarcastically says, “Light some candles and we’ll see what happens.” That’s not the full line and that’s probably not even the correct transcript of the line, but in any case it’s a tense little moment, and then Laura says, “If you don’t want to make love with me, just say so,” and Richard is like, “Okay, I don’t wanna make love to you.”
However, a moment later he hops up off the couch and grabs a bottle of champagne and walks on over to Abby’s. This is another moment that had burned itself into my memory as one of Richard’s coldest and nastiest displays towards his wife. The reason it’s so nasty is because he makes no efforts to hide it; indeed, as he crosses the street, Laura peeks out of her bedroom window at him and he looks right back up at her before Abby lets him into her house. He looks at Laura with his champagne bottle in hand and is basically saying, “What are you gonna do about it?” It’s a rock bottom moment for Richard, I would say, not just because he’s carrying on an affair (which is nothing new; we already saw him commit adultery with Sid’s ex-wife in Civil Wives), but because he’s essentially rubbing Laura’s nose in it, daring her to do something about it.
Let’s take a pause to really discuss character motivation. Why is Richard behaving in this way? My conclusion is that, since Laura is evolving from the meek and mild housewife that she was in the first season and is turning into a rather successful career woman, Richard and his Napoleonic Complex simply cannot handle it. He’s still out of work, lazing around the house all morning and afternoon, with nothing to entertain him but a romp in Abby’s hot tub. Since he needs to feel like a big man and he is currently doing nothing to provide for his family, he needs to make sure to degrade Laura and remind her that he’s the one with the power, that he will carry on with an affair any time he damn well pleases and he doesn’t care if she likes it or not. If Richard was still gainfully employed and bringing home the bacon for his family, I don’t think he’d be behaving like this, and if he was having an affair in that case, I imagine he would be a bit more discreet about it.
And what of Laura’s behavior? I can imagine a modern viewer (someone born after 1981, say), watching this and not understanding why Laura is even sticking around; why doesn’t she just leave Richard? My response to that is simply that it was a different time. While divorce would (perhaps sadly) end up becoming a pretty standard thing throughout the ‘80s, I’d say it was still a relatively fresh concept in 1981. This is an age when people would stay in crappy marriages for years, perhaps for their whole lives, because they had taken those vows and they actually took them seriously. If this episode was airing just ten years later, I think Laura would immediately leave Richard with no qualms about it (probably taking Jason along with her), but here in 1981, I think she still feels there’s a duty to marriage and that she needs to stick it out and try to make it work, no matter what. But how much longer can Richard behave this way before Laura finally completely loses her patience? I guess we’ll have to keep watching to find out. On a random and perhaps even inappropriate note (inappropriate as in IT’S NOBODY’S DAMN BUSINESS!), watching these with My Beloved Grammy is helpful because she can provide context for me to the times through which the show takes place, and she herself was in an unhappy marriage for 25 years, and she would have still been in this marriage back in 1981, stuck with a man who probably behaved very much like Richard is behaving right here at this point. Because of my knowledge of that relationship, it’s easy for me to believe that Laura would stick around with Richard through all the adultery and abuse.
Let’s return to the saga of Gary, Judy, Val, and of course Abs. Abby has hatched this wicked plan and it goes off without a hitch. See, she and Val are hanging out, driving around town, and then Abs is all like, “Gee, let’s stop at this super duper fancy restaurant for some coffee and brandy!” Coffee and brandy sounds delicious to me, but we know what she’s really up to; she knows this is where Gary and Judy are having their little fancy schmancy dinner and she’s gonna expose the affair to Val. At this point in my notes, I jotted down how interesting it is to observe that Val and Abby are actually sort of friends at this point; that they still hang out and do stuff together and seem to get along. This is only our tenth episode with Abby, so she’s still the new kid on the block, really, and her duplicitous ways have not really been exposed for everyone in the neighborhood to see (I’d say that, at this point, Karen is the only person who really can see through Abby and see all the wickedness that is within her core). So, we have her and Val driving around, spending time together like buddies, and I can remember an earlier episode (blanking on the title, sorry) where we saw Val and Abby enjoying a picnic together. At some point down the line, this will change and Val and Abs will become sworn enemies, but we’re not quite there yet.
Anyway, there’s no way that Gary and Judy can make it look like they’re not having an affair, as they are both dressed up fancy and have candles on the table and are gently caressing each other’s hands. Yeah, it’s all rather incriminating, so when Val and Abby come into the restaurant and spot them at the table together, it makes for a rather tense and uncomfortable scene. However, there’s still plenty of humor and wit in this scene, mostly thanks to Abby. I’m thinking real hard and I think this might be her first real manipulation. I suppose her little lie to J.R. back in A Family Matter might actually be her very first manipulation, but this is the first one that requires quite a bit of energy, you know? The humor comes from how very pleased Abby is with her scheme working out. After Gary and Val go running out of the restaurant, she sits down with Judy and starts to snack on the desserts, all while admitting that she planned this whole thing out just to sabotage Judy. It’s a lovely little moment, only made better when Judy tries to leave and stick Abby with the bill. So what does Abby do? She takes the bill and goes up to some poor Joe who hit on her a little earlier, and she says, “You said something about a drink?” Classic delivery from Abs.
Now, at first Val is willing to give Gary the benefit of the doubt. He thinks up some real fast Grinch type of lie and says how he’s just helping out Judy because Earl’s been constantly drunk again, or something, and since Val wants to believe her husband, she is willing to ignore the fancy clothes and the candlelight and the fact that she walked in to find Judy and Gary holding hands like two kindred spirits. However, this ignorance-is-bliss state comes to an abrupt conclusion for Val the next day, when Judy pays her a visit at her house. Boy, does she ever get right to the point. She walks in and is all like, “I’m having an affair with your husband and I love him and I want him and Bob Loblaw.” She just lays it all out on the table, leading to a classic J.V.A. HORRIFIED EXPRESSION where her mouth opens up all wide and quivers.
Anyway, our next scene is a very awkward dinner at the Fairgates'. I’m sure Sid and Karen invited Gary and Val over thinking it would be a lovely evening together, but about halfway through the meal Val starts to freak out and cry before running off into the streets, Gary chasing after her. That wit I was speaking about earlier is also on display in this scene, as Sid and Karen argue about what they should have cooked for dinner, and after the two Ewings go running off into the night, Karen says something funny like, “We should have made veal,” or something.
Gary finds Val at the beach (where else?), watching the tides come in. This provides a lovely callback to Pilot (“I’ve never seen the ocean before!”) while also reminding us of Gary, Val, and Lucy happily gallivanting through the ocean tide in Home is For Healing. Not just that, but it helps to remind us that, for Val, the ocean is a very special, almost religious thing. She can always go down to the beach and stare at the ocean when she needs some time to get shit together. When Gary comes upon her, she gives a nice little speech about closing her eyes and just listening to the sounds of the ocean. After this, Val helpfully recaps the previous 22 episodes of the series for anyone who is just now tuning in. Obviously shit like this is necessary when you’re dealing with a weekly television series back in the ‘80s, but it doesn’t play quite as well for binge watching or just viewing episodes quickly together on the digital video disk. Basically, she’s like, “We got remarried, we moved to California, we got a house,” and so on and so forth, just getting us up to speed on everything that has happened so far in the universe of KL.
From there, Gary manages to win Val’s affections back, sort of. I can’t remember the exact gist of his speech to her, but he explains how he didn’t mean to hurt her and he just sorta fell into this affair and Bob Loblaw. In any case, Val does forgive him and I don’t think he cheats on her again for, oh, maybe a little over a solid year. For now, Gary is ready to return to being a decent husband with no more adultery.
The last obstacle, of course, is his having to explain this state of affairs (no pun intended) to Judy. Oh, poor pathetic Judy (and in case I haven’t already mentioned it, absolutely any time that Judy is onscreen, My Beloved Grammy would start going on about, “Oh my God, I can’t believe how ugly this woman is!” and it would always make me laugh). When Gary explains to her that he needs to make it work with Val and that they can’t see each other anymore, Judy just turns ten or twenty times more pathetic than she’s already been. Gary says how he needs a person to feel dependent on him, to which Judy hilariously declares, “I could depend on you; don’t you want to be depended on for the rest of your life?!” Oh my God, I almost peed my pants when she unleashed that little declaration. Not only is it just a pathetic thing to say, but the way it’s delivered just makes it even funnier.
In any case, after this she walks away, and we never see her again, which I’m kinda fine with. I actually remembered this whole affair storyline being tremendously dull, but this time I found myself pretty invested while watching it. I used to just think Judy was ugly and I couldn’t figure out why they gave Gary such an ugly woman to have an affair with, but now I think I understand. Her ugliness and her generally pathetic demeanor speak volumes about the state of her life; this is just a very unhappy woman who will probably never find the happiness she seeks, no matter what, and for me, the affair was not just the writers saying, “We gotta spice things up; let’s throw in an affair for Gary.” No, that sounds more like something the good folks over at Dallas would do, but here, it’s more of a character study. The affair was started because Judy needs to feel taken care of and Gary needs to feel like someone depends on him. It lasted a little while and then it crumbled, as these things often do. I also like the fact that Val doesn’t immediately up and leave Gary, but rather tries to stick it out with him, at least for another year or so. Even though I know that the writers and producers didn’t know they would have exactly fourteen seasons, I still get the feeling watching the show that we have plenty of time to let storylines unfold very leisurely and very realistically, and it’s one of my favorite things about the show. Why break up Gary and Val right this minute? We still have twelve more seasons and plenty of opportunities to break them up later.
Now before I wrap up my discussion of Choices, let’s talk about the utterly and stupendously fabulous final scene between Gary and Abby. After Judy goes walking off in a huff, rejected and humiliated by Gary, she runs into Abby and says, “He’s all yours, now.” Then she disappears, and Abby (who, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, is now gainfully employed as a secretary at Knots Landing Motors), pokes her cute little blonde head into Gary’s office and says, “Are you ready for me now, Gary?” Oh, what a delicious delivery and what promise lies ahead for us, all based on the strength of this one fantastic line, delivered impeccably and perfectly by the inimitable Donna Mills, ladies and gentlemen.
At the risk of disappearing into Gushing Fanboy Mode, I have to say that this was a pretty damn great episode, and what’s so cool is I didn’t even remember it existing. For whatever reason, aside from that scene with Richard walking across the street to Abby’s house, I had forgotten all the details of this particular episode, so it was really fun to revisit. Lots of wheels are now starting to turn and we have lots of great storylines getting started up, along with the conclusion of a few, such as the affair of Judy and Gary. Everyone is pretty much acting as well as they ever do in this episode, and all the characters are getting plenty of material to work with (sans Kenny and Ginger, who don’t even appear in this episode, and no, I am most definitely not complaining about that).
Finally, I thought there was a real wit to this episode, a sparkle in the dialogue and a slightly funnier overall tone that almost predicts the more humor-laden seasons of eight through twelve. This episode was written by L. Virginia Browne, so I took a peek at her IMDb to see if she would be returning for any more eps. Turns out she has one more KL credit, a season three ep called Exposé. I will pay strict attention when we get to that episode to see if it has some of the same humor and cleverness that is on display right here.
In any case, that oughta about wrap up our discussion of Choices. My Beloved Grammy and I will very shortly be powering through another disk of KL eps, starting out with season two, episode eleven, entitled A State of Mind.