Sunday, April 10, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 024 of 344: A STATE OF MIND


Episode Title: A State of Mind

Season 02, Episode 11

Episode 024 of 344

Written by Rob Gilmer

Directed by Alexander Singer

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 5th, 1981

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):.                Jeff Cunningham is mad that Abby is having an affair with a married man (Richard) in front of the kids. Sid hears Karen talking with Jeff, and tells her not to discuss Abby with him. Karen says that Sid is blind to Abby, but he defends her and they argue. Jeff files for custody of the kids. He and Abby talk, and he admits he wants her back. Abby sleeps with him so he'll drop the case, and then tells him that it was a one-time thing. Jeff is angry and says she's not playing 'fair' with him. One of Laura's clients kisses her, but she says she can't cheat on Richard. Abby tells Richard that it's over between them.

 

                Much like many episodes from the earliest seasons of the series, I started A State of Mind with no recollection of what occurred in this episode.  As we powered through it, I came to remember which episode this was and what goes down in it, and I found myself really appreciating lots of different aspects about it, specifically how smoothly it concludes certain stories while at the same time deftly setting up new storylines for the future, storylines that won’t be paying off for several episodes, really.  Let’s dive right in.

                Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner (or, at this point, just Abby Fairgate Cunningham) has now appeared in ten episodes of the series, but she’s still the new kid on the block, being the most recent addition to the cast at the start of season two.  Abby will obviously be on the series until the end of season ten in 1989 and be a tremendously important player in the show’s legacy, often cited as the most popular and iconic character of the entire series' run, but at this point I don’t think she has been completely established; she’s been around, she’s been up to shenanigans, but I do believe A State of Mind is our first episode to really take a good long hard look at Abs.

                We begin the episode with Abs and Richard enjoying a typical morning/afternoon together. Oh no, wait, we obviously literally begin the episode with the classic theme song and the cul-de-sac opening title sequence.  I’m trying to soak in as much of this opening as I can (we never skip the opening, no matter what, and I don’t even start playing it and then go to pee or something; I sit and watch the whole thing), since we’re not going to be seeing it again after season two ends.  Season three starts and we get the unveiling of the classic scrolling squares (best version of the opening, obviously), so I’ll kinda miss this first set of opening credits. 

                But that’s not the point I wanted to make.  I wanted to note that the season two DVDs (as of this writing, this is the last season to be officially released on DVD by WB) do not include the little thirty second previews for the upcoming episodes.  Is this good or bad?  I dunno.  On one hand, I’m a nerdy completist purist who wants the show preserved as it originally aired; but on the other hand, I kinda like just jumping into the episode not knowing what lies ahead in the upcoming 48 minutes; it adds a feeling of mystery and surprise to proceedings.  With season three, we’ll be back to the thirty second previews, and then at some point I believe they switch to the “Previously on…” style, but anyway, as we go through season two, when you push play on an episode, it goes straight to those opening credits.

                So Richard and Abs are doing what they’ve been doing for the last five or six episodes: Drinking in the middle of the day while lounging around the pool and having a torrid affair.  Actually, I should make it clear that Richard is the one drinking; his descent into an alcoholism that nobody seems to notice is continuing as we begin this episode, for he is enjoying his five hundredth screwdriver of the morning. 

                Then we cut to Olivia and Brian being driven home by Jeff Cunningham.  Now, this is the first appearance of Jeff Cunningham, Abby’s angry ex-husband, and he is played by Transmorpher Barry Jenner.  This is probably one of our most significant Transmorphers as he appeared in multiple episodes of both series, not just one or two like many of our Transmorphers.  He plays Jeff Cunningham on KL in four episodes, all in 1981, and then he is in 25 episodes of Dallas as Dr. Jerry Kenderson, spanning from 1984 to 1986.  I remember he had a significant role in the famous dream season (1985-1986) of that series, in which he served as Sue Ellen’s romantic interest for a little while.

                Anyway, Abs and Richard have been making pretty much zero effort to hide their affair from anyone, so of course when Jeff shows up, the two are lounging around in their suits, looking like two people who just committed adultery.  Jeff gets mad and start to raid the kitchen cabinets, convinced he will find dangerous chemicals under the sink.  When he does find many chemicals, he uses this as a reason why Abby is an unfit mother.  The two have a little argument and then he storms over to the Fairgate house.

                This little scene really encapsulates the sense of community in the early years of this series, a sense that I feel may disappear as we get into the middle-to-later seasons of the series, because when Jeff knocks on the Fairgate door, they immediately invite him in for a drink and have a nice talk with him.  You get a sense of history, even though we’ve never seen Jeff before this episode; we feel that Karen and Sid really do have a prior history with him and really do like him, perhaps even more than they like Abby.  This scene is also significant because Karen somewhat lets it slip that Abby is having an affair with Richard.  She doesn’t entirely mean to do it; it just kinda slips out, but it provides an impetus for Jeff that propels the rest of this episode.

                From here, we cut to a B storyline for the episode, this one involving Laura at the real estate office.  She is talking with Scooter and the two seem to be having just a great day; things are just going their way at the office, today.  Then, we introduce a character that I confess to having a bit of a problem with, David Souther, played by Sam Weisman.  It’s interesting to note that Sam Weisman (pictured below) is, in real life, Constance McCashin’s real life husband, and the two have been married since 1978 and are, in fact, still married, so good for them.  Unfortunately, that’s really just a small bit of trivia that is of only minor interest to this episode and this character.  I have a real problem with how this guy just sorta comes out of nowhere.  Who is this person?  We haven’t seen him in one episode before this and we won’t see him in one episode after this; he exists entirely within the confines of this episode and is never seen nor heard from again.  At the same time, we are told that Laura has been working on some big real estate deal with him this whole time, that they’ve had some significant relationship or something, I dunno.  This is the first time we’ve seen him and yet we’re told that he’s been around for awhile.  I’ll accept that Laura probably does a lot at work that we don’t see, but I still don’t care for the way we meet this character and are told about his existence.

                What’s much more interesting for me is whenever Laura is onscreen with Richard, and I particularly like a scene with them early in the episode where Richard is trying to make himself a sandwich and not succeeding.  Laura volunteers to make the sandwich for him, at which point Richard gets very defensive and says, “I can make my own sandwiches,” and also goes on a long speech about how Laura is speaking to him in a condescending tone lately and that he is perfectly capable of making his own sandwiches.  It’s a good little scene which is, as always, played swimmingly by the two actors and perfectly encapsulates the friction in their relationship at this point.  Watching right now, pretending I’m a new viewer, I cannot predict whether their relationship is about to completely crumble and dissolve or whether it may soon get back on track.  Honestly, I’d be putting my bets on a swift divorce right now just from how Richard has been carrying on with Abs and treating Laura with such disrespect.

                I feel like most of the couples on the cul-de-sac are still perfectly fine with Abby.  She seems nice and everyone seems to like her; she hasn’t had time to really reveal her true colors yet.  However, Karen is the one person perceptive enough to notice what’s really going on and she’s the only person bold enough to vocalize it, which she does to Sid.  She says how Sid gives Abs too much of a break because she’s his sister, that he’s ignoring the affair going on right in front of them, and in front of the kids, as well, and then she provides a great hint for the future when she says, “And something is going on between her and Gary, I don’t know what, but something.”  We’re gonna have to wait, I think, a solid year to see any payoff in the sexual tension between Abs and Gary, but the writers are warming up to it, setting up those dominoes to fall.

                The main gist of the episode is that Abs gets served by Jeff for custody of the kids and has to figure out what to do about it.  Donna Mills gets some fabulous acting when she is served the notice; first she plays it with surprise and then some anger and then, when she runs over to Karen and Sid’s house to seek Sid’s advice, she does some great crying.  This is very realistic crying, too; she doesn’t bawl and freak out, but she’s got tears in her eyes and sounds real choked up when she speaks.  I love that Abs, despite being the cul-de-sac villainous and the village bicycle, is always presented as a human being with many different levels and layers; she is not pure evil, she is a full and three dimensional character who experiences all the normal human emotions (wait a few years until we get to season eight and Olivia’s drug problems for some truly stellar Abby material). 

                This episode was directed by Alexander Singer, a name that pops up a lot when talking about KL, as he directed fourteen episodes (not to mention three episodes of Dallas), and I’d like to call him out for some fine cinematic work here.  We have a closeup of Abs, you see, and then we very nicely dissolve into a closeup of Laura at her office, staring at some flowers.  The dissolve is done in that sexy way where the screen goes out of focus for a moment and then it refocuses and we’re now looking at Laura.  Again, it would be very easy to just do a cut from one scene to the next, but instead we get a nice little camera trick here to keep things looking visually interesting.

                From here, we continue on with the small story of Laura and David.  When she realizes she’s never taken him up to this house they just sold (I think she sold it to him, or something) to see the view at night, they both decide they must go out right away.  So, they go to this house in the middle of the night, they enjoy the great night view, and then David plants one on Laura.  Again, I would really be able to invest more in this little storyline if I knew who this guy was and where he came from.  Instead, we’ve had no buildup and no expectations for anything, so who cares when he kisses her?  Sitting here and thinking about it now, I find myself wondering why this story doesn’t play out with Scooter; after all, we already saw him give Laura a kiss back in, I think, Chance of a Lifetime, and we know a small romance is blooming between the two.  Is this the writers simply biding their time until they get an affair started between Laura and Scooter? 

                In any case, Laura does the right thing and turns down David, explaining that even though she is very flattered, she wants to try and make things work with Richard, that she can’t walk out on the marriage.  Even if I didn’t care about David, I care about Laura’s reaction to him, and I care about her feelings towards Richard.  McCashin plays this scene very well, giving a nice little speech without making it boring, and reinforcing our affection for Laura’s character, who would be easily justified in leaving Richard at this point, but is instead choosing to make it work with him.

                When she comes home, she finds Richard passed out with a bottle of wine spilled all over himself.  This scene walks a very thin line between pathetic and cute, yet it manages to work for me.  Laura is very patient with Richard and wakes him up and then helps him get up the stairs and to his bedroom. This is all one shot and we get great acting from them.  If I ever get a chance to interview The Plesh (God willing), I will ask him if he Method-acted whenever Richard was drunk, cuz I truly believe he did.  He plays drunk very realistically and I have a hard time believing it’s all acting.  What’s interesting about this scene is that it’s also kinda funny, as Laura says, “Did you drink all that wine yourself?” and it sorta sounds like she’s talking to a child, not in a derogatory way, but in a rather cute and endearing way.  Watching this, even though I’m worried that Richard is turning into a Gary-level alcoholic, I still have hope for the future of Richard and Laura.

                The affair of Richard and Abby officially ends with this episode, by the way, and unless I’m forgetting something very significant, I don’t believe the two ever sleep together again.  In this case, the scene plays out just perfectly in Abby’s kitchen.  Again, little things like this always make KL just a smidge better than the other shows; the way they play this scene out in the kitchen while Abby prepares food just rings with truth; it’s a scene we’ve all seen in real life, unlike some of the goofier, more money-centric shenanigans going on over on Dallas.  Here, the torrid and soap-opera affair of Richard and Abby ends in the realistic and pure American setting of the kitchen, and I like that. 

                I also like The Plesh’s acting in this scene quite a lot.  At heart, Richard is truly just a pathetic man, and in this scene, he really lets it all hang out as far as emotions go when he finally says to Abby, “I need you.”  Abby responds in a way that is actually quite gentle, yet still cold at the same time.  She explains that she likes Richard, but she doesn’t need him, and she can’t see him anymore.  Great acting from both, with The Plesh really selling his hurt and Donna really selling her character’s decisions and motivations. 

                From here, the game is on between Abs and Jeff.  She has Jeff over for what appears to be a lovely dinner followed by wine in front of a warm, roaring fire.  Everything is going well until Jeff gets a tad, erm, rapey.  Rape sure is following me around these days, as the same day I watched this episode, my buddy and I also watched Death Wish II, which starts with a fairly brutal rape.  In any case, Jeff doesn’t go completely Death Wish II on Abby, but he does sorta pin her down and starts confronting her on how many other men she slept with while they were married, and then he’s like, “How about one more time, you and me, what do you say?”  It’s a fairly uncomfortable moment that only gets more uncomfortable when he starts to cry like a little whiny bitch into Abby’s arms.  However, just before we fade to commercial, we have Abby hugging him and soothing him, all while giving a look that tells us that she is definitely up to something.

                Now, whether or not Jeff and Abby actually have sex is potentially up for debate; I really have no answer on this one.  See, Olivia comes in late at night because she had a nightmare or something, and the two characters are shown sleeping in the same bed, both hardly clothed at all. This to me equals sex, but then later Abs makes some little reference like, “You’re the one who fell asleep,” which makes me think Jeff fell asleep before he got any action.  In any case, it doesn’t really matter; Abby’s ingenious manipulations of Jeff are rooted in making him feel briefly like the big man and an important part of the family.  He’s happy as a clam in the morning, chowing down on breakfast and probably assuming that he and Abs are back together. 

                His good mood is obviously ruined when Abs announces that she does not wish to get back together with him and that the last night was just a fluke.  I think at this point Jeff has agreed to drop the custody battle, and if he hasn’t already, I’m sure Abs could mention how he tried to rape her and get him into some hot water.  In any case, he storms out of the house, all upset, and he gets stopped by Karen and gives an angry speech.  Good acting here from Mr. Jenner, I must say, plus some strong hints for future storylines.  If you want to be spoiler-free, please skip ahead, but Jeff does wind up kidnapping the children somewhere near the end of season two or the start of season three, and there’s a small arc of episodes in which Abby's children are missing and she doesn’t know where they are.  This is a few episodes down the line, but it’s being set up here, I think, as Jeff hints that he may just have to take the kids from Abby by sheer force, essentially.  He doesn’t come right out and say, “Well, I’m gonna kidnap them,” but it’s heavily implied.  When Karen goes over to Abs and says, “You may have won this battle, but now you’ve got a war on your hands,” we end the episode there and it’s really a rather ominous note to end on.  To me, it’s made even more interesting because we don’t pay off on what is set up here for quite a few more episodes (maybe as many as seven or eight), and I like that.  We’ve got something set up, but we’re gonna shift our focus to other things for a few eps, and then we’ll get back to this storyline in due time. 

                Even though we are still very early in the series, still within that first era of seasons one through three that I wrote about awhile ago, and only 24 episodes deep into a series that will span 344 episodes, the effect is already taking place where I’m starting to lose track of episodes.  I knew this would happen at some point, but not so early.  What I mean by that is that when you start watching a series, you watch episode one and you form an opinion on episode one and then you move on to episode two and see how that contrasts with the first episode and so on.  But at some point, you’re up to the double digits or the triple digits of episodes and it’s hard to say, “Oh, this was about as good as this episode but not quite up there with this one,” you know?  I just bring this up so I can say that A State of Mind is a perfectly fine episode, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, with the one caveat that I wish the Laura/David storyline could have been handled better.

                Oh yeah, and this episode is also missing a few cast members.  Gary barely appears, only showing up in one scene to drop off Olivia and Brian (random: I like that a relationship is already shown developing between Abby’s children and Gary, as he will be a significant part of their lives for the rest of the series), a scene in which I think he gets, oh, maybe one line.  Kenny and Ginger aren’t here at all, but who cares?  Frankly, when they sit out episodes, I usually don’t even notice, aside from the fact that I’m significantly less bored and annoyed.  Most interesting is that J.V.A. sits out this episode.  That’s right, Valene doesn’t show up once in A State of Mind.  I honestly think this might be the only episode J.V.A. does not appear in throughout the entire course of seasons one through thirteen.  She is not a cast member in the fourteenth season, but from 1979 to 1992, I think she appears in every single episode except for this one.  I’ll keep my eyes open as we go through to see if I’m right or not. 

                So on the one hand, I had some problems with Laura’s little story in this episode and I thought the episode was a little light on other characters, but I also appreciate that it’s essentially a character study of Abby.  I always say KL is at its best when it’s just presenting us with these fascinating characters and letting us see how they operate and work, and this is a great display of Abby’s character.  Throughout her nine years on the show, we’re gonna see Donna really walk a fine line with Abby of keeping her duplicitous and wicked but also relatable, realistic, and strangely likable, no matter what she’s doing, and this is one of the first displays of that multifaceted nature.  All in all, A State of Mind is a solid hour of KL, but it falls firmly in the middle if I’m trying to rank season two so far.  I’d say this is obviously far better than Kristin or Step One or even Scapegoats, but it’s not up there with the very best of season two that would be Chance of a Lifetime and Breach of Faith and Choices (A Family Matter has also been a highlight of this season for me).

                Next up is a test of loyalty for the nicest guy on Seaview Circle, Saint Sid Fairgate, as he is tempted with an affair with lovely young Linda in Players.

3 comments:

  1. Donna Mills is such a good actress. She played Abby as a real human being instead of a cartoon villain. To me, she was the best actor/actress on Knots with the exception of maybe William Devane.

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  2. She layered Abby beautifully that she was a complex and deep character. They later tried to recapture that with Claudia bit it didn't work.

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  3. I'm following along with your recaps while I watch the episodes as I have been working from home. Just got to this episode today and realized Barry Jenner passed away just last night.

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