Episode Title: The Loudest Word
Season 02, Episode 13
Episode 026 of 344
Written by Joseph B. Wallenstein
Directed by Kim Friedman
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 19th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):. Kenny goes to see Ginger at school and implores her to get back together with him. She still refuses. Kenny shows up at her Lamaze class and they argue. Ginger feels bad, and finally tells him that both she and the baby need him. Val's doctor finds a malignant growth in her colon and needs to operate. Gary can't handle it - he feels so guilty about how he's treated Val, and totally breaks down. He calls Miss Ellie weeping, so Bobby comes to support him while Val's in the hospital. The doctor is able to remove all of the cancer.
Now this was sure a delightful surprise. As My Beloved Grammy and I pushed “play” on The Loudest Word, I was pretty certain that we were entering into one of the all-time worst episodes of the entire run of KL. I’m not even exaggerating; I remembered thinking this episode belonged firmly in the bottom ten of KL and maybe even the bottom five. I just couldn’t remember a single thing I enjoyed about this particular episode. Therefore, it was something of a thrill to find myself really thoroughly enjoying this hour of KL and finding a lot more worth talking about than I had originally expected. It just goes to show the strange way your opinions can change over time.
Choices obviously focused very heavily on the relationship between Gary and Val, exploring the disintegration of Gary’s affair with Judy Trent as well as Val’s troubled feelings about their entire relationship. The next episode, A State of Mind, featured Gary only in an extremely brief cameo, barely even speaking, and Val didn’t even appear at all in that episode. Moving on to Players, both Val and Gary appeared and we got a bit of material for both of them (the best being Val’s long speech to Karen), but they still weren’t center stage. With The Loudest Word, these two characters are absolutely given the center of attention for the course of the entire show. I remembered that and I expected that, but I didn’t expect them to be so interesting; that was the surprise. See, in my memory, this was one of those episodes like Land of the Free that represented all the worst things about early (first three seasons) KL, meaning that we basically introduce a problem strictly for this one episode and then we resolve it before the episode ends, everybody is happy, and we never mention it again. That to me is not nearly as interesting as a form of storytelling when compared to the serialized nature of seasons four and onwards. So okay, while it’s true that the crisis of this episode is resolved by the ending, that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to watch, not at all.
I like the way we start out this episode, because it’s in a way we’ve never seen before. Rather than starting on one of our established nine main characters, we open with strangers, just some doctors at a hospital. This one doctor comes walking out and I immediately was like, “Hey, I know that guy.” Turns out I do know this guy, Arthur Rosenberg (pictured below), as he appeared in one of my favorite movies, Cujo! Here, he is playing Dr. Harper, yet I note with interest that he will return to KL very soon, in season three, episode thirteen, episode entitled Reunion. Bizarrely, in that episode he is credited as “Dr.Gold.” Hmm, is this supposed to be the same doctor character and they just forgot his name? Or is he playing a new character? Remind me to note this when I reach Reunion in the third season. Anyway, this doctor comes walking out, he plops a medical file on a table and is like, “This is really important, Bob Loblaw,” and then the camera pans down to show that this is Valene Ewing’s file. Because of the tone of the music, which is scary, and the way the scene is filmed, which is rather unsettling, we are off to an interesting start with The Loudest Word. We are able to figure out that something is wrong with Val, but we’ll have to wait to find out what.
We don’t have to wait long, however, as we almost immediately find out that Val has a malignant cancerous tumor and will require surgery. Val handles this news like a real trooper, being strong and confident for the sake of Gary, who is, um, not strong and not confident. Remember when I said how I tend to think of Gary as he is at the end of the series? When I think of him, I tend to go right to seasons eleven/twelve/thirteen/fourteen Gary, a Gary who is older, wiser, more self actualized and more mature, and definitely able to conquer hard dilemmas well. Therefore, it’s very strange and surprising to return to these early eps and see what a big fat baby Gary really is at this stage. After all, Val is the one who has to go to the hospital and get the surgery, and she’s able to take it all in stride, but Gary is just a mess for most of this show.
Not only is he a mess, but he’s a hard character to like right now. Certainly, while watching Breach of Faith, when Gary and Trudy finally planted that big wet kiss on each other, My Beloved Grammy boldly declared, “I don’t like Gary anymore.” Now, I’m fairly certain she will change her mind as we get deeper and as Gary grows and evolves, but right now I totally see her point. Over the course of the last 25 episodes, we have watched Gary go on a crazy epic bender and nearly ruin his entire life. Once he got past that little obstacle, he got involved with The Other Paul Rudd as his A.A. sponsor but then almost immediately cheated on Val with The Other Paul Rudd’s wife, which is just bad etiquette if you’re supposed to be a sponsor. So he carried on this affair for a little while and it only just recently ended, and now when he’s faced with a health crisis for Val, he positively flips. During the course of this episode, My Beloved Grammy also declared, “Gary is just a very weak man,” and she’s not wrong, Gary is a very weak man at this point, but the joy is in watching him grow and evolve over fourteen years.
Okay, so Val checks into the hospital for her surgery, and the Seaview Circle ladies all show up (including Abby, who is still friends with Val at this point) to give her gifts and support. We have a, um, well, a scene between Karen and Val that is probably supposed to be touching but fails. It’s after all the ladies leave, and then Karen pokes her head back into the room to say, “I love you,” which is very lovely, but then we get a classic J.V.A. HORROR face, where she opens her mouth all wide and looks terrified. Obviously she’s supposed to be fighting back tears, but I confess the effect of her acting is rather funny, not moving.
The real piece-de-resistance of this episode occurs in a fabulously long and exciting (not to mention completely unbroken) bit of action wherein Gary completely trashes his and Val’s bedroom. Seriously, this is a great scene and I think they even squeeze a clip from it into the classic scrolling squares opening sequence during season three. See, we start out on Gary’s face as he stands quietly in the middle of the bedroom, but then without any warning he just starts to go to town on everything; he breaks lamps, he sweeps shit off of tables, I think he flings a giant dresser across the room, and then he sorta flings his bed up and out of its frame. It’s almost like he’s on P.C.P. or something and has found some super strength; I’m curious to learn how Shack got himself into the mode for this scene or if he required any stimulation like lots of espresso (or coke, perhaps; hell, this is 1981) to achieve this effect. In any case, it’s a glorious little scene, and the fact that they don’t cut around it is very impressive, allowing Gary to just completely trash his room in one big unbroken scene.
Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be more testosterone seething in the air, we get a fabulous sequence of Sid breaking down the door to Gary’s house. See, he can hear Gary’s freakout upstairs all the way out on the street, and when Gary refuses to answer the door, Sid acts like a total badass and just jump-kicks the door right open, busting it out of its frame. It’s such a cool, sexy, manly moment and is one of my favorite Sid moments from his short yet sweet time on the series.
Oh yeah, and before Sid reaches Gary’s bedroom, we have a quick scene of Gary lying on the floor, looking like he’s on another massive bender, and calling home to Southfork. Now, we don’t actually see who he’s talking to, but we gather that it’s Miss Ellie cuz he keeps saying, “Mama,” like a little baby. Of course, Miss Ellie doesn’t actually appear in this episode (or any episode of KL, for that matter), presumably because Barbara Bel Geddes didn’t wanna waddle her old ass over to a different set, even for a small appearance, but this scene does nicely set up a lovely crossover for later in the episode.
Sid and Karen both find Gary lying on the floor of his bedroom, looking like a wreck. He helpfully explains the title of this episode when he tells them that, when the doctor said the word “malignant,” it was “The loudest word I ever heard.” Based on the gist of his speech, we definitely get the feeling that he’s dealing with some serious guilt. I imagine he’s thinking of what his life would be like if Val died, and also regretting some of his recent decisions. If Val died, he would have to live with the fact that he was repeatedly cheating on her in the last few months of her life, and that’s probably a hard thing to deal with. You see, it’s shit like this that I didn’t remember about this episode. I thought that this would just be another lame one-off episode that did nothing to further advance the story, but I’m really interested to see all this character stuff going on with Gary, and how his guilt is manifested by Val’s health problems.
When we cut back to Val in her hospital room, lying in bed, we are then treated to our sixth out of what will be nine crossovers from Dallas to KL. This time it’s Patrick Duffy, who hasn’t been seen on KL since he dropped Gary and Val off at their new house back in Pilot. I gotta say it was lovely to see him, and again this was something I’d forgotten. I remembered Duffy’s little appearance here being extremely short and forgettable. Well, it’s true that it’s pretty short, but I’m gonna redact my “forgettable” comment, because I actually think this might be one of the most organic crossovers out of all nine that KL ever did. Sure, it would be more organic if Charlene Tilton showed up as Lucy Ewing, but we’ve already discussed (back in Home is For Healing) how that will never happen and how much that continues to irk me. In any case, the writers do cover their asses because Bobby says how he “didn’t tell Lucy what was going on,” and Val says that’s a good thing. Sometimes the crossovers feel somewhat tacky (Kristin, once again), but this one feels very natural. Believing that Dallas and KL exist in the same universe, of course someone from Gary’s family would come out to California if his wife was having a health crisis, and it’s definitely better that it be Bobby rather than J.R.
In addition to forgetting how organic Patrick Duffy’s little cameo here is, I also forgot what a fucking badass Bobby is within the confines of this episode. I found myself trying to remember exactly what was going on with him over on Dallas this season, because he just goes to town on Gary, really chewing him out for being a coward, for being weak, for not having the Ewing touch. Was Bobby still attempting to run Ewing Oil single handedly over on Dallas at this point? I remember that during our last Brief Dallas Interlude (End of the Road: Part Two), we had a lot of scenes of Bobby working in the Ewing Oil offices, but I can’t remember if he was doing it singlehandedly still or whether J.R. was back in the offices, too. In any case, I could argue that Bobby is stressed from whatever shenanigans are going on over in his world (I think Pam might have also been about to have an affair at this point in the season, too), so that’s why he’s so harsh with Gary. I mean, come on, at one point he says, “You don’t have any kind of courage at all and your ass looks fat,” which is going beyond harsh and turning into something just plain mean….but I kinda like it.
Or maybe he’s just harsh because Gary needs someone to be harsh. He’s still acting like a bit of a groveling baby, and when he hears that Val might survive but have to be put on a colostomy, he just sinks lower. There’s a pretty powerful scene where Bobby grabs Gary and shoves him against the wall and says, “You mean you’d rather your wife die than be put on colostomy?!” Yup, it’s a real shameful moment for Gary. Oh yeah, and one last little note, but Bobby mentions, “Something like this happened to Mama awhile back,” maintaining a lovely flow of continuity from show to show as Miss Ellie did, indeed, suffer from cancer during the third season of Dallas (although unfortunately she did not die).
When Val goes in for her surgery, Gary disappears for awhile, and so Sid naturally starts to check all the nearest bars, and he immediately finds Gary hiding out in the bar closest to the hospital. This is a good little scene that brought back flashbacks to both parts of the Bottom of the Bottle saga, as Sid finds Gary in this dark, depressing, scary-ass bar holding a drink in his hand. Of course we all assume that Gary is falling off the wagon, that he’s returning for a lot of the hair of that dog that keeps biting him, so we all breathe a sigh of relief when the bartender comes up to him and says, “Another ginger ale?” That’s right, friends and neighbors, Gary is just drinking ginger ale, not hard liquor. He only hauled up in this bar because he needed to get away from the hospital for awhile and this was the closest place. Whether an alcoholic of Gary’s caliber should be hanging out in a bar at all is up for debate, but if we take the Gary we met back in the two part Dallas episodes Reunion (the David Ackroyd Gary, as I’m sure you’ll remember) as canon, we’ll remember that Gary has already worked as a bartender for some time and that having the liquor laid out in front of him eliminates the threat of it; it makes it a non-scary thing for him.
I also love Don Murray in this scene as he perfectly plays all the levels of the character. See, at first he walks in and is very firm, saying, “Gary, you don’t need to do this; you got a good wife and a good job and a good life and Bob Loblaw.” He is very direct and very authoritative in that special Sid way, but when he finds out Gary is just nursing ginger ale, the relief on his face is palpable and then the tone in his voice changes to something much friendlier; I think he even gives Gary a hug. It’s some very realistic acting from both gentlemen, if I do say so myself.
This episode also has little bursts of cinematic technique that I had completely forgotten about. The best example comes when Gary is heading into the hospital to see if Val made it through surgery okay. Rather than just shooting Gary walking or running or whatever, it’s all presented in this frantic P.O.V. tracking shot that goes down the whole hospital corridor, very Halloween II, and very cool to look at. Hats off to director Kim Friedman (who will contribute a total of eight episodes to the series, ending with And Teddy Makes Three from 1983) for making what could be a very bland scene into something exciting. When Gary reaches the room, we discover that the surgery was a success and that Val is now officially cancer-free. Finally, the episode culminates with Gary at Val’s bedside, in a scene that’s lit with, like, rays of sunlight or something. The final image of this episode looks like it could be framed and put up on the wall, as the light shines through over Gary and Val to give it an almost religious look. Overall, a rather cool way to go out.
Clearly this episode is all about Gary and Val’s relationship, but I’ll take a moment to note a few things we get from the other characters and their stories. For instance, my favorite two characters, the Wards, seem to be officially back together, or at least that’s the perception I got from this episode. I think they sleep together or something (I have forgotten, as I almost always tend to forget most Kenny/Ginger sequences) and then Ginger says something like, “We need you,” referring to herself and the baby. Based on this, I believe her and Kenny are back together, much to the frenzied interest of absolutely nobody in the viewing audience in 1981.
Richard and Laura also have a nice little moment early in the episode, a moment in which Richard delivers the hilarious line, in reference to Karen’s reaction to Val’s tumor, that “Karen’s probably already got her dead and buried.” Ouch! Only The Plesh could deliver this line in such a way that it’s both so funny and so deadpan, and then he immediately is able to be rather quiet and tender a second later when he speaks to Laura. Just give this man his Emmy, please, I’m begging you, give him his Emmy before it’s too late!
It’s definitely worth noting that a storyline like this would be handled very differently if it was done just a few seasons later, even as early as season four. If Val having a cancerous tumor was a storyline in, say, season seven, I imagine it would span half that season (meaning at least fifteen episodes) and it would probably branch off into a bunch of other storylines that would affect all the characters on the show. However, at this early juncture, this is still the kind of storyline that they’ll bring up for one episode and then wrap up, and I still don’t love that. I love serialized storytelling and I love to see stories go on and on, growing and evolving over time. However, one must simply accept that this style of episode is much more prevalent in the first three seasons; we’ve still got quite a few episodes in our future that are fairly self-contained and wrap up at the end of the 48 minutes and are never mentioned again. I will definitely have some problems with many of these eps (we have one coming up very shortly called Man of the Hour), but I’m glad to say I don’t have a problem with The Loudest Word. This has been the most surprising KL episode to revisit simply because I remembered it being rather worthless and instead found lots to enjoy in it. Now, make no mistake, this is not a ten out of ten or anything like that, but it was a solid and entertaining episode that had many things going for it, with Patrick Duffy’s appearance, surprisingly, being a highlight. It's also a credit to the KL writing team and the general tone of the show that Bobby manages to be far more interesting in this ten minute guest appearance than he ever was in over 300 episodes of Dallas. Bobby was often so boringly heroic on that series, but here the character is presented with more of an edge, a little faster to call people out on their bullshit.
Onward to, oh how interesting, yet another completely self-contained episode, it’s season two, episode fourteen, episode entitled Moments of Truth.