Episode Title: Designs
Season 02, Episode 17
Episode 030 of 344
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 26th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): J.R. comes to town (again). He wants to form a corporation with Sid and patent the engine that Sid invented. Sid refuses. Abby steals the engine plans and gives them to J.R., and has him sign a contract to protect her interests. They sleep together. Karen tells Sid that Abby stole the plans, but he doesn't believe her. Karen and Val are suspicious when Jeff comes to pick up the kids, and packs all of their things into his van. Karen goes to J.R.'s hotel to tell Abby she thinks Jeff kidnapped the kids, but Abby doesn't believe her and says Jeff is just trying to scare her again.more
Ah, yes, kids, it’s time for crossover #7 out of what will turn out to be nine crossovers in total (we have zero in the third season, then two in the fourth season, and then that will be all she wrote). Designs has a lot of great stuff going for it and I’m eager to dig into it. Not only is it a fabulous crossover of Dallas to KL, but it also functions as a fabulous episode of KL all by itself.
As I said, Designs is our seventh crossover of a beloved character from Dallas making a ratings-sweep-induced trip to KL, and it is the third time we see the always fabulous Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing on this series. We actually see him pretty much right off the top of the episode, and I love how he is just there. We are at Knots Landing Motors and, if I recall correctly, Gary is arriving at work, and J.R. is just hanging out, talking to Sid. I like how it’s so casual, just no big deal, there’s not like a big build up or any epic suspense leading to the reveal of J.R. It reminded me of when George Clooney made a return to E.R nine years after his last appearance on the series. That was right near the very end of that series (I think there were only three or four more episodes in total after that one), and I remember watching it and loving how Clooney just sorta walked into the room and he was just there. That’s how Mr. Hagman’s little introduction into this episode feels.
Now, right off the bat I’m gonna pose a question to you the reader that is also a question for myself, the second time KL viewer, and that question is: Does this storyline ever go anywhere? Follow me here for a moment. The majority of the 48 minutes of Designs focuses on J.R. partnering with Abby in an effort to, I guess, sorta steal the idea of Sid’s eco-friendly engine that can get a hundred miles to the gallon or whatever. It’s a fabulous story for this episode, but for the life of me, I really do think it leads nowhere. Now, I’ve forgotten shit before (as demonstrated last week when I pretty much forgot absolutely everything that happened in More Than Friends), but in this case, I think my memories are pretty sharp, and I can think of two glaringly obvious reasons why this storyline may have fell by the wayside.
SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH FOR UPCOMING EPISODES! The first obvious reason is that our crossover days are very limited now. As I said, we’ve got just two more episodes where Dallas characters cross over, and then KL is left entirely to stand on its own two feet. The second reason is that Sid Fairgate, well, dies three episodes after this. Poor Sid’s days on the cul-de-sac are about to come to an end. Now, viewers watching this episode in 1981 don’t know that, but we have the foresight to know he’s about to plummet off that cliff and, well, that’s almost it (we’ll be discussing this in more detail at the start of season three). So, if the writers were cooking up some great plot involving J.R., Sid, and the engine, perhaps it just had to go away because Don Murray left the show. END OF SPOILER ALERT!
In any case, I definitely prefer when I can see the writers playing the long game and planning out stuff way in advance, but it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of this particular episode at all. My only other problem with the episode is more my own personal problem, and that’s my occasional trouble with following basic plot convolutions. A lot of times, with movies or TV, I get so lost in the other details of a show, particularly the small details that most people don’t give a crap about, that I have a bit of trouble following the basic plot. So despite watching this episode with My Beloved Grammy along with my trusty notepad, I still sorta had a problem figuring out why J.R. was so interested in this engine and what he and Abby were getting up to together.
When we first see J.R. in this episode, he tells Gary that he and Sid are going to patent the engine together and go into business as partners. The rest of the episode involves this patent and how Sid is being naïve and hasn’t bothered to create a patent yet. This is the shit that sorta confuses me, because then a little later (in a scene that, if you were flipping channels in 1981 and came to this, you would probably just assume you were watching an episode of Dallas), J.R. and Abby take a nice ride in his limo, sipping cocktails together. In this scene, they start to talk about how to put a patent on Sid’s engine without his knowledge. Boy, do these two make a fabulous pair. For the first time, I noticed that the back of the season two DVD box has a fabulous picture of Larry Hagman and Donna Mills standing together, and how I would love to get a really big poster of that image and frame it and hang it up in my living room. They are a terribly underrated little twosome, probably because when most people think of J.R., they immediately think of his fellow Dallas cast members surrounding him, and forget about his five trips to the cul-de-sac. But I think Hagman and Mills always sparkle together and this episode is actually very significant for their little sexy relationship (we’ll get to it).
There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in this episode, and the next part of the plot’s machinations involve Karen becoming curious about Sid’s infamous engine and wanting to be more involved with it. After Karen, Sid, and J.R. all go out to eat together (a lovely scene that takes place in a Japanese restaurant, and I like the little detail of J.R.’s boots sitting in the other part of the room with his famous Stetson plopped on top of them), Karen asks if she can take a look at the, like, blueprints for Sid’s engine. He tells her sure and says that the plans are in his office. When Karen gets there, she can’t find the plans no matter how hard she looks, and the reason for that is because they are in the untrustworthy hands of Abby, who has stolen them for the afternoon. One scene that made me slightly angry involves Karen leaving Knots Landing Motors, very frustrated. She looked all over and just can’t find the plans. Then as she leaves, J.R.’s limo pulls up and Abby comes hopping out, holding one of those super giant tubes in her hands (tubes like in that episode of The Brady Bunch where they all go to that amusement park). What frustrates me is that Karen doesn’t immediately say, “What’s with the big tube, Abs?” You know she’s a direct person and it’s in her nature to ask direct questions like that, but she doesn’t, and I do see that as something of a plot contrivance, setting up a later scene between Abby and Sid.
Let’s just jump to that scene now, shall we? Sid does go over to Abby’s house to speak with her, and when he sees the tube thing leaning against the wall, he’s all like, “What’s that?” Abby has her ass covered though, because then she does this guilty face and is like, “You weren’t supposed to see this.” We are in suspense as an audience and I’m sure Sid is in suspense as well, but then she pulls out this really crappy painting of, like, a family together and says how it reminded her of all the Fairgates, so she bought it for him as a gift. He’s all touched and, even though we know Abby is doing something duplicitous and is a schemer, we also sorta breathe a sigh of relief. Again, it’s the magic of KL; we see all the characters as fully fledged, three dimensional, interesting, and our sympathies lie with all of them (aside from Kenny and Ginger, of course).
Abby has now been in seventeen episodes and will wind up being in (at least according to IMDb) 236 episodes. At this point, I feel she has become a firmly established character, she is no longer the new kid on the block even though she was not in the first season at all. The first couple of episodes of the season didn’t feature her quite as much as I remembered, (which I kinda appreciated, because it helped her weave her way rather insidiously into the fabric of the series) but she really started to come into her own in the middle of the season and now I feel she has Arrived. Already the magic of Donna is overtaking me. Only she could play this character (just like only Larry Hagman could play J.R.), because only she has that magical ability to be manipulative and deceitful and yet stay strangely likeable at all times. I don’t know if it’s just her stunning beauty or if it’s something deeper; she just has an aura about her that makes you like her and enjoy watching her, even as she’s working to screw over the nicest guy on the block, Sid.
Let’s talk Sid for a moment. I’m gonna miss him when he leaves (although him leaving just opens the door for one of my all time favorite KL characters, Kevin Dobson as Mack, so perhaps it’s really a blessing in disguise) and as his very final episode inches ever closer, I’m getting reflective on the man and the intricacies of his character. Remember last week when I said how Val was so trusting of The Other Paul Rudd even though any other person would run screaming from him? This is sorta the same situation. Karen is smart enough to see that Abs is up to something, but Sid has a naïve and trusting quality about him, that same naiveté that has prevented him from going to put a patent out on his engine. This is his baby sister, let’s not forget, and he simply can’t bring himself to see her as a liar or a schemer in any way. Indeed, he feels bad for even questioning her, and he feels embarrassed after she reveals that stupid painting, like he was in the wrong for even thinking she could be up to anything treacherous. I don’t begrudge Sid this naiveté at all; in fact, it just makes me love his character even more.
This main A-storyline for the episode culminates with something that almost made me ejaculate in my pants, and that is the consummation of a sexual relationship between Abs and J.R. Oh, how glorious this is. They are in one of J.R.’s fabulously swanky and expensive hotel suites (the kind of hotel room that looks like an entire house unto itself) and finally they just give in to temptation and shag. Honestly, who wouldn’t shag J.R.? And especially the J.R. on display here who still looks youthful and doesn’t have any grey in his hair yet. My God was Hagman charismatic and sexy. He’s the kind of sexy who is so sexy by sheer force of his personality that you don’t care that he’s not conventionally handsome or attractive. I have wanted to see these two shag since they first laid eyes on each other, and seeing it happen right here is, for me, a seminal moment in all of television history. Thank God that I think we get to see them shag one or two more times during the fourth season.
But shagging J.R. and being up to mischief is not all that’s on the agenda for Abs this week. Finally, after a lot of buildup (and, again, I like that buildup and that slower storytelling style), Jeff kidnaps the kids. He’s been hinting at it since the end of A State of Mind, and in all the episodes he’s appeared in since then, it’s seemed like he might snag them any second, but he hasn’t done it yet. Well, today’s the day! Karen and Val stop by Karen’s house and find Jeff hurriedly shoving Olivia and Brian into the back of his giant van R.V. thing. Karen says something like, “You’ve got enough clothes to last three years!” and then they run inside the Fairgate Cunningham home and find that the place has been totally emptied out. Yup, looks like Jeff finally went and did it; he had enough of seeing Abs sleeping with neighbors or crossover characters from more popular (but lesser quality) shows and he went and he kidnapped them. What will happen? We have to keep watching well into the start of season three to find out!
Everything in this episode is very exciting and good except for one thing (or I suppose I should say two things) and that is obviously Kenny and Ginger. Their storyline this week is a joke, and proof that either the writers never knew what to do with these two or that the actors simply weren’t up to the task. The basic gist of their storyline this week is that Ginger is still pregnant (had you gotten bored with this and forgotten all about it? Yeah, me, too!) and Kenny is becoming really obsessed with prenatal care books and Bob Loblaw. He keeps telling Ginger how she can’t eat chocolate and cookies and candy and what have you because it’s bad for the baby. Ginger is all like, “But I like eating sweet things and I crave them and I already have huge scary bug eyes, so why not just get really fat to top it off?” Basically this goes on for awhile (providing the viewer with plenty of time to go make some popcorn) and then it makes a comedic switch near the end. In the conclusion of this sizzling story, Ginger comes home with lots of lettuce and celery and health foods and is like, “I’m ready to eat right!” Then Kenny is like, “I read a book that says you should follow your body’s instincts, so let’s go get a pizza!” Then they go to get a pizza. That’s it. Again, it’s boring.
I have to ask if this ridiculous C-storyline was always a part of the script for Designs or if perhaps it was inserted after the writers realized they had given Kenny and Ginger nothing to do. I get the feeling that Houghton and Lankford were feeling neglected, and I believe they did sit out last week’s show (which was so refreshing omigod), so perhaps they went to the writers and were like, “Come on guys, you gotta give us something to do,” and this was the best the writers could come up with. In any case, we’ve only two more seasons left where we have to look at these two, and we will all breathe easier and be much less sleepy as soon as they get shipped away.
Let’s see, am I missing anything else? Well, the conclusion of the episode is rather lovely, both funny and full of drama at the same time. Karen rushes to J.R.’s fancy hotel to warn Abby that her kids have been taken. She has a heck of a time getting to the room because the snooty desk clerk won’t tell her where J.R. is located. As she’s getting on an elevator, she asks some bellboy for J.R.’s room number, and the bellboy assumes Karen is a hooker and says, “Don’t worry, Ewing usually tips pretty well!” I certainly laughed at this and it again reminded me that KL always had humor and wit infused in it right from the start, even though in my memory I thought that was more of Latham/Lechowitz era thing (seasons eight through twelve).
J.R. and Abs are lying in bed together and Hagman delivers the killer line, “We oughta put a patent on what we just did,” when Karen comes knocking at the door. She comes in, she tells Abs what’s up, Abs rushes out, and J.R. is left alone. He has some funny last line that I can’t really recall and then gives his trademark grin and that’s actually how we freeze frame and exit the episode.
We’re almost to the end of season two and Designs proved to be a rather lovely experience, setting the stage for excitement to follow in our finale. Is it a perfect episode? No, I’d say it’s not. Not only is it polluted by the Kenny and Ginger storyline, but I do have to note that it builds up storylines that never seem to pay off, and that is mildly frustrating. I’ll keep my eyes open as we go along, but I’m pretty sure everything with J.R. and Sid’s engine just fizzles away to nothingness. On one hand, this doesn’t bother me the way it might some viewers, but it is a plot flaw. You don’t get a storyline like this revved up and started and then never pay it off (although Dallas would do it constantly).
As far as crossover episodes go, however, this one may very well be my favorite. Hagman is always perfect, whether playing J.R. on Dallas or in his five guest spots on KL, and I really thought seeing him and Abs get together was a fabulous moment. So in conclusion I do believe Designs is a solid chunk of television and great fun, if not exactly television perfection.
We’re getting ready for our big CLIFF-hanger (Cliff? Get it? Eh?) with our final episode of season two, Squeezeplay.