Sunday, June 12, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 032 of 344: THE VIGIL




Episode Title: The Vigil

Season 03, Episode 01

Episode 032 of 344

Written by John Pleshette

Directed by Jeff Bleckner

Original Airdate: Thursday, November 12th, 1981

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): The car with Sid and the FBI agent goes over the cliff. The agent dies, and Sid is left paralyzed. Sid goes into a coma, and Karen keeps vigil at his bedside. Surprisingly, Richard comes to the hospital to offer his support and offers to help Karen with insurance, to loan her money, etc. Gary wants Karen's forgiveness, but she says she can't deal with him and asks him to leave. Sid wakes up from the coma.


                Welcome back to Knots Blogging, my fellow Seaview Circle fans.  I’m very eager to dive into what may very well be one of the most contentious seasons of the entire series.  Before we get started with The Vigil in question, I thought I’d take a moment to tell you some of my thoughts and memories of season three and the way I, at this exact moment in time, think of and remember this season.  I may try doing this with all the seasons to come, but I’m being specific about season three because I remember it being an awkward one in the pantheon of KL seasons. 

                A quick gander at the Wikipedia listing of the Nielsen ratings for KL proves to be rather fascinating, because it shows that this is actually the very lowest rated season of the entire series.  Now, seasons one and two were not exactly runaway smash hits, as they were just barely making it into the top thirty, all while Dallas was soaring and proving itself to be the most popular series on TV.  Now, just to compare and contrast, during the first season of KL, which would be 1979-1980, Dallas ranked at #6 while KL ranked at #30.  Dallas became #1 during 1980-1981 and KL made a slight, nearly microscopic jump to #28.  However, for the 1981-1982 television season, Dallas stayed triumphantly at #1 while KL slipped way down to #43, no longer ranking in the top 30 or even the top 40.  Yikes, what happened?  KL never again ranks this low, with its other two lowest rated seasons being the thirteenth season from 1991-1992 (ranking at #41) and then the fourteenth and final season from 1992-1993 (where it finished at #39). (QUICK NOTE: SINCE I ORIGINALLY WROTE THIS, THE WIKIPEDIA PAGE HAS MORPHED TO NOW PLACE THE 13TH SEASON AS THE LOWEST RANKED OF THE ENTIRE SHOW, BUT ALL MY OTHER SOURCES CONTINUE TO LIST SEASON THREE AS THE LOWEST, SO I THINK WIKI IS SCREWED UP AND I'M JUST GONNA STICK TO WHAT IT ORIGINALLY SAID)

                I note this for a few reasons.  First off, I just want to marvel at the fact that KL even managed to make it all the way to a fourth season, and it is also that fourth season that finally shows KL rising in popularity in viewers.  But to drop from #28 to #43 seems rather alarming, so I’m honestly kinda surprised that CBS renewed it at all for the 1982-1983 season, and can only assume that they had faith and saw the same quality in the series that I see in it from episode one.  Secondly, I just think it’s interesting and noteworthy to see a show that ran fourteen years having its least popular season so early in the run.  How many shows rank better in their thirteenth and fourteenth seasons than in their third?  Most shows don’t even run that long, period, but to run that long and be more popular that late in the game than you were this early on seems rather remarkable and I wonder if there are any other shows that have a similarly fascinating Nielsen arc. 

                Let me get to my “What I think my opinion of season three is” rant now.  I’m gonna say, before we get started, that I can understand this being the least watched season of the show because, in my memory, it’s my least favorite season of the series.  When we first got started here, I believe I sorta classified seasons one through three all in one big lump, as the first “era” of the series before we get to the “Super Soap” era of seasons four through seven (1982 through 1986).  Well, I still sorta feel that way, but I’ve also slightly changed my opinion.  Yup, season one remained fairly standalone; for the most part you could watch any episode from that season in pretty much any order you want and not be horribly out of synch.  But season two surprised me by really elevating the serialized storytelling much more than I remembered.  That season really should be watched from start to finish because we have lots of stories that go pretty much all season, but we also get bizarrely standalone episodes like my cherished classics (sarcasm alert) Moments of Truth and, of course, who could forget, Man of the Hour. 

                I can remember my exact problem with season three, and that’s that it starts out spectacularly with the first two episodes and the resolution of the season two cliffhanger.  I would go so far and to say the first two episodes of season three are probably the best of the series up to this point, but then I remember it fizzling and being a rather dull, rather lifeless season for the rest of episodes, except for a couple that I remember enjoying (Night springs immediately to mind).  With the death of Don Murray’s character, Sid Fairgate, I remember that being tremendously powerful but then leaving a season long hole in the show, that lack of a strong male lead that is desperately needed and isn’t filled until Kevin Dobson becomes a cast member in season four. 

Also, I remember this season just plain not being able to make up its mind on what it wants to be.  Is it a full-on nighttime soap that you need to see every episode of to follow along?  Obviously Dallas was doing that to great success and popularity by this point, plus the 1981-1982 season also had the second season of Dynasty (ranking at #19) as well as the first season of the other CBS/Lorimar nighttime soap, Falcon Crest (ranking at #13).  So the nighttime soap was definitely kicking into high gear by this point, but it seems like season three of KL kinda sorta wants to be a soap like these shows and kinda sorta wants to stay standalone and individualized.  So while I recall soapy shenanigans that span all season (Abby’s seduction of Gary springs to mind, for instance, along with the general disintegration of Richard and Laura’s marriage alongside Richard’s mental health), I also recall just plain bizarre standalone episodes that could be easily skipped (that one with the three fucking ghost sisters, for instance, or the episode where Abby meets that rich millionaire guy).  Because of this, I remember the season feeling very awkward and unsure of itself.

But the whole point of this blog is to re-explore the series with a fine tooth comb and see if my feelings are the same or if they change.  Already, my thoughts on seasons one and two have changed (for the better), so perhaps the same will be true of this tumultuous and jarring third year.  Remember that in my previous watching, it was pretty much a nonstop binge; I lived and breathed KL and became so obsessed that I would watch five, six, even seven episodes per day, powering through all 344 episodes in a disturbingly fast amount of time (only now do I wonder if I could have been, you know, interacting with my fellow humans at this time rather than watching nearly seven hours of ‘80s nighttime soap per day, hah hah).  So what’s say we get started right at the beginning of the season?  This particular season runs from November 12th, 1981 through May 6th, 1982 and contains 22 KL episodes plus two Brief Dallas Interludes which will we actually be getting to rather shortly.  So for this year, we’ve got a total of 24 episodes of television to cover, so I suggest we dive right in.

Oh but wait, the very last thing before we get started.  If anyone is wondering how I am able to see these damn episodes from the last twelve seasons, I’ll tell you now.  This is the first season that I ordered, um, shall we shall on the down-low, from a lovely seller on YouTube.  I did what Karen oh so wishes she could do and sent cash in the mail and, within a week, got disks for seasons three, four, and five from this seller.  This seller remained my source for the rest of the series, so now I am a proud owner of all fourteen seasons of the series, the first two official releases on DVD from Warner Bros. and the next twelve obtained through bootlegs.  I just note this because, as of this writing, KL is still not readily available to the viewing public, and also because every now and then I might note, “This episode looked kinda shitty or sounded kinda shitty,” and that’s because they are bootlegs recorded off the SoapNet reruns of the show.  For the most part, the episodes look okay (not BluRay quality, of course), but every now and again there will be an episode where the sound is really tinny or the tracking on the image is poor.  I am not complaining, of course; this seller was a God-sent and, because of her, I got to see the damn show and can now share it with My Beloved Grammy.  If it weren’t for this seller, I’d still be sitting around waiting for Warner Bros. to release more DVDs or for NetFlix to put it on streaming (where they would probably butcher it by cutting out all of Ciji’s/Cathy’s songs, I’ll bet you).  So anyway, from this point forward, all my episodes are being viewed on bootlegs, just FYI.

Everyone remember where we were at the end of season two?  No?  Well, don’t be embarrassed, because I don’t know if anyone in 1981 could remember, either.  The finale of season two was March 26th of 1981 and this premiere is November 12th.  Jeez, was there another writers strike or something?  Why a gap of nearly eight months?  I wouldn’t be surprised if viewers tuning in for the season premiere had completely forgotten what occurred eight months beforehand in the season finale.  Of course, I was negative nine years old at the time of this airing, so I have no way to know for sure, but personally, I would have been there, glued to my sofa to find out what would happen to Sid Fairgate after he ran off that cliff.  For me, this would be much more compelling than, “Who’s the body floating in the Southfork pool?” over on Dallas. 

But before we even get to the episode proper we get, well, first we get our little thirty second preview (I love these, by the way, do you guys love these?  Some people think they spoil too much, but I always think of them as setting the tone and getting me all excited for what’s in store for the next 48 minutes) followed by the unveiling of our brand new opening.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, our classic scrolling squares are finally here, and get good and comfortable with them because they are going to stay with us for quite awhile, lasting from this premiere on November 12th, 1981, all the way through the finale of season eight on May 7th, 1987.  These are the most famous and probably best loved (certainly by me) of KL’s five different title designs.  Now, musical genius Jerrold Immel steps in at the start of every season to give the musical theme a new twist, so that still changes every season, but the basic style of the scrolling squares is here for six years, so get used to them.

I love these.  We start with this fabulous shot of the ocean, the camera zipping along it real fast, and then we sorta pan up and unveil the fabulous view of the magical California land, and then this big letter “O” sorta creates itself on the center of the screen and then the entire title of the series is zoomed out (hard to describe; I’ll try to include a link for the opening credits so you can all experience the beauty and stroke yourselves while watching it).  From here, we dissolve to black and unveil the fabulous scrolling squares with our fantastic cast listed, as always, In Alphabetical Order.  The reason I love the scrolling squares the best of all the openings is because there is always something to look at.  As I may have mentioned before, skipping the opening credits is never an option for Brett, so every time I watch these, I try to focus on a new thing, like a different part of the screen, a new square to look at.  There are just so many squares, so there’s always something to catch your eye.  Gene Kraft, who designed this, must be a total genius because, well, he designed this.  What a fabulous and eye-catching way to start a series; absolutely one of my favorite alltime openings for a TV show (alongside the brilliantly mellow and soothing opening for Twin Peaks and the absolutely hilarious opening for Police Squad!). 

Now, since I’m going on for seventeen pages about the opening credits, maybe I should take a moment to note the most important, the most brilliant, the most wonderfully deceptive thing about them all, and that is the inclusion of Don Murray.  Why look, there he is! (Except he's not in the video I posted here, because I couldn't find a season three opening on YouTube that included him).  He’s comfortably squeezed inbetween Donna Mills and John Pleshette in the opening, just the same way he was billed in season two!  Now, you’ll note that when I did the “Season Three Cast Roster,” I included his name, and that’s because, yes, technically, he is a cast member in season three, but it’s just very, very briefly.  By the third episode of the season, he will be gone, but what a fabulous move on the part of everyone involved.  You’d think if they’re gonna kill off Sid, they’d to it between seasons, right?  You’d expect season three to either start with, “Oh, he survived the crash and he’s fine,” or “He died offscreen!”  But having him survive and be in the opening, the completely redesigned and spiffy new opening, that tells the viewer to get comfortable, that Don Murray is here to stay and he’s gonna be around for awhile.  Certainly if I was a viewer in 1981 and I saw this, I would breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank God, he’s still on the show!”  This trick still works, by the way, because as we got revved up and ready to go, My Beloved Grammy saw him in the opening and turned to me and said, “See?  I told you he wouldn’t die.”  But let’s just wait, shall we?

Okay, after the scrolling squares, we get a fantastic pee-my-pants-funny voiceover narration that runs over footage from the end of season two.  As Sid and the Generic White Guy F.B.I. Agent are driving, that ominous narrator comes on to tell us, “Gary got involved in STOLEN AUTO PARTS OMIGOD and now Sid's driving down the street and he’s about to crash.”  God, how I love this guy.  Who is he?  I’m sure if I got off my ass and put even one iota of effort into doing this, I could easily do some research and find out for myself, but for the moment I’d like it to remain a mystery.  Let me just say that this ominous narrator guy who sometimes comes on to recap the end of a season is awesome, he has a great voice, I love him, I want to have his babies, rock on narrator guy.

Anyway, he only talks for a minute, and it’s a glorious minute, and then Sid goes careening off that cliff.  From here, we move into new footage, as well as our episode credits, telling us the title and all that.  Oh yeah, one change from season two to three is that now the words in the credits are white, no longer yellow.  Does anyone care?  No?  Okay, moving on.  Oh wait, I gotta note the genius aeteur who wrote this episode, THE PLESH!  That makes two eps in a row, as he also wrote Squeezeplay for the finale last season.  God, how I love his scripts.  I might even go so far as to nominate him for best writer on the whole series (we’ll see; I’m gonna really focus on the different writers as I move through all 344 eps).  There’s just always a maturity and grace and sparkle of wit to the eps he pens, plus a more realistic tone.  I’ll note examples as I think of them.

Generic White Guy F.B.I. Agent dies tragically offscreen.  I guess whoever this actor was either didn’t wanna show up just to die, or perhaps the suits at Lorimar didn’t want to pay him, who knows?  Who cares, anyway?  We hear that he died offscreen and then, in a fabulously cheap money-saving move, we just see the lump of a body covered with a blanket and someone says, “Yeah, that was the Generic White Guy.”  But how about Saint Sid?  Oh, he’s fine!  He’s alive and well and just needs to be removed from the car. 

This is another one of those examples of TV having time back in the ‘80s.  We keep crosscutting from Sid in the car to Karen and Val back at the cul-de-sac.  We get to see the whole operation of getting Sid out of the car, how two nice white boys come along heroically to help him out, how the paramedics arrive and have to, like, cut the door open to remove him.  I love seeing all of this; other shows would probably just start at the hospital and then have Sid explain how he got there, but this one shows all the detail, all the work it takes to remove his body and get it to safety.  My Beloved Grammy said something to the effect of, “As soon as they pull his body out, the car is going to explode,” and I told her, “Maybe on Dallas, but not on Knots,” and I was right.  KL has your soapy shenanigans and evil mobster guys cutting brakes, but it still exists in a better reality than the other nighttime soaps, so the car does not explode, it just smokes a little bit from the front, like it would in real life.

I also like the slow burn as word travels about what happened to Sid.  We see Val and Karen just sorta hanging out, saying how they feel uncomfortable with the F.B.I. agents hanging around the way they are, but then Gary comes driving up and announces, “Sid’s been in a car accident.”  Karen says, “Is he dead?” and I immediately launch into the Michele Lee Love Fest.  Actually, The Michele Lee Love Fest probably started right around Pilot, but I’m gonna go ahead and say right now that I predict this season will be her absolute finest.  It’s the only season for which she was ever nominated for an Emmy (and she didn’t win, proving that the Emmys are run by savages!) and she totally deserved it.  She rocks this whole year, portraying all the stages of grief in an amazingly realistic and intimate way; you almost feel like you’re watching a documentary in which a real woman is dealing with the death of her husband.  So, in this case, Sid is not dead, but just the way Michele delivers those three words, “Is he dead?”, you can tell she’s sorta going into a state of shock, or perhaps even just trying to keep a cool head in the midst of this bad news.  In any case, with those three words, she gets started on her finest acting ever.

When Karen gets to the hospital, she finds Sid in less than ideal shape.  He’s hooked up to a big complicated machine and has his head in one of those neck-things so that you can’t move.  But the good news is that he’s alive, and I love the interaction between the two actors here.  I know nothing about how well Michele Lee and Don Murray actually got along on set, if they liked each other or not, if she was sad that he was leaving the series, I really don’t know, but their interaction feels so real, like the chemistry produced when two actors truly love working together.  I also love that Karen walks in and makes a little joke; she looks at him and instead of bursting into Big Dramatic Tears (which is probably what would happen on Dallas or Dynasty or Falcon Crest), she sorta smiles and says, “You look like you went over a cliff in a car,” and he says, “Kiss me; I won’t break.”

This is awesome.  You totally believe that these are two married people who are both just so completely relieved to be alive.  Sid is smiling and happy because he is alive, because he can see his wife and kiss her and tell her he loves her; you sense and feel their own relief that he didn’t just die tumbling off that damn cliff.  Again, and I hate to keep taking a dump on the other nighttime soaps, but I feel like if those shows did a cliffhanger like this, all they’d care about is resolving it, it would just be “Let’s answer the question and move on.”  Here, it is used as a character study, as a portrait of two married people who are, tragically, about to be split apart forever due to a death.

I also appreciated a quick, small scene of Michael waking up at 2:41AM, clearly racked with nightmares or perhaps just insomnia.  He gets up and walks across the hall to his parents’ room only to find the bedroom empty.  Boy, does this ring true.  What kid didn’t have a moment like this once where you woke up real late/real early and your parents were nowhere to be seen?  Talk about increasing your sense of unease!  I do also have to note that Michael appears to have gotten a haircut in the last few moments, although I suppose we weren’t following his every move during Designs or Squeezeplay, so perhaps he wandered off for a haircut during those eps while J.R.’s visit and all the mobster shit was going down. 

Remember how I tend to go on about how much more visually superior KL is to Dallas?  Well, I’m gonna do it again now, because this episode even has a montage of sorts, illustrating how long Karen hangs around the hospital, just waiting.  See, Sid slips into a coma, and we get this long sequence set to just music.  I did some checking to make sure, and yes, my much cherished Jerrold did the music for the whole episode, which is why it rocks so much.  My God, is this montage stylish, we, like, keep cutting back and forth between Karen sitting and waiting to the clock, designating how much time is passing, to Sid lying in his hospital room, and it’s just great.  Again, I’m not saying KL is as visual and cinematic as, say, Twin Peaks or some show on HBO, but I am saying it goes way above and beyond what the other shows at the time were doing, including its own parent series which was always just bland and boring to look at, mostly just dull and static shots of people sitting at tables and talking to eachother.  With KL, I always am interested to keep watching it, to keep paying attention and focus and make sure I don’t miss anything (and oh how I’d kill for a nice HD BluRay remaster, mmmmm, what a dream).

So I clearly have a boner this whole episode, right?  But my boner only gets bigger in our next scene.  In fact, my boner gets so big that I think I have a little orgasm in my pants, because my God, we get one of the greatest Richard scenes ever in his four years on the show.  The Plesh is such a great writer that he is, for one thing, smart enough to not even bother putting Kenny and Ginger in his scripts (they are blissfully and wonderfully absent from this entire episode!), but he’s also able to write for all the important characters brilliantly and that includes himself.  Whenever he writes an ep, you’re guaranteed some great Richard footage.  It feels like actor and character really come together in a fabulous way, and this is a great example, because just as Karen is about to drink the disgusting raw sewage known as hospital coffee, Richard comes rolling in with this sexy cart full of gourmet food and coffee.  He’s got fresh squeezed orange juice, he’s got freshly brewed French roast coffee, and he’s got croissants all for Karen.  Michele has a wonderful reaction of, like, laughing and crying at the same time, and then as she sips her coffee and eats her croissant, Richard also fills her in on how he did some checking about her doctor, how he’s a great doctor, and so on and so forth.  This is a display of Richard at his finest, being the best friend he can be to Karen, really being there for her in her moment of need, helping her and supporting her and going an extra step to make her day better.  The fabulous complexities of this character just keep growing, and perhaps now you can start to see why I love him so.  We’ve seen him be such an asshole so many times throughout the last two seasons, and when he’s been that asshole, it’s unflinching; he’s really mean and nasty.  Yet we also have moments like this that are so genuine and show his good heart, and the complex friendship between Karen and Richard is one of my favorite parts of the entire KL experience and this scene is just gold, baby, gold.  Mmmm, I love it.

I sorta feel like wrapping up my thoughts on this episode, but then I realize I’ve neglected to mention a lot of stuff.  For instance, Gary gets some time in the spotlight here in The Vigil.  He is feeling racked with guilt about his involvement with the mobsters and the fact that this is, essentially, all his fault.  Early on, he shows up at the hospital and Karen has a fabulously direct little conversation with him where she says, “You want to be blamed or forgiven and I don’t have the energy for either,” and then she asks him to go home and leave her alone for awhile.  Again, fabulous acting from both of them.  Michele has that gift where she can play the scene so very direct in a way that, with another actor, would just come off rude or nasty, but when she does it, it’s just her being truthful.  Ted Shackelford also has a gift for being both pathetic and yet commanding at the same time; I just find him very interesting to watch, and you sorta feel bad for the poor guy because you know Gary didn’t mean for any of this shit to happen; he just got sorta in over his head and now he’s feeling awful because of what’s happening to Sid.  Later on, Gary also searches through town and, in a rather Rocky III-ish scene, finds Eric hanging out at an all night video game arcade.  The two have a little chat about life and running away from responsibilities and Gary tells a good story about staying up all night playing an arcade game when he should have been studying for some test and how he beat the game but failed the test the next day.  This, for me, calls back all the way to our very first Brief Dallas Interlude when we met David Ackroyd Gary and heard he had a gambling problem.  I’d say staying up all night playing Pac Man might relate to gambling addictions, wouldn’t you?

Also important, but something I’m gonna kinda skim over for now, is the continuing storyline of Abby.  Her kids are still missing, kidnapped by her Transmorpher husband Jeff Cunningham.  Basically she’s still a stressed out mess and is real worried about where her kids are and the fact that she has no way to contact them and find out.  Plus, since they were only taken a few days ago, and taken by their father, no less, nobody really cares to give Abs much help with finding them.  This is all very well and good and I don’t mean to sound dismissive of it, but it’s a story that’s going to grow and escalate and eventually come to a head a few episodes down the line, so I’ll talk more about it in later eps.

The ep ends on a bit of a cliffhanger/happy note.  Just as Karen is worrying that Sid may never come out of his coma, he stirs and begins to speak, saying something witty and clever (something I can’t remember, however) and we actually end on this freeze-frame image of Karen happy and smiling, glad that her husband is alive and cognizant again.  It’s pretty amazing because it manages to be both uplifting and ominous at the same time; I don’t know if it’s because I know what’s coming up next or if it’s just because of the tone of the scene, but in any case, it works, and if I was watching this in 1981, you could bet my ass would be in the seat next week to see what’s going to happen.

I realize this has been kind of a lovefest, but what can I say?  This is, so far, one of the greatest episodes of KL and, for me, forms a perfect trilogy along with Squeezeplay before it and Critical Condition afterwards.  There’s almost nothing bad I can think to say about this.  Oh wait, I thought of one!  There’s a painful scene early in the ep where Claudia Lonow as Diana is sitting by Sid’s bedside and starts singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider.  Yeah, I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with that scene, and, as I’ve covered before, Claudia is an actress of, um, limited means, so this scene physically hurt me to watch.  But that’s one very brief scene amidst nearly an hour of television greatness, and the rest of this ep is pretty much perfect.  The Plesh comes through like a champ with another mesmerizing script, we have no boring Kenny and Ginger to suffer through, and the season is launched off like a rocket with suspense, drama, and realism. 

Coming up next, get your tissues ready, as we’re going to say goodbye to Sid forever with Critical Condition.


  1. It is amazing to me how you get all the details and nuance of each Knots episode considering you didn't watch it (and were negative 9 years old...ahem) when it was on. And I totally relate to thinking back on how a person watching the first run episode would think (I didn't start watching until early Season 6), so I imagined being happy that Sid was still alive at the end of this episode.

    I, too, have a copy of the Soap Net version, except mine all came at once. I am happy as hell to have them.

  2. Hi there. Really enjoy your blogs on one of my favorite shows of all time. Thank you for the observations and insights to the scenes actors and plots. You are an amazing writer.

  3. I think the low rating had at least something to do with a time slot change. For most of the season it was shown 9-10 Pacific instead of 10-11