Episode Title: The Surprise
Season 03, Episode 05
Episode 036 of 344
Written by Ellis Marcus
Directed by Joseph Manduke
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 10th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Richard's boss asks him to procure prostitutes for clients and he does. When Val receives a postcard from Olivia, a detective is able to find the kids. Abby goes there and Jeff tells her that the state won't honor California custody laws. Abby begins manipulating Jeff, but he tells her that he knows what she is doing. Abby perseveres, and soon has Jeff back in love with her. She agrees to remarry him and they all drive back to Knots Landing. On the day of the wedding, Jeff and his mother wait at the Court House for Abby to show up. Instead, a deputy shows up and serves Jeff a restraining order so he can't see his children or else he will be arrested for kidnapping. Karen later tells Abby that she really hurt Jeff. Abby replies, "He hurt me. Nobody does that!"
Welcome back to Knots Blogging, and oh boy, lemme tell you I am so excited to sink my teeth into some more KL eps. I think I’d like to start setting the scene for how many episodes and which particular episodes My Beloved Grammy and I watch in a given sitting, so I’ll say that on our last visit, we powered through four episodes (remember, we always just go with however many are on a disk, and at the moment, the ratio seems to be about four per disk, but I feel that might jump to five per disk in the near future), spanning from The Surprise through Mistaken Motives.
KL has officially wrapped its warm, loving, beautiful, powerful fingers around me again, by the way. I am absolutely 100% back on the cul-de-sac, I am invested, man, and just to show some context, I’ll say that there was a bit of a gap between our last disk and this disk. Really, it was only a couple of weeks, but I could actually feel withdrawals taking over; I had to get back to my friends at Seaview Circle or I was gonna go crazy. I left the most pathetic and insane voicemail on My Beloved Grammy’s machine where I was like, “My hands are shaking, I’m thinking about Karen constantly, I need more Knots, I need it bad!” Even though we still haven’t yet reached what I would call KL’s breakthrough season (season four, coming up shortly!), I am already lost in the world and in love with the characters and I just love it and I can’t get enough.
But what about our episode up for discussion this week? How about The Surprise? Well, I’m not so sure, except to say that this episode was underwhelming. I predict that I probably won’t have much to say on this ep because it was just sorta there. We’re not scraping the bottom of the KL barrel here (Man of the Hour) but this is also not really an episode that jumps out and screams at you. It was okay and that’s about it. Let’s dive right in.
The Surprise actually serves as the culmination of a storyline that’s been going on for quite awhile now, brewing since way back in mid-season-two with A State of Mind. That was when we first met Jeff Cunningham and seeds were planted that he might be stealing Abby’s kids from her, which he finally did do in the season finale, Squeezeplay. Through all the drama of Sid’s death, this storyline kept lurking in the background, always on Abby’s mind.
Maybe part of my problem with The Surprise is that this storyline of Jeff and the stolen kids has never really grabbed me. Make no mistake, I love Abs and I love the kids (well, I’m kinda indifferent to Brian, but I do love Olivia, maybe more for where her character winds up going years down the road versus where she is right now), but somehow this storyline was never particularly exciting to me. I dunno, but maybe I should ask if anyone actually believed these kids would be missing forever? I sure didn’t, not the first time I watched the show and not this time; I had no doubt that after a few episodes, Abby would get her kids back.
But I’m rambling here. After the thirty second preview and the majestic opening credits (I’m still so happy to see those scrolling squares omigod!), we begin the episode proper with Valene going out to check her mail. She becomes very excited when she sees one letter and immediately rushes over to Abby’s house to show her. Why, it’s a postcard from Brian and Olivia! How exciting!
I wanna pause the action of the episode for a moment to reflect on the current relationship of Abby and Val. SPOILER ALERT, but we are not far off from Abby stealing Gary away from Val; in fact, that will serve as the season finale for this year, and we know she set her sights on him the moment she arrived on the cul-de-sac. My question is: Does Val know this? Val and Abby still seem like friends, they are still nice to each other and Val is especially decent with Abby. Is Val so dense that she can’t see the ulterior motives lying beneath Abs? Or is she good-hearted enough to ignore those motives and be a nice person? Or does she perhaps know Abby wants Gary but believe that Gary wouldn’t stray (despite the saga of Judy Trent last season)? In any case, I find it very interesting to watch this relationship and know that soon Val and Abby will become sworn enemies.
But anyway, Abs is very excited to see this postcard and now she knows where the kids are, so yay! She seeks out Richard for some legal advice, and he tells her the best course is to speak with her ex-husband directly. In any case, Abby quickly heads off to wherever Jeff and the kids are (they probably say the exact location in the episode, but I have already forgotten). They are staying in some shitty little apartment and I immediately noted a lot of interesting things about this living situation. Follow me along here.
First off, the kids appear to just be hanging out in the apartment all alone until Jeff returns home from, presumably, work. Well, there’s strike one against Jeff right away. Olivia is (at least according to Tonya Crowe’s birth date) ten years old and Brian is (at least according to the birth date of Robert Jayne or Bobby Jacoby or whatever the hell his name is; the kid from Tremors)….um, he doesn’t have a birthday listed. In any case, let’s assume he’s a little younger than Olivia. So both of these kids are too young to stay home alone for long hours, wouldn’t you agree? So as much as Jeff likes to go on about Abby being a whore and not being a fit mother, this is bad parenting right here.
Second strike against Jeff is that he comes home to find out that some strange man gave Brian and Olivia a ride home. Um….huh? Later we find out that this is a detective Abby hired (go Abs!), but we don’t know that yet. All we know is some strange man picked up Brian and Olivia and drove them home. Super creepy and, again, super bad parenting from Jeff.
But strike three occurs when there’s a knock at the door. Jeff is offscreen in the kitchen or taking a piss or doing whatever, and he’s just like, “Hey, kids, answer the door for that stranger, will you?” Doesn’t even bother to drag his ass into the living room to answer the door, and of course it just turns out to be Abby, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or a Jehovah’s Witness? You just don’t have small kids answer the door that like, Jeff, God damn it!
I think all these small details are put into this one quick scene to tell us, the faithful viewer at home, that for all her flaws, Abby is not an unfit mother. As we go through her nine seasons on the show, we are definitely going to see that her kids are the most important thing in her life, and whatever her negative qualities may be elsewhere, she loves them both and would do anything for them. Yes, maybe Abby will shag the married neighbor while the kids are away at school, but she definitely wouldn’t leave them home alone for all hours, she certainly wouldn’t just let a stranger pick them up from school, and she surely would not let them answer the door for a stranger.
Also, the kids are happy to see her. They are bored and irritated with their Transmorpher father and they want to return to life on the cul-de-sac and not in this boring white walled apartment. Abby manages to appeal to Jeff and he gives in and allows her to stay the night. Wheels are in motion and, in my opinion, there’s an aura of inevitability to the proceedings, but I’ll explore that in more detail later.
We’ve also got a few other storylines going this week, one for Karen and one for Richard. Let’s start with Karen. As we are coming to see this season, the ghost of Sid Fairgate looms large over proceedings but especially over any of Karen’s stories. She has now inherited Knots Landing Motors and it’s her responsibility to keep the money flowing and the cars selling. However, at this point, she still hasn’t sold any cars and she needs advice from Gary.
I’ll just sorta zoom through this storyline cuz it’s not too terribly interesting. Make no mistake, you all know I love Karen and she is the main character of the series (try to argue with me on that) and she is my favorite character of the entire series run. I appreciate the fact that her storyline links back to Sid’s tragic death, but I also think she’s getting the short end of the stick this week, cuz it’s just sorta a blah story. Will Karen sell a car? I don’t find myself in tremendous suspense on this issue, but anyway, Gary tries to give her some advice, but no matter what she does, she keeps losing her sales. Near the end of the episode, a nice man with a moustache (God bless the ‘80s) shows up and expresses some interest in the cars, but then he departs and says, “I’ll be right back.” Well, of course we the audience at home and Gary on the show believe he will never be seen again, that Karen just lost a sale. Karen has a funny line, “He wouldn’t have wasted all of my time if he wasn’t gonna buy a car!” We see that even though she is sharp and savvy, she maybe has a bit to learn about business dealings and salesmanship.
But then, lo and behold, in a moment that I did really enjoy, the man returns near the end of the episode and buys, like, a million cars, cutting Karen a really big check, making her give Gary a little grin like, “Told you so, stupid.” This made me smile, and I appreciated a moment of levity in the episode which is otherwise a bit morose. At the same time, this is only an okay storyline, basically the writers saying, “This ep is all about Abby, can we throw something in for Karen to do?” Don’t worry, though, cuz having watched all the way through Mistaken Motives in this sitting, I know we’ve got plenty of great Karen material in the episodes coming up next.
I am more intrigued by the final side storyline this week, the one involving Richard. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my beloved seeds are being planted, with a storyline that, for this week, seems pretty small, but will end up having big ramifications in the weeks to come. See, Richard is trying to get nice and comfortable in his new job at some law firm. He worked at whatever law firm he was working at when the series started for, what, eleven years? Something like that. Then he lost the job in the amazing episode Chance of a Lifetime and spent most of season two in an unemployed, alcohol-filled stupor of affairs with Abby. Then he got his shit together near the end of the season, got a job at a new law firm, and that brings us up to date, but things are not too rosy for Richard here. See, his hilarious pipe-smoking moustached boss with these crazy eyebrows is basically trying to turn Richard into the company pimp and has no interest in his legal advice at all. Nope, instead he’s only interested in the girls Richard can provide, in his ability to throw a good party and help them seal important legal cases with, you know, whores. I don’t know exactly how he first thinks to ask Richard this; so far as I can remember, we’ve never seen Richard with a whore (we’ve seen him cheat a few times, but never with a whore), but whatever, that’s what the boss wants.
Every time I see Richard’s boss (Parkhurst, what a great last name), I laugh and pee my pants a little; this guy is just too silly looking. I’ll try to get a screengrab or something so others can understand my hilarity, but this dude is just always chewing on his pipe and he’s just enjoying the shit out of that pipe, lemme tell you, plus his moustache is silly and his eyebrows are silly; this guy is just silly and I love it. The actor's name is John Lehne and I am shocked to discover he’s only in four episodes of KL because in my memories he was in a whole bunch more. In addition to his incredible appearances on KL, John Lehne is also a Transmorpher, having appeared as Kyle Bennett in two episodes of Dallas, Who Done It? from 1980 (probably the most famous Dallas episode ever; this is the one where we find out who shot J.R., you’ll recall) and then The Quest in 1981. John Lehne, ladies and gentlemen.
Now, as far as I recall, nothing much comes of this storyline this week, but pay attention and remember it, because it’s gonna pay off big time a few episodes from now with Secrets. For the purposes of this week, all we know is that Richard wants to be a respected lawyer, not a company pimp, but he sometimes has a hard time speaking up to his bosses, so for now, he’s sorta slipping into that unfortunate role.
Let’s return to the main storyline and sorta wrap things up. If this seems abrupt, I’m sorry, but that’s kinda how the episode plays, as well. Honestly, for all the buildup and foreshadowing we got to Jeff snatching the kids, things conclude nice and tidy and quick here and, as far as I can remember, this storyline never returns. But basically Abby immediately begins to work her magic on Jeff. They go out with the kids to the park and have a fun day together in a scene I didn’t care for. I dunno, something just felt off about this entire scene. They’re all playing and goofing around, somehow Jeff’s shoe ends up being taken away from him, a comedic chase ensues, and then both Jeff and Abs fall into a pond. Of course, as they lie in the pond, they come damn close to kissing but then stop themselves. Knowing my Abs very well and knowing that this is all part of a carefully planned attack against Jeff, I felt more of a “Oh, so close” reaction versus a, “Gee I hope they get back together again,” reaction.
We all know Abby’s playing Jeff, right? Now, when I watch the show, I try to wash my brain out and really pretend I’m watching the show in real time as it airs, try to imagine how a viewer would see these things. Should we be in suspense and think that Abs and Jeff might really get back together? Should we perhaps think that he’s gonna remarry her and become a staple character on the series? Well, maybe, but for me I can smell that twist ending coming the whole time. The beauty of Donna Mills’ acting, however, is that she still seems so damn genuine. When she’s saying to Jeff how they should give it another shot and yada yada yada, I honestly think she sounds sincere, even though I know she’s lying.
In any case, the entire gang return to the cul-de-sac with news of, get this, impending nuptials. They are gonna get remarried, you see, isn’t that sweet? Now of course everyone at Seaview Circle is a little hesitant with this news, like, “Really?” But in any case, the big day arrives and Jeff is all set to meet Abs at the courthouse. Karen, Val, and Lilimae aren’t supposed to be there because Abs asked for nobody to come, but they’re there and this is all played very comically but I’m kinda like, “Ah, whatever.” Basically, all that happens is some cop comes up to Jeff and is like, “Hey, are you Jeff the Transmorpher who’s gonna date Sue Ellen during the dream season of Dallas?” and Jeff is like, “Yeah,” and then the cop is like, “Here’s a restraining order from your ex-wife and if you come near her, she’s gonna get you arrested for kidnapping.” Jeff’s all like, “Oh no, this sucks!” but he really doesn’t put up much of a fight; instead he just sorta goes away.
When the ladies return to the cul-de-sac, they confront Abs about what happened, asking if she had this planned out all along and she confirms that this is so, culminating with the final line of the episode, “He hurt me, and nobody gets away with that.” This is a pretty good final line and I like Abby’s face as we go out to credits, but I dunno. As an ending, this doesn’t really pack the punch that it’s probably supposed to. After all that buildup and suspense, she just gives him a restraining order and he goes away?
And yes, he does just go away. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misremembering this, so I went to Barry Jenner’s IMDb page to have a look, and yup, this is his last appearance on KL ever. For all his big speeches about Abby’s being an unfit mother, do you really believe he would just roll over and accept this defeat so easily? We’ve got over 300 more episodes in this series and I don’t even know if this character is mentioned again ever. Maybe Brian and Olivia felt closer with their mother than their father, but don’t you think they’d every now and then say something like, “We kinda miss Daddy” or “Can we go visit Daddy?” Honesty, considering how rebellious Olivia gets around seasons six, seven, and (most unforgettably) eight, you’d think this subject would come up, no? But I don’t think Jeff Cunningham is ever once mentioned again, and that’s pretty interesting considering the backstory between him and Abby. Now, I will keep paying strict attention and if he is mentioned again at some point in the future, I will surely eat my words.
But until that time, what of The Surprise? Well, as you can probably tell, I was less than enthused, but it wasn’t terrible or anything like that. My biggest complaint is something I can’t quite put my finger on, but basically it’s that there’s just something missing. There’s just no fizzle to proceedings and that’s true from start to finish. It’s like there’s just no pep, no energy, and even though the things happening onscreen should be exciting, everything’s just sorta blah. I will say this is easily the worst episode of season three thus far (but we may have some new contenders as we move along), but it’s not a worthless hour of television. It’s just not that great, you know?
Before I end my essay for the week, I’ll take a moment to reflect on where we are in season three. So far, I gotta say, things are going about the way I remembered them going, meaning that we started the season off just spectacularly with the best episodes of KL thus far, but now I feel like there’s a sense of “What do we do now?” in the air. Again, I predict this won’t last long, that by season four we are gonna be taking off like a shot and beginning those glorious GOLDEN YEARS that I can’t wait to get to, but for right now, you feel like the writers killed off Sid Fairgate and now they’re trying to figure out how to proceed, what to do with the eight characters still on the show, how to move on from something that big and dramatic. I feel we are in for a bit of a bumpy road as we move through season three. I think there will be some great stuff in the future (I’ll let the cat out of the bag right now and say that upcoming episode Secrets is just breathtaking and one of the best episodes so far), but also some episodes that just never quite take off, like The Surprise.
Okay, guys, that’s all I have to say on this rather bland and forgettable episode, but tune in Thursday for my thoughts on One of a Kind.