Episode Title: One of a Kind
Season 03, Episode 06
Episode 037 of 344
Written by Sara Ann Friedman
Directed by Kim Friedman
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 17th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen's old boyfriend, Teddy Becker, comes to visit. Teddy is convinced that Diana is his daughter, but Karen assures him that she is Sid's. After hearing Teddy tell Diana that his sons asked to be adopted by their stepfather, Karen decides to let him think that Diana could be his. However, Karen shows Diana a photo of Sid's grandmother, who looks exactly like Diana. Richard gives Laura a new car for her Christmas gift, but then Scooter comes by with a brand new Mercedes for her. Val is upset by past Christmas memories of when her father died and Lilimae abandoned her. Gary reminds Val that Lilimae was only fourteen when she got married, so Val should give her a break. Lilimae gives Val a quilt and they make up.
With One of a Kind, we have come to yet another episode that I had pretty much forgotten existed. In addition, we’ve come to an episode that, I feel, exemplifies what I’ve been saying about KL season three so far: Are we watching a nighttime soap opera or are we watching small, little self-contained character studies that tell us a 48 minute story and then wrap up nicely with a pretty, tidy bow? In the case of One of a Kind, it’s sorta both.
Oh yeah, and also, One of a Kind also marks our very first extra special KL Christmas episode! This is gonna become something of a regular thing, if I recall correctly. I don’t think they do Christmas every season, but they do it pretty frequently (I’m immediately having a sense memory of a really dreadful one where Karen cheesily sings to a bunch of little kids at some point in the thirteenth season). Watching this ep, which positively drips with holiday spirit and cheer, I had to turn to My Beloved Grammy and note that not once, not one single time on Dallas did we ever get a Christmas episode. I’m right, right? If there really was a Christmas episode or two of Dallas, please write in and tell me I’m wrong, cuz I don’t remember a single one. That series seemed to exist in world with no seasons; they never seemed to celebrate any holiday. Instead, it was just always a hot Texas sun blazing down, like some sort of permanent summer. I like that KL actually has seasons and holidays and acknowledges the passing of time throughout the year (although, as I’ve noted before, there’s no summer in this universe, that whole middle portion of the year is just sorta skimmed over as if it never happens).
Anyway, let’s get the ball rolling here. It’s Christmas on Seaview Circle and Karen is very excited to hear word from an old friend of hers, Teddy Becker, played by Bernie. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our special guest star this week is Terry Kiser, most famous for playing a corpse, the titular character in Weekend at Bernie’s and its sequel. Now, I know that movie (or movies) has its fans, but I’ve only seen it once and found it to be only okay. For me, this man will always be the villainous Dr. Crews from 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, in which he was so wicked to poor Lar Park Lincoln (who, omigod, is gonna be a huge character in the KL world a few seasons down the line!). Anyway, this guy’s been in everything but that’s always gonna be the first thing I think of when I see him in something. I actually think he does an exceptional job in this episode, but I’ll explore that a bit later.
For now, all we need to know is that Teddy was an old boyfriend of Karen’s and is the only man besides Sid Fairgate to have been inside of her. Yes, I do believe this is new information, because in this episode Karen says about two times that she has “only ever known two men,” and I think that’s something we were not aware of until this particular episode; am I right? Well, even though one could argue (and not without merit) that Teddy Becker is obviously an invention, a contrivance of the writers to get a good storyline flowing for the week before they shuffle him out the door, I actually think having him in this episode goes a long way towards giving us more of Karen’s backstory and history.
Let’s explore Karen’s past a little bit, shall we? In real life, Michele Lee was born in 1942, and I believe she is in fact playing her age as Karen, because in Small Surprises, which aired early in 1980, we were told that Karen is 37 years old, so that fits. Okay, so she’s about 39, coming close to 40 years old, at this juncture in the series. What has her life been up to this point? If we follow the timeline, she was married to Sid for eighteen years, until his death in 1981, so that means they got married in 1963, when Karen would be just 21 years old. There are often mentions of how Karen wanted to be a part of the civil rights marches and protests of the ‘60s but, I think, didn’t get to be as heavily involved as she would like to be, and that would fit based on the date of their marriage, as I think of all those marches and Vietnam protests and what-have-you as a very late ‘60s thing; it seems the first half of the ‘60s was more about rinsing off all the boring happiness of the ‘50s and getting ready for some change and excitement in America. But if Karen was busy getting married and popping out kids in 1964 (which I think also fits chronologically; if Diana was born in 1964 that would make her 17 years old at this point), she would probably not have had the time for all that ‘60s stuff she so wanted to be a part of.
The reason I mention this is because one of the first scenes of this ep involves Karen and Teddy taking a walk. Teddy sees some sad, feeble little protestors standing in front of a business and picketing, or attempting to picket. I’m not entirely sure what they are picketing, but I think it’s something about oil or….I dunno…..some cause or other. In any case, Teddy is like, “Damn, look at those sissy pickets; I’m gonna show them a thing or two!” He goes over to them and is like, “Hold your signs up high and scream! Make yourself heard! If you want to sing out, sing out!” Karen finds this very endearing and says something about how forceful Teddy’s personality is, how he can rouse excitement in any stranger, and you can tell she admires this. I can sorta imagine a younger Karen (perhaps played by that lady from Sixteen Candles and Critters 2) staring at a young Teddy as he enacts a civil rights protest and getting a pretty mondo lady-boner.
I also bring this up because I like to try and imagine the past life and history of the characters that we are not privy to. Allow me to go on a pretentious artistic rant for a minute: When watching a film or a television series, I always try to really wash my brain out of any ideas of the film/series as something cooked up by writers and brought to life by actors and directors, you know? I try to think of the characters as real people, and since KL started in late 1979, we really don’t get to see or experience any of the things these characters did before 1979, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t alive and doing stuff, right? Sure, if you are thinking logically, Karen Fairgate never even existed at all until 1979 when David Jacobs wrote the KL Pilot and Michele Lee was cast to play Karen, but in the artistic world of the series, she had 37 years of life to her name before we ever got to see her live and breathe in 1979, you follow? My point is that I always like to remind myself that all these characters have more to their lives before the show starts and after the show goes off the air; the series is just one blip on the radar of their full, rich lives.
SMALL SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH The basic gist of this ep involves Teddy claiming Diana to be his own daughter, and we’ll explore that very shortly, but I’d also like to take time to mention the two other main stories that permeate this ep, and I’ll start with Val’s. Valene’s story this week isn’t “exciting” the way that, say, stolen babies or Jill Bennett trying to poison her are exciting (oh, my sweet, dear Jill Bennett……it seems like such a long road until we get to see this beautiful specimen of amazingness join the series regulars), but it’s still rich and important to her character. See, Lilimae is really getting into the holiday spirit and is preparing this epic patchwork quilt adorned with something from everyone in the cul-de-sac (yes, including something from my beloved, most favorite character, Erin Molly). It’s this real work of art that she’s creating, and she’s excited to show Gary how it’s coming along, all the sexy details that she’s adding to make it special, but wait, there’s a twist. END OF SMALL SPOILER ALERT
The twist is that she’s planning to give this quilt to Valene, but Valene has horror and trauma associated with patchwork, horror and trauma that links back to her having a, um, less than stable mother when she was growing up. She confides to Gary that when she was young and her daddy had just died (which I think is new information from this episode; I don’t know if Val has mentioned her daddy at all at this point in the series, and I am curious about exactly when he died and how he died). Seems that when her father expired, Val was sorta left all alone and she needed the aid and comfort of her mother, but Lilimae was too busy with her music (Shady Groves!), so she just sent Val some “I love you” patchwork quilt in lieu of real sympathy. Joan Van Ark lets her face get very serious and angry and says epicly to Gary, “I have hated patchwork ever since.” Gary maintains a pretty good poker face, but you can tell his heart is sinking and he’s thinking, “Oh shit, Lilimae is preparing a patchwork quilt even as we speak!”
I’ll just skip to the ending of this episode for this particular storyline, because basically Christmas day arrives and Val opens her present. In the room, all present and accounted for, we have Val, Gary, and Lilimae, and I think all three give real good performances in this little scene when Val unveils her gift, sees that it’s patchwork, and has a moment where she can be reactive and get angry about all the associations this gift brings up with her, or she can let it go and be grateful to her mom for this gift. She opens it up, her eyes get big, she gives Gary this look like, “You know what this is making me think of,” and Gary gives her this fabulous look right back, a look that is sorta nervous and tense but is also kinda like, “Come on, honey, she made you a gift, be nice.” In the end, Val smiles and thanks Lilimae for the quilt and we see some fences are finally starting to be mended.
Once again, you can look at this two ways and I wouldn’t argue with either. One could say, “The writers needed a story for Val this week, so they cooked this up.” Sure, that’s true, but looking at it in the grander scheme of things, I see this as part of a really huge, ongoing storyline that will last until 1987 when Lilimae leaves the series. Basically what we are seeing is the slow, delicate rebuilding of a very toxic relationship. Indeed, Lilimae was first seen in season one, just that one time, for Will the Circle be Unbroken? In that case, we got lots of details on why Val doesn’t like her mother (remember in that ep when she said to Gary, “Hate, I hate her”?), and it would seem maybe impossible for the two to ever get along as mother and daughter. But eventually, at some point between that episode and Lilimae’s last appearance in 1987, that relationship will become very strong, very loving, and very good, and seemingly small storylines like this patchwork quilt here are all a part of the building block for repairing that relationship, and when seen in that context, the story becomes much richer.
I’ll also just take a brief moment to note the feelings of My Beloved Grammy at this juncture in the series, because it really seems to me that she doesn’t like the Lilimae character at all and I am fairly certain her feelings will change as we get deeper into the series (I’m thinking around seasons five, six, and seven, when Julie Harris really gets to act her ass off and shine, displaying some of the finest acting in all of KL’s run). But at this point, My Beloved Grammy seems to not have taken a shine to the character, and is often saying how she can understand why Val does not get along with her mother. Will her feelings change? Stay tuned to find out!
Storyline C is also pretty great and also fits into a large, over-arching plotline that’s been going on for, well, kinda forever, since way back in early season two with Chance of a Lifetime. That was the first time we saw Scooter, and we saw him plant a big wet kiss very casually on Laura back in that ep, and since then the possibility of an affair has been brewing but it still hasn’t happened yet. Now, maybe some folks my age or younger might find this pacing boring, but I completely disagree; I love me a slow burn and KL does it masterfully. You know, in real life, a lot of affairs do not just come out of nowhere and happen right away the way they might on say, Melrose Place; in real life it takes time to build up to that adultery, especially if you are a person of morals and scruples like Laura.
I bring this up because that affair is coming, mark my words (it might even come in our next episode, Secrets, but I suppose we’ll have to stay tuned to find out!) and One of a Kind sorta ramps up the tension on that storyline, as well. See, Richard is being a legitimately great husband and a solid human being so far this season. He hasn’t cheated on Laura since the Abs affair went south late in season two, he’s been a great, caring friend to Karen, taking care of her needs and issues as she copes with Sid’s death, and he’s being a pretty good employee down at his law firm, even if he’s sadly relegated to company pimp for the time being. So, for this ep, Laura wakes up on Christmas morning to find a sexy red bow tied to her pillow. She follows the trail of this bow all the way outside and finds the other end tied to this super nice new car that Richard got her as a gift. Richard is very proud of this gift, very excited to give it to Laura, and Laura is very happy with it as well, but then what happens after that?
Well, after that Scooter comes cruising up in another new car. He gets out, he hands the keys to Laura, and he’s like, “Here you go, I bought you a new car and it’s super sexy and expensive and awesome and even though I say that I always buy a car for my top salesperson, we all know I’m buying you this car so that I can get into your pants.” But what’s most interesting about this scene, for me, is Richard’s reaction. He’s not embarrassed and he doesn’t feel emasculated by Scooter’s gift; instead he’s very gracious and nice to Scooter and encourages Laura to take the gift. He’s like, “What a nice present; this is so much nicer than the car I got you!” Is he being sincere? Honestly, I think he is, and even though Laura tries to refuse the gift, Richard tells her to accept it, and I actually think it’s a real moment of grace for his character. If this same thing had happened in season one or most of season two, I think Richard would throw a fit and yell at Laura and be mad, but here he acts like a gentleman. I actually have a lot more to say about this saga, but I’ll hold my thoughts until our next episode, which focuses pretty strictly on Richard, Laura, and Scooter.
Back to our main storyline of the week. As soon as Teddy sees Diana, he takes an immediate shine to her and I, along with most viewers I’m sure, think this story is leading to some creepy “Older man crushing on the daughter of his old flame” kinda thing, but in fact that is not so. The writers (Sara Ann Friedman this week) do a good job of drawing this out, and I really thought that’s where they were going. Indeed, as soon as Teddy sees her, he seems to become obsessed, and then he takes her out to some big political function with rich white people present, which is all very exciting for Diana. When she returns home from the function, she regales Karen with all the stories of the Important People they saw and spoke with and how (hint hint!) people assumed that Diana was Teddy’s daughter. To her credit, Karen holds it together well here. I like to think of myself as a liberal kind of guy, more of a “Live and let live” type of human, but I do think if my daughter was going out to political functions with some dude old enough to be her father, getting dressed up all nice and sexy, well, I’m not sure I would love that, but Karen is cool, smiling and listening to Diana’s stories and saying, “That must have been exciting.”
Anyway, things happen, stuff occurs, and at a certain point Karen is ready to have a little sit-down with Teddy. She says how it won’t be cool for him to dangle some sort of potential relationship in front of Diana and then just blow town a few days later, but then the twist occurs when Teddy says, “Karen, I know.” Karen’s all like, “You know? Know what?” and Teddy replies, “I know that Diana is my daughter.” Boom, I definitely did not see that coming, did you?
Karen and Teddy have a little argument that helps us viewers fill in the timeline a bit. We basically learn that Karen had to choose between Teddy and Sid, and she chose Sid, but that, at some point, there was a small gap in her relationship with Sid and she had, I guess, one last night of passion with Teddy. Teddy is convinced that it was this one night of passion that lead to the conception of Diana. Broken record time, but I gotta take a second to praise Michele’s acting yet again. Oh how well she plays this scene. At first it’s like she kinda wants to laugh it off and just dismiss it; she doesn’t appear outwardly offended, but she’s a little caught off guard by Teddy’s claims. However, when Teddy just keeps pressing the issue and won’t back down, Karen becomes very serious and you can tell that she is offended, and she says how Teddy is implying that the daughter she conceived with Sid Fairgate is not really Sid’s daughter and that she won’t stand for that. This is a great moment, and you understand Karen completely; after all, Sid has only been dead a few months (I believe they say four months in this episode, which doesn’t completely line up with him dying in November, but whatever, maybe those episodes that aired in November are actually set a few months beforehand, why not?) and here comes Teddy out of nowhere to imply that the first child Karen created with Sid is, in fact, his own child. It is a rather offensive notion to present so soon after the man’s death, wouldn’t you agree?
But wait, that’s how I feel before the greatest scene of this episode, a scene so good it makes me wants to take my time machine back to 1981 and give Terry Kiser a Best Guest Actor Emmy. Fuck, this scene is good. See, we actually start with Karen up in her room, looking through old family photo albums. We don’t see what she discovers, but she finds some old picture and smiles and goes, “Alright, Teddy, here’s your proof.” Then she head downstairs to show him this proof, but Teddy is gathered around the Christmas tree with Diana, Michael, and Eric, telling the most heartbreaking story I’ve ever heard. It’s the tale of how he has two kids, I believe aged twelve and thirteen, and they haven’t had much of a relationship over the past few years. He recounts how he met up with them at the airport and the two kids sat him down and explained how they’re real happy off wherever they are living with “Their new dad,” and how they would rather just sever all ties with Teddy so that this “new dad” can legally adopt them.
This scene is amazing, people. Unless I’m forgetting some cut or two, I believe the whole scene plays without a cut, just sorta going in from a long shot into a slow closeup of Teddy’s face, and at first the scene is casual, folks gathered around the tree and so on, but as Teddy tells his story the scene gets quiet and sadder and it’s just a gut punch. Even on my shitty bootlegged copies recorded off the SoapNet, you can actually see the tears forming in Terry Kiser’s face, and you get the sense that he hasn’t really recounted this story to anyone yet, but for whatever reason, he’s telling it now and it’s difficult for him to speak it out loud. The scene is probably not that long, but it feels like it goes on for about five minutes, and I mean that in the good way, just letting this guy slowly speak and tell his sad story. When he’s done, the camera doesn’t cut, but instead glides ever so slowly past his head and to the left side to reveal Karen standing on the stairs, having heard the whole story. She’s got the photo album in her hand, but after hearing that tale, she quietly retreats back upstairs, obviously not ready to crush Teddy’s spirits just yet. What a scene, ladies and gentlemen, what a scene, and hats off to Terry Kiser for taking what could be a completely forgettable one-episode-guest-spot and imbuing it with life and heart and pathos; he really goes above and beyond and makes this an incredible scene.
So we still haven’t seen the photo that Karen discovered, but whatever it is, we know it functions as some sort of proof that Diana is not Teddy’s daughter. Now she is facing a moral dilemma, should she tell him the truth and effectively crush his hopes for having some kind of relationship with a child? Or should she lie to him and say, “Okay, it’s true”? In the end, she sorta settles on a middle ground, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Basically, Teddy is like, “Just tell me that it’s a possibility,” and Karen agrees and says, “Okay, it’s possible.” That seems to serve as some sort of catharsis for Teddy and he’s ready to move on.
I am a big proponent of honesty, so I think my personal opinion is that Karen should have told him the straight truth. I’m not sure if it’s good for this man to spend his life thinking Diana might be his biological daughter; it seems like a potential can of worms that, as far as I remember, never get opened in the course of the next eleven years (although I’m having a sense memory of Teddy Becker coming back for one more episode, but played by some imposter and not Terry Kiser). I certainly know how My Beloved Grammy feels, because she said it is just plain wrong to give a man false hope like that, that she believes Karen should have told him the truth. At the same time, we can understand why Karen did this; after hearing that gut-punch of a story, it would be very hard to then take a big shit on the man’s face and say, “And fuck you, Diana’s not your daughter, either!” I also think, by the way, that in some deep down hollow of his brain, Teddy knows this is not so, but he just needs that possibility floating around in his subconscious; it makes him feel better. Complex moral dilemmas are the name of the game on KL, that’s for sure.
The episode culminates with a final little scene between Karen and Diana. They have a nice little chat about Teddy’s visit, but the most important part of this scene is the unveiling of the picture, a picture of Sid’s grandmother, and wouldn’t you know it, she looks just like Diana! In fact, it looks like someone put Claudia Lonow in old-fashioned garb and then photographed her in black and white! Our final image of the episode as we unveil the “Executive Producers: David Jacobs and Michael Filerman” credits is this photo, the proof that Diana is, once and for all, a Fairgate.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this episode considering how little I remembered of it. Now, if it sounds like I’m gushing, please let it be clear that this is not an Undisputed Masterpiece of Television or one of KL’s best episodes ever. No, this is not up there with Let Me Count the Ways or Chance of a Lifetime or Squeezeplay or The Vigil or Critical Condition, but it’s a solid 48 minutes and as a character study, it’s pretty damn good. Not only do we get great material for pretty much everyone in the cast (sans Kenny and Ginger, who I think might not have even appeared in this episode, but I don’t care), but we get that tremendous guest turn from Terry Kiser. One more time, I need to stress how impressed I was by his performance. I’m sure it would be easy to be like, “Eh, I’m doing a guest spot on KL this week; they don’t even want me back for another episode, so I’ll show up, say my lines, go home.” But instead, he really imbues Teddy with heart; I really truly cared about this character and his feelings and I thought there was a richness and complexity to the character that went beyond what was on the page; it was all provided by Terry Kiser’s acting. I also admired how the storylines for Val and Lilimae along with Richard and Laura add a richness to the proceedings and to the greater overarching plotlines of the series. See, even though the main gist of this episode is pretty much over, done with, gone by the time the credits roll, these two side storylines fit into a bigger picture, which I appreciate.
Next week we have the deft pen of The Plesh as he scripts an episode that, I predict, will be a highlight of season three. Get ready for a test of marital faith with Secrets.