Thursday, July 14, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 038 of 344: SECRETS


Episode Title: Secrets

Season 03, Episode 07

Episode 038 of 344

Written by John Pleshette

Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Original Airdate: Thursday, December 24th, 1981

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Richard and Laura plan a romantic getaway, but Richard has to cancel when his boss asks him to throw a client party with prostitutes. Richard's boss ignores all of his business ideas, and only wants him to throw parties. Laura thinks he is having an affair, so goes to Santa Barbara with Scooter out of spite. Laura and Scooter kiss. At the party, one of the prostitutes passes out so Richard brings her home and puts her in the shower to wake her. He is all wet, and tells Laura that he fell into a pool. He later tells her the truth, but she doesn't believe him. Knots Landing Motors is being audited, but no one can decipher the books, so Karen rehires Abby. After the audit, the auditor suggests Karen send Abby to an accounting class. Although she had only hired her temporarily, Karen asks Abby to stay on.

 

                I love The Plesh.  In case it hasn’t been make clear yet, I have a deep seated admiration for The Plesh in all ways.  Not only is he a tremendous actor who brings one of KL’s most fascinating and multifaceted characters, Richard Avery, gloriously to life for an all-too-brief four years, but he’s also a tremendous writer (and, as we’ll see much later in the series, a tremendous director) who has penned some of KL’s finest scripts not just up to this point, but probably for the entire fourteen-season run.  Before I get into the nitty-gritty of Secrets, I wanna do a quick reflection on how many episodes The Plesh has written thus far, so bear with me.

                The Plesh’s first script was for the season one finale, Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two.  This is an interesting debut for him as this episode was primarily concerned with Gary and his alcoholic bender.  Even so, he made time to explore Richard’s character a bit when he came to get Gary out of the bar and, instead, just got drunk and passed out with him in a scene I found very humorous.  Now, I’d have to go back and look at what I said about this episode, but my memory is that I liked it quite a bit, but I also think, up to this point, it’s the weakest of the scripts penned by The Plesh, and I have to wonder if it’s because he was writing about Val and Gary, not Richard.  Somehow, he just really shines when he’s writing about his own character, and it’s this wonderful dovetailing of the actor playing the character being given the chance to write for his own character, as well.

                Case in point, his next script was Chance of a Lifetime, which I continue to hold up as this shining beacon in KL history; it’s just absolutely one of my favorite episodes, probably of the entire series run.  You’ll recall this is the one where Richard effectively sabotaged his job at the law firm because he got greedy, wanted a bigger piece of the pie, and was being told he would have a sweet gig with Brian Dennehy, which didn’t exactly pan out as he envisioned.   In addition that main storyline, however, The Plesh also got the ball rolling on a ton of other storylines that played out throughout season two or, in the case of Scooter and Laura, are still playing out here in season three.

                After that, he wrote the finale of season two, Squeezeplay, in which Gary’s dealings with the mobsters finally came to a head and Sid went rolling off that damn cliff.  Again, this was a highlight of the series for me up to this point, and then The Plesh wrote the very next episode, The Vigil, which served as our premiere of season three and briefly rocked us into the cozy belief that Sid Fairgate might be okay.  This episode was also a KL highlight for me, and even spotlighted Richard briefly yet wonderfully when he brought Karen that nice catered breakfast at the hospital as she was dealing with lots of grief and stress.

                And that brings us up to date.  Secrets (which, coincidentally, shares its title with our Brief Dallas Interlude Part 3 from way back when) marks The Plesh’s fifth time penning a script, and it’s up to his usual high standards.  Out of the most recent disk watched by My Beloved Grammy and I (you’ll recall that this disk spanned from The Surprise through Mistaken Motives), this is unquestionably my favorite episode.  What a great 48 minutes this episode provides, and I just can’t wait to dive right in.

                I think I’ll actually start by just giving you my general thesis on this episode and why it’s so special, but I’ll sorta exemplify this point to say that it’s endemic of what makes all of KL so special, really, and that is this: On any other nighttime soap (and yes, that includes the more popular parent series Dallas), the whole portrayal of “Will someone have an affair with someone else?” would be played off strictly for drama.  During the myriad of times that J.R. cheated on Sue Ellen or Sue Ellen cheated on J.R., did it ever seem like a deep, complex exploration of their characters?  No, it was just writers saying, “Hey, we’re a soap, we need some affairs, let’s get them cooking!”  Over on KL, however, the affairs are used as a way of exploring the characters; really, what I’m noticing the most as I go through the series episode-by-episode, is that this series is a character study above all else.  I don’t picture the writers and producers sitting in a room and saying, “We need Laura to have an affair cuz that’s what the audience likes.”  Instead, it seems like they are more interested in exploring the characters’ morals and personal values.  An affair or lack thereof is really just a way to understand the characters better.

                Anyway, with Secrets we are experiencing a reversal of sorts from what was on display in the first two seasons.  Back then, Laura was good and faithful (well, mostly, she did sleep with that scheezy guy in Community Spirit and she was hanging out in bars in the middle of the day in The Lie) while Richard was the cheater.  He slept with Sid’s ex-wife in Civil Wives and he slept with Abby, um, more than once throughout the second season.  Now, however, Richard is really trying to be a good husband and doing a pretty good job of it, while Laura is the one coming close to adultery.  The beauty of it all is this: I can understand both of them.

                On one hand, Laura has been burned many times by Richard.  Just because he’s being decent now does not mean he won’t return to his old ways in the future.  I am sure that throughout the course of their marriage, there have been patches of good and then patches of bad, so Laura is perhaps just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for another hot blonde to move into the neighborhood and seduce Richard.  I don’t think she views Richard’s recent spurt of marital faithfulness as a trend towards the future, but rather a small blip on the radar.  Also, it hasn’t been that long since Richard was a cheater, really.  Let’s do some timeline synching: This episode aired on December 24th, 1981 (although it must be set a little later, since our last episode took place around the holiday season and concluded on Christmas day), and Richard’s affair with Abby ended in A State of Mind, which aired February 5th of 1981.  So really, that affair hasn’t even been over for an entire year yet; it probably still plays fresh on Laura’s mind, making it hard for her to trust Richard. 

                Anyway, the gist of Secrets is based on a lot of misunderstandings and problems with trust.  See, Richard and Laura have this fabulous weekend getaway to San Francisco planned, but then two different things come up.  First, Scooter is like, “Hey, Laura, I really want to have sex with you, so I’m gonna pretend there’s this great house on the market and invite you to come and look at it with me, at which point I will produce a bottle of champagne and try to screw you!”  Secondly, Richard’s hilarious pipe-smoking, moustached boss (John Lehne, remember?) wants Richard to stay in town for the weekend and throw a sexy party with booze and whores for a team of Japanese men who are coming to town for…..some reason.  Honestly, this part is a bit confusing, because isn’t this a law firm?  Why are Japanese investors coming to deal with a law firm?  And if they are coming, why would booze and whores have anything to do with anything?  This seems more like some sort of sleazy Mad Men type advertising firm, but whatever, for the purposes of this plot, Japanese men are coming and we all know those Japanese men love whores, so Richard is expected to deliver.  He briefly starts to protest but then John Lehne is like, “But you’re so good at finding whores, Richard!”  You can’t argue with that logic.

                So Richard has to cancel the plans with Laura, providing the first stirrings of doubt in her.  See, she thinks maybe Richard is up to his old tricks again, cheating on her, but at first she doesn’t leap into Scooter’s arms and go with him to the big mansion.  No, at first she’s just gonna stay around the house and do whatever while Richard is away, but then she receives a phonecall from one of Richard’s whores, who calls the house and is like, “Hey, this is one of Richard’s whores, I’m wondering where I’m supposed to go to have sex with a bunch of men tonight?”  Obviously Laura’s suspicions grow after she receives this phone call, and then we have a really nice quick cut to her driving with Scooter.  I love the way this is done; it’s like Laura’s on the phone and then BOOM, we cut to her in the car with Scooter.  We understand the linkage that went from the phone call with the whore to her being in this car; we understand the wheels that are turning in her head.

                But wait, this whole episode isn’t just about Richard and Laura, so let’s explore our other beloved characters for awhile.  Going back to the final few episodes of season two, you’ll remember that Abs was primarily responsible for doctoring the books of Knots Landing Motors and helping everyone get into a lot of trouble there, right?  Then Karen fired her early in season three with that great speech, “I don’t trust you and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust you.”  Well, now Karen is being audited, which stuck me as odd.  Didn’t they confess the naughty things they did to the FBI in exchange for naming Roy and Frank?  In that case, would that not get a certain diplomatic immunity for any funny business involving the books and their doctoring?  Oh well, maybe the FBI and the IRS are different parts of the government, I dunno (they're both evil, in any case), but whatever, she’s being audited right now so she needs Abby back to fix the books, to make sense of whatever she has created.

                It’s not easy to get Abs back on board after what she said to her back in Aftermath.  Karen takes her out to a fancy restaurant, buys her a nice meal, even offers to buy her brandy and cigars (which Abby declines, though I would get a boner if I got to watch Donna Mills suck on a cigar, mmmmmm…..).  Despite all of this, however, at first Abby refuses to return to the garage and work on the books for Karen, citing Karen’s hurtful words to her earlier.  Obviously it’s not gonna be so easy for Karen to get Abby back, although she does eventually succeed.

                At first, Abs is on a bit of a power trip and is annoying Karen to death.  She gets situated in an office at Knots Landing Motors and is ready to go over the books, but she calls Karen constantly for something or other that she needs.  She asks for coffee with, I believe, two sugars but no cream, and this phenomenon continues for some time.  However, Karen is able to maintain her patience with Abs and, when the auditor comes, he is a horny man who hasn’t been laid in decades and Abs is wearing "a low cut shirt and no bra,” at least according to Gary, who I would trust to notice such things, so basically everything goes off without a hitch.  Somehow I’m not sure it would be so easy to fool the IRS just by putting a sexy woman up in front of the auditor, but whatever, in this instance, it works.

                A highlight scene from this storyline occurs late, near the end of the episode, when Karen is considering asking Abby to stay on.  Follow me here, cuz again I’m gonna stress that I recognize that as a plot contrivance, this is necessary.  The writers are probably saying, “We need Abby back at the garage to stir up drama with Karen and try to seduce Gary.”  That’s all fine well and good, but it’s the way it’s done that puts this ahead of the curve from other series.  See, Karen is like, “Maybe I’ll ask you to stay on,” and Abby is being sorta difficult on purpose, saying, “Gee, I don’t know, not after those horrible things you said to me,” but then she accidentally breaks this really special coffee mug with her name on it that Sid gave her.  The cup falls to the ground and shatters (and, by the way, I just realized that the whole “I take my coffee black with two sugars” scene was probably included to give a reason for this mug to be in the scene, so good work for The Plesh in covering his story bases!) and Abby starts to cry.  This is fabulous acting from both Michele and Donna, because it’s not like Abby bursts into these huge, exaggerated tears (or starts to moan “Nooooooooo” like that unfortunate scene back in Squeezeplay), but rather they are slow tears; she just starts to choke up a little as she recounts how Sid got her this special cup and what it means to her.  Her back is turned to Karen, but we can see in Karen’s face that she is feeling real sympathy for Abby even after all she’s done to her.  Karen realizes that this is not Abby play-acting grief as a way to manipulate her, but this is real grief, that while she lost her husband, Abby lost her brother and it is tragic for her, as well.  Because of this, Karen asks her to stay on.

                You see what I mean, right?  On another show, it would just be like Karen hires Abby back and that’s all, but here, we really understand the motivation, and we can relate.  It also fits in nicely with storylines that have already happened; we all saw Sid die and I stress once again how nice it is that the writers don’t just shuffle his character under the carpet as if he never existed.  Instead, his life and his death continue to have meaning to the characters on the series; his presence hovers over them like a ghost, fueling their future decisions. 

                Back to our main plot.  Richard is basically hosting the drunken whore party for the Japanese dudes, who all seem to be having a lovely time.  Clearly, Richard is not enjoying himself, and of course we understand why.  The man wants to be practicing law, dammit, not finding whores for a party.  Anyway, after the party clears and the Japanese guys go off to presumably have sex with the whores, Richard is left all alone, or so he thinks.  He discovers a passed out whore behind the couch, and this whore is Marni, played by Stepfanie Kramer (and no, that’s not a typo, that’s really how she spells her name, for some reason).  I did some snooping on Ms. Kramer’s IMDb page and it says she is “iconic” for playing Sergeant Dee Dee McCall from 1984 to 1990 on Hunter.  Now, until this moment I had never even heard of this series, but after doing some research, I found out it had seven seasons on NBC and was quite successful, so there you go.  In any case, I don’t know that Stepfanie Kramer really brings too much to this Marnie role, though she does get perhaps the most ‘80s line ever uttered when she tells Richard, “I popped a couple of 'ludes last night.”  God bless the ‘80s.

                But back to the point.  Richard finds Marni passed out behind the couch.  In a display of his decency, he doesn’t just ditch her or shuffle the responsibility off to somebody else, but instead takes care of her and desperately tries to get her to come around.  He takes her back to her house and, when she still hasn’t come to, he puts her into the shower and turns the water on full blast, but of course he stumbles and sorta falls into the shower with her, getting his nice suit all wet.  I’m wondering if I can apply any sort of a “Baptism” theory to this particularly sequence, perhaps that Richard is being cleansed and reborn as a new, more caring man, but I think I’ll let that one slide for now.

                Meanwhile, Laura is up at the mansion with Scooter, who finally confesses that this house is not even on the market, that he just wanted to get her away and attempt to seduce her.  “Well why didn’t you just say that?” Laura asks.  At this point I wanna take a moment to praise Constance McCashin’s acting, as she really brings a warmth to Laura.  Even as she considers adultery, something that I’m sure lots of viewers would not approve of, she keeps the character warm, friendly, and easy to relate to.  There’s nothing malicious in her intent, ever, she’s just very natural and easy to watch and you understand her and sympathize with her.  However, even after all this buildup, Scooter and Laura still don’t shag.  In all honesty, I can’t remember when they finally shag, but it’s somewhere in this third season, I promise you!  Again, I like that slow burn.  Probably on another series, this shagging would have commenced a long time ago, but here, we still gotta wait for it.  Instead of having a roll in the hay, Laura and Scooter do something almost more intimate, which is drink red wine and talk about their marriages.  This definitely goes a long way towards exploring, “What is adultery?”  Do you need to have sex to really commit adultery or is it when you share a certain closeness with someone that maybe should be reserved for your spouse or partner? 

                Richard spends the night at Marni’s place, but he doesn’t do anything naughty with her, he really doesn’t, and that’s the sad part of this episode.  See, when he has to explain to Laura where he was all night, at first he goes on about how he fell into a pool after a few too many drinks, but then he decides to do the right thing and tell the truth.  “I didn’t fall in a pool, I feel in a shower,” he tells Laura, who naturally doesn’t believe him, and why should she?  Once again, everything in this scene is perfect, because we feel for Richard and we see the tragedy, which is that he’s actually doing the right thing.  He wants to be good, he wants to be honest, and he wants to tell his wife the truth.  However, in doing so, he only creates a bigger rift between them, because the truth sounds like a ridiculous lie, doesn’t it?  “I was with a whore, but I didn’t fuck her, I swear!  I just happened to fall into her shower and get wet and then I took my clothes off and slept over at her house, but that’s really all that happened!”  McCashin plays this part perfectly, listening and being like, “You slept over, sure, right, whatever,” and we don’t judge her for not believing, because we probably wouldn’t believe, either.

                The last image of this episode is rather haunting, perhaps the most haunting final image since back in The Lie when Laura got her cigarette lit by some stranger.  This last image has actually stayed with me ever since my first watching of the series, even though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what episode it came from.  Basically, we are at the Avery dinner table, and they are eating outside tonight.  We have Richard on the left, Laura on the right, big gap between the two, and little Jason in the middle.  Jason asks if he can go inside and watch TV and they’re like, “Fine.”  He gets up and leaves and that means only Richard and Laura are at the table, but there’s no speaking between the two of them.  There’s just that big gap between them and total dead silence.  Then the camera pulls back and goes upwards into this almost God-like point of view shot, looking down on the two characters as they sit in silence, and that’s the end of the episode.  It’s really well shot (making me wish once again for an awesome remastered BluRay edition of the series, sigh) and is a fabulous and almost creepy way to end the show. 

                As far as Plesh-penned episodes go, I actually think this isn’t quite as good as some of his other work, but it’s still a great KL episode and really demonstrates the show’s best qualities.  He takes a storyline that would just be juicy nighttime soap material on any other show and infuses it with character and pathos; we are just watching a character study, essentially, two people who are in a marriage that’s crumbling before their very eyes, mostly due to mistrust from the past and misunderstandings in the present.  I admired this episode for being quiet, not flashy, for taking the time for thoughtful and intimate character moments rather than BIG SEXY DRAMA.  Again, I think we are going outside the realm of nighttime soap and branching off into real high art.

                The last thing I appreciated, and I hope I can state it eloquently, is the fact that no character on KL is one-dimensional (except for Kenny and Ginger).  See, on another show, Richard would just be “The Jerk.”  He would be introduced as a jerk in the first episode and he would remain a jerk for the whole series.  But on KL, Richard has lots of layers and is a multifaceted person.  Sometimes he can be an unrelenting ass and sometimes he can be very caring.  In this case, he wants to be the good husband but it’s just not working out for him, and it’s not even necessarily his fault because he didn’t really do anything wrong within the confines of this episode.  The same is true of Laura.  She is not an adulterous slut and she’s also not a goody two shoes ‘50s housewife.  She is written as if she is a real person with real thoughts and feelings, and all of her decisions bear weight upon her own self.  Or look at Abby and her reaction to breaking Sid’s glass.  Is Abby just a village bicycle who likes to steal married men away from their wives?  No, but that’s how she would be on another show.  Here, she is a complex character.  She can be a whore, she can be a liar, she can be duplicitous, but she also has heart, and she will feel and cry about certain things such as the loss of her only sibling. 

                I'm about ready to wrap up my thoughts on the episode proper, but there's one last thing I wanna cover, and that is the year of 1981.  This is our last KL ep of 1981 and when we return for our next show, it'll be a whole new year!  So, as I did before, I'd like to try and go through a few of the important things that happened in 1981.  You'll recall that I did this for 1978 with the Brief Dallas Interlude Reunion: Part Two, I did it for 1979 with the KL Pilot, and I did it for 1980 with Kristin.  So let's think, what was going on in 1981?

                 Probably the most important thing to happen in 1981 was the inauguration of Ronald Reagan into The White House on January 20th.  Of course, being an angry homosexual liberal, I think Reagan sucks and was a terrible president, mostly cuz I'm so sick of this country always electing unbelievably geriatric and senile old rich white racist men to lead the country, but of course remember that I wasn't even alive when he stepped down from the presidency, so perhaps my stupid opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.  Speaking of things that are gay, June 5th of this year was historical because it marked the first recognized cases of AIDS when The Center For Disease Control reported that five gay guys had a rare form of pneumonia indicating weakened immune systems.  This obviously sucks and would pretty much add fuel to the fire for all the people who hated the gays back in the '80s, as they could easily point to us spreading viruses and diseases and use that as some argument for why we are not, in fact, regular human beings with thoughts and lives and loves and personalities all unique to ourselves. 

                 As for the world of entertainment, there was a lot going on this year.  My man Brian De Palma released one of his absolute greatest works of art ever, Blow Out, which sadly proved to be a crushing flop at the box office (grossing a total of 12 million on a budget of 18 million).  However, over the years, this has really gained respect and stature and I think most people nowadays view it as one of his best films (it is my personal second favorite after the absolutely perfect Carrie).  It was a good year for Steven Spielberg, as well, as he made one of the greatest action movies of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark, starring Sid Fairgate's wayward daughter Annie.  Stephen King had two books this year, one published under his Richard Bachman name (Roadwork) and one published under his more famous name (Cujo, one of my all time favorite King books, although many seem to disagree with me).  And finally, to give some sense of what America wanted to watch at this time in history, the top ten shows of the 1980-1981 season (going from #10 to #1) were Little House on the Prairie, Three's Company, House Calls, Alice, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, MASH, 60 Minutes, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Dallas.                    

                   So that’s 1981 and that's Secrets, everybody.  While I still think The Plesh’s best work is probably Chance of a Lifetime and maybe Squeezeplay, this is still a tremendous contribution to the series as a whole and is probably one of my favorite episodes of the 38 covered thus far.  Strong recommend for this episode, which would also probably provide a good “gateway drug” to a new viewer of the series who is hoping to get hooked (although, as a completionist, I do encourage starting at episode one and working your way through).  Next up we are going to see a familiar face, perhaps our biggest Transmorpher ever, with Mistaken Motives.

1 comment:

  1. It is hard to judge a presidency in which you didn't live because the history you read is being related to a certain point of view...that is all I will say about that. :)

    ReplyDelete