Sunday, August 28, 2016


Episode Title: China Dolls

Season 03, Episode 21

Episode 052 of 344

Directed by Joseph B. Wallenstein

Original Airdate: Thursday, April 29th, 1982

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Joe needs a date for a faculty dinner. Kenny suggests he take Ginger, so he does. Richard is ready to go home, and tells Laura he'd like to be part of the baby's birth. Laura goes to see his doctor who tells her only to go back to him if she's there to stay, but not if it's out of pity. Gary and Abby continue their affair, but he feels so guilty that he ends it. However, he keeps watching Abby from the window, and Val is extremely suspicious. Val asks Gary if they're having an affair, and he locks himself into the bathroom. Val then goes to see Abby, who tells her "I'm not saying we are having an affair, and I'm not saying we're not. I am saying that I can have him anytime I want." Val slaps Abby. Later, Gary sees Abby and kisses her.

                Welcome to China Dolls!  I think now would be a good time to point out that we are officially entering a time in the show where I will no longer immediately be able to remember what an episode is about just by hearing the title.  For whatever reason, with seasons one and two, prior to this viewing, if you said the titles to me, I would pretty much immediately remember what the episode was about.  With Community Spirit, I’d be like, “Oh yeah, that’s the one where J.R. comes to open up oil drilling.”  With Let Me Count the Ways, I’d say, “That’s the one where Karen almost has an affair.”  With The Lie, I’d be like, “Laura gets raped.”  With Chance of a Lifetime, I’d say, “That’s the one with Brian Dennehy where Richard loses his job.”  With The Three Sisters, I’d be like, “That’s the one weirdo haunted house episode with the ghost sisters.”  But now we are reaching a point where the titles are just titles to me, where I’ll start up an episode and really not remember what’s in store based on the title.  I think Night marks the last episode that I started and was like, “Oooh, this is Night, omigod!”  This is probably just an effect of having so many damn episodes.  When you’re within the first two or three seasons, you have less episodes, so it’s easier to remember them by title and all that, but it gets harder to remember as you move along.

                My point is that I felt rather fresh and virginal as China Dolls started up, but I knew it was gonna be a good one, especially based on that thirty second preview which showed a classic exchange between Val and Abs that will forever go down in the annals of primetime soap history (we’ll get to it).  After the thirty second preview and the opening credits, we actually open on a shot of, well, china dolls sitting on a shelf.  Not only are we looking at these creepy china dolls on their shelf, but this is where the episode title is displayed on screen as well as the episode credits.  Too literal?  Hmmm, maybe, but I like that we’re getting started right away with a theme and we are seeing something physical to help us represent that theme.

                Okay, we pan out from the china dolls and realize we are in a room.  A hotel room?  A motel room?  An apartment room?  At first we’re not sure, but eventually we realize this is a hotel (and it seems to be a pretty nice one; I mean, how many hotels decorate their rooms with freaking creepy ass china dolls?) and that it’s the meeting place for Abs and Gary and their debauchery and torrid affair.  Now might be a good time to mention that I love seeing people having affairs on TV and in movies.  I’m not really sure why, because I do have certain moral objections to carrying on long, ongoing affairs (remember that I’m gay and our standards for what is cheating and what is not in a relationship can be very flexible, and I certainly don’t adhere to those heteronormative standards; I'm not a proponent of SUPER DUPER STRICT MONOGHOMOUS relationships but I am a proponent of honesty and always telling your partner the truth), but for whatever reason I just love seeing them on the TV screen.  Maybe it’s because it just looks so damn fun?  I dunno.  So I wanna make sure to stress that I believe it is wrong for Gary and Abs to have this affair behind Val’s back, and I believe Val deserves to be treated better by her husband because she has always been a good wife to him.  At the same time, I just love watching this, and I love everything about it.  For me, this is nighttime drama at its finest, and when Abs and Gary start making out and he picks her up and carries her onto the bed and throws her down and the saxophone kicks in, I’m in Heaven.  I wanna make special mention of that saxophone, because I love it.  It’s not an ‘80s nighttime soap torrid love affair unless you throw some saxophone in there, and that’s final.

                This is a significant way to begin the episode because it signals a few important things to us viewers.  First of all, it shows that Abs and Gary’s little roll in the sack last week was not an isolated incident, that there was no off-screen dialogue where Gary said, “I think we should just forget this ever happened and never do it again.”  Nope, instead the two have chosen to continue carrying on, and the fact that they’ve even got the hotel room ready to go and they seem very at home in it tells me they are getting good and comfortable about doing this.

Not too long after this, we have a lovely little scene between Val and Lilimae in which Lilimae, in classically direct fashion, asks Val how long she’s going to allow this to keep going on.  She never comes right out and says, “Gary’s having an affair,” but she’s like, “Ooooooooooh, breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, dinner meetings, I’m surprised they aren’t putting on weight,” at which point I turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “They’re burning it off with all the sex.”  I’m really very witty, you see. 

Anyway, Val says something about how, “I have a very delicate situation on my hands,” and how she doesn’t wish to discuss it anymore.  I know I tend to focus on the micro-details of certain scenes rather than what’s going on in the plot and dialogue and characters, and I’m gonna do it again here.  I love the fact that Val is cleaning the windows while this scene takes place.  It’s one of those small details that helps to keep KL grounded even as affairs and adultery are going on all around us.  When on Dallas would you ever see someone using Windex to clean their windows while carrying on a conversation?  All the conversations on Dallas were, to paraphrase Patrick Duffy, “In boardrooms and bedrooms.”  On KL, things always have a way of feeling familiar with me, and it’s the small things like this that help to capture that.

So to keep you all up to date, let’s remember that Lilimae is well aware of what’s going on between Abs and Gary (or at least she looked out the window at like two in the morning back in Acts of Love and saw that Gary was staying late at Abby’s house), but she hasn’t told Val yet.  I think I understand her reticence; she knows that Val will be absolutely crushed if she just says, “I saw them at Abby’s house really late the other night when you weren’t home,” so she’s sorta feeling her way around the situation.  I also think it’s worth noting that Lilimae is starting to change from mostly comic relief in the background into one of the main players (she’ll be in the scrolling credits next season) and we are starting to see her really incorporate into the storylines at this point, and we are getting to see Julie Harris start to show off her dramatic chops.  I’m very excited about where all this is leading.

Gary and Abs pretty much fall into the classic trap of losing all their discretion and forgetting all about tact.  See, Uncle Joe is hanging around Knots Landing Motors because he needs to find a date for some faculty dinner (we’ll get to his less interesting storyline a little later), so he’s thinking of asking Abs out.  However, just as he’s approaching Abs to ask her, Gary comes bursting out of his office door and, speaking really loudly, almost yelling, nearly going so far as to use a loudspeaker or maybe broadcast it over the intercom for all workers and customers to hear, he goes, “Oh, Abby, about Friday night….”  Then he realizes Uncle Joe is standing right in front of him so Abs quickly tires to rectify the situation and is like, “Oh, that made up business thing I just invented right this second?  Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about!”  Uncle Joe’s eyes look very sly and we know he’s getting clued in to what’s really going on.

Gary has some hilarious moments this week and that’s the first one, although it’s minor compared to his masterpiece, his piece de resistance, which shows up closer to the ending of the ep.  This is pretty much a plot device to get Uncle Joe smart about the affair, but I just love how flippant and careless Gary is about this.  This affair’s been going on for, what, a week?  And he’s already bursting out of offices and going, “Oh, Abby, about Friday night, when I plan to come over and put my penis in you again….”

While we’re at Knots Landing Motors, I wanna take a little side road and discuss something I keep forgetting to bring up.  Remember how season two ended with that mysterious moustached fellow glaring while working on cars at Knots Landing Motors and this all led up to Sid’s brakes failing and him taking that big plunge off the cliff?  Well, this whole season, every couple of episodes, My Beloved Grammy has been like, “We still haven’t figured out what happened to that guy who messed with Sid’s car,” and I have to be like, “Don’t worry, it’s coming.”  But only after she has brought it up so much have I realized that they really do just forget all about that for all of season three, don’t they?  We’ve have lots of Knots Landing Motors footage throughout season three, but it’s always been interoffice dramas and flirtations between Gary and Abs; they’ve never gotten back to the conspiracy against Sid.  Now, if I remember correctly, they do return to this and wrap it up in a nice tidy bow as we enter season four, so it’s not like the storyline is forgotten.  But I just think it’ s interesting that it literally vanished for the entirety of season three before being concluded in season four; in my memories it was more of an ongoing thing.  Do you think the writers just forgot about it throughout this season and then realized they should probably give it some closure with the next season?  Or do you think the writers really were playing the long game, the really long game, and saying, “We’ll bring this up in the climax of season two and then not wrap it up until the beginning of season four.”  Readers, please gimme your opinions, cuz I would love to hear them.

Anyway, later that night, still at Knots Landing Motors, Uncle Joe pays Gary another visit and this scene has something in it that got me real excited and harkened all the way back to our first Brief Dallas Interlude, Reunion: Part One.  Remember how when we first met David Ackyord Gary in Las Vegas and he said how he had not just a drinking problem but also a gambling problem?  And remember how I asked if this would ever be brought up or mentioned again ever?  Well it is, right here!  In this scene, Uncle Joe asks Gary if he had a gambling problem at some point and Gary says yes.  I was so happy and got so excited!  I was like, “Good on the writers for not forgetting about that,” because I was convinced that they had.  Uncle Joe uses gambling as an analogy for the affair.  He’s like, “You know, inherently, the gambler always loses because the gambler always wants to lose.  How crazy is that?”  Obviously he’s saying that by gambling with Abby, Gary is going to lose Val, and when Gary’s like, “What are you trying to say, guy from Graveyard Shift?” Uncle Joe is like, “I think I just said it.”  This is Uncle Joe’s coolest scene yet, and I’ve gotten moderately more interested in his character than I was before just because of how much I liked this scene and this speech.

Oh yeah, and one more thing about the small details before I move on to a new scene.  I really like how this scene doesn’t just begin with Uncle Joe and Gary talking, but instead takes some time to show us a worker interacting with some grumpy old man who is dissatisfied about something or other.  The two are talking about the guy’s car and the quality of the service, and the old guy is getting kinda irritated and so Gary comes into the scene to help diffuse the situation, and Uncle Joe follows after him.  See, on most shows they would just open with Uncle Joe being like, “Hi, Gary, I wanna talk to you,” but here we get some small extra details regarding the business of Knot Landing Motors, and I like that.

Later, Gary gets home and receives a firm reminder of what a lovely wife Val is, because she has got him a year’s subscription to Fortune and tells him, “If you’re gonna be a big business man, you gotta know what’s going on in the world of business.”  Yikes.  Then they hug and Gary’s face looks super guilty (even though earlier in the ep he declared to Abs that he was feeling, “No guilt whatsoever;” we see how his emotions are at war in this moment) and he says, sorta sad, “What would I do without you, Val?”  Val’s all like, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that.”  It’s a painfully uncomfortable moment.

Thanks to Val’s gift and Gary’s newly found feelings of guilt, there is a brief stall in the affair of Gary and Abs, a moment where Gary decides, very very briefly, that they should call the whole thing off.  They meet up at their usual little hotel room to shag, but instead of shagging, Gary calls a halt to the affair, saying it was a mistake and they’ve gotta end it now.  I didn’t remember any of this, and what struck me most about this scene was the very end of it.  See, Abs tries to act all cool and distant, like it’s no big deal that Gary wants to end it, and they part peacefully, but then we get this really tiny little moment after Gary leaves where Abs starts to cry!  Omigod, this part was awesome, and what made it so awesome was that it was super fast!  Again, the writers and director and actors could have played this multiple ways.  They could have just had Gary leave the scene and then we cut to a new scene, or perhaps, for a more “soapy” ending, they could have had Abs get either a wicked smile, like she’s hatching an evil plot, or get really over-the-top angry (“Two , four, six, eight, who do I annihilate?”), but instead they just give her like, one microsecond to cry and then they cut to a new scene.

What does this mean?  Why show this?  Well, I’m gonna say right now that I actually believe Abs does love Gary.  I don’t think she just has a lust for him or some need for him as a conquest or as a way to hurt Val.  I think, since moving on to the cul-de-sac, she has been in love with Gary and I actually believe she stays in love with Gary all the way until she leaves the show in 1989.  Maybe some would disagree with me, but I think part of what makes Abs such a fabulous character is her intricacies.  She is never just presented as some evil, adulterous bitch; she has layers.  She is often deceitful and a liar and a schemer, but then she does have genuine feelings and emotions, like when she cried because of breaking the coffee cup Sid gave her (what episode was that, again?) or in the way she loves her children or the classic Olivia/cocaine storyline that we’re gonna  get a few seasons down the line (prepare for my write-ups on those in, oh, about three years).  So I think she’s truly, legitimately upset that Gary wants to end this affair, and that’s why she cries.  From an artistic standpoint, I love the choice made to barely focus on her crying.  They don’t make a big deal out of it, just sorta show a second of it before we cut away to a new scene.  Great stuff.

This episode has a theme of windows running through it that pretty much sets the stage for every single episode of Melrose Place ever made.  Remember how every week on that show, we would have the characters gazing out their windows and being like, “Who’s going home with so and so?!”  Well, it’s happening here, too, because Gary can’t get enough of staring out the living room window and intently watching Abby’s house, and it leads to the absolute most gut bustingly hysterical scene of the entire episode, a scene so funny that I laughed so hard I couldn’t even follow all the dialogue for a few minutes afterwards.  It’s sad to say that my mere description of this scene can’t possibly do justice to how campy and hilarious and wonderful it is, though I shall try.

Basically, Gary’s continuing to obsessively stare out the window, which worries Val.  He’s also just acting like a psycho in general, jumping up off the couch and saying, “Let’s go out!”  Then seconds later he’s like, “Never mind, I don’t want to go out.”  But then he hears Abs arriving home, her car door slamming, and he leaps up like his ass is on fire and frantically says to Val, “I have to go talk to Abs about something!”  Shrieking Bernard Herrmann violins start to overpower the soundtrack while Gary runs for dear life across the street, screaming, “Abby!”  Then he reaches her front door and starts beating the hell out of it and screaming, “Abby, open up, damn it!”  When she answers the door, he comes flying into the living room all sweaty and crazy, convinced that she has brought home another man to shag, but instead it turns out to be some old lady who, presumably, babysits the children or something.  So Abs is like, “Mrs. Old Lady, this is my neighbor, Gary, please say hello to this sweaty, insane man who just sprinted across the street to pound violently on my door and please ignore those shrieking violins.”  Like I said, I probably can’t represent the sheer genius of this scene or properly explain why it made me laugh so hard, except to say that it is so over-the-top and Gary is just losing his cool so utterly and completely and it’s just hilarious to me how obvious he is acting towards Val; at this point, there is just no conceivable way that she can’t figure out what is going on.

But anyway, Gary says to Abs, “I can’t stand the thought of you with another man,” and Abs points out that she wasn’t with another man; she was with her kids and some old lady.  But then she kicks him in the balls real nice by saying, “But I will be with another man soon.”  Gary can’t handle the thought; it’s tearing him apart.  How much longer until he gives in to his carnal nature once again?

Well, not too much longer, but before he does that, we get that fabulous confrontation between Val and Abs.  This is the scene I mentioned earlier that was a classic when it aired, is a classic today, and shall always and forever remain a classic.  See, after finally deciding that she is damned mad and she’s not gonna take it anymore, Val marches across the street to Abby’s house to finally speak with her, and she lets herself in and she slams the door behind her and she says, “Are you having an affair with my husband?”  Abs skirts the issue for awhile by insulting Val a lot rather than saying yes or no, but then finally she gets to deliver this classic line: “I’m not saying we’re having an affair, and I’m not saying we’re not, but I am saying I can have him anytime I want.”  Then Val slaps Abs, which was fabulous and marks, I think, the second slap Abs has been on the receiving end of (the first was from Laura in Moments of Truth last season).  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think any KL fan should know this scene very well and it will always be remembered fondly.  I think it’s an important one because this is when the jig is finally up between Val and Abs.  Remember how I noted through season two and most of three how strange it was to see Val and Abs interacting and being rather friendly with each other?  Well, I think this scene marks the end of that; for the rest of time, the two shall remain sworn enemies.

Oh yeah, and I don’t want to write about this whole episode and skip out on a fabulous little exchange between Abs and Karen.  I feel like I haven’t mentioned Karen much this week, and that’s because she’s sorta hanging out in the background throughout the ep, but she gets one killer line, and it’s right here near the end.  She comes by to tell Abs that Richard will be returning from the hospital soon and would she please go by the house and water his plants for him, straighten things out, make it look pretty over there, you know what I mean?  Abs doesn’t want to and is like, “Karen, I’m really busy with something involving my vagina and I just can’t be bothered,” and then Karen, my beloved Karen, who is never afraid to stand up to someone and be totally direct, says, “I forgot, your specialty is wrecking homes, not straightening them out.”  Oh God yes, go Karen, I love you so much.  Anyway, these words are enough for Abs to take the Avery key and agree to go over and water some plants.

To set the stage for our climax scene (and I do mean that quite literally), Abs is doing some sexy plant watering at the Avery house in her incredibly short shorts (they are red and I am pretty certain that this shot of her doing some sexy watering will make its way into the scrolling credits next season) while Gary looks out the window and yearns for her.  Finally, he can’t take it anymore, those short shorts are just too short and he can’t merely stare out this window any longer, so he removes himself from his home and marches over to the Avery house  to shag Abby again.  He enters the house, she spins around, the two stare longingly at each other, waiting for that saxophone to kick in again, and once it does, they can’t resist each other any longer and fall back into each other’s adulterous arms, marking the fabulous ending to our episode.  Oh yeah, I also wanna note the fact that this shag takes place in the Avery house.  They are now reaching the point where their loins are burning for each other so hard that they can’t even wait to do it in their own homes or in a hotel; they must do it right here in somebody else’s home, all very Body Heat style, wouldn't you agree?  God, I love it.

Okay, so that’s the end of the episode, but don’t worry, cuz we’ve still got other characters to cover, some more interesting than others.  I guess I’ll start with the less interesting ones, although even they are sorta interesting, and that would be Uncle Joe and Ginger.  Okay, remember I said sorta interesting, and that’s about as far a compliment as I can throw Ginger.  I’m still itching for her and Kenny to leave town (just one more season!), but she’s not too bad this week, and I mean, at least she’s doing something.  The fact that Kenny and Ginger remain in the scrolling credits and yet are given so little to do (remember how they just disappeared for Night?) remains this weird thing where you know the writers are, in general, not even bothering to give them anything to do, so at least this week they’re making an effort.

Anyway, an early scene is this ep shows Uncle Joe in the kitchen getting a phonecall from Lorraine.  You all remember Lorraine, right?  No?  You don’t remember the incredibly boring and forgettable lady who came into town and marred the episode Letting Go?  Well anyway, when Uncle Joe first got this phone call, I was like, “Oh no, don’t tell me she’s coming back for another episode!”  I remembered looking at her IMDb and seeing she just had that one KL credit, but for a minute I still got nervous.  Fortunately, she’s just calling to tell him she won’t be coming to town and she won’t be appearing in any more episodes.  By the way, am I remembering incorrectly, or didn’t these two split up in Letting Go?  Wasn’t that the arc of their storyline that week?  Deciding they weren’t meant to be together?  So what are they doing talking on the phone this week?  In any case, it doesn’t matter, as it’s just a plot device to get Uncle Joe looking for a date.

Okay, so he tries a few people, including Abs (that’s the scene where Gary busts out and says, “About Friday night”), but finally he settles on Ginger.  Kenny’s cool with it and says, “We’ve got a real ‘80s marriage over here.”  I always love whenever characters refer to the decade they’re inhabiting, and the last time we had someone do that was back in season two when Abs was talking to her ex-husband and said, “Come on, Jeff, this is the 1980s.”  I always love that and I’m gonna keep my ears open for more of it.  But anyway, since Kenny and Ginger are boring and haven’t gotten a storyline since Possibilities (which Kenny wrote himself), they are totally cool with Uncle Joe taking out Ginger.

This storyline was weird for me, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Were the writers considering getting these two together?  Or were they thinking of having Ginger run off and have an affair of her own?  As far as I remember, Kenny and Ginger stay together until they leave the show and there’s no more adultery on either end, but Ginger and Andy Moore in Possibilities combined with her and Uncle Joe this week make me wonder what’s going on.  Now, I’m not just saying this because of the fact that Uncle Joe takes her out; I think it’s understood that this is just a sorta friendly date because he needs a date for this faculty dinner thing; I’m referring to a later scene.

After the faculty dinner (which we thankfully don’t have to see; we’re too busy following Gary and Val and Abs for most of the ep), Uncle Joe drives Ginger home, but before dropping her off, they have this conversation about romance and dating.  Ginger goes on about how she wants Uncle Joe to kiss her, even though she knows logically that she’s happily married and has a beautiful daughter (these are her words, not mine).  Uncle Joe, like, tenderly kisses her hand or something, but I don’t think they kiss on the lips, or if they do, I forgot about it.  In any case, it’s a strange little scene and Ginger’s dialogue about missing her dating years made me wonder if perhaps the writers were considering cooking up an adultery plot for her (perhaps with Andy Moore?) before abandoning it.  Or hell, maybe Ginger does have an affair in season four and I just clear forgot about it; I guess we’ll have to proceed forward to find out.

That’s it for that storyline, but the one I like much better this week involves my beloved Richard and Laura.  We get quite a bit of Laura visiting Richard at his new sanitarium this week, and it’s good stuff.  I remind you that this looks like one of those fun, friendly sanitariums where you are free to pretty much just hang out and do whatever you want, so for most of their visits, Richard and Laura are walking around the grounds, which are vast and lovely.  Also, Laura meets a fellow sanitarium resident named Nicholas, and I note this only because I discovered some interesting facts about the actor who plays Nicholas.  His name is Barry Cutler and as soon as I saw him, I was like, “I recognize that guy.”  Well, he did appear in an episode of the landmark work of demented television genius, 7th Heaven, and while I have seen every episode of that show (not kidding), I don’t remember him from that.  I’ve also seen Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo several thousand times, mostly because it’s one of my dad’s favorite movies, but I don’t recall him in that, either.  What struck me when I looked at his IMDb was that he’s already been in two KL eps before this one, playing different characters.  It says he was in Chance of a Lifetime as “Counterperson” and The Loudest Word as “Hot Dog Vendor.”  I remember none of these, do you?  Where would there have even been a hot dog vendor in The Loudest Word?  You’ll all remember that was back in season two and was that bizarre one-off episode where Val got cancer that was never mentioned again ever, and didn’t most of that ep take place in a hospital?  Was there a hot dog stand in the hospital?  In any case, I remember neither of these other characters he portrayed, but by being in three eps as a different character in each, Barry Cutler is officially A Tangled Knot.

I liked this little character a lot, by the way, and I think he’s supposed to be a Nam vet, because when he comes up to say hi to Richard and Laura, he sorta drifts off into his own world and mentions opening the doors and finding the bodies of, I think, dead babies or something.  As soon as he mentioned that, I immediately thought of Nam, but if you disagree, please tell me.  Oh yeah, and he also mentions something about, “Their faces looking like china dolls,” again calling back to the title of this ep.

The bulk of the Laura/Richard storyline this week involves Laura wrestling with how involved she wants to be in Richard’s life and whether she should move out of the Kristin/Dallas apartment and move back in with Richard.  She talks to Richard’s doctor, who tells her if she’s gonna move back in with him, she’d better make it for good, that the very worst thing she could do is move back in, get his hopes up, and then leave again and crush his spirits.  See, Richard’s insurance is about to run out and so he’ll have to return home, and should that be alone or with Laura as his supporter?  Clearly Laura has a lot of thinking to do.

I really love all this stuff.  In fact, I’m tempted to say I love it even more than the Gary/Val/Abs stuff, but I dunno.  It might just be my love affair with Richard and Laura and their tumultuous relationship.  I could probably watch a show that was entirely about these two and had no other characters; there’s something about their complexities that is just endlessly watchable for me.  I also just admire how well written it is.  The writers are continuing to walk a difficult tightrope because it was only two eps ago that Richard went completely crazy and held Laura hostage with a gun.  In another show, it would feel bizarre or stupid to have Laura and him calmly interacting again just two weeks after that, but in KL it feels organic and realistic, and I think that’s a testament to the honest way that Constance and The Plesh portray their characters.

There’s also a fabulous little scene between Laura and Karen a little bit later.  This takes place in the Avery kitchen and involves Laura accidentally breaking a gift that Nicholas gave her and asked her to give to Richard.  After smashing this gift, Laura has a little freakout on Karen and says, “I should never have listened to you,” and starts to talk about how confused she is about Richard and so on.  Now, I was a bit confused at first because I briefly thought this meant that Laura would be moving back in with him; after all, she is standing in the kitchen, is she not?  But no, she is referring merely to going to visit Richard, which she would not have done without the bit of pressure Karen gave her.  What I like here is that she has a small little freakout, she calms down, and the scene goes on.  It doesn’t turn into some big dramatic fight between her and Karen, but rather just observes these characters and their behavior together. 

Overall, even with the Uncle Joe/Ginger storyline coming in easily at third place, I dug all the stories this week and thought there was a lot to love in China Dolls.  I forgot to mention a few small stylistic things that run through the ep, even, things that keep it feeling cinematic and not like TV.  One of them is a series of smooth transitions from scene to scene.  For instance, there’s a fabulous one where we cut from Richard and Laura to Gary and Abs.  In this case, Richard and Laura are walking the grounds of the sanitarium, being photographed in a long shot, and as the scene ends, the camera glides into a flowerbed and focuses in on a yellow flower, before dissolving to a different yellow flower, zooming out, and revealing that we are now in the adultery motel room and Abs is waiting to meet up with Gary.  See, that’s some good style, am I right?  Do you think the folks over on Dallas would ever bother with a stylish little cut like that?  Nah, I think they’d be more concerned with just getting from scene to scene.  Again, this is TV, and TV is filmed on a tighter schedule than a movie and stylistic sacrifices have to be made (I am referring to, say, pre-year-2000 television, by the way, before cable really took over and completely upped the game on how television is made and filmed and watched), so I appreciate when the creative team here at KL goes the extra step to keep their eps looking sleek and interesting rather than just quick cutting from one scene to another.

Also, there’s a weather theme running throughout this episode.  It’s pretty much raining all the way from start to finish this week, and there’s a real stormy weather/cloudy skies thing going on.  I think this works both literally and metaphorically, as in there is literally rain and drizzle falling from the sky, but also in the fact that stormy weather lies ahead for these characters, you know what I mean?

Overall, great ep.  So far, Night is still holding the top spot for quite possibly the best episode of the season (or entire series), but this last stretch of eps leading us into the finale has just been pretty much 100% great, and I’m so pleased to see the show really finding its footing after that last batch of clunky, all-over-the-place eps that included, say, Reunion, Cricket, and Silver Shadows.  This upswing reminds me of the climactic moments of season two, when we had to sit through Moments of Truth and Man of the Hour and were then rewarded with More Than Friends, Designs, and Squeezeplay.  The difference here, and the thing that gets me so excited, is I know we are not going to build up to a great finale, then have a great premiere for the new season, and then sorta fizzle and get weird and episodic again.  In this case, the stretch of great episodes will just take us right into a solid, full, great season and then another great season and then another great one and so on and so forth until the end of time.  In this way, I think I’m gonna say that the upswing in quality taking place here at the end of season three is even better and more impressive than the one from season two.

So in case you didn’t get it, I think China Dolls is great and I thoroughly enjoyed nearly everything about it.  I am very eager to get to our final episode of the season on Thursday, so stay tuned for me to come back and discuss Living Dangerously.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 051 of 344: ACTS OF LOVE

Episode Title: Acts of Love

Season 03, Episode 20

Episode 051 of 344

Written by Jeff Cohn

Directed by Harvey S. Laidman

Original Airdate: Thursday, April 22nd, 1982

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen and Laura visit Richard in the hospital where he is getting better. Val makes a romantic dinner for Gary, but he says he has a meeting with Abby and a client and he promised she'd baby-sit Olivia. Upset, Val takes Olivia and they drive into the mountains. They eat at a diner, but she forgot her wallet, so she waitresses to pay for the meal. A truck has overturned on the freeway, so they have to stay overnight. The diner owner kisses Val, but she says she can't sleep with him. Meanwhile, with Val away, Gary and Abby sleep together but he's consumed with guilt. Lilimae sees Gary's car at Abby's and waits up for him, but he doesn't come home. The next day, Val apologizes to Gary and says she'll be more lenient with his business. They hug, and Lilimae shoots Gary a look that could kill.

                After the absolutely incredible television masterpiece that was John Pleshette’s brilliant, brilliant Night, how does the follow up episode compare?  Well, actually Acts of Love does a surprisingly good job of keeping events flowing and stories percolating even if it’s not nearly the gut punch of intensity that Night was.  While it’s maybe not a show stopper of an episode, I think we’ll find that there’s plenty of good stuff to talk about here, so let’s explore.

                The Gary/Val/Abs love triangle was put briefly on hold last week, but now it’s back to the forefront, and after all this buildup that has lasted for nearly two full seasons, we are finally going to see it happen, or at least we think we are as the episode begins.  See, in the thirty second preview we get a quick flash of Gary and Abs making out on a beach, and I was thinking, “Oh shit, is this the one where they finally do it?”  I couldn’t remember, honestly, and while the thirty second preview got me all good and excited, let’s not forgot that we got a flash of them making out in the preview for Power Play a few eps back and that turned out to be a false alarm, just a quick make out before Gary called a halt to the proceedings.  Having some prior knowledge from my first time watching the series of how this season would conclude and knowing that we only have three episodes until that finale, I had a strong feeling that this would be the one where Abby's powers of seduction finally win over Gary.

                Acts of Love opens right away and just grabs you by the balls as soon as the opening credits are done.  We are pretty much thrown right into a fight between Gary and Val, maybe one of their angriest, snarkiest fights yet.  See, Gary is planning to run off to somewhere with Abs for yet another one of their business dinners, something that seems to be going on every day now.  In this case, they’re meeting some rich white guy to hopefully invest some money in their methanol idea, and it’s not just the fact that Gary’s running off on Val, continuing to break their prior deal from Exposé, but he’s also turning Val into a babysitter by shoving Olivia at her and being like, “Yeah, watch her.”  Make no mistake, Val loves Olivia and has a special bond with her because of all those baby-Lucy-being-stolen-from-her-weird-mommy-issues, but she is still rightfully annoyed to just be ordered to babysit Abby’s kid without any prior approval from herself. 

                In any case, we are expanding on that last shot of Exposé, that glorious little moment when Val realized that Gary was breaking their deal and her face got all cold and stoical and she delivered the letter to New York; you all remember that?  In this case, Gary’s thoughtlessness has pushed her over the edge and she grabs Olivia and decides to take her on a Thelma and Louise style road trip.  They hop in the car (and we get some hilariously bad rear screen projection that kept making me think of whenever Leslie Nielsen would drive his police cruiser on Police Squad!) and decide to go on a little trip.  Olivia doesn’t want to go to Disneyland, which Val offers (and which made me remember that, yeah, the characters live in California and can just head out for Disneyland if they feel like it), and instead wants to go to, um, someplace.  I’ve already forgotten what exactly it is Olivia requests to see, but in any case, it doesn’t matter, because she and Val get lost.  The next time we return to the car and the bad rear screen projection, it’s night time and Val declares, “We’re lost,” to which Olivia has the hilarious witticism, “But we’re making great time!”

                Anyway, Val and Olivia wind up in some diner run by this guy who keeps calling himself “The Kid.”  His actual character name is Willie McCoy and he is played by Sonny Shroyer.  I looked this guy up because he gets billed as a guest star in the episode's opening credits, so I figured he must be somebody.  Well, he was in Forrest Gump and once I knew that I was able to place him (he’s the college football coach who says, “He must be the stupidest son of a bitch alive, but he sure is fast”) but it looks like he played “Enos” for 98 episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard.  While I know this show is beloved by some people, I’ve never seen a single episode and don’t even really know what it’s about, so this doesn’t exactly help me go, “Oh yeah, it’s that guy.”  In any case, I’m gonna assume that’s probably the role he’s most famous for and is probably why his name gets to be in the credits at the head of this episode.

                I’m not sure I like this character.  There’s kinda an arc to him this week in which he and Val do not get along at first, but then they sorta bond and eventually become something like friends.  I’ll walk us through it, but suffice it to say that even by the end of this episode, I wasn’t sure I really liked or trusted this guy; there was just something about his folksy, down-home, country charm that I didn’t like and it rubbed me the wrong way.  In any case, Val and him are certainly at odds with each other right away.  Poor Val (POOR VAL!) is grumpy when she and Olivia arrive and all she wants is some food, but this guy’s doing the whole charming country guy thing and is like, “Hey, a country girl, we’ve got a lot in common!”  Val’s like, “What we have is common is that we are hungry and you serve food, and that is all.”

                After the meal, Val realizes that she made an uh-oh and forgot to bring her wallet with her when she left the house this morning.  She tries to get the Dukes of Hazzard guy to take a personal check, but he won’t do it, citing house rules.  Being a good honest girl, Val offers to wait tables for awhile, and he accepts.  I feel kinda sorry for Olivia, who has to just hang out in this noisy diner with a bunch of rednecks while Val waits tables, but it’s also kinda fun to see Val slip so comfortably into waitressing (and we haven’t seen her do this since way way back in our very first Brief Dallas Interlude, Reunion: Part One) and it also gave me a little KL boner because it made me think of a certain storyline we’re going to be seeing with Valene come season six.

                However, something else I noticed going on this week is a rather cinematic storytelling device used to demonstrate the two separate worlds that Gary and Val are occupying.  While Val is in the midst of being a waitress and dealing with all these loud customers and their demands (which, by the way, she actually does very well; much like riding a bike, it seems like waiting tables is something you never forget how to do once you’ve learned it), we then cut to Gary and Abs at some fancy bar in wherever it is they went off to.  There’s a real dichotomy at work here, you see, and it sorta runs throughout the episode, because we cut from the chaotic, noisy diner with Val to this nice, clean, reserved, richie-rich style bar where Gary and Abs are all dressed up in a nice suit and dress, waiting for the arrival of some big shot business guy.  Gary and Val are spiritually beginning to separate away from eachother, starting to occupy different worlds, and this is a physical way to show that, and I thought it worked rather well.

                Over here in the Gary and Abs storyline, they are awaiting the arrival of a Transmorpher business guy named Max Craig.  This character is played by James Karen, who is one of those character actors who is simply in everything ever made (I note that he appeared in an episode of the KL ripoff Melrose Place), and just to prove that My Beloved Grammy can often have a sharper eye than myself, as soon as he wandered onscreen, she goes, “Wasn’t he on Dallas?”  I shrugged and said, “Probably,” and when I did my research later, I discovered that yes, indeed he was on Dallas, and not too long after the airing of this episode, either.  Looks like he appears in three episodes spanning 1982 to 1983, playing Elton Lawrence, and those eps were Barbecue Three, Mama Dearest, and The Reckoning. 

                Anyway, once the Transmorpher arrives, Abs goes to work with her shrewd business dealings and subtle verbal manipulations.  She even pulls the Ewing Oil card, probably knowing that Dallas is currently the #1 show on television while poor KL is struggling at #43, by subtly implying that she and Gary are receiving financial backing from Ewing Oil and J.R. over in Texas.  When the Transmorpher says, “Are you saying that Ewing Oil….” Abs interrupts and is like, “Well, I’m not saying anything, but….”  This little trick works on the Transmorpher, who gets excited by the idea of big money and oil and what have you and decides he’d like to go into business with Abs and Gary (remember that if I gloss over the business related stories, it’s just because my poor little brain gets confused by these things and can’t follow them very well).

                Okay, so Abs and Gary are in a mood for celebrating and decide to go for a nice nighttime walk on the beach.  There is one quick scene that I actually didn’t care for, and I don’t know who to blame for it, but Gary and Abs start to sorta dance around and sing this stupid song that sounds very made up to me, something like, “I’m a mogul, you’re a mogul, he’s a mogul, wouldn’t you like to be a mogul, too?”  Seriously, is this a real song?  I did a little research to find out (and by “research,” I mean typing in these lyrics on Google before quickly giving up) and found nothing, so I can only assume that this stupid song is made up for the show, and rightfully so, because these lyrics suck (EDIT: HELPFUL COMMENTS LEFT ON MY BLOG TOLD ME THAT THIS IS FROM AN OLD DR. PEPPER ADVERTISEMENT).  Now, this scene lasts less than one minute, so it’s stupid for me to focus so much on it and criticize it, but it was just one aspect of this ep I didn’t care for, because the song was dumb.

                Like I said, we keep cross cutting from Gary and Abs back to Valene and Olivia.  When we return to them, the diner has emptied out and closed down and poor, tired Olivia is sleeping with her head on the counter of one of the booths.  Not exactly comfortable conditions for the poor girl (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the reason Val and Olivia are even still here is because of some traffic accident on the highway that’s going to prevent them from being able to get back home for the entire night).  Okay, so Val and Willie McCoy have a little fight here, a quick verbal exchange where he asks what’s been up her butt all night and why she came in so grouchy.  I really liked J.V.A’s acting here, by the way, and it reminded me that I don’t really mention her acting too much, except for sometimes when I’m kinda mean and make fun of her for hamming it up a bit (flashback to Will the Circle be Unbroken?).  I do this with both Gary and Val, by the way, where I just sorta assume that you readers know how much I love both of them and I sorta forget to make special mention of their acting and things they do which I appreciate.  In this case, I just thought it was nice to see Val get mad and yell a bit, and I thought J.V.A did a good job of demonstrating that, while she’s yelling at this Willie guy, she’s not really mad at him, but rather at Gary.  When Willie offers her a cozy room for the night, she says no and yells a bit about how she doesn’t like him or his stupid little diner and Bob Loblaw.

                Anyway, it doesn’t take too long for Val to cool down a bit and change her mind.  Sleeping with your head on a counter is lovely and all, but now Olivia is starting to sneeze every three seconds and Val is worried that she’ll come down with a cold and Abby will be mad.  So, she swallows her pride and knocks on the door leading to Willie’s little house and he lets them come in to sleep for the night.  Here the dichotomy continues to show its presence, by the way, because after Val and Willie visit in front of the fire for a few minutes and share stories, he tries to make a move on her and give her a kiss.  In case you’re thinking that this sounds a little rapey, it’s not, so don’t worry.  He leans in for that kiss, Val rather politely declines, and then he gives her some space.  The reason I mention this is because at pretty much the exact some moment, Abs and Gary are frolicking on the beach, rolling around in the sand and making out passionately while the waves crash behind them.  So while Gary is weakening and allowing Abby’s powers of seduction to work over him, Val still has faith in her marriage and her duties as a wife and declines Willie’s invitation to a roll in the hay.

                After Abs and Gary make out on the beach for awhile, we have something of a repeat of their exchange from back in Power Play where Gary tries to back off and be like, “No, we shouldn’t screw; we just got excited from the big business deal.”  Abs works him beautifully in this scene, being like, “I’m tired of being jerked around by you, Gary, I’m tired of going to the edge and then having you back off.”  Well, her little speech clearly works, because a few  minutes later they return to the cul-de-sac, enter her house, and play a message from Lilimae on her giant 1982 voicemail box (did they call it voicemail in 1982?).  Basically, the message informs them that Val and Olivia will be gone all night but will return in the morning, and that’s all they need to hear to decide to finally go up to the bedroom and shag.  Oh boy, what a moment, and I’m not just talking in terms of the storyline and all that buildup we’ve been experiencing, but also just in how it’s filmed.  This is a stylish little scene, so let’s give the director (Harvey S. Laidman this week) some props for infusing this with some cinematic flair.  Again, as with our prior episode, Night, by this point I was neglecting my notes and just sorta staring at the screen, but I definitely noted how he frames this shot with Abs in the foreground and Gary looming in the background, and then when they finally decide to start making their way to the bedroom, he sorta zooms into this creepy statue looking thing before doing a nice dissolve to a roaring fireplace over with Val and Willie. 

                Next time we see Gary and Abs, they are in her bed, which is a classic sex bed, by the way.  Seriously, I want to have an adulterous affair in this bed, because it looks perfect.  The sheets are definitely silk and they are this sorta hot pink color and you just know that rolling around naked in the sheets would feel absolutely divine.  Abs asks how Gary is feeling and he says guilty (we’ll talk more about his guilt or lack thereof next ep) and they have a little exchange about what this roll in the sack means for them and so on and so forth.

                I think we all knew this was gonna happen, but poor Lilimae is up late with insomnia, worrying about Val and wondering where Gary is.  She’s walking through the house with, I think, a glass of milk, when she takes a quick peek outside and sees Gary’s car parked across the street, over at Abby’s house.  Yup, that’s all she needs to see to know that something is up.  After all, it’s gotta be past midnight at this point and yet Gary seems to be staying the night over at Abby’s.  Lilimae ain’t no fool and she’s able to put two and two together.

                Okay, we cut to the next day, where Val and Olivia are taking off from Willie’s little diner.  I think this scene is supposed to be more moving than it actually is, mostly because I still didn’t like Willie at this point in the episode, but Val gives him a big hug before they take off and I think we’re supposed to infer that he gave her something of a self esteem boost or helped her to see that her problems with Gary can be worked out, something like that.  Perhaps this would have more weight for me if I knew that Willie would be back for more episodes, but he won’t be; this is his one and only appearance on KL, so even though the writing was solid, I felt his character was kinda just there to be a plot device for Val and her feelings.

                What a fabulous little ending scene we get this week, because when Val returns home she gives Gary a big hug and apologizes for the fight they had before, saying she’ll be more supportive and so on, and as they’re hugging, you can see that look of guilt just eating away on Gary’s face, and then we end on this great shot of Lilimae just glaring at him, staring him directly in the eyes as if to say she knows exactly what he was up to last night.  Oh my goodness, how juicy.

                While that’s the end of the episode proper and the end of the Gary/Val/Abs storyline for the week, I haven’t gotten around to a few other story beats in this ep, mostly involving Richard.  I’m pleased to say that he hasn’t been shuffled offscreen after the events of last ep.  He is put a bit on the back burner this week so we can focus on Gary and Val and Abs, but he’s still around and he still gets some good stuff.  See, he’s now got himself checked into a hospital for rehabilitation, and Karen is nice enough to come and visit him early in the episode.  This hospital looks rather cozy, by the way, and makes me want to have a little mental breakdown so I can stay at it.  It’s also not a straightjacket type of place, nor is it like that ridiculous cartoon hospital that J.R. got stuck in during seasons thirteen and fourteen of Dallas (was anyone even watching at that point?).  Instead, this looks like the kind of place that’s voluntary and that you can just sorta hang out in.

                Anyway, Karen comes to speak with him and finds him setting some stuff up in his room.  I noted with interest that Richard’s got a nice black and white photo of himself and Laura propped up on the mantle.  Again, we’ve got some subtlety here, folks, because the photo is just there, sorta hanging out in the background during the scene.  It never gets a big closeup or nothing, but the fact that Richard has hung it up shows where his priorities lie.  I think he’s definitely still in love with Laura and, despite what happened last week, he still has some sort of hope that she will come back to him and they can be a family again.  What Karen believes he really needs is a visit from Laura, if for no other reason than to lift his spirits.  Now, if I recall correctly, Laura won’t be visiting him until next week, so we’ll just have to be patient and see how that turns out.  In any case, I like how all this is unfolding, that after Richard’s mental breakdown we are not being treated to a bunch of over-the-top footage of him in some comic mental ward getting electroshock therapy or something like that.  Instead, this plays out in a very KL way, more down to earth and realistic, and again I stress how much I enjoy Karen and Richard’s friendship, the way she’ll come to show him support during his most trying times. 

                That’s about all I got for this week.  Yes, Kenny and Ginger are also in this episode and I think they might even have some dialogue, but who cares?  Let’s just skip them and gets things wrapped up for the week.  When I first sat down to write about Acts of Love, in my mind I was thinking of it as a step down from Night, but I don’t know if that’s entirely fair or accurate.  Night was one of the most intense, exciting, and provocative episodes of the entire series, so I feel kinda sorry for any episode that has to come directly after it.  But let’s remember that every episode simply cannot be that intense or else the audience would get an intensity overload and their heads would explode.  With that in mind, I found a lot to appreciate about Acts of Love.  It had cinematic flair that I appreciated, its storytelling structure did a good job of showing the emotional distance growing between Gary and Val, and it finally had Gary and Abs shag after nearly forty episodes of buildup, which was a very satisfying thing to see.  It also does a good job of keeping everything moving, of propelling us onward towards that season finale and keeping the audience hooked.  So while I think as we get further into the show and further away from this episode, I probably won’t think back and be like, “Omigod, Acts of Love, why that’s one of the greatest episodes ever!”, it was still really good and I found a lot to appreciate in it.

                We’ve got two episodes left until we conclude season three, so let’s move right along to our penultimate episode of the season, China Dolls.