Episode Title: Best Intentions
Season 03, Episode 15
Episode 046 of 344
Directed by Randa Haines
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 11th, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Val finishes a journal assignment about the Ewings for her class. Lilimae find and reads it, then gives it to Abby, who shows it to Joe. Joe thinks it's publishable and sends it to a publisher. When Val finds out, she is both furious and flattered. Gary thinks it is a scam and runs off to work on methanol with Abby. Laura tells Richard she is pregnant, but is going to get an abortion and leave him because she doesn't love him anymore. Richard convinces Laura to keep the baby and that he will change, and starts pampering her and being really nice, which only irritates her. Richard is very sincere about wanting to change, and tells Karen how excited he is about the baby. When he gets home, Laura has left him.
After a couple of blah episodes in a row (including one that I think I just downright disliked, Reunion), Best Intentions gets things nicely back on track. After so many one-episode shenanigans that come out of nowhere and are then forgotten, this ep really starts to show us how the show is going to change as soon as we enter the fourth season and just how damn good it’s all going to be. I’m eager to start exploring and examining this episode!
We open on Laura arriving at the real estate office and hurriedly going in to talk to Scooter. Oh, by the way, I didn’t think of it at the time My Beloved Grammy and I were watching it, but as I sat down to write about this ep, I did a quick glance at Allan Miller’s IMDb to see if this is his last episode on the show, and it is, so let’s all take a moment to say goodbye to him. It’s interesting to note that he only appeared in seven episodes altogether (eight if you count More Than Friends where he briefly transformed into The Second Scooter), since it really feels like he’s been in a ton of episodes and he’s really been around for a long time. Well, that’s sorta the result of the storytelling structure we’re still dealing with at this particular juncture in the series. Scooter made his first appearance four episodes into season two in Chance of a Lifetime, and now he’s making his final appearance here in the fifteenth episode of season three, and my brain is sorta tempted to assume he’s just been in a ton of episodes this whole time, but really he’s been in and out, popping up for certain eps where Laura is the heavy focus and then disappearing for many eps as well.
Laura tells Scooter that she’s pregnant and that she was planning to leave Richard, but now she’s not so sure. I’ll take a quick moment to say that I don’t recall this leading into any sort of “Who is the real father?” storyline, but I have to wonder why. We’ve already seen Laura and Scooter shagging once, in Reunion, so we know they have had sex at least once. Laura says in this one that she recently slept with Richard but, “It was a freak occurrence,” indicating that it’s not a regular thing in the Avery house these days. The fact that she never even pauses throughout this whole episode to consider who the real daddy is indicates for me that it’s a matter of timing, that maybe she just shagged Scooter for the first time but her baby is further along in her belly, so she simply knows Richard is the father.
I have another thing to address about Laura’s pregnancy, and it actually returns us to my theory that eps throughout this season were aired out of production order, a theory I still have no way to officially confirm. But let’s follow along here. In Reunion, when we weren’t being subjected to that dreadful fashion show and “Victoria Hill’s imagination,” we got the news from Laura’s Cujo doctor that she was pregnant. She seemed upset and flustered and I don’t think I mentioned this, but she took Karen aside at the fashion show and asked her to “Stencil me in for a good old fashioned girl talk tomorrow.”
Okay, but then our next episode was Cricket and Laura’s pregnancy was not mentioned once, not once. In fact, I don’t even remember Laura appearing in that episode (write me in if I’m wrong). So that episode was all about Cricket and Val and also the arrival of Uncle Joe, but no Laura and no pregnancy. However, as we jump into Best Intentions, we get started right away with the pregnancy and it feels like this episode really should have come directly after Reunion. We even see Karen and Laura have that “good old fashioned girl talk,” but if Laura was in such a hurry to get to that talk, why was it able to wait for an entire episode while Cricket ran around the neighborhood and caused trouble? Therefore, I’m maintaining my theory that somewhere along the way, certain eps this season were aired scattershot, out of the order they were made in, that since the writers are still doing the episodic thing with little doses of ongoing soap melodrama thrown in, someone must have been like, “Oh, that one with the little psycho girl who steals stuff? Eh, just throw it in somewhere near the middle of the season." With that said, I actually think that perhaps the correct order should have gone Possibilities, followed by Cricket, then Reunion after that, and finally Best Intentions. Again, it’s just a theory, but do you agree or disagree? Tell me why!
Scooter wants Laura to leave Richard, to take Jason and move in with him at his apartment, but Laura says no, that’s not the way she wants to start this new life. She hasn’t quite made up her mind on how to handle the situation yet, but that’s going to be the central thrust of the episode, but not the only thrust, of course. We also have some juicy storylines going on over at the Ewing house as Valene finally finishes up her book. You’ll remember I mentioned how we saw her typing away in Cricket, and now we find out what it is. “Well, I’m not really sure what it is,” she says, explaining that it started out as an assignment for her creative writing class but sorta took on a life of its own and is now a full-fledged novel called A Family in Texas. Basically Val has taken all her knowledge of the events and shenanigans of the Ewing family in Texas and transcribed it out into a novel, only changing the names and adding little details she made up in order to keep it as fiction. She puts it in a cupboard and orders Lilimae to not peek at it, which of course she does anyway.
Now, I’m a Lilimae fan if I haven’t made that clear yet. I think I might be a fan cuz I like Julie Harris and I know that some spectacular acting lies in the future for her (probably reaching its peak with season seven and her storyline with Alec Baldwin), but at this point, Lilimae is more of a comedic character and I feel the writers are not letting Julie Harris stretch her acting muscles quite as much as they will in a season or two. But I’m definitely a fan and I love the character, but I can tell you My Beloved Grammy does not. See, right after Val runs off, Lilimae immediately grabs the book and starts reading, and the next time we cut to her, she’s lying on the couch with the book spread out in front of her and a bag of potato chips by her side, an image I found endlessly comical. Okay, so Lilimae disobeyed Val’s orders and violated her privacy by looking at the book, but I just think curiosity got the best of her; she doesn’t deserve to be hanged. My Beloved Grammy, however, thought this was one of the most reprehensible things we’ve witnessed on the show thus far, and I finally just asked her, “Are you not a Lilimae fan?” and she said, “Nope, definitely not, she’s just a nosy old woman.” I still predict that Lilimae will end up charming her around season five or so, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. For now, however, My Beloved Grammy is not a supporter of Lilimae.
Abby comes wandering over to the house and finds Lilimae with the book and the potato chips. Now things do get a bit more conspiratorial, of course, because when Abs finds out what the book is about and Lilimae is all like, “Oooooooooh, I wasn’t supposed to read this,” Abs is like, “Golly, I could just go make a copy and then Val would never know I’m reading her book!” Surprisingly, Lilimae agrees to this, prompting me to take a moment to wonder just how much Lilimae knows about Abs and her ways.
Lilimae’s first appearance was in season one with Will the Circle be Unbroken? It was a one episode appearance where she came to town, had conflict with Val, resolved the conflict, and then left, and of course this all occurred before Abs had even moved into the neighborhood. We didn’t see her again for the rest of season one or the entirety of season two, when Abs was introduced and started spreading her legs and causing trouble. Now here we are in season three and Lilimae is a main character now (she’s still being billed as a “Special Guest Star” but she’ll be promoted into the scrolling credits next season), but my point is that she missed out on the season of Abs spending so much time in the hot tub with Richard. But, does she know this occurred? Has Val filled her in on that saga? We did see Lilimae make a comment about Abs towards Val in The Rose and the Briar when she said, “You’d best watch out for your man.” Basically, my question is: Is it realistic for Lilimae to sorta conspire with Abs during this episode? I’m gonna say yes, but only because Abs hasn’t officially stolen Gary away from Val (not yet….) and hasn’t really completely shown her true colors just yet. We’re still early on, and I also think Abs has that ability to charm people and make them do whatever, and she’s just exercising that with Lilimae here.
I think I’ll finish talking about this storyline before I return to my beloved Richard and Laura. Okay, in any case, Abs runs off and gets copies made, then she sits down to read the book in the comfort of her own home (nice bit of acting by Donna when she reads the title of the book and then goes “Yee haw!” and flings a page behind her). Next time we see her, she’s arguing with Lilimae that this book is good, really good, publishable good. She goes on about how she has a friend in the publishing world and she’s going to show it to him.
Before I get much further, I wanna confirm that this is indeed a pretty colossal invasion of privacy. As a writer myself, I know that the act of writing is pretty personal and it’s not exactly ethical to read what someone has written without their permission. I’m different from Val, however, in that I’m pretty much happy to show my writing to anyone who is willing to tolerate reading it, but I still wouldn’t be pleased if someone took a manuscript I wrote out of my secret hiding place and immediately started peddling it to publishers behind my back. Also, I think Abs fibs here and doesn’t actually know a publisher, because we just cut to her talking to Uncle Joe about it and he says how he knows some people in publishing. Confusing.
Well, it doesn’t take long for the ladies to reveal to Val what they have done, and at first she is mad, but not as mad as she probably has the right to be. When she hears from Abs that it’s “a readable, publishable book, might even be a bestseller,” she starts to get a little excited and the next step is to tell Gary about it. This creates, in my opinion, some legitimate suspense, because I think we all know how Gary will react when he finds out about the book’s contents. Maybe he doesn’t exactly like J.R. and maybe Gary's not the most welcome presence over at Southfork, but he still loves his mama and his daddy (super quick little note: Has anyone noticed that Jock Ewing has died over on Dallas this season but it hasn’t yet been mentioned or brought up over here on KL?) and wouldn’t want to see the family name tarnished in some bestselling exposé.
Okay, so we know Gary will get mad when he hears about this, but the writers keep dangling it in front of us and then not quite delivering, which I enjoyed. Every time Val tries to get Gary’s attention and talk to him about her writing, he’s too busy thinking about methanol or Abby’s vagina or whatever. When he finally gives her his attention, she starts to talk for about seven seconds and then Gary falls asleep. Throughout the course of the show, no matter how much she tries, Val just can’t quite get Gary to listen to her, so we’re going to have to wait to see how he reacts to what she’s written.
Not only that, but this theme of a couple not being able to communicate is sorta the central premise for this week’s show, because over at the Avery house, we see the exact same thing going on between Richard and Laura. Laura arrives home ready to tell Richard what’s up (after a very good scene that I’m probably doing a disservice by glossing over, but basically a scene where she and Karen talk and Karen tells her that she has to tell Richard about her pregnancy and can’t just run off and get an abortion without first talking to him). She finds Richard struggling with some strange dog that Jason found on his way home from school and decided to adopt. The dog has trashed the house and chewed up a bunch of stuff and Richard is fighting to get it out of the house, which he finally manages to do. This is a good little scene because The Plesh is so funny as he battles the dog and it even makes Laura laugh a little. This is an example of KL at its best and most complex, really, because Laura is marching in ready to tell Richard that it’s over, that she’s leaving him, but she still giggles when she sees how silly he looks battling the dog. In real life, our feelings about people are not always one way or the other, and she has been married to Richard for a lot of years and those feelings don’t just change from love to hate overnight. In another show, Laura wouldn’t smile or laugh at Richard and the dog; she would just be very serious, but here on KL, we get a little moment of her giggling.
However, just like Gary and Val up the street, Laura just can’t get Richard to listen. She keeps telling him she has news for him, but he snaps at her and ignores her and cuts her short, even delivering an acid line about, “If you were home like a mother should be when Jason got back, this wouldn’t be happening.” Then he stomps off and leaves Laura alone, but the next time we see them, it’s the same story. This time Richard is lying on the couch and fiddling with, um, something. Okay, viewers at home, what is this thing Richard is playing with? It’s like a little electronic gizmo that beeps and boops and makes noises while he pushes buttons and it almost looks like some harbinger for the iPad that nobody can live without nowadays (it’s really important that we all have iPads so that we can make sure to rush to FaceBook and let everyone know that we “LIKE” Starbucks or share pictures of our damn lunch with everyone). I scrolled in my notes, “Is it some sort of 1982 GameBoy?” If anyone knows what the hell this gizmo is, please write in or leave me a comment so I know, cuz my focus was diverted to it for the majority of the scene.
And it’s a good scene, but a bit of a strange one. See, it takes forever for Laura to get Richard’s attention, and she says how all day she’s been trying to tell him something and he just won’t listen. Finally she just blurts out, “I’m pregnant,” and at first Richard doesn’t even react, obviously because he’s not paying any attention. But then we get a closeup of his face and he looks up and says, “Pregnant?” Then we dissolve to a new scene, which is the strange part. The dissolve seems very abrupt and it comes immediately after that one line, and I actually yelled, “What happens?!” My Beloved Grammy was with me on this one; we wanted to see Richard’s reaction, not just a delivery of one word and then a quick dissolve. However, I’m not criticizing, because the episode is building suspense and anticipation and it’s doing it perfectly. I’m glued to my seat right now, eager to see how all of this is going to play out.
Next time we see the couple, Richard is making an effort to be nicer. He brings Laura breakfast in bed and says how he’s going to change, going to stop being so nasty with her, going to be a better husband. He presents the argument that this new baby is going to be the solution to their problems, that they’ll have a reason to be together and a common goal. From here, Richard and Laura stay home all day and have a lovely day together, but we viewers have that sinking feeling in our gut that this is all a mirage, a very temporary fix that is not going to last long, and the proof comes in a scene where the couple sits in front of the fireplace and Richard immediately starts making plans for a vacation they’re going to take together.
Let’s explore this in some detail, shall we? He’s like, “I really think we oughta go on a second honeymoon, go to France and see some vineyards,” and then he immediately whips out some giant pamphlet and he’s like, “I went to the travel agent and booked some reservations and Bob Loblaw.” Okay, so Richard wants to be nicer to Laura, closer to her, a better husband, and so on. However, what he’s doing right now at this exact moment is the problem. He made these reservations and bought these tickets and made all these big plans without even talking to her about them; instead he pulled out the pamphlets and said, “This is what we’re going to do.” This has been part of the problem since day one. Let’s flash back to one of my favorite season one episodes, The Lie, where Richard was such a control freak that he couldn’t even allow Laura to order a simple dinner for herself. Well, here we are two years later and obviously Richard hasn’t changed too much, but Laura has. The Laura back in The Lie just sorta excused herself from the table and found a strange man to light her cigarette and that was that. Now, Laura has grown up a bit, gotten a job of her own, is managing her own career, and she stands up for herself. She’s a lot tougher, and as the camera circles around her and zooms in on her face while Richard prattles on about France and great wines, we know what’s going to happen.
We have a quick little scene between Richard and Kenny near the end of the episode, reminding us that Kenny and Ginger are still characters on the show (remember Possibilities a few weeks back and how it made it look like the toxic bores might actually get some storylines? Guess it’s not gonna work out that way). Anyway, Richard is like, “Laura is pregnant and it’s gonna be okay between us,” and since Kenny is dumb he’s like, “Yeah, man, babies fix everything!” Obviously this is a very “heterosexual man” thing to think, that someone bringing a new life into an unhappy marriage will create a happy marriage when really all it creates is an unhappy kid. However, I do appreciate this scene for maintaining a continuity because Kenny says how Erin Molly (that little bundle of joy) kept him and Ginger from splitting up after he cheated on her with Sylvie (remember her?) and so it all worked out for them. Even if Kenny and Ginger put me to sleep, I like these callbacks and references to seasons past because it reminds us that we are existing in a world where things happen and maybe they’re resolved, but they’re not forgotten.
Okay, best scene of the episode is coming right up, and it’s an amazing confrontation between Richard and Laura. You can tell how gripped I am by a KL episode by how much my notes peter off after a few minutes, and in this case, my notes pretty much stopped after the “We’ll go to a bunch of vineyards,” scene. Instead, I just stare unblinkingly at the television screen, a look of sheer rapture on my face, my hands kinda squeezed together as I watch the proceedings, so invested in the magic and the wonder that is KL. This scene was such a doozy, omigod, it’s one of my favorite scenes that we’ve seen yet in the series.
See, as Richard tries to go on about how everything’s gonna work out, Laura finally bursts his bubble and says that one nice day together does not fix all the problems in their marriage. She says how the baby will come and Richard will go back to acting like a jerk, just like always, that he won’t really change, and the two will remain unhappy. “Things change,” she says, and when Richard asks her what she means, she finally says, “I just don’t love you anymore,” and this is crushing. The camera focuses in on Richard’s face when she says this and we see the pain in his eyes. Again, I love this, because as the couple fights, neither one of them is right or wrong. We’ve seen Richard be a jerk time and time again, but we’ve also seen his moments of kindness and love. He is not just a jerk, and on the other ‘80s nighttime soaps, I think he would be. Similarly, Laura is not some bitch for wanting to leave Richard. We have seen her be treated badly by him, we understand how she feels, and we want to see her stand up for herself because we remember that cowering, whimpering, crying woman from back in season one. But both of the characters are rich and full of dimension, and when she tells Richard she doesn’t love him, it really and truly hurts him deep down inside, and the look on The Plesh’s face is just heartbreaking.
Oh, but my God, it just gets so much better. The fight starts to escalate and Laura says how she’s going to leave him, that’s final. Richard asks, “What about the baby?” and Laura tells him she’s going to have an abortion. There’s this moment of silence, Richard says, “What?” Laura repeats, “An abortion,” and he slaps her. I kid you not, when this happened I actually gasped aloud and covered my mouth with my hands. In an act of sheer genius, the show goes to a commercial here, and I have to imagine being a viewer in 1982, I would just be aghast, biting my nails until we returned from our 1982 commercials and got back to proceedings. This is how you keep the viewers tuning in, ladies and gentlemen.
When we come back, Richard is very apologetic about slapping Laura, and I believe him. Maybe this doesn’t translate on paper, and I know there are those people out there who think one little slap is reason enough to completely end a marriage, but let me remind you that Laura slapped Richard a few episodes back (and I’m sorry I’m doing a really bad job with this, because I can’t for the life of me remember what exact episode that was), so we can just consider them even. Also, this isn’t really a “domestic violence” situation. Richard explains how as soon as he heard the word “abortion” he just imagined Jason and he wasn’t thinking logically and he slapped her, but he also says how he’s never done anything like that before in their entire marriage and I do believe him. If you guys think I’m pulling a Sean-Connery-excuse for why domestic violence is okay, please go ahead and write in to me and yell at me, but I do believe Richard and I don’t think that slap makes him into a bad person.
This scene demonstrates a misunderstanding that I think is crucial to this episode’s really sad ending. Laura is sorta sulking and looking off into the distance, and she says that she forgives Richard for that slap and that she won’t have an abortion. That’s all she says, however, and as we’ll see throughout the last few minutes of the episode, Richard seems to translate that to mean that they are going to stay together, work on their marriage, fix things, but he’s making a leap there. Laura said nothing about staying with him; she just said she wouldn’t have the abortion. Then she asks him to leave her alone for awhile so he quietly walks off.
We’re almost to the end of the episode. I note again that if this were a modern day network TV show, the ep would be over at this point because we would have crossed 42 minutes. Weren’t things so much better when we had more time to let the story unfold? If this ep had to wrap up in 42 minutes, just imagine what amazingness would have been sacrificed. Anyway, our next scene is a little dinner between Karen and Richard. I wrote this in my notes just because I wanted to again reiterate how much I enjoy the Karen/Richard friendship. For all his flaws, Karen does love Richard and they are good friends to each other. This scene also asks a lot of questions about the nature of what makes a person good or bad and whether or not a person can truly change. I almost wish I had just transcribed all the dialogue down for this essay, but I remind you that I was too caught up in the magic and was no longer taking notes at this point, just staring at the screen and drooling and feeling my KL love coursing through my veins.
See, Richard asks Karen if she’s ever heard her voice on a tape recorder and thought, “That’s not my voice,” but then realized that’s the way everyone else hears her voice. He says how that’s the way he feels now, that he’s been treating Laura terribly but only just recently has he “played the tape” and realized what he’s been doing. He vows to change, but when Karen gently asks him what he’ll do if he makes all those changes and Laura still leaves him, he gets mad. Again, great writing here, because both of these characters are so complex and neither is right or wrong. Karen is not trying to shit on Richard’s vow to change his behavior; she wants him to change and supports it, but she’s just trying to remind him that it may not fix his marriage. When Richard hears this, though, he is like, “Thanks a lot for your support” and starts yelling, “Check, please!” We see that jerk side of Richard coming out, but then Richard sees it, too. A second goes by and then he says, “I just played the tape.” He got mad, yelled a bit, acted like a jerk, but after a moment of introspection, he was able to see how he was behaving, he was able to step back a bit and play the tape.
Time for our final scene, and it’s a heartbreaker. Richard returns home to find the house completely dark and empty. I don’t think we the viewers are surprised by this and I don’t think we’re supposed to be; we all saw where this was going and it was just a matter of waiting (I mean this as a compliment, by the way). But Richard runs through the house and looks through every room and realizes that Laura has left him. The music swells, but not too much (this is another example of where another soap would probably get REALLY LOUD AND DRAMATIC but KL plays it more mellow and low key). The final shot of the episode ranks up there with that final shot of Secrets that I loved so much. Richard comes into the kitchen, finds a note from Laura on top of the telephone, he sits down to read it, and then the camera just zooms out from him as he sits alone in this kitchen underneath a swinging light, a really haunting and lonely image and a very melancholy way to end this week’s episode.
My only word is wow. This episode was so good that it left me panting as if I’d just gotten fucked really really hard and was just lying in bed and trying to decompress after it. I even turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “I feel like I need a cigarette after that.” The most exciting part was that I didn’t remember this episode. A lot of these early season KL classics have really stuck in my brain, so when I returned to them, I’d be like, “Oh, this is Let Me Count the Ways or Chance of a Lifetime or Critical Condition” or whatever, but with this one, we had just endured Reunion and Cricket and I pushed the play button for Best Intentions not really remembering what was in store for this one, and it delivered in spades.
Okay, and for all the insulting I do towards Kenny and Ginger, I have to note one thing that is very significant, and that’s the fact that this episode was penned by the brother/sister writing team of James Houghton and Mona Houghton. Now, I don’t know who is responsible for this one being so good; it could be just one of them or it could be both, but Mr. Houghton, let me just say that I may not love the character you play on the show and you might not be the greatest actor, but if you can write an episode of television this great, you have my eternal respect. I thought this script was brilliant, start to finish, in all regards and with all the stories, but most especially with the Richard and Laura saga. I remember I kinda complimented Houghton on the writing for Possibilities but this episode is such a step up from that one, it’s absolutely unbelievable. When I started watching this one, I didn’t expect it to rank so high, but I just enjoyed the shit out of it and it definitely makes the top ten for the eps we’ve watched up to this point, maybe even the top five. Also, My Beloved Grammy totally agreed with me and said this was the best episode we’ve watched yet. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I think her compliment shows just how great this 48 minutes of television was. Watching it reminded me of why I’m a KL fan, of how great the experience of watching KL can be when it’s really firing on all cylinders, of how tragic it truly is that as of this writing, KL is still not available on DVD/BluRay/streaming for all the world to have the opportunity to enjoy it.
After an episode that great, what could lie in store for us next? Well, I won’t give away my opinions on our next ep quite yet, except to say that I doubt it can hit the highs of Best Intentions. On Thursday, we will be exploring season three, episode sixteen, the episode entitled Silver Shadows.