Episode Title: Letting Go
Season 03, Episode 17
Episode 048 of 344
Written by Sara Ann Friedman
Directed by Alexander Singer
Original Airdate: Thursday, April 1st, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Joe's girlfriend Lorraine comes to town, but they determine they want different things and it won't work. Abby, Gary and Val go to Sacramento to see Senator Riker, because if a bill doesn't pass to make Methanol legal, they will lose their business. He says there's nothing he can do. Abby sleeps with him, and then he decides to push the bill through. Val is mad at Abby and how she uses sex to get what she wants. Abby tells Val she could learn from her. Larry asks Karen away for the weekend, but she's not ready. Joe tells Karen she needs to stop living in the past and should take off her wedding ring. He shows home movies of the Fairgates, and everyone laughs and cries. Karen goes to the cemetery and talks to Sid. She says she will love him forever, but will now wear her ring on a chain to symbolize letting go of her fantasy that he's not really gone.
Okay, so we’ve been sorta all over the map the last few weeks when it comes to the quality of our KL episodes, haven’t we? We had Reunion, which I really didn’t like and, in my writeup, I believe I declared the worst episode of the series, followed then by Cricket, which was, you know, okay, nothing too great and nothing too terrible. After that, like a rush of pure adrenaline, was Best Intentions, an episode My Beloved Grammy and I both loved and thought was one of the best of the series, but then we plummeted to a new low with what is now officially the worst episode of the entire series, Silver Shadows. Following on the heels of that drip of an episode, how will Letting Go stand up? Read on.
I remembered Letting Go being an all time KL classic and one of the eps that most profoundly moved me upon first viewing. As we start, however, I had to kinda groan to myself, because already there were some aspects I had totally forgotten, and the first of those was the return of Joshua Bryant as Larry Wilson. You’ll remember this is the supposed “catch” that Abby and Karen were fighting over in Silver Shadows. Well, he’s back this ep, and it looks like now he’s officially Karen’s boyfriend, because I don’t think he and Abs have any sort of interaction this ep at all (we’ll discuss why Abs is too busy to make time for Larry and his sweaters that he keeps wrapped around his neck). We open up in the Fairgate living room with Larry and Karen sitting down together and him telling an unfunny story while Karen busts a gut. Seriously, what’s going on here? I couldn’t really understand what the story was he was telling, but I can assure you it’s not worth Karen’s manic reaction and uproarious laughter; she looks like she’s sitting through an opening night screening of Airplane!
However, all my distaste for ugly Larry (pictured below) aside, this scene does set a basis for the theme of the episode, because we get a little moment where Karen seems to catch herself laughing really hard and is sorta taken aback. Of course this shows that she’s having a really good time with this man and now her brain is saying, “But wait a minute, you’re supposed to be really sad cuz Sid died.” I think we’ve all had that moment when dealing with losing a loved one in which we, for the first time, are able to laugh and are not thinking about that loved one, at least for a couple of minutes. So based on this little scene and the thirty second preview before the opening credits, we can tell that the theme of this episode will be Karen moving on; you might even say…..letting go.
I’ve been pretty critical of certain aspects of this third season, mostly how the show feels like it’s taking forever to decide whether it’s an episodic series where this week the girl’s explore a haunted house together and this week Karen’s old fashion designer friend from New York shows up and this week Abby gets involved with a rich silent film director or whether it’s a full-on serialized drama. However, one aspect of this season I have been admiring start to finish has been the death of Sid Fairgate. We opened the season with the double whammy of The Vigil and Critical Condition and those were some amazing eps, but watching Karen go through all the processes of grief throughout the rest of the season has also felt very realistic and very true and Michele Lee has shown her ability to handle a really complex range of emotions splendidly and, not to sound like a broken record, but she totally deserved her Emmy nomination this year and really deserved to win.
Going into Letting Go, my memories played tricks on me. For one thing, I thought this was a complete Karen episode, that she was the focus start to finish as she finally came to terms with Sid’s death. In addition to forgetting about her boyfriend this week (in fact, I had kinda totally forgotten about this brief little window in the KL world where Sid has died and Mack hasn’t been introduced yet and Karen dates a few different, not very memorable men), I had also forgotten about the two other side storylines going on at the same time, one I like very much and one I could do without. Which one should we start with? Hmmm, let's disuss the one I like.
Gary and Abs are still trying to get this methanol thing off the ground (and for the life of me, I can’t remember if they ever get anything going with this or not; I know that Gary becomes very rich next season, but I think that’s because of his daddy’s death and has nothing to do with methanol, but we shall see), but now they’ve encountered another roadblock. In this case, due to some sort of law, they are not able to transport the methanol from Mexico, where it is being created, to California, where they want to use it and sell it. If they are not able to get the law rescinded or whatever, they will pretty much be out of business, so they run off to Sacramento to talk to this senator who has the power to pass a bill making the methanol legal or whatever.
I liked this storyline, though obviously not as much as the one focusing on Karen this week. But I am enjoying the slow buildup with this methanol in addition to the very slow buildup of Abs and Gary’s affair. Abs has been on the show for nearly two years now, but she still hasn’t gotten more out of Gary than a passionate make out back in Power Play. However, as she comes to the Ewing house to take Gary off to the airport, we get a sorta ominous shot of Val looking down at them from the stairs, shot from below, mixed in with the shot of Abby and Gary leaving, which is shot from above. Val’s face is not the face of a woman confident in her marriage; I think she knows that the season finale is approaching and that, any second, Gary is finally gonna slip up and fall directly into Abby’s vagina.
However, this week it’s going to be someone else falling into Abby’s vagina, in this case Senator Riker, played by Bruce Gray (pictured below). Okay, this guy has been in everything but only after looking at his IMDb did I realize what I knew him most from, and that’s a little stint he had on Queer as Folk as a much older lover for Emmett. I really liked that show (and it was created by two dudes who actually write a KL episode or two a little bit down the line!) and I really liked that storyline. Of course that’s from around 2002 so the guy would look twenty years older than he does here, and I honestly didn’t recognize him when watching this; I just thought it was some generic ‘80s white guy. Oh my, and one last thing that has to be noted, and that’s the fact that he’s not just a Transmorpher but a Super Transmorpher. He appeared in six episodes of Dallas spanning 1981 to 1991 and he played three different characters within those six episodes! Talk about a chameleon! Oh my God, but it gets even better, because as I continue to look at his IMDb, I also realize he is a Tangled Knot! He is gonna be in two more KL eps, both from 1984, Truth and Consequences as “Lawyer” and Love to Take You Home as T.J. Escott (who, based on the airdates, I’m gonna just assume is the same character). Bruce Gray, ladies and gentlemen.
Gary and Abs find this Super Transmorpher/Tangled Knot doing what all rich political white guys did in the ‘80s: playing golf. He’s like, “I’m really awful busy playing golf right now; you should come bother me later,” but Abs uses her powers to get him to listen to their story while he golfs. However, he’s not immediately won over and there is no promise that he’s gonna get this bill to pass or whatever, so Abs pays him a visit in his office late at night. We all know where this is going, right? She uses her powers of seduction on this guy and invites him out to dinner, but we all know she’s already booked a reservation at a hot tub somewhere and that this man will be pouring champagne all over her body within the hour.
A surprising highlight scene of this ep that I had completely forgotten about occurs near the end, when Val marches over to Abby’s house to confront her. Based on some time calculations she’s done, she realizes that Abs must have slept with this senator guy, and she goes to get the story from her. What a wonderful scene to demonstrate the tremendous differences between these two women who are both fighting for Gary’s affections. Val pretty much asks her straight up if she slept with the Super Transmorpher/Tangled Knot and Abs says she did, explaining to Val how you have to be ruthless, you have to do whatever it takes to get what you want. Probably my favorite little moment in this scene occurs when Val points out that Abs will never tell Gary what she did with the senator, which is obviously true. Abs will present the sudden passing of this new legal bill as a triumphant victory for her and Gary, but she’ll never tell Gary that she had to go to bed (or hot tub, if you prefer) with this man in order to get what she wanted. Why, if she told him that, perhaps Gary might view her as, you know, a prostitute, and not be as attracted to her, don’t you think? Abby thinks so, too!
Anyway, I liked this storyline because it continues to build onsomething we’ve been watching all season and because it’s going to lead us somewhere by the end of the season, but you know a storyline that does neither of those things? The story of Uncle Joe and Lorraine. Yup, that’s right, because we haven’t had enough of this plot device throughout the third season, we just have to have yet another random one-episode character come from New York (and it’s always New York!) to be a plot function throughout the course of the 48 minutes. In this case, the character is Lorraine and she is played by Julie Cobb (and I saw her and was like, “I know that actress,” and it turns out that, much like Joshua Bryant, she was also in the 1979 miniseries ‘Salem’s Lot, so it’s a reunion this week!). Okay, she comes rolling up to Seaview Circle in a cab and then Uncle Joe gets all excited and is like, “Why, it’s Lorraine, my sorta ex-girlfriend from New York that I’m having some sort of contentious relationship with! Let’s go inside and have sex and then spout all sorts of expository dialogue to each other!” That’s just what they do, and we have to watch it.
This relationship is a bore, and I was very disenchanted when I realized that an episode I had really hyped up in my mind was going to spend so much time with these two incredibly dull characters. I’ll cut Uncle Joe a break even though I still don’t like him much (and even though he is actually shown smoking a pipe in this episode). At least he’s in thirteen eps of KL, and he sorta hangs around for awhile during the end of season three and the start of season four, but Lorraine? Nope, this is all we’re gonna see of her. She is a damn plot function, only here to arrive, talk about their relationship, create some (very minor) drama, and then leave, like we’ve seen so many other characters do throughout this season. But who could possibly care about this relationship? Why should we? I wanna focus strictly on Karen getting over her grief, not waste time with Uncle Joe and his boring girlfriend!
I understand why Lorraine is here as a plot function, however. All the bad expository dialogue shared between her and Joe basically boils down to them wanting to have the kind of relationship that Karen and Sid shared throughout their marriage. However, they’re dull so I’m just gonna sorta zoom through their storyline so I can get on to the good stuff with Karen. Basically their conflict is that Joe wants kids and Lorraine doesn’t, and then they have this big talk where she says how she’s willing to have kids for Joe. Joe is like, “It shouldn’t be something you’re willing to do for someone; it should be something you want to do.” Because of this, they call their relationship quits and nobody cares, so let’s move on.
I am not shitting on this episode, just so you know. I enjoyed the Gary/Abs/Senator storyline and now I’m ready to move on to the part of this ep that I love, and that’s anytime that Karen is onscreen processing her feelings about the loss of Sid. I kinda wish this didn’t have to be instigated by Larry Wilson wanting to have sex with Karen (you don’t deserve her, Larry), but whatever, the guy’s not in anymore eps after this and the glorious Kevin Dobson is just around the corner, so I’ll forgive it. But see, when Larry invites Karen to go up to the country with him or whatever, it sets off some big feelings in Karen, like the fact that she still considers herself to be a married woman, married to Sid Fairgate. Even though she knows logically that Sid is dead and not coming back (he’s not Bobby Ewing, after all), she continues to wear her wedding ring and she hasn’t been up to the cemetery to visit his grave since his death. Her and Uncle Joe have a little talk and he says, “You are not married to Sid Fairgate anymore and it’s time to let go.”
A standout scene from this ep comes near the middle, a scene I’ve never forgotten and never will forget. See, Uncle Joe suggests they bust out some old home movies and the whole family can watch them in the living room. In a way, I guess this counts as Don Murray’s final appearance on the series, because Sid is in all of these home movies and it’s new footage, not recycling of older eps and attempting to make it look like a home movie, you understand. There’s a lot of the family at the beach, there’s some Christmas stuff, and so on and so forth. Now, this scene is long, and I say that with love. I adore how much time is spent here, because it’s a heavy thing and this is a pivotal episode.
At first we start off with no music, just the movies playing and the family sitting around and enjoying them. Present are Karen, Michael, Eric, Diana, Uncle Joe, and of course my favorite character, Lorraine. They talk and laugh over the footage they’re watching, but at a certain point the dialogue stops and the music kicks in as we mostly focus on Karen’s face while she starts to cry. This music is great, by the way, and I don’t know who to credit for it because, when I look on the IMDb page for this ep, nobody gets a credit for being the composer, which is a bit strange.
This is also a stylish scene, going back to what I wrote way back in Pilot about KL being a more visually interesting show than Dallas. In this case, we have lots of dissolves and especially half dissolves where we are seeing the footage of Sid playing out on the screen, then we’ll half dissolve to someone’s face reacting. In all honesty, it’s done maybe a bit too much in this scene, but I still like it. This is some great work from Michele, of course, as she starts to cry and laugh all at the same time she’s watching this. Really, it’s an almost perfect scene and I only wish we didn’t immediately cut from it to Uncle Joe and Lorraine talking about their relationship, but whatever.
Karen has a little scene with Larry Wilson where she explains how she liked it when he kissed her (which is just unfathomable), but she still has something to deal with and she’s not ready for a real relationship until someone interesting and dynamic and hilarious and charismatic comes along, maybe someone like Kevin Dobson! So Larry leaves the series after two eps as inauspiciously as he arrived, and I don’t care a bit, but I do care about the final scene of this ep, which is pivotal and cathartic and represents the end of a certain stage in Karen’s character.
Karen finally works up the courage to go and visit Sid’s grave, and she gets a lovely monologue where she talks to him for awhile and explains how she’s feeling and how she needs to move on. There’s so much to love in this scene, starting right off with her saying how she has a hard time talking to a grave because, for her, the grave is just a grave, a piece of stone placed in a cemetery. She points at her chest and says, “You are really in here,” and that line actually made me start to well up a little. The big moment comes when she tells Sid that she’s finally going to take off her wedding ring and she plans to wear it around her neck along with a necklace he got her for Christmas. Then she tells him how she’ll always love him but she’s got to move on with her life and she actually concludes the scene by saying, “See ya,” which I found refreshing.
I think all KL fans know the trivia that Michele is actually taking off her real life wedding ring during this scene. I won’t dwell on it, but in case you didn’t know, Michele was married to the actor James Farantino (who was in a lot of stuff, and even played George Clooney’s dad on ER; I've put a picture of him down below) and they were getting ready to divorce at this point (according to my research, the divorce is official and final by June of 1983), so she's doing the Method actress thing and using her real life divorce and the ending of that era of her life as a way to translate Karen’s feelings in this scene. Even without knowing this trivia, I still think the actual removal of the ring feels like a very important moment, like she’s reaching a new stage in her character, that she’s really ready to move on.
Now, I do love this scene, but it was maybe a little less perfect than I remembered. These are microscopic flaws and I almost feel bad talking about them, because the scene is beautiful and heartfelt and it seems almost picky to point out flaws and be like, “Well, this could be better,” but this blog is supposed to be all about putting a microscope to each KL episode, so I will say that some of the dialogue in Karen’s monologue early in the scene is a little iffy. I didn’t like her “One two three four” thing when she references talking to God, for one thing. Also, and this is just a flaw of 1980s television, really, which is not filmed like a Kubrick film but rather is just done in more of a hurry, but there are a few parts where they cut from a closeup of Karen’s face to a long shot, and it’s pretty obvious that they’ve looped in some bad ADR for these long shots, and it’s also pretty obvious that they’re inserting the long shots as a bridge to cut and trim around the scene. The longer they stay in a close-up of Karen speaking, the better, and they only cut to a long shot maybe two or three times, but each time it kind of took me out of it. I sorta wish they had just kept the camera on Michele all the way through the scene, no cutting, no editing, and just let her act.
Also, and I’m not quite sure I know how to say this, and I hope no one misinterprets this as an insult, because it’s not. I could never insult Karen or Michele Lee’s portrayal of her, which is some of the best television acting ever, but I had really hyped this scene up in my memories and I remembered it as her BEST ACTING EVER, and actually it’s not. Throughout the season, she has acted her butt off and I’ve been singing her praises all year, and now I actually think her best acting comes in the little things. This is obviously poised to be a big dramatic moment, but I think Michele’s greatest moments this season have come, say, in the smaller moments like when she was trying to cope with Sid being in the hospital and you could really read the stress in her, or even in a small quiet episode like Mistaken Motives when she found a friend in Bill Medford who could understand and relate to her grief. Does any of this make sense? My basic point is that this is not the greatest acting Michele ever does on the series, and I remembered it that way. She’s great, make no mistake about that; she’s absolutely wonderful and amazing in this scene, but my basic point is I thought this was the END ALL BE ALL of her acting in all fourteen seasons of the show, and it’s not quite.
So gosh, what an interesting episode this turned out to be. After having a bit of a love/hate relationship with KL for the last few eps, this episode that I remember just loving 100% kinda surprised me by being not quite as great as my memories made it out to be. But make no mistake, it’s still good, and certain parts, like that long scene with Sid on the home movies, transcend good and become great. But I must have completely blocked out both the presence of Karen’s forgettable boyfriend as well as that really boring subplot with Uncle Joe and Lorraine. Kill that aspect of the ep and you immediately improve things, let me tell you. But I can’t talk too poorly about an episode that has such fine acting from Michele, and when the credits roll on this one, you definitely do feel like we as the viewers are ready to move on and not think about Sid Fairgate so much, and we share in Karen’s feelings of catharsis due to that.
Oh, and one last note. The first time I watched this ep, I cried my eyes out, and I thought I would again when I watched it this time, but for some reason I was able to stay pretty dry eyed. However, I think it’s worth noting that My Beloved Grammy did cry, and pretty hard, especially at that final scene. I’m not gonna get too personal about things in this blog, but I do think that the ep made My Beloved Grammy remember when my Grampy died (this would be in 1999) and after the ep was over we sat and had a nice long chat about how long Grampy has been dead and all the feelings that brought up. That is definitely worth some praise, because I don’t think we ever finished a Dallas ep and were feeling moved enough by the ep to have a long talk about life and death based on the feelings evoked by that particular ep. KL has heart that Dallas never even attempted to have, as I’ve stated previously, and this episode is a good example of that. So all in all, more of a mixed bag than I remembered, but the good stuff really does overshadow the flaws, and this is still an episode of KL that, once you see it, you never forget.
We’re getting to the last lap of season three, with just five eps left to go, and next Thursday we will be returning to the story of Valene’s book and all the drama that entails with Exposé.