Episode Title: Night
Season 03, Episode 19
Episode 050 of 344
Written by John Pleshette
Directed by Alexander Singer
Original Airdate: Thursday, April 15th, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ginger's singing in a club, so the Wards go to San Francisco. Richard invites Laura over on a pretext, but once there he tries to get her to come back. She says no and they argue. Gary hears and goes over to stop the fight. Richard pulls a gun on him, so he leaves and calls the police. Richard holds Laura at gunpoint and gets crazier and crazier, so she starts to play along with him. Meanwhile, a SWAT team has surrounded the house. Richard eventually lets Laura go, and puts the gun to his head, but it isn't loaded. The police bring Richard to a psychiatric hospital for observation.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard me many times over the course of this blog sing my praises for The Plesh both as an actor and, especially, as a writer. If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably noticed that every time we come to an episode that he wrote, I get very excited and feel that it’s a guarantee for a truly great 48 minutes of KL. Well, at the point we’re at, the man has penned five eps of the series, starting with Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two and then spanning through Chance of a Lifetime, Squeezeplay, The Vigil, and Secrets. It’s been a glorious run and now we reach his sixth and, I am willing to say at this point, very best episode ever, Night. Seriously, we’ve got two more Plesh-scripts lying in our future (A Brand New Day and Daniel, both in season four), but unless I am very pleasantly surprised by those eps, I don’t think he can possibly top his work right here on Night, because as both a writer and an actor, this is his masterpiece.
I’ve mentioned before how interesting it is that KL is such an actor-friendly show and they are never shy about letting their actors direct and write eps. At this juncture, we have had eps written by Don Murray, James Houghton, and of course The Plesh. As we move deeper into the series and meet wonderful characters we haven’t yet been introduced to, a lot of them will also be allowed to write and, if I recall correctly, even direct eps. It’s this really unique thing where the acting and the writing are allowed to come together, that the actors are able to write for themselves and really deeply explore their own characters. How many other shows have done this? What makes Night so special is that The Plesh is allowed to write an entire script all about his own character, and you can tell he had a ball doing it. Let’s dive right in.
We open on some bad A.D.R. That’s probably the only negative thing I’ll say about anything this week, and even that is something I’m saying with love. I think way back in Pilot I discussed my love affair with the bad A.D.R. that is so prevalent so often in these ‘80s soaps (Dallas for sure would do it a hell of a lot, sometimes just doing full scenes with the camera aimed at someone’s back and the dialogue obviously looped in later in some recording studio). In this case, our ep opens at night over footage of a car driving into the cul-de-sac and an entire sequence of dialogue between Abby and Richard that is all clearly dubbed in. We learn that since Richard was feeling depressed and lonely, Abs was nice enough to take him out to dinner and have a little conversation with him, try to lift his spirits.
However, Abs would really like their date to be over now, and Richard sorta forces his way into her house and immediately gets drunk (or was he already drunk when he was driving her home? This is still 1982 and I feel like people still don’t give a shit about the dangers of drinking and driving yet and really won’t until we hit the ‘90s). You can tell Abs is getting annoyed and irritated with Richard and wants him to go home, but he’s like, “How about one more drink and then I’ll hit the road?” Abs is like, “Oh, just take the bottle, Richard, you can drink it at home,” but Richard doesn’t want to leave. He’s depressed, drunken, and horny, and he has a great line that I quickly jotted in my notes when he says, “Remember the hot tub?” Well, even if Abs doesn’t remember the hot tub, we the audience sure as hell do. How could anyone who saw that amazing sequence between Richard and Abs in the hot tub back in Step One possibly forget that? Like the imagery from Kubrick’s 2001, the hot tub sequence is so brilliant and perfect that, once you see it, it burns into your memory forever, and it can’t possibly be forgotten. It’s nice to see that The Plesh hasn’t forgotten that scene, either, and in his script this week he even takes a second to give it a quick little shout out.
Anyway, Abs is having none of this with Richard groping her, so she says she’s asking him to leave and then Richard has this zinger where he’s like, “How much do you charge per night?” She throws him out and he disappears back to his empty house to continue drinking, watching TV, and feeling sorry for himself. He turns on some old movie (despite being a snooty film douche, I don’t know what film it is he turns on) before getting irritated, shutting the TV off, and doing some frantic cleaning up of the house. I wanna take a moment to note his watching of TV, however, cuz there’s a theme I noticed running though this ep of television either sorta reflecting what’s going on in the show or being used as an irony. In this case, Richard has lost Laura and has now been thrown out by Abby, and when he turns on the TV he’s assaulted with an old black and white movie of a man and woman in love, singing and prancing around and going skiing or whatever. And his frantic cleaning up? I think he just sorta looks around and realizes what a pigsty he’s living in and tries to tidy it up. However, I also think this sort of manic running around quality that we’re seeing in him is our first clue that he’s not just having a bad time, not just down on his luck, not just drinking too much, but having a legit mental breakdown.
From here, we’re off like gangbusters. We move into the next day, where Richard goes to pick up Jason from his, I guess, karate lessons. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Jason, so I’m glad he’s being featured fairly prominently this week, since I often feel he’s kinda the underutilized kid on the cul-de-sac. Considering how fascinating his parents are, it’s kinda a shame we don’t get to see more of him (and he also morphs into a different kid a time or two, but at this point he is still being played by Danny Gellis, who is actually technically the second person to play him since he morphed between Pilot and Community Spirit; also, I just took a peek and realized we are about to lose Danny as Jason because his last appearance will be the season three finale, Living Dangerously, and then he morphs again, but I digress). Anyway, Richard is not supposed to pick up Jason 2, but he pleads a good case with the karate teacher lady and says how she can call Laura up and check to make sure it’s okay. He seems very normal and reasonable at this point, so it’s not hard to believe that the lady would send Jason 2 home with him.
When they get back to the house, Richard unveils this giant train set that he bought for Jason 2, something to get him excited and show his love. I’m sitting here trying to decide if this train set has any deeper meaning than that, if I can find some way to connect the running of the trains on the track with something inside Richard’s brain, but I got nothing. If anyone else has any ideas, please feel free to post them. Also, Richard manages to get Laura to come over by telling her that Jason 2 is here, that everything’s cool, that he got him a train set, that she should come over and have dinner, and it works, because our next scene is the family sitting down to dinner.
Oh what a fascinating couple Richard and Laura make. As I sat watching this episode, I reflected on the fact that we only have one more season with the two on the show together. Laura will be with us until 1987, but Richard leaves in 1983 at the conclusion of season four. That means we’ve only got about 25 episodes left with this couple, and I really started to feel a deep sadness in my soul when I realized this, because I could just watch them interact all day long; there’s just something about their chemistry and their realism within their dysfunction that captivates my attention, and this episode might be the best example of that, because we sorta see all facets of their relationship exemplified within this 48 minutes.
For instance, right here things are pretty relaxed and cool. Laura is truly enjoying the meal Richard has prepared for them, she compliments him on it, and things are pretty mellow. Make no mistake, she’s still somewhat on guard with him, especially since last ep he got her over to do their taxes together and then wouldn’t shut up about their relationship and how they should get back together. But here, things are cool, as least until Richard starts to do the same thing, insist that she give him another chance, move back in, but on her own terms, that she can be the boss. Oh yeah, and also, while complimenting the meal he has prepared, Laura says, “You should open up a restaurant,” and my little antenna went up and I was like, “Foreshadowing?” Not to get to spoiler-rific here, but Richard does open up a restaurant in season four, and we’re not that far off from getting there, so could this have been planned out in advance? Or is it merely a compliment from Laura and the writers didn’t know what Richard would be up to come season four? Anyway, when Richard starts to talk about their relationship, Laura gets annoyed and prepares to leave, but this is when the intensity really starts to pick up, because Richard says, “You’re not gonna leave.”
I wanna note that little line, by the way, because it sorta sums up the beauty in The Plesh’s entire performance in this episode. See, in another show, I think this would be THE SCARY MOMENT, that suddenly Richard would be turning into the villain of the piece, the evil obstacle that must be overcome, the guy threatening his soon-to-be-ex-wife and telling her she can’t leave the house, but here, Richard is always portrayed as pathetic, and I mean that in the true sense of the world. He is just pathetic to watch, this sad, lonely, broken man who is having a real, true mental breakdown. Yes, it’s definitely scary and it’s helped immensely by some pretty frightening music that plays throughout the episode, but there’s also a sense of pathos to how Richard is presented here; at no point are we supposed to hate him, but rather feel sorry for him.
After we come back from commercial, we are at the Fairgate house where everyone is working on some sort of stupid play. I didn’t care about this and didn’t find it funny (plus Diana is “acting” in a very annoying voice, much like when she was rehearsing for her play back in, I think, Hitchhike: Part One), but fortunately it’s quickly interrupted by shouting coming from the Avery house. Everyone is justifiably concerned because Richard and Laura’s yelling is so loud that it can be heard throughout the neighborhood, so Karen goes over to investigate. At this point, things get even more intense, which is a word I feel I will be using a lot this week. See, when Karen knocks on the door, Laura tries to answer it, but Richard grabs her and covers her mouth and says, “If you say anything, I’m gonna have to hurt you.” This is a frightening line, but it made me question whether Richard would ever truly hurt Laura or not. What do you think, patient reader? My personal opinion, based on the way things unfold throughout the episode, is that he wouldn’t. Yes, he’s going crazy, but I think deep down he couldn’t hurt Laura. He’s freaking out and he’s obsessed with keeping her close by, so he says he might have to hurt her, but I just don’t believe he truly ever would. This entire mental breakdown is based on his love for her, in a very twisted way, of course, but that’s what it is. He’s going insane because his life is falling apart and he needs her back with him.
Everyone at the cul-de-sac (sans Kenny and Ginger, but don’t worry, I’ll get to them and their hilarious “appearance” in this episode) is sorta gathered in the Fairgate kitchen as Karen calls the Avery house, but nobody answers. Richard orders Laura to let the phone ring, and I loved this. I have to say I really miss old rotary dial phones with their classic ringing sound. Cell phones are so stupid and just not the same thing at all; watching this old series just makes me wish we lived back in the era of no cell phones and huge rotary dial phones. I love the sound of them ringing and I love how it’s this constant noise throughout this episode; it really starts to make we the audience go crazy as well, because it feels so persistent.
Since nobody is answering, Gary goes over to check on things and finds Laura in the kitchen. When he comes in, Laura hugs him and starts crying and oh God yes, Constance, yes, she’s such a good crier, and I feel like we haven’t seen her cry in a long time and I was glad to see it back, because she does it so well, such undisguised anguish, and I love how Laura sorta starts to babble about the trains, the trains, how Richard must have spent thousands of dollars on trains. Then Gary goes to confront Richard and that’s when he produces THE GUN. This is a big scary moment, because we didn’t know Richard even owned a gun and neither did anyone else on the cul-de-sac. After producing the gun, he orders Gary to leave, which of course he does.
Next time we return from commercial, there’s a whole bunch of cops gathered around outside the Avery household, working on an operation to get Laura and Jason 2 out of there. One thing I found very refreshing here and which I did not remember at all is the pretty awesome way that Karen comes to Richard’s defense. This must have clear slipped my mind from an episode that, prior to rewatching, I thought I remembered very well. This goes back to my love affair with Richard and Karen’s friendship, which I just find endlessly fascinating. Also, Michele plays the part so well that she doesn’t seem crazy for defending Richard, and maybe I should make it clear that she’s not defending him, exactly, but rather saying that she doesn’t believe he’s actually gonna use the gun. She says, “This is ridiculous; he’s not gonna shoot anybody,” and, as I’ve said, I personally agree with her. I believe Richard may be at risk for harming himself, but I don’t think he’s gonna harm Laura or Jason 2.
However, the cop lady (who is played by an actress named Virginia Paris but is credited as “Gina Alvarado" and who I really thought I had seen in a ton of stuff but it turns out I have not; my conclusion is that her voice just sounds a lot like the actress Sylvia Sidney) is taking as many precautions as possible, has called a SWAT team in to handle the situation, and says she has to assume that Richard’s gun is loaded. She and Karen bicker a bit about it, and God I loved this. On what other show would a man basically hold his family hostage with a gun and yet we would have such complex, interesting characters that we could have a friend of his argue with the police woman about how she’s doing her job? On another show, Karen would be presented as annoying and stupid for doing this, but here, we can understand her, just as we can understand the police woman for doing her job the best way she knows how. There’s the genius of KL, ladies and gentlemen, rich and interesting characters interacting in an organic and understandable way so that we can relate to all of them, including characters that would just be plot devices in any other series, such as this police woman.
But let’s go back inside to Richard and Laura, and if I sound almost flippant in any of this writeup, I want to make sure it’s clear that I’m not. As with a lot of the very best eps of KL, I barely have any notes written in my notebook because I simply sat and stared in awe at the screen and the events unfolding. I wanted to jot lots of notes down about why this is brilliant and genius, but I simply couldn’t; I was too excited by what was happening and had to watch it and trust that my memory would be good enough when I sat down to write about this ep. So if you find I am skipping details or plot points, well, I’m sorry, but hopefully you’ll understand why, that it’s actually a compliment to the episode.
But anyway, at the same time that the SWAT team is figuring out a way to get Jason 2 safely out of the house, Richard and Laura are sitting down in the living room and talking. Richard offers Laura a drink and she says she’ll take some wine (I briefly had a 21st century moment where I’m like, “Laura shouldn’t be drinking wine when she’s pregnant!” but then I remembered that it was 1982 and I also reminded myself that, in this situation, Laura is probably not thinking about things like that anyway and is more concerned with trying to keep Richard calm). The two share a drink together and start to talk about old times. Again, this is some organic, good writing, because it’s not like we cut away and then just return to them being like, “Oh God, remember that time?” Instead, the conversation flows organically from Richard’s offer for a drink. When he pours the wine, Laura asks him if it’s the same wine as that place they went that one time or whatever, and from there they start to reminisce back on their relationship. The Plesh always crosses his t's and dots his i's when he writes a script, and this is a good example of that.
Also, during this scene, when Richard and Laura start to get a little more relaxed and playful, My Beloved Grammy opined, “Now she’s playing him,” and I thought about it for awhile, and I think I disagree. I think “playing him” is the wrong term; certainly she’s trying to keep on his good side and she’s afraid of him right now so she’s probably trying to keep him in a nice mood, but I think they are reflecting on memories that are truly happy. They were married for twelve years, after all, so there are bound to be some good memories within those twelve years, right? And also, part of what makes this episode so great is that it goes through all these different emotions; Laura is not just scared of Richard the whole time and Richard is not just threatening and frightening the whole time. Instead, we have this downtime where they just sorta sit around and reflect on their lives for awhile, and it all just feels so realistic, not sensationalistic, not just done for drama the way it would be done over on, oh I dunno, Dallas, perhaps?
However, their little talk is interrupted by a noise from upstairs. You guessed it, it’s the SWAT guys sneaking Jason 2 out the window and climbing down a ladder. That TV motif I mentioned continues here, as Jason 2 is watching some violent shootout movie on the TV. What does this symbolize? Again, it could be nothing, but I think there’s a reason they decided, in the midst of Richard holding his family hostage with a gun, to put a movie full of guns and shooting and violence on the TV in front of Jason 2. Also, the fact that Jason 2 is asleep for this program strikes me as somewhat important. Could this be some statement on the violence we see every day on TV? That we get so used to it through our television programming that we don’t even notice it as much as we should when it’s right in front of us? It’s an idea, though maybe I’m missing the mark. By the way, if you think I’m really going overboard on the “what does this mean?” aspect of stuff, please feel free to write in and tell me. Maybe I am doing the pretentious art thing where I read symbolism into everything, and if you think so, go on and tell me. In this case, however, I don’t think the program playing on Jason 2’s little bedroom TV is accidental.
Okay, so Jason 2 is taken away to safety, and next up is a lovely little scene in which the cops call in the negotiator guy; you all know the guy, right? He’s the guy we’ve all seen on TV at some point or another who’s sent in to be like, “Hey, I can relate to you, man, I’m just like you!” I’m glad that The Plesh was smart enough to keep scenes with the negotiator to a minimum and really focus on who we really care about, our core cast of characters. The most the negotiator gets out is, “Hey, I’d like to be at home with my wife and two kids,” and then Richard hangs up. However, the next time they call, Karen hijacks the phone from the other room (I should probably note that all the cop action is taking place at the Fairgate residence, FYI) and starts to talk to Richard and oh boy, what a tremendous little scene this was. Again, I thought I remembered this episode very well, but I had forgotten this part, which shows tremendous acting from Michele and The Plesh.
Richard starts to talk about how “I’m alive, but I’m dead,” how he’s walking around feeling like he has no life anymore, that he might as well be dead. He says how hard it is to walk around his house and be all alone, that everywhere he goes he sees reflections of himself, of the life he had with Laura, and then we get this killer line where Karen says, “It’s like a death, isn’t it?” She finds a way to get through to Richard by relating his loss of Laura to her loss of Sid, and I just loved this. I loved this for so many reasons that I’m reticent to even attempt to put it into words, but here I go. I loved the scene for the acting between the two, I loved it for its demonstration of their special friendship that they have for the first four years of the series, and I especially loved it for calling back to Sid without making that the central focus. Two episodes back, with Letting Go, I think we officially said goodbye to Sid and watched Karen make her peace with that, and that was a way of telling the audience that the show was ready to move past him, as well, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be mentioned, that he’s not always going to be a presence in Karen’s mind and her memory, and I love how by bringing it up here, it’s not the central focus, but rather something that helps Karen to relate to Richard, to get through to him in a way the police can’t possibly do.
Things finally reach their climax when Richard hangs up the phone and starts to approach Laura. I’m gonna take a moment to say that, watching this episode this time, I came to a realization, and that was this: If I was watching this as a first time viewer in 1982, I would be fairly certain that Richard is going to die in this episode. Think about it; we are three eps away from the end of the season, we could easily spend those three episodes dealing with his death and his funeral and all that, I don’t think we really believe that he is going to blow away his pregnant wife with a pistol, and there’s a whole team of SWAT guys outside his door with sniper rifles. I think if I was watching this in 1982, that’s the conclusion I would draw, but that’s actually not what happens (and thank God, by the way, because this way we get another solid season with The Plesh instead of having to say goodbye to him right now). Instead, Laura says, “Look at all these trains,” and turns on the train set. Richard seems to get somewhat hypnotized by this train set and the trains circling around back and forth, and then he just sorta motions to Laura that she can leave and says quietly, “Get out.”
Laura leaves the house and is quickly walked to safety by some SWAT guy, and then Richard comes out. The cops yell at him to put away his gun, to drop it, but he doesn’t, and the music swells, gets real loud, everything’s very intense, and he starts to raise his gun. What’s he going to do? Well, he puts the gun right against his head and he finally pulls the trigger, only to reveal there are no bullets in the gun….well, I think. I can’t be completely sure if there were just never any bullets at all in the gun or if Richard was playing a bit of Russian roulette with himself. I should have counted how many times he pulls the trigger to see if he gets to six, but I remember it being more like three. I kinda wanna think that his last pathetic little attempt to end his life was by putting just one bullet in the gun and seeing what would happen, but I also think it can be interpreted as something of a twist, that this whole time there were never any bullets and he was holding Laura hostage with an empty gun.
And from here we dissolve to sunlight and a shiny new day for a little capper scene that helps to put a smidge of happiness on a very sad and disturbing episode and that also made me honestly laugh out loud (somewhat unintentionally). See, I know you’ve all been wondering where those amazingly interesting characters, Kenny and Ginger, have been through all this excitement. Well, as he often manages to do when penning a KL script, The Plesh has very efficiently managed to just keep them out of the episode for pretty much the entire runtime. One of the first scenes of the ep is Kenny and Ginger leaving their house and announcing they are going to San Francisco for the weekend so Ginger can sing in a club. They drive off and then they aren’t seen until this very last scene, where they return to the cul-de-sac and are like, “Hey, what’s going on?” Karen sorta walks them away and is like, “I’ll explain everything to you.”
Okay, I just had to laugh at how obviously the toxic bores were shipped out of the neighborhood for this episode. You just know that The Plesh was writing this and saying, “Okay, this may very well be my masterpiece and I’m not gonna waste time writing for these two,” so he does such a lovely job of just shipping them away for the course of the 48 minutes and I really gotta love him for that. The fact that Kenny and Ginger are even still on the show at this point feels like a joke to me, because aside from briefly getting the spotlight back in Possibilities, they are so far removed from all the other characters and all those interesting storylines that they feel like they are coming from their own separate show.
Alright, so that’s Night. I wanna get confessional for a minute and say that as I sit here, I wonder if I’ve even managed to do this episode justice. You see, this episode is sooooooo good that I was almost afraid to sit down and write about it. Sometimes these write-ups just flow from my fingertips and I barely have to think about it, but when we approach an ep this good, it feels daunting, like I really want to do justice to every little detail that made this such a stunning show, and then I worry that I didn’t do an adequate job. If you believe this is true, I apologize, but I want to say that’s just because I spent so much of this ep watching in stunned silence. I wasn’t able to take in the same stuff I often take in about, like, camera angles and cutting techniques and stuff because I was just so excited by what I was watching.
I’ve loved all of the eps penned by The Plesh up to this point, and as I said earlier, we’ve got two more to go in season four, but I think if I had to pick just one of those eps as his crowning achievement, it would really be this one. This is an almost perfect episode of television, and everything about it works, right down to the writing to the acting to the directing. I love that The Plesh was allowed to take this ep to completely and 100% focus on his own character of Richard Avery and his own mental breakdown, this rare act of acting and writing intimacy that you don’t see that often, and I just love all the little details he threw in there to make this special, from “Remember the hot tub” to the TV motif running throughout through the potential foreshadowing of Laura telling Richard to open a restaurant and all the way through to Karen and Richard’s conversation on the phone.
Also, I don’t think it can be understated what a delicate line The Plesh walks all throughout this ep by presenting Richard going so crazy and holding Laura hostage with a gun and yet maintaining a certain pathos to that character. I think the best way to sum it up is to point out that for the whole series up to this point, My Beloved Grammy has just hated the Richard character and always said, “Oh, he’s such a jerk,” in pretty much every episode. However, after this episode, she declared that she really feels sorry for Richard and that she never thought she would. Let’s reflect on the fact that it’s after the episode in which he snaps and holds Laura hostage that My Beloved Grammy now feels bad for him. In any other show, this would be the episode where you are like, “Oh, now I really hate that guy,” but in KL, this is the ep where our sympathies really lie with Richard, and I think that’s a pretty remarkable achievement of writing and acting.
Last thing I’d like to note before moving on is that this is actually the series' 50th episode. At first, I wasn’t gonna make note of “fifties” episodes, like ep 150, 250, and so on, but then I decided I would anyway, cuz I think hitting fifty eps is considered an accomplishment in the world of TV, right? I also didn’t think about it until reaching it, the fact that the 50th ep coincides and happens to be Night. I wonder if this episode was specially planned to be the 50th because it’s so good, so big, so exciting, such a great example of KL at its best, or if it was merely a coincidence of how many eps they had done up to this point and how many eps were ordered for this season.
Okay, that’s all I got, and I hope I’ve done justice to an episode that, in all honesty, may be the very best one we’ve seen thus far, and remains an absolutely unforgettable little masterpiece even after one has witnessed all 344 KL eps. Next week we’re gonna return our focus to the saga of Gary, Val, and Abby with Acts of Love, so I’ll talk to you then!