Sunday, September 18, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 056 of 344: ENCOUNTERS


Episode Title: Encounters

Season 04, Episode 03

Episode 056 of 344


Directed by Alexander Singer

Original Airdate: Thursday, October 14th, 1982

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Gary really wants to get Val back, and even Lilimae tries to get them back together, but Val refuses to speak to him. Karen tells Mack that she suspects Wayne caused Sid's death and she wants to trap him. Wayne and Marshall exclude Angelo from their parts of the deal. Richard decides to open a restaurant, and Laura is supportive. Gary sees Ciji Dunne, a singer, rehearsing, and is entranced. He takes the Wards to see her and Kenny is really impressed and wants to do a demo with her. Ginger is jealous.


                When I sat down with My Beloved Grammy to start watching season four of KL, one of my first thoughts was how excited I was to meet Lisa Hartman for the very first time, and this week, with Encounters, we do.  It also caught me a bit off guard because, in my memory, she was a part of the show as soon as you began season four and made her first appearance right there in the premiere, but actually it’s here in the third episode of the season.  I think I’ll experience a similar moment when we reach season five and first meet William Devane, who is introduced a few eps into that season, but not right away.  In any case, I didn’t necessarily know Encounters would be our first ep with Ciji until the episode opening credits were rolling and I saw her credited as a guest star.  Well, at that point I became very excited about seeing Lisa Hartman for the first time, but it’s really awhile in the context of the episode before we actually see her.  In the meantime, we’ve still got storylines rolling for everybody in the cast.  Who to even start with?  I think I’ll start with Val.

                We open Encounters on a friendly neighborhood barbecue, this one taking place at, I think, the Fairgate house, with Richard serving as the cook and Mack helping him serve the food.  However, one notable absentee is Val, who is staying holed up in her house and refusing to come out.  Quite frankly, I’m having a bit of a hard time with Val at this juncture in the series.  I fully admit that I had things on my mind during my last viewing with My Beloved Grammy and it was a little bit harder to give my full attention to the series than it usually is, so perhaps the problem is me, not Val, but in any case, I just have a hard time figuring out what exactly is up her butt lately.  She’s extra grumpy this week, and we see it right away near the start of the episode when Uncle Joe goes to her house to ask her why she’s not at the barbecue.  I think he’s just showing a genuine concern and telling her that her friends wanna see her, but Val really freaks.  She’s standing on the stairs and then she just starts yelling at Uncle Joe about how she doesn’t want to go out there and face her friends and how she doesn’t want to live here anymore.  That latter part struck me, because over the last three years Val has made a home on Seaview Circle and it seems so dismissive of her to just say she doesn’t want to live here anymore. 

                I had to do a bit of reflection in order to understand Val better, had to put myself in her shoes a bit.  I realized that in the last batch of episodes, Val has been busier and more active than ever, with a lot of different changes taking place at once in her life.  Obviously the biggest and most crushing change is her split with Gary, the man she remarried three years ago and moved here with, and finding him in bed with Abby must have been a truly devastating moment for her.  Also, you have her book, Capricorn Crude, which is suddenly turning into the talk of the town.  Let’s reflect that back in Best Intentions, we learned that this book was supposed to be merely a class assignment for one of her college courses.  Now, here we are and suddenly it’s going to be a real published book, yet it seems like the publicity machine that’s bulldozing into Val’s life is more interested in scandal and gossip than in actual literary quality.  So, with all that laid out, it’s a bit easier for me to understand why Val is so grumpy.  Even so, during a trying time, what you need the most is friends to be around you and support you, so I’m a little disappointed to see Val turn her back on them, at least at this point.  What about Karen?  I mean, Val can be as grumpy as she wants, but is she really gonna threaten to move away without even a thought for her best friend, Karen?  The two struck up a special relationship right away back in Pilot and I know Karen would be devastated to lose Val as her friend.

                Later in the episode, we have Val out to lunch with a bunch of rich, unpleasant women.  It’s scenes like this that I point to as an example of glamour starting to be a part of the story structure on KL.  Val is dressed up in an actually rather odd little outfit that includes a big fat headband on her forehead as if she’s going to the gym, and everyone else is dressed up fancy and they’re eating in a nice restaurant and talking about how Val’s book will lead to money and success.  My point is that this is not the type of scenario we would have seen on the series back in season one, when everything felt more grounded in domestic, every day issues that middle class Americans could relate to.  Now we can see the show changing and expanding around us, and Val’s newfound success is just a small facet of that.

                But anyway, this little lunch date with the rich women (one of whom is played by June Lockhart of Lassie and Lost in Space fame in a random little appearance) only serves to further aggravate Val.  Nobody seems to care about the actual literary merits of the book, choosing instead to focus on the gossip factor, on whether or not what Val wrote is true.  Also, these women surrounding Val have a tendency to speak about her as if she weren’t there, to just kinda talk over her and ignore her, not really giving her a chance to speak her mind.

                Things finally get too overwhelming for Val so she disappears into her bathroom to take a big bubble bath, one of those TV bubble baths where the bubbles completely obscure any possible nudity.  During her bubble bath, Uncle Joe knocks on the door and asks for permission to come in.  For those who have forgotten all the events of Living Dangerously, I remind you that Uncle Joe is now in charge of editing Val’s book, so the two are linked together in this adventure.  In this scene he talks to Val and gives some sage advice about how she needs to pull herself together and Bob Loblaw; I can’t really remember all the details.  In my notes during this scene, I jotted down, “Uncle Joe seems to be ‘the advice giver’ lately and I’m not sure I like it.”  Well, I’m not sure I do.  In fact, I’m still lukewarm on Uncle Joe and I don’t think I’ll be sad when he exits the series.  I don’t know that there’s anything particularly wrong with him, and I think Stephen Macht does a fine job of playing him, but there’s just something about this character that I have a hard time getting into.  From the pipe smoking to his boring relationship problems to constantly calling Karen “cookie” (have I mentioned that yet?  It’s super creepy) to the way that he just seems to take on the task of dishing out the advice.  I liked him giving that advice to Gary back in China Dolls (that bit about how “the gambler always wants to lose”), but now he’s dishing out advice to Karen about the mobsters and he’s here to console Val and I’m just starting to get a little annoyed with him.  I think Uncle Joe just never really elevates to be a very interesting character, so while he never offends me the way that Kenny and Ginger offend me, he’s just sorta there and I am just waiting for him to go away so we have more time with more interesting characters.

                One of the other main story thrusts this week involves Gary’s obsession with getting back with Valene.  The same way I’m having trouble figuring out Val’s feelings, I’m having real difficulty with Gary’s current behavior and state of mind.  What is truly going on in his brain this week?  He carried on an affair with Abs behind Val’s back for awhile and yet now, even as he lives with Abby and sleeps with Abby, he seems hell-bent on getting back with Val.  Why?  I don’t even know if Gary can be described as in his right mind at this point, and a part of me wants to use Jock Ewing’s death over on Dallas to justify Gary’s weirdo behavior.  I don’t know that I have to stretch that far to make the argument, really.  The death of Jock has been addressed and discussed here on KL a few times, and I do think that knowing his dad, this man he had such a contentious relationship with, is dead and gone forever, I do think that could be screwing with Gary’s brain a bit.  The reading of the will is coming up, still being foreshadowed and hinted at, and I think the fact that a will is about to be read serves as concrete and indisputable proof to Gary that his dad is dead.  This kind of thing could make all of us act a little wacky, no?

                But in any case, I also do believe that Gary loves Val.  We are not seeing him be his best self at this juncture in the series.  In fact, we are probably seeing him plummeting towards rock bottom even as we speak, and his behavior the last few weeks has been generally reprehensible and hard to get behind.  The thing is, though, that I watch so much of this series with the hindsight and knowledge of events to come.  When I look at Gary, even when he’s behaving like a jerk, my mind automatically goes to the later seasons Gary who is a much more self actualized and rather noble man.  Now, that man is not displayed onscreen right now, but since I know in my mind that he will eventually reach that state, I don’t feel that judgy of him for his behavior right now.

                My Beloved Grammy, on the other hand, has no patience for Gary right now.  As we witnessed the consummation of his affair with Abs, he really turned into a villain in My Beloved Grammy’s eyes, and with each episode we watch, she repeatedly declares that Gary “doesn’t deserve Val” and that “he and Abby deserve each other.”  I note this because I want to show how these storylines are playing for a fresh viewer (when I say ‘fresh,’ I should note that she watched all these shows back in the early half of the ‘80s, but she certainly doesn’t remember all the details and everything that is going to happen).  Anyway, I’ll be curious to see if and when My Beloved Grammy starts to change her mind and like Gary a little more (I think it’s going to be a long time).

                Getting inside Gary’s head a bit more, I think he still loves Val but I’m not sure he loves Abs.  Abs and he have passion, and we’ve already seen many displays of it.  Their sex is steamy and exotic and exciting.  Whenever they start making out, a sexy saxophone kicks in.  Their romance is torrid and dirty and naughty.  Conversely, his love of Val is a different thing.  We’ve never seen him and Val have really passionate, dirty sex.  What he had with Val is certainly less intense, less exciting, but I think he is starting to realize that she gave him comfort and support that he’ll never find in the arms of someone as duplicitous as Abby.  Well, that’s my theory, at least, but feel free to disagree.

                Anyway, whenever Gary tries to get hold of Val, he is blocked.  He tries calling her, but she hangs up.  Whenever he shows up to speak to her, she’ll hear none of it.  I think the last time they were even face to face was in A Brand New Day when she moved his stuff out of the house after his little macho fight at Rusty and Cricket’s house.  What’s interesting in Encounters is that Lilimae proves to be the force that gets the couple to look each other in the eyes and speak to each other.

                Was my brain just loopy during this particular disk of episodes?  The reason I ask is because, yet again, I don’t understand Lilimae’s motivations here or why she behaves the way she does.  Since the big split, she has repeatedly stated her distaste for Gary, saying she “hates the ground he walks on.”  Yet in Encounters, she hatches a bit of a scheme to get Gary and Val to speak.  To set the stage, Gary calls the house and talks to Lilimae about how he wants to see Val.  Later in the episode, when those dynamic characters known as Kenny and Ginger ask Lilimae if she can babysit their bundle of joy, Erin Molly, Lilimae rather curtly says, “Nope, can’t; I've got business to take care of with real characters.”  She’s up to something and she’s going to be occupied this night.

                Her plan basically involves getting Gary and Val to both show up at the same parking garage at the exact same time.  It’s kinda a goofy plan, really, and it could have failed easily if the two of them didn’t happen to arrive at precisely the exact same time.  But basically Lilimae calls both characters and says how her car is stranded in some parking garage somewhere and she needs them to come pick her up.  Naturally, when the two arrive at the garage, Lilimae forces them to talk to each other and says, “You’ll thank me one day,” before driving off in her car.  Okay, so why is Lilimae doing this?  Does she legit want Gary and Val back together?  Does she think they just need to work on their problems and they’ll get over it?  Or does she want them to stay apart but she just thinks they need to have a face-to-face chat in order to provide some closure so that Val can move on with her life?  I am honestly baffled at this; if any of you readers can better understand Lilimae’s motivation, please write in to me and provide some clarity, cuz I got nothing.

                In any case, this little talk is big and dramatic and I kinda liked it, but I wasn’t, you known, blown away by it.  Basically, standing in the parking lot, Gary begs for Val’s forgiveness and she denies it.  At this exact moment, I certainly understand Val and would be “on her side” if we had to pick one.  Gary has cheated on her not once, but twice.  Back in season two, after he finished cheating on her with Judy Trent, he made a bunch of promises about how he wouldn’t do it again, but come the end of season three, he was shagging Abs in motel rooms constantly, so Val is certainly right to not trust him here, and she does not accept his proposal that they give their marriage another shot.  However, there is an interesting little facet to this scene where Val is like, “No, Gary, not a chance,” and the two start to walk away at the same time.  After a second, Val sorta turns around and says, “Gary?” in this hopeful tone, before realizing that he has disappeared.  What would she have said had he been standing there?  From her tone of voice, I’m willing to predict that she would have crumbled and given him her forgiveness, and who knows what would have happened after that, but Gary is not there, so Val walks away alone, which is actually the ending scene of the episode.

                That about does it for Gary and Val’s saga this week.  How about Richard?  What’s he up to?  I’m glad you asked, because at the start of the episode, during that friendly neighborhood cookout, Richard reiterates to, um, someone, something Laura told him back in Night by saying, “You should open a restaurant.”  In Night, I questioned whether that line of dialogue was meant to plant seeds or not, but there’s no denying its function here in Encounters, because the next thing we see Richard doing is, in fact, looking at a building up for lease as a potential restaurant.  Now, early in the ep we are told that Richard has a job interview with some law firm and Laura wishes him good luck.  When we see him looking around this building, I questioned if he was skipping his job interview to go look at restaurants or not.  Turns out that Richard did go to his lawyer job interview and he was given some salary information, but then he decided to check out this space anyway.  I think Richard is still dealing with a recovery from his nervous breakdown (it really wasn’t that long ago, when you think about it, just a couple of eps in the past) and questioning what would make him truly happy in life.  Does he want to return to his boring job as a lawyer, a job that he frequently returned from grumpy and depressed?  Or does he want to give something new a shot, to try his hand at being a restaurant entrepreneur? 

                Well, he meets up with a friendly black realtor lady and she shows him around the place.  It’s big and sprawling, has a huge kitchen, and a nice big open restaurant area for serving food.  The wheels are turning in Richard’s head and we can tell he’s really thinking about it.  Oh yeah, and a fabulous little Plesh touch to this scene that I appreciated is that Richard is wearing a really hideous and large pair of sunglasses and for no reason whatsoever, he keeps putting them on and taking them off.  This really amused me, for some reason, because for instance he’s inside the restaurant, where there is no sun, and he’s not wearing his sunglasses, but then he puts them on again just for a second, only to walk up closer to the camera and remove them again.  I wonder if this was some sort of prop improvisation invented by The Plesh (I sure hope so) or if the director just wanted him to do this because it would frame the shot nicely or what, but I liked it.

                At first Laura is displeased when she hears that Richard went ahead and put a down payment on the space.  Hearing how much he would have made by taking that offer with the law firm, she would rather the family be secure with money and enjoying a reliable income instead of Richard taking a big risk on a restaurant that could fail miserably.  I wanna note this little interplay between Richard and Laura, by the way, and use it to make a point about the series.  Even though I have pointed out that the series is moving into a more glamorous era in which the characters experience more wealth and luxury than before, and even though the storytelling structure has officially made the switch to be a complete nighttime soap opera just like Dallas or Dynasty or Falcon Crest, this story shows that the series will always be, at its core, about the characters and they will always exist in a universe that’s a smidge more realistic than the other nighttime soaps of the ‘80s.  Richard and Laura’s argument over what to do for a job is an argument any American couple can understand and have probably experienced themselves.  Even if the storylines around them are gonna get a tad wackier, the characters will always deal with core problems that are based in reality and are easy to relate to.

                Richard and Laura have a bit of a back and forth about it, but near the end of the episode Laura tells Richard that she supports him and she shows this by contributing to the down payment on the restaurant herself.  The two have a nice little scene outside on the porch while Richard fiddles around with the faulty porch light, and Laura says how if he’s going to try it, now is the time to try it.  This scene made me realize that Laura really is one of the nicest wives on the series.  Despite all that Richard has done and all the emotional turmoil she has gone through, to the point of even being held hostage with a gun, Laura still supports him and believes in him, even contributing her own money to his operation.  How many wives would do the same?  At this juncture, just getting started with season four, Richard and Laura remain the couple I find most interesting to watch.

                The Karen saga with Wayne Harkness and the mobsters continues to grow, by the way.  I want to apologize to you readers if I sound in any way dismissive of this storyline.  I certainly don’t mean to, but the thing is that this ongoing arc between Karen and Wayne permeated the entire disk My Beloved Grammy and I watched on our last visit, so I’m finding it hard to remember the specifics of exactly what happened in each individual episode.  However, thank God for my notes, because I just took a glance at them and remembered that something very important occurs in this episode, and it involves Wayne and the dentist.

                Karen and Wayne have a bit of a talk about what went down on the day that Sid crashed his car.  Wayne says he left early that day because he had an appointment with the dentist, and Karen seems to have a vague memory of that occurring.  However, a little later it the ep, Laura stops by Knots Landing Motors with her car and, in a way that is perhaps a bit too convenient, honestly, the subject of teeth and dentists suddenly comes up and Karen overhears Wayne bragging to Laura that he has perfect teeth and hasn’t been to the dentist in over six years.  Well, something’s certainly not adding up here, further fueling Karen’s suspicions that Wayne is the man responsible for Sid’s death.  Don’t worry, as we will be further expanding on this storyline in the episodes coming up.

                Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about Ciji.  I am so excited to see Lisa Hartman here for the first time, because when I think about KL, she is one of the first things that I think about.  However, now might be a good time to mention that I often struggle when doing these write-ups with finding the perfect tone.  When I first started writing this, I kinda assumed that anyone who would be interested in reading them would be a person who has watched KL and loved KL and knows all of the glorious twists and surprises that are in store throughout all fourteen seasons of KL.  Because of that, I originally thought that I would write in a way where I just assume that my readers know all the secrets, that I could refer to things that don’t happen for seasons in the future without risk of spoiling or alienating readers.  At a certain point, however, I realized I don’t want to do that.  For all I know, there is a good chance that a person reading these essays has just discovered the wonder of KL for themselves, and I don’t want to risk spoiling things for them, even for a show that has been off the air for nearly 25 years.

                With all that said, I’m not really sure how to talk about Ciji and Lisa Hartman without kinda spoiling events that are still to come.  Let’s just say that if you’re a new viewer, and you  have never seen an episode past Encounters, perhaps you’d better just skip ahead a bit, okay?  Basically, Lisa Hartman is going to be with us for the next four years, but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to be playing Ciji for all four of those years.  In fact, the entire arc of what Lisa Hartman goes through during her four years with the show is one of my favorite things from the entire series, and I’m very excited to discuss it in all its glory as we move along further and further.  But suffice it to say that, at least according to IMDb, Lisa Hartman has 96 episode appearances on KL, and Encounters here marks her very first of those 96 appearances, so that’s certainly significant and worth noting.

                For a character who winds up being so important to the show, it’s interesting to note how inauspiciously she makes her first appearance.  In fact, she’s not even the focus of the shot, she doesn’t get a big close-up, and we don’t even see her actual face at first.  Instead, Gary is at a restaurant with his, like, accountant guy (a Transmorpher accountant, by the way, because the actor Don Eitner, pictured below, had already appeared in a 1982 Dallas episode called Vengeance) and after about twenty minutes of the accountant guy going on about how being single is the way to be and how jealous he is that Gary gets to have sex with twenty year olds all day, as long as he wants, he gets up and leaves Gary alone, at which point we just hear Ciji’s voice in the background talking about, like, musical stuff.  She’s just a blurry shape behind Gary’s head at the very end of the scene before we move into a new sequence.

                A little later, though, Gary hears Ciji practicing for a cover of Open Arms and he is immediately smitten with her.  He goes up and says hi to her and there’s some immediate chemistry.  Remember that even though I have seen all of KL once before, I forget a lot of the smaller details, so I can’t remember exactly where Ciji and Gary’s relationship winds up going.  I honestly can not remember if they sleep together or anything like that; it’s all a blur for me at this point, so it’s exciting to watch and see where the stories are gonna go.

                Gary is so impressed by Ciji’s singing that he decides to alert Kenny to her existence.  Now might be a good time to note that this ep was written by Kenny himself, James Houghton, along with his sister Mona Houghton, and is actually the last of the little trilogy of eps they wrote together (the other two being Possibilities and the brilliant Best Intentions).  I note this because I wonder if he incorporated himself and Ginger into this script as a way to give their characters, you know, something to do.  That’s what I saw him doing with Possibilities, in which the focus pretty much stayed on Kenny and Ginger the whole time, almost as if he was saying that if none of the other writers were gonna give him anything to do, he would write material for himself.  By the way, I’m not criticizing, even if it might sound like I am, and the way that Kenny and Ginger become involved in the story this week is actually very organic.   Ciji is a really great singer so I find it believable that Gary would alert Kenny to her existence.

                Kenny, Ginger, Gary, and Abs all gather together at a nightclub to listen to Ciji perform Open Arms, and I got a big KL boner during this scene as we get to see Lisa Hartman’s very first song on KL.  Another thing that I find immediately distinctive about the season four through seven era of KL is that it’s the most musical period of the show, where all the action will halt for as long as five minutes so we can listen to Lisa Hartman sing a song.  Again, some people might say all this is boring or that the show doesn’t need to show her performing full songs from start to finish, but I love it, and I remind you viewers that we are still in a period of television history when there was time to let your stories unfold.  These shows are around 48 minutes long, so much longer than network hour long dramas are today (I think they’ve gotten down to 42 minutes at this point), so we have all the time in the world, so why not spend five minutes listening to a song?  I’m also just so happy to hear real music on the show, to know that the days of Kenny putting on a “hip new record” that just sounds a lot like big band public domain music are now dead and buried.  Now Ciji is here and she’s going to sing and she’s going to sing real songs, damn it!  During the next four years, we are going to hear a lot of songs from Hartman, so I am going to make every effort to keep track of all of them as we power along.  So, as of this moment, her very first KL song is this cover (it’s usually covers, by the way) of Open Arms and I am eager to see what songs await us in the near future.

                So that was Encounters.  How was it?  Again, a very solid little KL episode and I hate to sound like a broken record, but basically the stories are continuing to power along and build up steam.  Season four marks the first year where I feel like the writers and producers really sat down before they got started on it and made a great big plan for how the whole year would unfold over the course of 22 episodes.  The last three seasons, particularly that bizarre and schizophrenic third season, felt more like the show struggling to find its identity and decide whether it was episodic or serialized, taking quite awhile to make up its mind.  Here, I fully believe that there was an outline and a plan, that the writers were planning far in advance for the conclusion of the season even at the very beginning stages of the year.  Therefore, I must also stress that these early eps of season four are not as jam packed with excitement as, say, the last five episodes of season three, but that’s because we are dealing with setup here; we are lining up our characters and stacking the dominoes up for the time when they shall eventually start falling.

                Next week we are introduced to another one of KL’s most memorable characters, Chip Roberts, with Svengali.

2 comments:

  1. Love Lisa Hartman, and her addition to the show was so important to the cohesiveness of the cast in season 4. Often, the large cast would be in worlds of their own and would only interact at a party or some social event. But the writers did a brilliant job of getting just about everyone involved in the Ciji/Chip storyline. That doesn't happen that often, so it is great to see it all build up from the very beginning.

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  2. I agree with David. There were a few seasons in a row, beginning here, where everyone came together at some point plot-wise, and it was quite excellent story telling.

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