Episode Title: Man in the Middle
Season 04, Episode 08
Episode 061 of 344
Written by Richard Gollance
Directed by Lorraine Senna
Original Airdate: Thursday, November 18th, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby and Gary move into a beach house. Abby wants Ciji to sing at Daniel. Richard says no, so Abby threatens him. Val tells Karen that Chip makes her uneasy. Chip tells Ciji that he's dating Diana as a way to make contacts and help Ciji's career, but that she means nothing to him. Diana's upset that Chip won't take her to Ciji's opening and takes her anger out on Mack. Chip and Ciji begin an affair and Ciji is a big hit at her opening at Daniel.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now seen and gotten to know Michael Sabatino as Chip Roberts for four glorious episodes, starting with Svengali. Like the layers of a delicious onion that you’re about to chop up and put into some sort of health omelet, Chip keeps peeling back and revealing a bit more about himself each week. As we enter Man in the Middle, I think we are all starting to get the feeling that the guy is not who he claims to be and that he’s pretty duplicitous and quite the con artist. In fact, let’s review.
When we first met Chip back in Svengali, he showed up at Val and Lilimae’s doorstep and was, I think, basically supposed to be the coffee boy. I don’t think he really had any pull over at Bess Riker’s P.R. company; he was just an errand boy. However, he presented himself as someone with clout and immediately starting spinning an elaborate web of lies towards pretty much everybody, first towards Val with how he presented himself and his import and then towards Bess with his plans and ideas for Val. Okay, so then in New Beginnings we saw that he was living with and sleeping with Bess, but she threw him out and he was homeless for a couple of minutes before managing to charm Lilimae into letting him live at the house that she does not own and has no right over, all completely rent free. Finally, with both New Beginnings and Investments, we started to see a romance blooming between Chip and Diana, not to mention his power to corrupt her weak and fragile mind into stealing a car from Knots Landing Motors. Only four episodes deep and the guy’s already stirring up a real heap of trouble, wouldn’t you agree?
With Man in the Middle, we really start to see how many different lies this guy is juggling all at once. Early in the episode, we come upon him and Diana playing tennis at some fancy club, like all white people in the ‘80s did. I believe this is the first time we are seeing this particular whites-only club on the series, and it served to remind me that we are watching the show change and evolve right before our very eyes. Those first three seasons were very domestic, with lots of regular, relatable problems, and all the characters could be described as middle class. Remember back in season two with Chance of a Lifetime when Richard walked out on his opportunity for a promotion with the firm he was working for, stating that he was discriminated because, “My family lives in Knots Landing and not Beverly Hills,” or something similar? Well, since that episode it seems like things have changed a bit as far as status goes, because now living in Seaview Circle seems to have quite a bit more clout. It means that you are allowed into the snooty whites-only tennis club, for one thing. In addition to this, Gary has obviously just come into his big inheritance and so he is becoming one of “them,” as David Jacobs might describe it, and indeed this is the first episode to unveil The Beach House (which I will be jerking off over in a few short moments). My point is that while these characters are still relatable to us regular viewers (and, in my opinion, remain relatable all the way until episode 344), glitz and glamour and money are starting to show themselves as part of the series' fabric much more than they ever did within the first three years.
There’s a lot of story to juggle this week, so let’s return for awhile to the saga of Richard and Abs and the whole restaurant story. Near the head of this episode, Abs and Richard are hanging out at Daniel, going over money figures, when Richard unveils his new ESPRESSO MACHINE and yes, in the words of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, it’s “one of those real espresso machines, the gold one with the eagle on top!” Everyone drinks espresso nowadays (although everyone seems to only want to drink Starbucks, which is shitty, overpriced espresso that tastes like sludge), so it’s hard to imagine how cool and trendy this shit would be in 1982. Having a restaurant with a real espresso machine with an eagle on top and being able to serve espresso shots in those cool little teeny tiny cups would be the happening thing (FYI, my parents were way ahead of the curve and actually had an espresso machine in the kitchen throughout the 1980s, but they eventually got rid of it and switched to the typical shitty Mr. Coffee maker, mostly because they found all the hassle and preparation and cleanup of the espresso machine to be too much work).
Anyway, the espresso machine serves as a catalyst for Abs to remind Richard that his restaurant is bleeding money. Even though, according to Richard, they have reservations two weeks in advance and the place is packed every night, they are still losing money because of his spending. Now, I don’t know who we’re supposed to side with in this situation (maybe nobody, since KL is so well written and the characters so richly drawn that we can understand all of them equally), but I’m agreeing with Richard. No restaurant in the history of time has opened up and then immediately turned a huge profit within the first year. With any new business, there’s going to be a period where you’re losing money until you start to build a reputation and a loyal customer basis. Not to constantly bring up my parents, but they are business owners and are very successful, yet my dad told me that it took about fifteen years for the business to finally start turning a real profit, and this is something people need to remember before they get too excited and put all their money into a new business. Anyway, Daniel has been opened for, what, a couple of weeks? Richard is correct in his assertion that it’s gonna take time to start turning a profit, but Abs is pretty livid about the espresso machine and the expensive wine he orders and all that. She uses this opportunity to reiterate her threat from last week about how, any time she wants to, she could very well shut him down and take the restaurant away from him.
Before the scene ends, Laura comes walking in and I really feel like we haven’t seen her in awhile. I did a quick IMDb episode search to see if I was correct, and I am, for Constance did not appear in either New Beginnings or Investments (she was probably taking a few weeks off to take care of her real life son who had just been born, I’ll bet). Well, now she’s back and I’m glad to see her. She walks in at the same moment that Abs sorta rushes out, and we see the glint of suspicion in her eyes as she asks Richard what Abs was doing hanging around the restaurant. Watching this, I had the thought that Laura probably doesn’t suspect anything weird and money-related is going on between the two, but she may very well think they’re returning to their old affair from season two; what do you think? Just because Abs is with Gary now is no reason why she can’t have an affair with someone else, including returning to one of her old married men that she spent many a memorable afternoon in the hot tub with. It also doesn’t help that Richard isn’t telling Laura what’s going on; he is still suffering from the same Napoleonic complex he has suffered from since day one. He needs to be the big man and that means pretending everything is okay even when it’s not. Laura is a smart woman who could help Richard out if he confessed to his problems, but instead he leaves her in the dark so he can keep up the illusion that all is rosy in the universe.
We get another big plot point unveiled this week when Chip shows up at Ciji’s rather fabulous little apartment (it’s a quaint little place, but it’s got real personality and I feel like I could live in it) and, upon finding her in the bed, he hops into her arms and the two start making out passionately while the music swells, right before cutting into a 1982 commercial break. Oh boy, is the plot ever thickening! Now we see that not only has Chip been lying to Bess, Val, Lilimae, tons of other people, but even to his new romantic interest, Diana! When we see this little event occurring, we know right away that this isn’t some sudden, spontaneous affair; the two slip into bed together comfortably and we know they’ve been going at this for awhile. Oh yeah, and he’s also lying to Ciji, I might add. He tells her that he’s only dating Diana in a surface way, that it’s not like they’re serious, and that he’s doing all of it for Ciji. He says Diana knows important people and those important people are gonna help Ciji out in the long run. Oh boy, this guy never quits.
Before I talk some more about Chip (who is kinda the central focus of this episode, really), I want to talk about The Beach House. Yes, I do feel I should write it out as The Beach House, in capital letters, to really emphasize its amazingness. See, we all remember how Abs was so underwhelmed last week when Gary took her to that ranch and was like, “Ah, smell that horse manure! Isn’t this great?” So now Abs has picked a more suitable living arrangement for them, and I concur with it 100% and, whenever I search my memory banks to think about the joys of KL (which I do on a frequent, at least once-per-day basis), I always seem to return to The Beach House as one of my favorite locations ever on the show. What’s funny is that, so far as I can remember, The Beach House only exists within the confines of the fourth season; in the fifth season, Gary finally seems to win the argument for a ranch because they move to a ranch that he christens Westfork. So anyway, as we move along through the fourth season, really cherish The Beach House, because we won’t be seeing all that much of it in the grand scheme of things.
The Beach House is located on, um, the beach, directly in front of the ocean, with this really fabulous view from the gigantic wraparound deck that the characters can go out onto in order to enjoy cocktails in the sun (club soda for Gary, obviously) and listen to the sounds of the birds and the crashing of the waves. The inside of the house is equally amazing, and I’m sorry that I’m so crummy at describing architecture and stuff, but basically there’s a really cool open quality to the house, like everything is sorta laid out (at least on the main floor) as one giant, open space, with a staircase that takes you straight up to the second floor. Sorry, since that’s about the best I can do as far as a description, but suffice it to say that we should all strive to live in a place as fabulous as The Beach House. I recall loving Westfork, too, and we definitely spend a lot more time in that location (I recall it being from roughly season five through around mid season thirteen), plus Westfork does seem to have an entire YMCA attached to it with workout machines and a sauna and steam room (sexy), but there’s just something about The Beach House that seems even more fabulous to me.
Mack and Karen are making arrangements to go out to dinner at the snooty whites-only tennis club, and Diana just sorta invites herself along. Talk about mega-bitch, by the way, because so far as I can remember, Karen doesn’t even ask Diana to come along. Instead, Diana is sorta like, “We’re coming with you,” and then when the night comes to go out, she acts like a brat. See, in the middle of the dinner, which consists of Karen, Mack, Diana, and Chip, Chip gets a phonecall from Ciji urging him to come meet her at the apartment as if it’s a matter of life and death. Okay, so he runs off, and then a little later, we see that it’s been quite some time and he is still missing. Mack acts like a gentleman and asks Diana if she’d like to dance with him until Chip gets back, and Diana says something like, “He’s only gonna be gone awhile,” and Mack says how he’s been gone for 45 minutes. Then Diana gets this real intense look on her face and glares at Mack and says, “I’m sure he had a perfectly good reason for leaving. What’s your reason for bringing it up?” At this point My Beloved Grammy made a scoffing noise and said, “Ugh, what a brat,” and I of course agree with her. Then Diana runs off to be bitchy or whatever and Mack tells Karen how, smart man that he is, he doesn’t trust Chip and he thinks he’s a “creep,” which seems to be one of Mack’s favorite words, at least at this point in the series (I’ll focus to see if he keeps dropping that word constantly a few seasons down the line).
Let’s take a quick moment to explore the inner workings of Mack’s mind. Would you all agree with me that Mack doesn’t like Diana at all? Would you agree that he’s putting up with her and her bitchiness because he’s falling in love with Karen and he knows that Karen and Diana have a special, close relationship? I can’t completely relate since I’ve never dated a woman (yuck!) and certainly never a woman who has kids (super double yuck!), but I’ll bet any guy who has started going out with a woman who’s already got some kids has had to deal with similar sets of problems, right? Mack is kinda a crass guy sometimes and he can be a little over-the-top, but at his core he is a good person with a solid set of values, so he is trying to be good and decent to Karen and everyone in her life, including her bitchy daughter.
When Chip gets to Ciji’s apartment, he is annoyed to discover that there was no emergency, that rather she was testing him just to see if he would come meet her when she asked for him. Chip is frustrated with her and I think it’s at this exact point in the episode that he gives her his spiel about how Diana is the instrument to propel Ciji to fame; he also tells her how he and Ciji can’t be seen out and about together, because it’s important that nobody know they are dating.In all this juggling, Chip has neglected to go and pick up poor Lilimae, who he promised to take to Daniel earlier in the episode. Thusly, Lilimae is sitting around the house all alone, flipping through the TV Guide (at least I think it’s the TV Guide; remember I am watching these on shitty bootlegged copies recorded off of SoapNet, so it’s often hard to see those micro details that would really come alive in a 3D HD BluRay when we are one day given such a gift), just waiting for Chip to call. I really feel bad for Lilimae here; there’s something really charming and endearing about her little crush on Chip, so you feel bad watching her be left out in the cold, ignored and neglected by him when he promised to take her out somewhere special. In any case, a little later in the episode, Chip calls Lilime and cooks up a good quick lie for her, saying how he is too busy now (“Too many people need me”) and would it be terribly inconvenient for her to take a cab down to the restaurant? Lilimae is nice and agrees to it, probably because she believes all of this nonsense.
I forgot to mention it, but the gang is gathering at Daniel near the end of this episode specifically to hear Ciji sing. This sets off some jealousy on the part of Richard which I wish to explore in some detail. I think way back in Pilot I declared Richard to be one of my favorite characters from the entire fourteen years of the series. Well, that hasn’t changed and I still feel that way and I’m sad, almost crushed to know that our time with Richard is coming to an end. When we pop in season five, we won’t be seeing The Plesh’s beautiful face in the classic scrolling squares anymore. Because of that, it’s making me really hone in and focus on all the details of Richard now. Anyway, Richard had his little mental breakdown back in Night (oh God that episode was so good….), and now as we are hitting middle season four, we see him trying to fix his life, trying to find his passion, trying to do what will make him happy. Opening this restaurant is actually not a bad idea and could potentially make Richard’s life better (oh yeah, and one other quick thing: I really appreciate that this love of cooking and wanting to own a restaurant didn’t just come out of the blue; if we retrace our steps all the way back to season one, we will see that Richard always had a penchant for cooking and has always had a keen ability to appreciate great food and fine drink; in another show, they would just invent this sudden passion in order to get the stories flowing), but now he is already starting to feel undermined and pushed into the background. Now Kenny and Abs are telling him how Ciji should sing in his restaurant after midnight, when the restaurant stops serving food. Richard agrees to this (mostly because he’s afraid Abs will take his business away from him, I’m sure), and then before Ciji starts singing, he gets requests for omelets. He doesn’t want to make omelets, and the kitchen is closed, after all.
Now, My Beloved Grammy pointed out that a person running a restaurant should feel pleased that their food is getting a good word of mouth (no pun intended), that people are requesting specific dishes because they heard it’s the best in the city or whatever. Well, she’s obviously absolutely right, but I also understand Richard’s resentment here. Instead of being the manager of the restaurant, he is now busting his ass in the kitchen making omelets like a lowly chef while all the attention is going to Ciji and her singing outside. As I keep reiterating, Richard is a small man and he gets jealous easily and he has a lot of issues with his own self worth. Being hidden in the kitchen while everyone cums in their pants over a new singer is just not what he wants to be dealing with at this point. Oh, but one quick detail that I really smile at here is how Laura becomes his little helper in the kitchen and they start cooking up omelets together; how cute is that?
When Ciji gets to the restaurant she does a little act as if she’s never seen Chip before. She’s all, “Oh, good to meet you, I’ve definitely never slept with you and felt your penis inside of me before!” Nobody seems to think twice about this, not even Diana, and then Ciji gets up onstage to sing her full rendition of Sometimes When We Touch. Oh how fabulous this all is, and I again repeat how much I love that the show will take so much time to just show her singing these songs while people listen. It just adds that extra level of richness to the proceedings, almost turning the series into this kinda musical odyssey where, amidst all the drama, we have these wonderful songs being sung fabulously by Ciji. A super quick parlay, while we’re on the subject. As of this writing, there are still no official DVD/BluRay releases of seasons three through fourteen, nor any availability on a streaming service or anything like that. Obviously this is a crime against nature, but people have theorized that one of the reasons for WB putting the kibosh on the DVD releases was not just low sales, but music rights issues. I can buy this theory, because we are gonna hear a lot of songs from Lisa Hartman over the next four years, and they’re always real songs, not made up ones for the show (the way that I think Ginger’s little song from Possibilities was created especially for her to sing on the show), so I imagine music rights issues could be a problem. Because of this theory, there’s a little group of fans who seem to be fine with the idea of her songs being removed from the series in order to get it available on streaming or whatever. I just want to go on record right now and say that I am not one of those people. I think to release these seasons without any of these songs would be absolutely unacceptable and I would not buy them or watch them on streaming if that were the case. This is not only because I am a hardcore believer in the preservation of film and television just as originally seen, but also because I think these songs and watching the characters react to her singing are important parts of the plot that make us feel different emotions and give the show an extra bit of flavor that made it unique and special. If WB did decide to release the remaining seasons of KL and then removed a whole bunch of music from the eps, it wouldn’t really be KL anymore.
I have a confession to make, and that’s that I can’t actually remember how this episode ends. By that I mean I can’t remember the very final scene and the very final image that we go out on, and that’s pretty unusual for me, because usually I can remember these things clear as a bell and usually I put them in my notes. However, for whatever reason, I can’t recall the very ending of Man in the Middle, only all the events leading right up to it. Because of that, I think it’s about time to wrap up my thoughts on the ep. How did I find it? Well, obviously I thought it was great. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if I should even bother with the general “my thoughts on this episode” segments anymore, because I honestly think we’ve reached that point where I’m gonna just be declaring every episode a home run. In a way, I wish I could find it in myself to be more critical, but what can I say? I just love it. I loved seeing Chip’s web of lies, I loved seeing the way all the characters are interacting and keeping tied together even as new dramas or separations enter their lives, I loved the plot twists and details that reveal that Chip and Ciji are sleeping together, I loved Ciji’s song (but it’s nothing compared to the song we will be discussing next week!), I loved witnessing the slow burn of Abby’s manipulations of Richard as well as his own feelings of jealousy and anger, and finally I loved loved loved the unveiling of The Beach House.
Next week we see a halt in Karen and Mack’s relationship when Diana catches Mack with, GASP, another woman (well, kinda). Will Karen and Mack be able to recuperate from this event? Well, I think most KL fans should already know the answer to this one, but join me next week as we discuss The Best Kept Secret.