Sunday, October 9, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 062 of 344: THE BEST KEPT SECRET


Episode Title: The Best Kept Secret

Season 04, Episode 09

Episode 062 of 344

Written by Richard Gollance

Directed by Lorraine Senna

Original Airdate: Thursday, December 2nd, 1982

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby invites a famous record producer, Jeff Munson, to hear Ciji sing. Kenny's worried that Jeff will take over, but Gary tells him not to worry. Jeff knows Val and asks her out in front of Gary, and he's jealous. Laura's upset that Richard took money from Abby and is lying to her again. Gary spends the day with Ciji, and Abby's jealous. Diana decides to apologize to Mack and goes to his apartment. She finds him with another women. Mack then tells Karen that it's his neighbor Patricia, and she means nothing to him. Karen's very upset, but Val tells her to give Mack another chance. Mack tells Karen that he loves her, but Karen says she doesn't love him.

 PLEASE NOTE: I'VE INCLUDED A VIDEO OF LISA HARTMAN SINGING IN THIS BLOG WRITEUP.  I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO THE SONG OR TO THE FOOTAGE FROM THE SERIES, AND NO INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.

                Now that Mack and Karen have been dating pretty steadily for a couple of episodes (this marks their ninth episode as a dating couple, if I’m doing my counting correctly), the time is right to set up a roadblock in their relationship and dangle the possibility of them breaking up in front of the audience.  The Best Kept Secret is about a lot of things and it has a lot of material for all the characters, but the central focus is on Karen and Mack and whether or not their relationship can work.  Minor spoiler alert, but I think we all know that this relationship is gonna work out all right since Kevin Dobson stays with the series until the very last episode in 1993; this episode serves as a temporary roadblock, but does that mean it can’t be interesting to watch?  Well, let’s find out.

                We actually open The Best Kept Secret on the Fairgate kids playing a little Atari in the living room.  How modern, no?  I feel like somewhere within the confines of the 357 episodes of Dallas, we also had some characters (I wanna say it was Cliff Barnes and some other people?) playing Atari at a certain point.  Now, Atari is just barely before my time enough for me to have never played it (I was a Super Nintendo kid), so I’m not quite sure what they’re playing.  I think it’s Asteroids, actually, because it certainly doesn’t look like Pac Man.  In any case, it’s a small detail that made me grin and feel at home as we begin the episode, plus it provides a more organic way for the characters to interact and discuss their problems.  You could have just had Michael, Eric, and Diana sorta sitting around, just talking, or perhaps they could have been watching TV, but I like having them play video games cuz it gives them something to do with their hands and gives the scene a certain energy, not to mention grounding it firmly, very firmly, in 1982.

                Anyway, what are the Fairgate kids discussing?  Why, Mack and Karen, of course.  Remember how Diana has been being such a mega-bitch to Mack since around the time of New Beginnings?  Well, it hasn’t changed since then, and we can all remember her little nasty comments to him last week in Man in the Middle (“I’m sure he had a perfectly good reason for going; what’s your reason for bringing it up?”).  Yup, suffice it to say that Diana and Mack are having a hard time getting along (although I put most of the blame on Diana for being, you know, a mega-bitch).  Here, she is going on another rant about how she doesn’t like Mack and Bob Loblaw, all while playing Asteroids or whatever.  The boys tell her maybe she should attempt a fresh start with him, go and see him in private, hang out, talk, get to know him better, work things out.  Diana thinks this is a fine idea and declares, “And tomorrow’s Sunday, so he’ll be home!”

                This is a bit of a plot contrivance, I admit, but I’ll let it go.  Based on how Diana has been behaving the last few weeks, I’m not sure I buy her having this little change of heart and suddenly wanting to improve her relationship with Mack.  I feel like Diana is stubborn and would rather keep the hostility going, her resentment brewing just barely beneath the surface, but instead she decides that going to see Mack at his apartment is the perfect plan.  The reason I’ll forgive this plot contrivance is because, well, I like where the plot goes as a result of it, and also because the writing is so good and the characters are so interesting that I can sorta go along with this.  Also, I feel like we’re witnessing an evolution of Diana into full on raving mega-bitch; she’s not completely there yet (she will be by season five), but the transformation is beginning.  At this point she’ll act like a brat and then have little moments where she seems a bit more normal, so I guess this is one of those moments.

                Now, I guess I can get where Diana is coming from, but it’s also kinda poor planning to just show up at some dude’s apartment, especially if the dude is a confirmed bachelor and has only been dating her mother for a couple of weeks.  Okay, Mack is nearing 40 (I checked, and The Dobsonator was born in 1943 and we are almost up to 1983 at this point) and has probably gotten pretty set in his fabulous bachelor ways.  This romance he’s got blooming with Karen feels like a new thing to me, something he hasn’t tried out in a long time, maybe years.  My point is that it’s hard to ditch your lifestyle overnight, so let’s cut the guy a break for what Diana discovers.

                And what exactly does Diana discover?  Well, she knocks on his door, he opens it, and she starts to go on a little speech about, “Let’s start fresh, get to know each other; I’m really not such a mega-bitch, you’ll see!”  But then some mysterious woman wearing almost nothing (I think a bathrobe is all she’s got on) comes walking out of the bathroom and is like, “Jeez, Mack, my vagina’s really sore from you sticking your penis in it so often!”  With these words and the overwhelming evidence laid out right before her very eyes, Diana turns and retreats in horror and anger, all her worse suspicions about Mack suddenly realized.

                I tend to want to side with anyone besides Diana, and I do side with Mack in this instance, just for the record, but I can see where Diana’s coming from, as well.  See, Sid hasn’t really been dead that long yet (if we just follow along by episode airdates, then Sid died November 19th, 1981, and now it is December 2nd, 1982, so it’s been just over a year, really) and so I’m sure Diana still has issues in that department.  Like, her father died last year, now her mother has found a new man who she seems to like and find special, and then when Diana goes to his apartment, some broad in a bathrobe comes walking out after shagging Mack.  Yeah, I can see why she’d be mad.

                But I am still Team Mack right here.  Remember this is coming from the perspective of a gay boy, one who thinks such things as “cheating” and “adultery” are kinda just concepts invented by straight people for the purposes of shaming their partner and keeping them tied down.  I’m more of the free spirit type of gay dude; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a shag on the side with a friend every now and then, even when you’re in a relationship.  In fact, I think if you’re in a relationship with some, it’s essential that you have the occasional shag on the side to keep from getting bored with your partner.  I also believe that love and sex are not necessarily entwined and linked together; you can love your partner and still enjoy a roll in the hay with someone else.  For the record, I do believe these are issues that should be discussed with both partners, however; you shouldn’t just run off and put your penis into any hole you feel like without telling your partner in advance, but if you’ve got a dialogue going on and make it clear, I don’t see the problem.

                Okay, so Mack doesn’t do this, and of course Mack and Karen are heterosexuals, which means they operate by a different set of rules, far more constrictive and suffocating than us gays generally like to handle things.  But again I repeat that the writing is just so good and the characters are just so interesting and so complex that I don’t really see anyone in this situation as being good or bad, right or wrong.  See, Mack is a nearly 40-year-old bachelor who has probably gotten pretty set in his ways.  He likes living alone, he likes drinking beer and watching football games, and he likes having his friend over for the casual shag every now and again.  Nothing at all wrong with any of that.  On the other hand, Karen has only been with two men in her life (Sid Fairgate and Teddy Becker, if you all wanna flash back to the amazing performance of Terry Kiser back in One of a Kind) and puts a lot of stock into, gulp, “Love making,” as she likes to call it.  To her, it’s not something you do with just anybody. 

                I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.  I want to note that I immediately recognized Mack’s little fuck buddy as soon as she stepped out of the bathroom, but I wasn’t sure why.  Well, the actresses’ name is Rebecca Stanley and she was in Brian De Palma’s kinda brilliant and kinda ridiculous Body Double from 1984 (one day when I finally get my sister blog devoted to Brian De Palma up and running, you can read all my thoughts on this incredible film).  This marks the second Body Double person that I’ve caught showing up on KL, as we also had David Haskell as a romantic interest of Ginger’s back in season two (and I just realized this, but we’ll be seeing Guy Boyd, also from Body Double, years and years down the line when we reach season twelve!).  Clearly the nexus of the universe is Body Double and, like The Dark Tower, it is the very force that binds all of existence together.

                I almost expected Diana to rush home and immediately tell her mother what she found, that she’d be eager to shit all over Karen’s face and say, “See?  I told you so!”  Instead, she sorta keeps quiet on what she saw at the apartment, but then Mack does the right thing and comes over to the house to talk to Karen.  He sorta tiptoes around the issue a little bit at first, telling the story all slow, but when he gets to the punchline, Karen is not pleased and asks him to leave the house.  Again, I almost want to pick a side and argue for their defense in this situation, but I simply can’t because both characters are so interesting and I understand them both so well.  Karen feels lied to and hurt by the first man she has really started to have feelings for since losing her husband (I’m not even gonna count any of those boring white guys she dated for one or two episodes back in season three).  Karen also has a telling line here when she says, “I had the best!  Sid Fairgate would never do this to me!”  She’s right, of course, and maybe Mack is starting to realize that he’s got a tough competition here, because Sid really was the model husband and couldn’t do an indecent or unethical thing even if his very life depended on it.

                Let’s take a break from Karen/Mack to focus on our other characters.  What’s going on with them?  Well, just like last week, Ciji is getting prepped to sing some more songs after midnight at Daniel, so Abs has arranged for some big shot record producer guy to come and see her sing.  This confused me, by the way, because when we meet this character, Jeff Munson is his name, the characters (specifically Val) sorta talk and interact with him as if he has been on the series before.  In fact, I wondered if he was maybe at one of Val’s book signing parties or something and I just missed him.  Well, no, because I went and looked it up and The Best Kept Secret is his first of what will turn out to be twelve appearances (looks like his final appearance is the final ep of this season, Willing Victims).  Anyway, he’s played by Jon Cypher (pictured below), and he’s actually a Transmorpher, having appeared earlier in 1982 in the Dallas episode Post Nuptial.  He’s also in a bunch of other stuff (including 71 episodes of Hill Street Blues) and seems to be your basic working character actor.  At least within the confines of this episode, he certainly doesn’t do much to impress me, but that might just be because he’s being introduced as a new boring white guy romantic interest for Val.  We’ve got eleven more eps with him, so we’ll see if he ends up winning me over at all.

                Jeff Munson is actually introduced in a pretty amusing scene where Abs kinda bursts into this art building place (where I’m pretty sure,the other guy in the scene is John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted in a random little appearance) and starts talking to who she thinks is Jeff Munson all while the real Jeff Munson stands there and watches her.  She’s like, “Oh, Mr. Munson, I admire you so much,” and then the real Munson is like, “Thank you,” and Abs realizes she’s sorta made a fool out of herself by addressing the wrong person.  But whatever, because when she asks Munson to come to Daniel and hear Ciji sing, he agrees.

                In my notes I jotted down, “What was wrong with the record business in 1982?”  I wrote that because the characters, most specifically Abs, just keep bringing up, “The way things are going with the record business these days,” and talking all negative about it.  To my knowledge, music was doing just fine in 1982, no?  Wasn't this the year that Thriller came out and isn't that easily one of the greatest albums ever made?  But everyone keeps acting like music and albums are about to go extinct, yet I had no awareness of such a scare in 1982 and My Beloved Grammy doesn’t remember anything like that either.  The only thing I can think of is that CDs were invented and first released in 1982, but why would that be a bad thing for the record business?  Wouldn’t that just mean we’re entering a transition era where, when a record comes out, it’s available on both vinyl and CD?  If anyone has any knowledge of some sort of musical drought that occurred in 1982, please comment or write in to inform me, because all these cryptic lines only served to confuse me.

                On the Richard and Laura side of things, this is the episode where Laura finds out what’s been going on the last few weeks between Richard and Abs.  He finally crumbles and admits to Laura that he took money from Abs as an investment in the restaurant, but that it came with some nasty strings attached, including her power to foreclose and shut down the business anytime she likes.  Laura is not pleased with this turn of events and also takes the opportunity to list all the other people who have given Richard money for Daniel, including Karen, of course (though I remind you that Karen’s investment was super sweet and just a friend helping out another friend; she didn’t use the investment for the purposes of blackmail). 

                After what she finds out, we have a quick but interesting little scene where Laura pays a visit to Richard’s lady doctor, Dr. Lillian McCary, played by Edith Atwater (pictured below), reprising her role from back in China Dolls.  Again, nice random continuity by having the same actress playing the same character, even for a scene as brief as this one.  These are the small details I appreciate about KL, because this is TV in 1982 and 1983 and they could easily just ship in some other woman to play this character and I doubt the audience would even notice, since she hasn’t been seen since the ending of last season, but instead they get the same lady back.  Basically Laura goes to express some of her concerns about Richard and his new restaurant, and she shares some feelings to the effect that perhaps she shouldn’t have moved back in with Richard, all before basically asking the doctor what she should do, and of course the doctor tells her that she can’t just tell her how to live her life, now can she?  A quick little scene, but I kinda dug it.

                As the episode starts to head to a close, all our main players gather at Daniel for another fabulous night of Ciji’s singing.  I didn’t really think about it until I got into season four with My Beloved Grammy, but Daniel as a location is a good choice and serves as a place for the characters to meet and interact and stay tied together.  Perhaps the show is at its best when it has a good central location as a gathering spot for all our main players?  I’ll pay attention in future seasons to see what locations we are given (I vaguely recall another restaurant being used for these purposes in the fourteenth season, but that’s years and years down the line), but I love how Daniel serves as a point of gathering for everyone.  Also, now that we’ve been away from Knots Landing Motors for a couple of episodes (and I feel almost confident that we never see it again, though I could be wrong), I’m realizing that the garage was kinda a boring, grimy place to set so much of the action and storylines.  This isn’t something I would have even remembered or thought about until setting out on this rewatch, but now I’m seeing them phase out the dealership in favor of different locations such as this restaurant and I’m glad.

                Also, there’s a lot of sly humor at play in this little segment of the episode, because for perhaps the one and only time in the series history, Valene arrives looking better than Abby.  This is not meant as a diss on J.V.A., by the way, since you all know I love her and her portrayal of Val, but it’s mostly me saying that I think Donna Mills was probably the most beautiful and stunning woman on television in the entire 1980s, so any other person would pale in comparison.  But in the case of this ep, it looks like the wardrobe and makeup people intentionally made Val look really good and really put together and then threw a pretty crummy, like, sweater on Abs and barely even touched up her hair and makeup, leaving her looking less than put together.

                Oh yeah, and I should also note the fact that Gary and CIji arrive at Daniel together looking rather chummy.  I forgot to mention this, but these two spend most of the episode together, just sorta hanging out, although you could cut their sexual tension with a knife.  We all know Gary has a wandering eye and we all know he loves to cheat after he gets too trapped/bored in whatever relationship he’s currently in.  Now that he’s officially with Abs, it’s only natural that he’d start thinking about having an affair with a new person.  Now, so far as I can tell, no funny business goes on between the two, at least not within the confines of this episode, but basically when Chip doesn’t show up to give Ciji the ride home that she needs, Gary offers to drive her himself. 

                Well, the two arrive at her little apartment and Ciji invites Gary in.  We have a very interesting little scene that cuts so abruptly you’re left wondering what, if anything, went on.  See, for some reason Ciji is, like, trying on new clothes or something, and even though she’s right in front of Gary, she just starts to strip out of her clothes, dropping her attire to nothing more than a bra and panties.  At this point, my attention perked up, but then we cut just as soon as she drops the clothes.  What happened in those minutes that we were not given the opportunity to see?  Also, what is Ciji’s angle here?  Okay, she might just be one of those super-comfortable-with-nudity people (I myself am one of those people; I’ll get naked in front of anyone anytime anywhere, so I can understand), but it still strikes me as a tad vexing that she invites Gary up to her apartment and then immediately starts to strip out of her clothes, all right before his hungry eyes.  The way they just cut, BOOM, right after that, is also vexing, making the viewer wonder if anything went on while we were focused on other characters.

                So, anyway, when they arrive at Daniel looking like the best of friends, it only serves to rub some salt into Abby’s wounds.  In fact, I can think of three things in total that make Abby look kinda foolish in this little segment.  One is of course the fact that Gary seems to have taken such an interest in Ciji, and the other is that Val looks so good at this event and Abs is hardly looking her best at all, and finally the third thing is that when Jeff Munson sees Val, he gets all excited and sits down next to her and is like, “I just loved your book!”  Abs brought Jeff Munson along to see Ciji, not to suck Val’s dick, and you can tell that all the attention Val is getting from Jeff just makes Abs more annoyed and angry.

                Mack comes speeding angrily up in his jeep, a running theme at this point in the series, and then he angrily hands his keys to the valet guy and runs inside to find Karen.  The two go outside to have a conversation that sounds like it was done entirely in a sound booth somewhere.  Seriously, what’s up with this?  This isn’t one of those situations where the camera is positioned at the back of someone’s head and all the dialogue is clearly looped in later; instead, their lips are moving and the words coming out match what they’re saying, yet it all sounds very dubbed.  My conclusion is that the scene was really filmed outside, all natural and very un-Hitchcock, and then the ambient noise of cars or rain or whatever was too overpowering and the dialogue had to be re-recorded.

                Despite the looping, this is a good scene and a really pivotal one in the series, as well, because this is the first time that Mack says the L word.  That’s right, he tells Karen that he loves her.  In addition to the love business, he gives a pretty good speech about how his life is a certain way and he thought he liked it that way, but now that she’s a part of his life, he’s starting to feel new things and see his life in a different way.  Sadly, none of this works on Karen, and after the love declaration she simply declares that she does not love him and then returns inside to hear Ciji sing.

                And oh boy, Ciji’s song this week is a doozy.  I’m gonna go right ahead and say that this is my favorite song Lisa Hartman ever sings on KL.  It’s a little known piece called If Love Must Go that was originally recorded and performed by Dobie Gray.  His version is beautiful, as well, but Lisa’s is arguably even better.  The song starts with a real country twang sound coming from the guitars and when Ciji starts singing, she really pours her heart into it.  The lyrics are perfect for the theme of this episode, as well, basically about how she had love once, but now she doesn’t, and it explores the idea that you invest so much of your love into one person that, when that love dies, you don’t have any love left for another person.  The chorus ends with, “There’s no holding back these tears; I’m feeling all the years we’ll never come to know if love must go.”  Pretty apt choice considering everything Karen and Mack have been fighting about, no?

                I think I love the song not just because it’s great (it is another one coming off of Lisa’s Letterock album, by the way) but because I love the way it sets the tone for this scene and the episode ending.  This is another instance where we get to watch an entire four minute musical performance and we just get to see the characters watching Ciji sing.  Not only is Ciji filmed beautifully with some fabulous ‘80s star filters and the camera spinning slowly around her back and then going into a closeup of her face, but the reactions of everyone listening to her also speaks volumes about what they’re feeling.  Let’s go down the list, you have Kenny and Ginger (snore) sitting together, Kenny looking proud of this great singer he’s discovered, Ginger looking maybe a smidge jealous, perhaps worrying about whether she can get food stamps after she and Kenny are finally booted off the series.  You have Abs and Gary together, looking cozy but also rather uncomfortable due to the presence of Val.  You have Richard angrily drinking wine in the corner and feeling resentment.  Finally, you have Karen sitting and trying to hold back her own tears as the prescient lyrics of this song unfold into her ears.  When the song culminates, the camera drifts over into a shot of Karen as tears roll quietly down her face, and that’s where the episode ends.

                This is one of my favorite episode endings of the entire series.  I’d put this right up there with Laura and the cigarette at the end of The Lie.  The image of Karen crying silently as this fabulous song comes to its climax is just haunting and heartbreaking; you feel so bad for her and want her to work things out with Mack and the emotions are just enhanced by this great song.  Barring some unforeseen event that I have forgotten, I don’t think Lisa Hartman ever tops this performance in her time on the series.

                As for The Best Kept Secret as a whole, well I obviously enjoyed the shit out of it.  I’m sitting here and trying to think if there was anything I didn’t like about it, and I don’t have anything.  The only thing that could possibly be a complaint actually serves as proof of how fucking great KL is, and that’s the fact that we know at our core that Karen and Mack will work things out.  Now, on another show this would just feel like what it is, a temporary stall to throw some conflict into their relationship.  But on KL, I still totally care about both the characters and what they are going through, and I find them both so interesting to watch and I totally understand the perspective of them both.  I just love how the writing never tries to proclaim one character is good and one character is bad.  Karen and Mack are both adults who have lived and had their own adventures for nearly 40 years all before meeting and dating each other, so they are just going to see things differently in many instances. 

                In addition to this main storyline that I found very compelling, all the other characters continue to get plenty of great material, plus we are witnessing the blossoming of a potential new relationship between Gary and Ciji and even Val and Jeff Munson (okay, I’ll confess that I don’t really care about that one, but we’ll give it a pass), all while the other stories that have been growing and building since the start of the season continue to propel along.

                It’s been awhile since we’ve been to the hospital, so isn’t it fortunate that our next episode involves Diana having a sudden medical problem and being rushed to the hospital?  That’s right, next up Karen faces the possibility of losing her beloved (?) daughter in Emergency.

4 comments:

  1. I too am a big fan of the restaurant set and will miss it when it's gone. Is Emergency tied to Abby's Choice? I always skip those two when I'm binge-watching this show. I just can't handle any story line that involves Diana in a life-or-death situation. I root for the wrong side.

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  2. I think the music business was a little stagnant around this time. Disco was dead, arena rock was getting stale, and there really wasn't anything that defined this era. I think Thriller actually help usher in an era of great albums and a rebirth of music. That being said, I always thought Lisa should have had a few hit singles. Her voice and look was better than a lot of other hit makers of this era. But who can predict what will be a hit?

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  3. This was definitely her best song. Maybe she had some that were a little more "showy" vocally but this was my favorite in terms of the quality of the song and her interpretation AND how they incorporate it into the episode. It is easily one of the best endings of the series and it shows how great Michele Lee could be with subtlety when she tried it.

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  4. Knots Landing Motors will be back-- Not ever as prominently as it was in the first few seasons, but we haven't seen the complete last of it. If I remember correctly, we see it up as last as season 7, and then there is mention of Harold working there in season 10. I believe that is the last mention of it. I just always assume that it's always there.

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