Episode Title: Abby’s Choice
Season 04, Episode 11
Episode 064 of 344
Written by Oliver Clark
Directed by Joseph B. Wallenstein
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 16th, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura and Ciji become friends and spend time together. It's Ciji's 25th birthday and Chip calls and says he's hung up at work, so Laura gets her a cake. Kenny hears rumors that Jeff is taking over their record label, but Gary assures him it's not true. Abby refuses to donate her kidney at first, but then decides to after talking to Diana. Karen thanks her but Abby says she's doing it for Sid and Diana, NOT for her. Chip gives Diana the necklace he bought for Ciji's birthday and tells her he loves her. Surgery goes fine and both Diana and Abby are okay. Karen goes into Abby's room while she's sleeping and kisses her on the forehead.
Welcome back for another exciting episode of KL. When we last left off, Diana was on a dialysis machine and in desperate need of a new kidney that only her beloved aunt Abby could provide. After our thirty second preview and classic season four opening credits, we get a real quick recap (no “Previously on” narration or anything like that, however) to keep viewers in the loop of what’s going on. After our little recap, it’s on to new footage, with the episode credits playing over some beautiful footage of The Beach House as Abs gazes wistfully into the sunset and ignores Brian and Olivia, who are fighting in the sand down below. What will Abs wind up deciding? That’s what this episode will be all about.
I’m gonna let the cat out of the bag a little early here and say that I found this, overall, a pretty underwhelming episode of KL (and, spoiler alert, I actually found our very next episode, The Block Party, even more underwhelming), but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of good material here, because there is, and most of the best stuff comes from getting the time to further explore Abby’s character and let Donna Mills flex her acting muscles. We see some real interesting shades of the Abs character this week, and one of the first bits that struck me is how she so obviously uses sex as some sort of coping mechanism.
Follow me here. Since Abs first moved onto the block back at the start of season two, we’ve seen her to be a woman who enjoys a good roll in the hay (or the hot tub) as frequently as she can get it, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever really seen her as a nymphomaniac who can’t get enough cock, but rather as a woman who uses sex as a weapon to manipulate and take advantage of men. In this episode, while she’s worrying and fretting about what to do with Diana, Gary comes walking into the living room of The Beach House and Abs immediately is like, “Make love to me!” Gary looks at her and is like, “Now?” Abs says affirmative and then they just start to go at it right there in the living room, but it doesn’t last long. Instead, they sorta wind up embracing and just sitting that way on the couch before Abs finally starts to talk about what’s on her mind, what’s troubling her. My point is that it’s interesting to see her jump to using sex as some sort of a vehicle for distracting her from the other problems of life.
In addition to that, we get a rather naked little scene between her and Gary (and I mean "naked" in that she dispalys her emotions honestly, not as in they are literally naked) in which, I believe, she is being truly genuine and speaking to him openly and honestly. It’s a scene right near the start of the ep in which she tells Gary that she is not a hero and that she doesn’t have any courage. This is not Abs play acting or behaving a certain way just to get something out of another person, but rather her dropping her guard and just speaking candidly to Gary. This scene actually made me flash back to a really small, but rather significant, scene back in China Dolls near the end of season three. Do you all remember when Gary briefly, very briefly, ended his little affair with Abby and told her he’d be sticking with Val? Abby tried to act all cool with it, but then when Gary left the room, we had a quick few seconds of her beginning to cry right before we cut away to commercial. In that moment, we the audience got to see Abby in a very intimate and private moment and that’s the way that this particular moment feels to me.
There’s a lot of thinking and decision making going on this week on the part of Abs and, quite honestly, it was probably this stuff that most underwhelmed me. I believe I expressed a similar criticism last week with Emergency, but I’ll reiterate it a bit here. Basically, I never truly believe that Diana is going to die (and, of course, I also know she’s not going to die because I have watched the show once before and I remember that fact), nor do I believe that her life is really in any horrible type of danger. Secondly, I never believe that Abs will deny Diana her kidney, although again, this could just be hindsight speaking, since I remembered that plot point from my last viewing of the series. But basically all the footage of Abs talking to doctors or talking to Gary or talking to whoever and not being able to make up her mind about the decision just seemed like the writers killing time for the week, filling up the space until Abs can finally give the kidney and all can be well in the universe.
Let’s take a break from Abs and explore what’s going on with some of the other characters this week, shall we? I’ll jump right into my favorite one: The lesbian storyline between Laura and Ciji. That’s right, I’m just gonna come right out and call it “the lesbian storyline,” and I won’t make any bones about it. Long time KL viewers should immediately know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, Abby’s Choice shows the start of a friendship sparking between Laura and Ciji, but as we move through the next batch of eps, we are going to see a lot of little hints and details that lead us to believe that, perhaps, the two ladies were actually quite a bit more than friends. Now, upon my first viewing, I remember feeling like there was a little hint of something there, but that it was all subtext. Watching a solid disk of five eps with My Beloved Grammy and seeing this relationship develop over those five episodes, I was pretty shocked by how blatant it is, and I gotta give the KL team a nice little round of applause for being bold enough to go there in 1982-1983, when most of America was still afraid of us gays and didn’t like to see gays on their television screen.
I don’t know that there’s anything too obviously dripping with lesbianism this week, but follow me along and I’ll point out the most obvious instances as we move through the next few weeks. For the purposes of Abby’s Choice, it is Ciji’s birthday and she is turning 25 (which is pretty close to Lisa Hartman’s real life age, which would have been 26 at this point), but I guess she’s feeling kinda lonely cuz her boyfriend, that wonderful ball of love Chip Roberts, is so busy with his other commitments (like trying to sleep with Diana and generally spinning a web of lies to everyone in Seaview Circle and all of California) that he doesn’t really have time for her. Early in the ep, she is hanging around Daniel. Laura is there and the two sit and start to chat it up. I’m pretty sure this is the first we’ve seen of them interacting at all, but there could have been a moment or two somewhere in the last few eps; I can’t remember. But anyway, Laura is feeling frustrated and Ciji starts to go on about how smart and beautiful she is and it’s the beginning of a beautiful little friendship. Oh yeah, and a little later in the ep, we see the two ladies just hanging out in Richard and Laura’s bedroom, playing with Daniel on the bed. There’s a lot of Ciji and Laura on or near a bed throughout the next few weeks, so keep your eyes open, because that’s one of those rather intimate little touches that, I’m quite convinced, the writers added just to further hint that these two are developing into a little pair of lesbians.
Meanwhile, tension is starting to brew between Kenny and Gary. I apologize in advance if I’m not entirely clear on the events unfolding, but I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes have trouble with following the big business type storylines on the show. This may be the result of my own stupid brain, but it also might be the simple fact that storylines are spread out over the course of the entire season, so I’ll often forget the little details and then wind up being more confused down the line because of it. Not that there’s anything all that confusing in this storyline, but basically Kenny and Gary have been working together as sorta partners, right? Gary found Ciji back in Encounters and then he introduced her to Kenny since Kenny is the “hip young record producer,” and since then the two have been working together. Basically, this week Kenny starts to hear whisperings that Gary and Ciji are gonna sell out and go to work for the real big shot, Jeff Munson (that boring white guy we met a few eps back who is gonna be with us pretty much through the rest of the season). When Kenny confronts Gary on whether or not this is so, Gary denies it, and for the time being, I don’t think he’s lying. Like so many of the storylines going on at this juncture, this will all play out over time. I know that usually at this point I would insult Kenny and say mean things about what a wooden actor James Houghton is, but actually I’m not gonna do that because I am legitimately surprised to see Kenny actually playing a role in the storylines. Honestly, I did not remember this; in my memory, Kenny and Ginger both did literally nothing for four seasons and then left the show. But here I am watching them actually be a part of the stories and active participants. My point is that while I am still gonna relegate both of them to the bottom of the pile when it comes to main cast members, at least they’re involved now and I almost care about them. I don’t know if this is a testament to the actors or anything like that; rather, it’s more a testament to the writing staff doing a good job of keeping everyone in the cast involved and keeping things intimately linked, so good on you, writers.
That about does it for the other stories this week, so let’s get back to Diana at the hospital. I enjoyed an early scene in this ep in which Lilimae really goes all acid-tongue during a private conversation with Val. I really enjoy this era of Lilimae who is a bit more a shit-talker than she is a few seasons down the line. As we power through, we’re gonna hear her insult Gary a lot for quite awhile (I think at a certain point she starts to like Gary again, but we’re gonna be waiting awhile for that), but this week she really lets loose on Abby, saying to Val, “Abby is Abby; she has never done an unselfish thing in her life.” Hey, I don’t know that I’m necessarily disagreeing with Lilimae, just pointing out the rather no-holds-barred way that she is phrasing it. To the surprise of Lilimae (and probably lots of other people, as well), Abs does eventually agree to give up that kidney after a nice talk with Diana’s doctor, who tells her that the human body can survive with less than one kidney, that really we only use 1/5 of our kidneys. I have no idea if this is accurate medical information or not, but I heard it on a TV show, so therefore it must be true. Anyone who is maybe a doctor or some sort of expert on the human body feel free to tell me whether this is a truism or just something the writers invented for the show, cuz I am curious (not curious enough to just look it up myself, of course).
So anyway, Abs agrees to go through with it, and we get a nice little scene between her and Karen where she essentially asks Karen to leave her alone. I love moments where Karen and Abs are alone and get to be really straightforward about their dislike with each other. In this case, Abs makes sure that it’s clear that she is not doing this for Karen. She tells her she is doing it for Sid and for Diana, and that’s it, and that her biggest wish is for Karen to leave her alone and let her do her thing, to which Karen agrees.
Oh yeah, and how could I almost forget to mention some fabulous Gary/Val footage that we get this week? We really get to see Val step up and be the bigger person in the relationship this week, I have to say, and it’s a testament to her good heart and the fact that she is, inherently, just a good person. In this case, she finds Gary moping outside the hospital and she goes up to him and tells him she hopes he’s okay, she knows he’s worried, and she even says, get this, “I know how much she means to you.” Can you imagine how hard it would be to have to spit out that line to your soon-to-be-ex-husband about the woman he left you for and is currently sleeping with? Not only that, but later in the episode, when Olivia is all upset and crying, Val takes her on a walk and says, “Your mom is a hero right now.” Jesus, such kind words to say.
One last thing, after her little chat with Gary, Val walks away, but then turns back in time to see him chatting it up with Ciji, looking real excited to see the new singer. What to make of this? Well, part of me thinks that Val sees this display and perhaps thinks, “Same old Gary,” assuming that he’s gonna run off and sleep with Ciji now. Another part of me wonders if maybe, just maybe, Val likes the idea of Gary cheating on Abs and breaking her heart. Could Val have a mean streak like that in her? What do you think, my fellow readers?
Meanwhile, while Diana is getting prepped for surgery, we have quite a lot going on between her and con artist Chip. Probably most important for the events of the rest of the season as well as a good chunk of season five: They exchange the big “I love yous,” with eachother. Diana is lying in bed, looking all sick, looking like someone who needs a kidney, while a super gay male nurse makes her comfortable (seriously, this guy is ridiculous and is even rocking the ridiculous 1982 homo moustache, as well) and I believe she says it first, followed by a moment of nervous silence from Chip and then his response, which is, of course, “I love you, too.” Upon first viewing, with no knowledge of what’s going to happen in the future, this could easily play like two stupid teenagers (is Chip still a teenager? Okay, I just looked it up, and the answer is no, as he would be around 27 years old at this point in real life) exchanging stupid little sentiments to each other and thinking it’s all very epic, the way stupid teenagers think all things they do are very epic. Yes, you can view it that way, but looking at it knowing what’s coming up soon, I definitely saw this as a big moment, a moment that may go a long way towards explaining some of Diana’s, um, questionable behavior when we get to season five. In the interest of not spoiling future events for those lucky enough to still have that in front of them, all fresh and exciting to their virgin eyes, I shall move on to a new point.
Chip acts like the doting boyfriend and is being all nice and friendly with everyone gathered at the hospital. When he asks Karen if she’d like for him to get her anything from her house, she hands him the house key and is like, “Go on up to my bedroom and get this outfit out of my closet, or something.” Of course we know Chip is gonna be up to no good, but Karen doesn’t know that, yet. Now, I sorta expected him to steal some cash from the Fairgate house or something similar, but instead he just sorta snoops around Karen’s bedroom and finds a book of poetry by Emily Bronte, apparently a birthday gift from Diana to Karen. As soon as he found this, I turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “He’s gonna quote some random poem to impress Karen,” and of course I was right. As soon as he gets back to the hospital, he plops down next to Karen and all the other people gathered in the group and randomly quotes the poem (sorry, can’t remember what poem he quoted and I didn’t bother to put it in my notes). This scene had a small detail I appreciated, and that is the fact that while Karen is impressed and is like, “Oh, I love Emily Bronte,” we get a closeup of Mack’s face and he looks like he knows something is up. We’ve already heard him call Chip a creep back in, I think, Man in the Middle, so we know he’s wise to Chip, or at least he has a gut feeling that the boy can’t be trusted.
Things wrap up fairly quickly at this point. Diana and Abs both go into surgery and both turn out to be fine. Diana’s doctor comes out to tell Karen that she’s doing well but that they have to wait for her to produce urine. I wrote this in my notes because I am pretty sure that none of the other nighttime soaps would ever have discussion of any of the character’s urine. I could be wrong, but I’m almost certain that in 357 episodes of Dallas, we never heard mention of anyone’s urine nor any general bathroom habits. It’s just part of what helps keep KL a little more grounded in reality than its contemporaries.
Anyway, after the surgery, everything is all well and good and everyone is happy, and our very last scene is kinda nice, I must say. Karen sneaks into Abby’s room, where she is sleeping deeply, and in this private moment, she leans down and gives her a kiss on the forehead. It’s a real interesting moment because Karen is truly grateful that Abs has sacrificed a kidney for her daughter and she is expressing that gratitude in a way that’s rather private and that Abs will never even know about. See, another show would probably have the two talk about it, work things out, exchange words like, “Thank you” and so on, but here, we just get this silent, intimate little moment, and the best part is that Abs never knows about it, and that’s how we end the ep.
Okay, so I definitely liked aspects of this ep, and I think I’ve pointed out those aspects pretty well, but like I said, I also found this episode kinda meh. They can’t all be winners, and season four has so far been on an unbelievable run of high quality entertainment, so I’ll forgive one or two eps that are maybe not towering masterpieces of television, but I can still acknowledge if they are lacking. The thing is, though, I’m having a hard time figuring out what exactly was lacking, in this instance. There were character moments I enjoyed and there were lots of plot points moving along, but something just kept me at a bit of a distance from the proceedings; I wasn’t feeling as invested or enthralled as I had been by our last few eps. My Beloved Grammy felt the same way, as well, and when the ep was over, before we moved on to the next one, we talked about it a bit and basically both agreed that it was, you know, okay, but just okay. Make no mistake, it’s not like this is one of the worst eps ever, this is no Land of the Free or Silver Shadows, Heavens, no, but it was just kinda there. I think it might just boil down to my lack of interest in whether Diana lives or dies along with the general problem that I never believe she will die. The last time a Fairgate was at the hospital, it was Sid and it was gripping television and we all remember how that turned out and how devastating it was. Diana simply doesn’t carry the same weight that Saint Sid did, I guess. Therefore, a lot of this episode just kinda seemed like procrastinating, like they can’t just give Diana her kidney and move on, they have to make it stretch over not one, but two episodes, so some of this stuff felt kinda like filler.
Even so, I’ll of course add the little caveat that I love KL and will continue to love KL until the day I die; I would still rather watch this than pretty much any episode of Dallas, and I hope the fact that I am being critical of it does not read as me not loving the show, because of course I do. I think that after a run of ten super solid, super amazing episodes in a row (hell, we could even say fifteen or sixteen episodes in a row, if we count the last batch of eps from season three), Abby’s Choice just comes off a little weaker, a little less exciting than our last few hours, you know? Hardly the worst of KL, but just a little meh, a little blah.
Next up we meet, for the first and last time, Mack’s father (or “Pop”) in The Block Party.