Episode Title: Cutting the Ties That Bind
Season 04, Episode 13
Episode 066 of 344
Written by Michael L. Grace
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 6th, 1983
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby sells Ciji's contract to Jeff Munson. Jeff wants Kenny to produce Ciji, but Abby will only sell if they cut Kenny out of the deal. She tells Kenny he's out, and he's very angry. Kenny and Gary get into a fight. Abby goes to Gary's lawyer, James Westmont, and wants him to protect her interests in case Gary doesn't marry her. Chip is offered a job with Thornwell and Associates if he can bring them Val's account. Chip steals two chapters of her current manuscript and gives it to them. Ciji tells Chip that she's pregnant, and Chip yells that this will ruin everything and manhandles her. Val has been putting off signing her divorce papers. Jeff takes her to New York for the weekend, and she sees a new, more down-to-earth side of him. Val finally signs the papers.
Ah, now this is more like it. For those who read my thoughts on The Block Party last Thursday, you’ll know that it was hardly my favorite episode of the series, and I believe I even went so far as to declare it the worst of season four. My main problem with that one was that I didn’t feel a lot was happening in it, that the majority of the plot was devoted to Mack’s lame Pop who disappears into the ether and is never spoken of again, and that the material given to the rest of the cast that week was lacking. Well, this week, with Cutting the Ties That Bind, we’ve got a lot going on with everybody in the cast, so let’s all perk up and pay attention.
The very first scene of the episode is Val sitting around the house and staring at her divorce papers. Yup, it’s official, um, well, almost. All Val has to do is sign these papers and send them to her attorney or whatever and she will officially be divorced from Gary Ewing. However, she’s reticent, and why not? It’s moments like these that make me further appreciate that rich history that has been well established between Gary and Val, and it’s moments like this that also make me happy we did all those Brief Dallas Interludes before the KL Pilot. Because of watching all those Dallas eps and of course the previous 65 eps of KL, we know what a big part of Val’s life Gary is. The two fell instantly in love when she was fifteen and he was seventeen and got married and made baby Lucy (who nobody is really mentioning anymore). Then we hit those years between 1962 and 1978 and there’s that great big gap in which the two didn’t see each other until they were finally reunited in the Brief Dallas Interludes Reunion: Part One and Reunion: Part Two, before finally getting married again in late 1979 with our Brief Dallas Interlude Return Engagements. So now, after all that history and their remarriage and three rocky years of being married out in California, now Val has to decide if she wants to sign this piece of paper and be officially divorced from this man. What to do? Like I said, this decision feels like it carries a lot of weight, and that’s entirely because of how well done Gary and Val’s past history has been conveyed throughout the series and on the parent series, as well.
Lilimae certainly wants Val to sign the papers. We are now seeing the era of Lilimae who truly hates Gary. I’m not even kidding around here; I really think that she hates him. Later on, the two will start to get along again, but right now sees him as the man who broke her daughter’s heart, cheating on her and then leaving her for some hussy, so she makes no bones about telling Valene she needs to sign the papers and get on with her life. Val promises that she will sign the papers, but she simply isn’t ready yet. Valene is a busy little bee lately, staying active as she transitions from one of Us to one of Them. Let’s think back just one year, shall we? When we were around mid season three, Val was still living with Gary as his wife. She wasn’t really working, but rather her work was keeping up the house and being a good wife. Her other predominant occupation to fill her days was going to school and working on her writing, and now we see how that is paying off for her. Now she’s a published author with one hit book to her name and she’s starting work on the second. In addition, she is managing to get up off her feet and start to move on from her breakup with Gary; she’s not the same angry and hurt Val that we saw at the start of the season; she’s starting to be real independent. If that’s not enough, she’s also attracting the attention of boring white guy Jeff Munson. Speaking of boring white guy Jeff Munson, he gets a lot of screen-time this week when he somehow manages to whisk Val away to New York for a romantic getaway. I’m trying to remember how this all goes down, exactly, and basically he’s just like, “Val, let me take you to New York. You’re a stupid hick country girl and you’ve never seen the big city and you have no idea what culture truly is, so let me show you.” At first Val is hesitant, but Lilimae is very persuasive, mostly because she wants Val to get the fuck over Gary and start dating this guy, so she’s like, “Go on, sugar, go see the big apple!”
There’s no real footage of New York in this episode, so don’t get too excited. We instead get that stock shot of, I think, the Brooklyn Bridge, the shot that is in every movie or show set in New York ever made, and then we cut to Val and Munson up on the 32nd floor of this big, sexy penthouse. Presumably this is Val’s first time in a big skyscraper, and she looks down at the city below her with true wonder. Then Munson shows up with champagne and starts to tell her what a wonderful, awesome, sexy person she is, how she deserves the finest things that life has to offer because she’s written a book and the book has given so many people so much pleasure. The sentiment is good and it’s nice to see Val be treated well by someone, but I just wish it wasn’t Munson, because he’s so God damned boring.
Our next scene is the worst one in the episode, and I cringed having to watch it. Munson takes Val to Little Italy and The Restaurant of Italian Stereotypes. This scene made me flash to a minor recurring character on The Simpsons circa season five. This character’s name was Luigi; you all remember Luigi? Actually, his full name is Luigi Risotto, which only makes the joke even funnier. Luigi Risotto was the waiter at this Italian restaurant that Skinner and Bart went to when they were briefly friends, and the whole joke was that he was such a ridiculous Italian stereotype in every way, the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he looked with a big, ridiculous moustache. Well, Luigi is hilarious because he’s supposed to be a joke, but I don’t think there’s an intentional irony in this scene where Val and Munson chat it up and dance to obnoxious music alongside the entire cast of The Godfather. I think this scene is supposed to be funny or endearing but I just found it annoying and I was glad to move on. Just to be clear, this isn’t any sort of PC-attack on my part in which I suddenly disapprove of stereotypes, and I feel no particular loyalty to Italians just because I happen to be sorta Italian (if you really wanna see the cast of The Godfather, just look at photos of my relatives from my paternal grandmother’s side when we arrived from Italy and our original last name was, not even kidding, Madonna), no, instead it’s just as simple as I found this scene obnoxious.
Next up, I’m pretty sure Val and Munson shag. Obviously we don’t get graphic HBO footage of this event, nor do we see any penetration or anything like that, but I’d still say it’s pretty clear. Val’s hanging out on that penthouse patio again (I’d probably stay out there all day if I had a swinging pad like that) when Munson receives a phone call from Abs. I can’t remember the exact details of why Abs is calling, but it has something to do with Ciji and her contract and all that, but Munson doesn’t want to hear about it. He’s like, “I’m about to go put my penis inside of Valene; please call back tomorrow,” and he hangs up. Then he goes out on the patio and the two exchange paltry romantic dialogue before making out a bit while the music swells and, well there you go. Like I said, it’s not shown explicitly but I think we can all figure out what goes down (or who goes down) in the following couple of hours.
Val gets the concluding scene of the episode (don’t get nervous; I’m gonna cover the other characters in just a moment). Now it’s the next morning and Munson’s semen is presumably dripping down her leg as she gazes out at the beautiful morning skyline. She’s working on her manuscript or whatever, when she happens to pull out the divorce papers, slyly inserted into her travel bag by her doting mother. A bit of piano music starts to kick in as Val looks over the papers, thinking really hard, and then the final image of the ep is her signing the papers, officially moving a bit closer to divorcing Gary, the true love of her life. Before moving on to the other characters, I want to take a moment to say that in my notes I wrote, “Val is sorta getting the shaft at this juncture in the series,” and I want to expand a bit on why I wrote that. While it’s true that she’s getting material, and she’s certainly keeping busy this week in particular, I can’t help but feel that her material is a bit lacking when compared to what else is going down with her friends and neighbors. While the act of her signing the divorce papers is fairly compelling, the rest of her footage this week was somewhat underwhelming. Is it because she’s been paired with a stiff as a romantic interest? That could be it, but I’m not so sure.
On our last disk of eps, My Beloved Grammy actually surprised me a bit by asking if Val’s character was being phased out of the show and I told her that no, Val is pretty much on the show from start to finish, more or less (she does sit out the final year, but that’s a shorter year and she’s still in thirteen of the fourteen seasons). After My Beloved Grammy asked that, I did start to notice that Val feels like she’s not getting as much attention paid to her, at least not at this point. The other storylines are sizzling with excitement and even the dreaded Kenny and Ginger are starting to be parts of the plot and actively involved in the events, but the Val stuff feels secondary, kinda like the writers are thinking, “Well, we gotta give her something to do, so let’s, um, ship her to New York this week.” We are about two years away from Val’s babies and that’s easily the greatest storyline in all of KL history, so I think this is just a short lived little phase in which Val’s material is just not as exciting as what else is going on around her, you know?
In case you don’t believe me, let’s just take a peek at what’s going on with everyone else on the cul-de-sac (or at The Beach House) to see how exciting this week’s events are. There’s a lot of lying and scheming going on via Abs towards Kenny, who she doesn’t want to be the producer of Ciji’s album. Early in the ep, Abs sells Ciji’s contract to Munson, but she wants Kenny to have no part of it. Honestly, as I’ve mentioned ad nauseum time and time again, business dealings and contracts and stuff like that tend to fly right over my head; I just have a hard time keeping track. What confuses me in this instance is the legality or possible illegality of what Abs is doing. Okay, so early in the season, Gary discovered Ciji, right? There she was, singing Open Arms, and we all saw Gary get very excited. Next up, he rushed over to Kenny to tell him all about this hot new singer he just discovered. Then, in, I think, New Beginnings, Kenny tried to get his own boss excited about Ciji and it didn’t work out, or something like that. So, Kenny and Gary decided to go into business together with all that money that Jock left Gary when he died (from our Brief Dallas Interlude called Jock’s Will).
Okay, my point is this: Can Abs just cut Kenny out of the deal at this point? Would he not be, like, an investor in Ciji? Couldn’t he sue Abs for what she’s doing to him? It just seems to me like Abs doesn’t have a hard time getting rid of Kenny at all; this all happens rather quickly, and nobody mentions anything about the law. Did Kenny have any money invested or was he just going along with Gary while Gary provided the dough? A lot of my confusion stems from being stupid, but then a lot of it also stems from these plot points spanning whole seasons. At this point, I try to flash back and remember which things occurred early in the season, but it’s already starting to blur a bit. We know that Abs is duplicitous not just because we’ve seen her behavior since the start of season two but also because Munson appears to have no problem working with Kenny. He’s fine with it, yet Abs is the one who wants him to have no part in it. Later in the ep, Gary and Abs have Kenny and Ginger over to The Beach House, where they pour champagne for Seaview Circle’s power couple and gently begin to explain that Kenny is cut out of this deal. Kenny and Ginger both get mad and stomp off, which is understandable.
Let’s try to examine exactly why Abs feels the need to give Kenny the shaft in this way. Is it simply because she has watched the last three seasons and sees how useless these characters are? Does she just dislike Kenny? Is she only doing this because she can and because it helps her to express her power? My own theory is that she doesn’t want any outside influences affecting Gary; I think she wants to build their own little world of Gary and Abs in which they are isolated from others and she has all the power over him, but I again must ask why. Honestly, Abs is such a complex character that, watching the show, I often find myself at a loss for what to write about her. See, it would be so easy to merely say that she’s wicked and, therefore, does wicked things. I feel that’s how her character would be handled on other nighttime soaps, but the KL writing and acting is so good that Donna Mills really gets to bring Abs to life as this fully rounded, three dimensional human. She’s not 100% wicked all the time, and we’ve already seen moments of humanity a few times from her (most notably Abby’s Choice in the scene where she confessed to Gary that she’s not a hero and that she has no courage). Since neither Kenny nor Ginger have ever burned or hurt Abs in any way, it’s hard for me to figure out exactly why she’s so hell-bent on keeping Kenny out of the Ciji business, but she is. Anyone have any ideas on this one?
Gary’s really starting to fall apart here, although this is nothing compared to where he’ll be a few eps down the line. He is still a very weak man at this point, the Gary Ewing who I had kinda forgotten all about. Like I’ve said before, whenever I think of Gary, I tend to flash to later seasons Gary who is way more grounded and self-actualized, not this early Gary who’s super weak and easily manipulated. This Gary certainly does the majority of his thinking with his penis, for instance, whereas the Gary from, oh, let’s say seasons seven and beyond, that Gary actually uses his brain to make smart decisions. Abs is able to manipulate him pretty easily just by parading her body around. In this ep, we have a fabulous scene in which Abs is lounging in a gigantic bubble bath, one of those kinds that’s just built right into the floor, Scarface style (and, by the way, a close-up shot of her face surrounded by all those bubbles is going to make it into the scrolling credits, I believe, next season). Gary comes in all frustrated about something and all Abs has to do is sit in her bath, all naked and wet, and use her sexy body to get Gary to go along with what she’s saying. “Come on, Gary, you know that Kenny’s a loser and we need to get rid of him.” After that, she appeals to Gary’s foot fetish by sticking a soaking wet food in his face and asking him to massage it. This I didn’t love, mostly because I’m not one of those guys who has a foot fetish (not naming names, Quentin Tarantino), but whatever, to each his own.
The source of all this drama, Ciji, also has an exciting new plot development this week when she receives a phone call from her doctor announcing that she is pregnant. Ciji hangs up her rotary dial phone and, at first, looks sorta upset, but then her face relaxes and we can see that she’s sorta digging the idea. She acts a bit like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby by whispering to herself, “You’re pregnant,” letting the words sink in. The next step is telling Chip, but I think we all know he’s not gonna be too happy about this news.
Speaking of Chip, he very easily manages to get out of trouble with Diana. Let’s flash back a week to The Block Party when Diana peeked out the window and saw Chip planting a kiss on Ciji. If you thought this signaled the end of their relationship, you would be wrong, because when Diana mentions what she saw and asks him what’s going on, he becomes rather, um, gay, and calls her a “silly goose” for some reason (a little later he also mentions being “tickled pink,” and it was the first time I started to notice how bizarrely gay Chip seems to act so much of the time). Then he thinks up a lie right and quick and tells Diana how Ciji was having a little panic attack about having to perform, so he talked to her and gave her a kiss to make her feel better. That’s all it takes for Diana to be cool with Chip again. Too easy? At first I thought so, but then I thought of how many stupid teenage girls have been lied to by their boyfriends and easily accepted these lies, and then it seemed more real to me.
This is a big episode for Chip and he keeps busy for all 48 minutes. Up to this point, we’ve seen that Chip is bad news, but I don’t think we know quite how bad he is. He’s been lying to people and doing weird little manipulations and he’s definitely a con artist, but this is the first episode where we truly see that he might be psychotic. I’ll start with how he steals Val’s manuscript. Again, this little portion of the ep kinda confused me, but My Beloved Grammy helped me understand it a bit (it’s so much more enjoyable to watch these with a partner to help you out!). See, Chip gets offered this job with some guy named Thornwall, played by Michael McGuire (the guy who was supposed to marry Diane in the first episode of Cheers and instead ditched her at the bar). Thornwall wants to handle Val’s account, as she’s now a rising star and the talk of Seaview Circle. Next up, Chip is suddenly stealing two chapters to the manuscript of Val’s new book.
This is the part that confused me. I had a hard time figuring out how stealing two chapters somehow helped Chip get whatever it is he wants from Thornwall, but I guess it’s basically his way of saying, “Hey, look, Val’s trusting me with her new manuscript, so now you know just how close we really are!” Also, this plot point is a planted seed for a few eps down the line (To Have and to Hold, which we shall come to very shortly). So while nothing all that big or dramatic happens with this storyline this week, hold tight because it’ll pay off shortly.
More significantly, in my opinion, we get our first real hint of Chip being violent. When he arrives at Ciji’s apartment and she tells him that she’s pregnant (after she celebrates her pregnancy with a nice big glass of wine, of course), let’s just say he doesn’t react well. Instead of being happy and saying, “Oh, that’s great, honey,” he tries the less popular method of grabbing Ciji by the hair and shouting, “Nothing is going to interfere with what I have planned for us!” This is big stuff, folks, because since we first met Chip back in Svengali, we’ve seen him lie and manipulate people, but he’s come off more like a simple sleaze, just a “creep,” as Mack would say; now we see that he may be legitimately dangerous and perhaps psychotic.
After things started to get lesbianic with Ciji and Laura in Abby’s Choice, that story seemed to go on the back burner for The Block Party, but now it’s back and I’m relishing it. I notice a running theme going on in which Ciji and Laura hold their most private conversations in the bedroom. They seem to enjoy gathering in the bedroom of Richard and Laura and just hanging out on the bed, above the covers, sorta relaxing, sometimes with the baby and sometimes without him. Now, that’s certainly a subtext that a person can either choose to see or not see, depending on the person, and I’m certainly a person who sees gay in everything in every place I go every day of my life. However, you can’t tell me that the next scene I wanna talk about does not make it very clear that something is going on between the two women.
It’s late at night and Richard is in a friendly mood and he wants to snuggle up with Laura. He starts turning on the charm a bit and telling her about how the kids are out of the house and Bob Loblaw. This whole scene, while Richard is lying on the bed, Laura has her back turned to him and is just sorta looking straight ahead. It’s all very quiet and intimate, but the gist of the scene is that Laura doesn’t want to do it with Richard. Why doesn’t she want to do it with Richard? The answer, of course, is because she wants to do it with Ciji. She wants to be one with her womanhood by lezzing out and doing some serious muff diving on this hot singer; that’s what she wants. Now, I suppose you could argue that she just doesn’t want to sleep with Richard because their marriage is remaining on shaky grounds, the way it’s pretty much been since Pilot, but I believe that’s only one small fraction of the reason for her frigidity this week. The real reason is that Richard does not turn her on and Ciji does.
You know, I think that’s gonna just about do it for my thoughts on Cutting the Ties That Bind. In my notes, it looks like I scribbled, “Karen is rocking the Annie Hall look,” and I do remember her getting dressed up in a lovely masculine outfit, a sorta suit and a tie, and I remember appreciating how she could look so good, but I don’t really remember her doing much in this ep. Did she really have a significant story and it’s just slipping my mind? Pretty sure she’s on the sidelines for the majority of this ep, although she’s still around.
My concluding thoughts are that Cutting the Ties That Bind is a tremendous step up from Emergency, Abby’s Choice, and The Block Party. If those three episodes (particularly the latter two) represent a minor mid-season slump, then I feel this episode is where things start to pick up a lot as we are now officially in the second half of the season, with an ending now in sight. Aside from a bit of a lag in Karen stories, all the characters are well represented this week and have a lot going on and there’s a lot to focus on, with stories building and growing and evolving.