Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Reflection on Season Four of KNOTS LANDING (1982-1983)


A Reflection on Season Four of KNOTS LANDING (1982-1983)

 

 
Back in “A Reflection on Season Three,” I concluded with the bold statement that I still believe it to be the worst season of the entire show, despite having a myriad of positive, amazing qualities.  We still have ten more seasons to watch and my thoughts could very well change (particularly when we finally reach that much-reviled season thirteen that fans are always shitting all over), but at this moment in time, I’m sticking to what I said and I’m also saying that, out of the first four seasons, season three was the weakest.  This only goes to further strengthen my point that season four is a tremendous accomplishment and a miraculous example of a television show pulling itself up from the depths of near-cancellation (indeed, I read that during season three, the show was at risk of being cancelled due to low viewers) and suddenly taking off like a shot and producing an absolutely incredible season of television for all to enjoy.

Nearly everything about season four works, start to finish.  While season three (and, to some extent, season two right before it) suffered a lot from a feeling of “Is this a serialized show or is it self-contained storylines?”, season four corrects that immediately by announcing right off the bat that this is a nighttime soap, like its parent series.  If you wanna keep up with what’s going on with the characters and the stories, you gotta make sure to watch every week, or else you’ll be lost.  While season three would get some exciting ongoing storylines revved up and then suddenly interrupt them for bizarre standalone eps like The Three Sisters, Reunion, Cricket, or the absolutely awful Silver Shadows, season four doesn’t pull any of that crap.  Stories build and grow from the start of the season to the finale, and I truly believe that all the writers and producers sat down at the start of the season and mapped out a grand season Bible for the whole year.

God, where to start?  I suppose I’ll start with the opening eps of the season and how they nicely tidy up affairs from the concluding moments of season two.  After someone working at Knots Landing Motors cut the brakes on Sid Fairgate’s car, we then spent the entire third season not even mentioning that or worrying about who did it, which felt rather bizarre.  Season four makes the correct choice to wrap up that storyline in the first five episodes of the season, from A Brand New Day to Catharsis.  I appreciated that clearly someone behind the scenes (maybe Peter Dunne?) recognized that we had a dangling thread that had never been wrapped up and so the show went to work concluding that storyline so that the character of Karen can move on from that tragedy and the show itself can proceed with new business and new storylines.

After that, we had our very best use of crossovers from Dallas to KL and vice versa ever.  That’s right, the double whammy of the Dallas episode Jock’s Will followed by the KL episode New Beginnings is the best use of the two shows working off of each other that I have ever seen, and if you only pick one Interlude (I mean, besides those four Interludes we covered before the KL Pilot, which I encourage everyone to watch before starting off the series to get to know the rich back stories of Gary and Val) to watch while powering through the KL series, make it Jock’s Will.  In fact, as I pointed out during my write-ups on those two eps, if you really just watch the episode Catharsis and then immediately jump into New Beginnings, you are missing some important information about the contents of Jock Ewing’s will and how it effects Gary and you may find yourself rather confused.  So, if ever there was an Interlude that I would call essential, it is Jock’s Will.

From Jock’s Will to New Beginnings, we have Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman crossing over for the final time, also marking the final time that any Dallas characters get to cross over to KL.  The title of the ep is dead-on, because it really does show a new beginning for the series.  The scene where J.R. and Abby chat and she agrees to keep Gary out of Texas also shows a torch being passed.  At this point, Abs is officially turning into the female J.R. of KL, and this scene is essentially J.R. giving her permission to do so, saying there’s no need for him to continue crossing over to this series because Abs has the situation well in hand.  Also, the contents of Jock Ewing’s will have huge effects on what winds up happening to Gary and Abs throughout the rest of the season.  Suddenly they come into a lot of wealth and the show is able to begin a metamorphosis that we will see continuing in season five.  Now there’s a little more glitz and glamour, a little more wealth for characters to throw around, and the reason it’s so well done is because it feels organic and realistic that this would happen.  The writers don’t just suddenly have Gary come into millions from some outside force or having it fall from the sky, but coming from a place we can really believe, his rich family over in Texas. 

 

Also, while on the topic of the show becoming more glamorous, the writers do a remarkable job of never making it feel like too much.  Sure, Gary and Abs buy The Beach House and suddenly have enough money to invest in new businesses or get Ciji’s voice heard in the world, but it doesn’t feel like the show is betraying its core identity from when it started.  It still feels homey and realistic to me, like a world I could live in myself.  I still believe this series exists in the real world while the parent series existed in a sorta fantasy world that I will never be a part of.  This is a skillful balancing act that the writers pull off tremendously and which, to the best of my memories, they continue to pull off throughout the next ten years.  No matter how lavish or over-the-top the stories get, it always still seems pretty grounded; it always feel like KL to me.

 

Season four also brings us new characters through Ciji and Chip, Ciji introduced in Encounters and Chip introduced in Svengali, and both of them fuse together to create tremendous drama and excitement.  However, my favorite thing about Ciji has to be the songs.  After three seasons of listening to Kenny put on his public domain records that don’t even qualify as music, it was so nice to see music become such a big part of the series here, to listen to Ciji sing real songs and also sing them really well.  Plus, this gave episode directors the chance to use music and visuals in a cool, interesting, cinematic way that was probably pretty unusual on TV in 1982-1983.

 
Also, and this is something I didn’t really think about until we were watching the concluding eps of the season, but the death of Ciji ranks as one of the best stories on the whole series because of the way that literally everyone in the cast becomes involved.  I’m gonna focus on later seasons (particularly my much cherished season six and the saga of Val’s babies) to see if the big storylines have this similar effect, in which everyone is a part of it.  Here, not only does Ciji link every character on the show together, but her death in Celebration propels us into a murder mystery that creates a fabulous, “Everybody’s a suspect,” feeling of paranoia and fright throughout the cul-de-sac.

In fact, this season is so good that, as I noted, even Kenny and Ginger get some material to work with, also through the Ciji storyline.  While they are still the most underutilized part of the cast and sit out the most episodes (A New Family and The Morning After spring immediately to mind), they are actually given some stories and something to work with, to the point that by the final moments of the season, I was able to boldly declare that I no longer hated the characters, something I never thought I would say.  This also tells me that someone behind the scenes was really paying attention and was making sure that everyone who gets a credit in the scrolling squares is represented as a valid character on the series with a purpose for being there.

 

Time for the season highs and lows.  Let’s start with the high.  What was the best episode of season four?  I had to think about this, because even with the season fresh in my mind, it’s sorta just turning into this blur of brilliance as I try to recall through the eps.  I guess I’ll go with the obvious answer and say Celebration, which does a brilliant job of both paying off storylines that have been going on all season while also launching off new stories for the concluding four eps of the season as well as a good chunk of season five yet to come.  This episode feels so BIG and so EPIC that it could work as a season finale all of its own.  Plus, it was just stylishly done, and the last five minutes with Ginger singing “You’re the One,” the zoom-in on Ciji’s face on that poster, and the dissolve to her dead body on the beach are unforgettable and I feel anyone that sees the show always remembers this specific moment very well, no matter how long ago they watched it.  So yeah, Celebration gets my vote for season four’s best episode.

The worst?  Easily The Block Party, but I wanna make clear that it wasn’t BAD, you know?  However, if you absolutely had to skip a season four episode, this would be the one to pick, because the main storyline of it (Mack and his drunken dying father) is very standalone and singular and doesn’t really have any repercussions for the rest of the season, aside from the argument that perhaps Mack decides to marry Karen so shortly after this because he sees his father’s sad life as an old man and doesn’t want that to happen to him.  But for the most part the episode was kinda boring and I just plain didn’t like looking at Mack’s dad, who I just found unpleasant and annoying.  Shallow?  Perhaps, but there you go.  However, this episode is located right near the middle of the season and things immediately pick up for the next ten episodes that conclude the season, so I can’t be too hard on this, which is a tremendous improvement from the bottom dwellers of seasons one, two, and three.

 

My conclusion is that season four was even better than I remembered it being and I spent a good majority of it just staring at the TV in awe at how skilled the writing, directing, and acting was.  I could also sense the show exciting My Beloved Grammy in a new way.  I haven’t asked, but I get the feeling that throughout the first three seasons, she might have been a smidge confused for way I am so God damned enthused for this series, but now I think she’s starting to get to my level as we watched this season.  Seriously, it’s just so gripping.  I would defy someone to start watching season four and not have to power through the whole season as soon as possible; once it gets its hooks in you, you just can’t turn away.  I think this was proven during the season by looking at the viewer numbers alone.  I remind you that season three finished the year at #43 while season four jumped up to #20, a huge increase that I’m sure the network suits noticed and got excited over.  This increase will only continue as we get season five (#11) and season six (#9).  I will say it hurts me that Dallas is still getting so many more viewers than KL (it finished #2 for this season), but I have to remind myself that it came first and people like to stick to what they know, and I will also concede that the 1982-1983 season was one of Dallas’ best and most exciting, so I’ll give it a break in this instance.

So that about it does it for season four, which is clearly the best season we have seen thus far.  In fact, for those who are following me in my ranking of the seasons in total, we now have season four ranked as #1, followed by season two at #2, season one at #3, and season three ranking #4.  Do you agree with my list thus far?  Disagree?  Write and tell me why!

 
Okay, that’s my reflection on this brilliant year of television.  Coming up next is yet another brilliant year of television.  We are going to meet William Devane as Greg Sumner, unveil a new, exciting, pulse-pounding version of the theme song, and see some of the KL’s most memorable and dramatic storylines ever as we get into season five, starting with The People vs. Gary Ewing. 

3 comments:

  1. I 100% agree with your order of quality (4, 2, 1, 3 respectively), and here is my theory. In both seasons 2 and 4, the writers and producers had clear direction of where they wanted to take the stories and the characters. Season 1 was short and used stand-alone episodes to introduce the characters to us. And in season 3, the producers had to deal with the unexpected loss on Don Murray. I think they lost focus, and it took them 3/4 of a season to get it back. But when they did, they kept it going for a long time.

    Looking forward to following you into the Greg Sumner era :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would like to suggest that in that cast photo, Lankford, Houghton and Lonow are positioned in a such a way that they could be easily cropped out for using the photo in promotional materials. Not a mistake.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Season 13 is the worst. The absolute worst. I'm ten episodes away from hitting it. I dread it. They do everything wrong. It's ghastly.

    ReplyDelete