Episode Title: Celebration
Season 04, Episode 18
Episode 071 of 344
Written by Mann Rubin
Directed by Bill Duke
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 10th, 1983
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura tells Richard that she wants him to move out. Richard finds Ciji at their house, and grabs her by the hair and physically throws her out. Chip is packing and tells Diana he's moving to New York. Diana wants to go with him, but Karen says she will do anything in her power to stop her. Gary, drunk, calls Val and asks her to help him. Abby shows up at Ciji's looking for Gary, and threatens her. Then Chip comes by with flowers, and Ciji tells him if he doesn't stay out of her life, she'll tell everyone he is Tony Fenice. Next Val goes to Ciji's, looking for Gary. Ciji says it's Val's fault that Gary's drinking, because of the tabloid. They fight, Val pushes Ciji, and Ciji falls and hits her head on a table. Ciji yells at Val to get out. Jeff Munson throws a party at Daniel to launch Ciji's album, but Ciji doesn't show up, and no one can find her. Finally, Jeff asks Ginger to sing. Down at 'Colony Beach,' Ciji's dead body washes ashore.
Oh boy, fasten your seatbelts, cuz it’s time to talk about Celebration. I don’t mean to give away my opinion too early, but I’m about to do it right here and right now, because this is an absolutely classic episode of KL, one of the best we’ve watched up to this point, as well as an episode that has enormous repercussions on the storylines of the series for years to come. Let’s discuss.
One of my favorite KL directors, Bill “This Green Beret’s About To Kick Your Ass” Duke, last spotted directing Power Play (which was a good episode) and A New Family (which was a great episode), is back behind the camera this week, and I can tell right away. Before discussing the episode proper, however, I wanna take a quick note of the thirty second preview before the opening credits. Usually I don’t really mention these; they give you a little taste of what’s to come in the next 48 minutes, sometimes they show just a little bit, sometimes they show you way too much (as I believe I complained about way back in season one with Bottom of the Bottle: Part One), but the one for Celebration is, in my opinion, especially clever.
Okay, so spoiler alert, but Ciji is going to die in Celebration. I’ve kinda avoided any mention of that in my previous write-ups, mostly because I’m not entirely sure how “spoiler-ish” I should get. I kinda like to imagine that somewhere out there in the universe is someone who has never seen KL before and is watching the episodes one-by-one and following along with my posts. This could very well be fiction, but if there is a person doing this, I don’t wanna drop spoilers. Even though I recognize that KL went off the air 23 years ago and most people think spoilers don’t apply to things that are more than ten years old, I still try to keep it safe, because I just don’t wanna ruin a good experience for any potential new viewer; seeing the excitement unfold is a huge part of the fun. But anyway, Ciji is gonna die this week, and I mention that because, when viewed with that knowledge, you realize how clever this episode is in setting everything up, getting all the players lined up, dropping little hints to what’s going to happen to her at the end, and even subverting our expectations. See, the thirty second preview drops two little hints/tricks on us, the first of which is a quick shot of Ciji talking to Abby and saying, “What are you gonna do, Abby, kill me?” The second is a shot of Ciji and Val having an argument. Val pushes Ciji, Ciji hits her head on the table, and then we cut to the opening credits. The writers and producers and directors are tricking us, making us think that maybe, possibly, Ciji could die due to Val pushing her and hitting her head.
Okay, after the scrolling squares, we have one of my favorite openings of any KL ep ever, Ciji riding her bike down the street one sunny morning while New Romance plays on the soundtrack. I think this is a deliberately ironic opening to the ep, that we start on this very brief moment of happiness and joy as Ciji rides along. Things are going pretty shitty in her life and they are about to get shittier, but for this couple of seconds, she is happy and at peace. The peace is immediately shattered when she gets to her apartment and finds a drunken Gary hanging out on the sidewalk outside. Gary wants more alcohol and asks Ciji if she has any but we learn that he already drank all of it at some point in the past, so instead Ciji invites him in for some coffee (that old myth).
Meanwhile, we peek in on the increasingly unstable marriage between Richard and Laura. Watching this, I started to get really sad, realizing that we are a few mere episodes away from losing The Plesh as a main cast member. Soak up as much of the fascinatingly dysfunctional relationship that is Richard and Laura because, once we hit season five, we won’t be seeing any of this anymore. Anyway, when we first catch up with the couple this week, Laura is asking Richard when he’s planning to move out. Richard is back to acting like an asshole, much more like he was in mid-season two than he has been in the last few weeks and months. He just sips coffee and dismissively says, “You’re not going on about that again, are you?” While he’s trying to just sorta ignore what Laura’s saying, it’s very clear to all of us that Laura is turning into a lesbian and that, this time, once she’s got Richard out of her life, he won’t be invited back into it. Oh yeah, and I also wanna note another big, bold line from Richard this week. I apologize that I can’t remember the exact context of this scene, whether the line occurs early in the ep with Richard and Laura in the kitchen or whether it happens later, but I jotted down the line of dialogue in my notes and now I’m gonna discuss it. Basically, when the topic of his moving out comes up, Richard implies that Laura is going to immediately move Ciji in, and he asks, “Which side of the bed does Ciji like?” Again, wow. This, coupled with the “Which one gets to be the man?” line from The Morning After, really takes this subtext of Laura and Ciji as possible lovers and inflates it to the next level. I had no memory of either of these lines occurring and was pretty surprised when I heard both of them.
You all remember how, even though I don’t believe for a second that Gary and Ciji slept together, that rumor that they are now lovers has been making the rounds? Well, this week Abs pays a visit to Ciji’s apartment to threaten her and tell her to stay away from Gary, and this is where we get that line, “What are you gonna do, Abby, kill me?” The line is delivered pretty fast but is a pretty deliberate bit of foreshadowing from the writer, Mann Rubin. In fact, I wonder if maybe this line is a little bit too on-the-nose, giving away a little too much at once. The reason I say this is because My Beloved Grammy called it almost right away. Right near the start of the ep, she boldly declared, “Ciji’s gonna die,” and I was kinda bummed cuz I didn’t expect her to predict that so fast and with such starting accuracy. But watching along, I could see the way the writers kept dropping little hints that, if you’re a sharp viewer, you would pick up on, even before Ciji’s body washes up on the beach.
It’s not just that one particular line, of course, but the entire construction of the episode, in which so many of the characters are shown to have some agenda against Ciji. For instance, coming up next is a fabulously over-the-top scene in which Richard gets especially violent with Ciji. See, Laura and Ciji are hanging out in the Avery living room, talking about becoming lesbians, when Richard walks in and sees them. In a fit of rage, he grabs Ciji by the hair and pulls her up and then throws her out the door, slamming it shut behind her. Laura gets very stoical and boldly declares, “I’ll never forgive you for that,” which sounds reasonable to me. I think this is the most violent thing we’ve seen Richard ever do. In the past, he slapped Laura in Best Intentions and he obviously held her hostage at gunpoint in Night, but this is somehow more extreme than either of those instances, perhaps because it’s just so unexpected.
The last little line of dialogue I can think of that drops some hints for what’s about to occur is, again, delivered by Richard. See, while all this excitement and commotion is going on, everyone’s getting prepared for Ciji’s big show at Daniel. This is going to be a bigger deal than any of her previous shows, because it’s not just her singing, but rather a celebration (like the title!) of the launch of her new album, the one she’s been working on for most of the season. However, at Daniel, Richard is drinking red wine, looking depressed and unkempt, and he declares, “Ciji can perform tonight, but it’s her swan song.” What do you think, readers? A clever line that sets us up for what’s coming or a slightly too on-the-nose bit of dialogue that shows the writers giving away a little too much information?
The next person to come visit Ciji at her apartment is Chip, AKA Tony Fenice. If I thought Ciji was bold last week with the way she spoke to him, it’s nothing compared to this week, when she announces that she’s going to tell everyone the truth about Chip’s life. She also drops one of the greatest lines of dialogue ever, which is, “I’ll tell everyone that Tony Fenice goes around beating up old ladies.” Once again, a mental picture forms of Chip beating up Betty White or something, and even though beating up geriatric people is not funny, I still have to laugh at the image while again wondering exactly how this even wound up taking place.
The final visit to Ciji’s apartment (which is turning into Grand Central Station this week) comes from Val, in that little snippet we all saw from the thirty second preview. Val is looking for Gary, but he’s not there, and a fight quickly erupts between her and Ciji. I think this is the only time that we’ve seen Ciji be nasty or hurtful towards someone else, but who can blame her? All day people have been coming by just to shit on her and blame her for all their problems, and she has done nothing at all to warrant this hostility. I think Val is just the last straw, that probably Ciji is mostly mad at Abs and Chip and just takes it out on Val, but it’s pretty brutal, in any case. She tells Val that it’s her fault that Gary started drinking again, blaming the tabloid article that was printed a few weeks back in To Have and to Hold. As she keeps yelling at Val, she also sorta walks up to Val and gets her backed up against the door, at which point Val finally yells at her to be quiet and pushes her back. Here’s where that clever little bit of audience manipulation comes in, because yes, Ciji hits her head, and yes, she lies still for a moment, but then a second later she gets up and starts moving around again, telling Val to go away and leave her alone. The reason I note this as clever is because, watching that little preview at the start, you might be inclined to think Ciji’s gonna die from this bump on her head, but instead she just gets right back up and is fine. I think the point of this is to lull the audience into a sense of complacency, to say, “Oh, I guess Ciji’s not gonna die,” which should make the last few moments of the episode have a special shock to them.
Oh yeah, Kenny and Ginger are still on the show, although not for much longer. In case you think I’m gonna just take a shit all over them, as has been my wont in the past, I’m gonna surprise you. Actually, as we approach the end of Kenny and Ginger’s time on the show, my hatred has dulled. I’ll save my thoughts for their very final episode, Willing Victims, but for the moment let’s just say that it doesn’t physically hurt me to watch these characters anymore, the way it used to in the past. Anyway, they sat out the last two eps, but we catch up with them this week walking through the park, Kenny wearing a cool fedora hat. In fact, I’ll take a quick moment to note that everyone is rocking cool hats this week, making me wonder if they changed wardrobe designers for the week or if someone just got really excited by the concept of putting the whole cast in hats. Kenny rocks the fedora, Lilimae has two cool hats this week, and Karen is shown in that strange Carmen Sandiego outfit that she sometimes likes to wear, with a full trench coat and brimmed hat.
Anyway, I can sense that the writers are getting ready to ship Kenny and Ginger off, because they are sorta talking about their life in the greater context. Kenny is still sorta bummed and acting like a baby because of what happened to him in the last few weeks and months, but Ginger is trying to be upbeat. She points out how they have a beautiful daughter with a stupid name and they have their health and yada yada yada. This little scene isn’t particularly exciting, but it helps to sorta remind us, “Oh yeah, these two are still on the show,” and they do get some more material to work with later.
The night of the big album launch arrives. Ginger is dressed in a pretty nice outfit, but Kenny wants to stay home and watch some 1983 TV. Mack comes to pick up Ginger and he looks smashing, wearing a nice dark tux and a cool bow tie. Bow ties are underrated, by the way, and I think they are way cooler than regular tie ties. I also get the feeling that Mack prefers the bow tie because I remember him wearing them pretty regularly, and I’m not sure how often he’s spotted in a normal tie.
Okay, anyway, Mack takes Ginger to the party (after he and Kenny exchange some rather annoying and dated dialogue about how long it takes women to get prepared for events and so on and so forth), and the sense of dread that we’ve been feeling all episode really starts to heighten. Ever since Ciji got off her bike and New Romance stopped playing on the soundtrack at the start of the ep, there’s been this feeling in the air of dread, that something really bad is about to happen. This feeling is heightened by the score this week, which is especially unnerving and sounds like it came out of a horror movie (it’s not Jerrold Immel this week, but rather Lance Rubin, who will contribute to 36 episodes spanning Man of the Hour in 1981 through The Fan Club in 1990).
Like I said, the sense of impending doom heightens as our characters enter Daniel for the big album launch (complete with a big, sexy photo of Ciji placed up on the stage that actually comes from her real-life Letterock album). Ciji’s not there, and at first it’s not such a big thing, but when she continues to fail to show up, we start to get a bad feeling. Also, when viewed through the lens of “Ciji’s about to die,” along with the idea that anyone could have done it, you really start to notice things. For instance, Richard shows up real late, to the point that Laura has to don an apron and start working in the kitchen, and when he finally does materialize, he looks like ass, like he just went on a big Gary bender of his own (and, indeed, the first thing he does when he shows up at Daniel is to pour himself a big glass of red wine). Also, Kenny shows up at the last minute wearing a nice tuxedo, apologizing for being a jerk earlier. Now, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about this stuff if it weren’t for My Beloved Grammy, who pointed this out in the following eps as the investigation into Ciji’s murder got underway. The one missing link is Gary. Where could he be? Well, I don’t know, and we don’t find out this week, but we do get a strange phone call from Gary to Val. He sounds like a mess and it’s hard to even understand what he says, but I’m not sure the dialogue is necessarily important; what is important is that Val can hear the sounds of the beach in the background during this very brief telephonic conversation, so just keep that in mind as we move along through the rest of the season.
Okay, we’re back at Daniel and Ciji still hasn’t shown up. What to do? Well, my favorite character, Jeff Munson, finally just asks Ginger if she’ll go up and sing, instead, leading to the terrific conclusion of our episode. See, Ginger gets up onstage, right in front of that big old photo of Ciji with her eyes all wide, and she reclaims her song, that You’re the One song from back in (looking through my notes here) Emergency. Even though I’ve made fun of Ginger in the past (and I’m kinda sorta about to do it again), her singing is legit good. In fact, I’d have to compare and contrast, but I think I might even prefer Kim Lankford’s singing of You’re the One to Lisa’s. This is a killer song that is appropriately mellow, kinda romantic, then it gets exciting near the middle, and then the very end has a sadness and melancholia to it that is rather striking. Only problem with this scene? Ginger’s face. Maybe it sounds like a low blow, but she’s just kind of disturbing to look at as she sings. Lisa Hartman knows how to look when she’s singing; she always gets that appropriately magical, transcendent look on her face when she’s singing, like when she closes her eyes and sorta faces up towards the sky. Ginger, however, lets her eyes get all big and wide and her mouth sorta contorts and expands in a way that is just bizarre to look at. I remember being disturbed by watching her sing, and it’s not as bad as I remembered, but it’s still kinda frightening to watch. I think perhaps she’s supposed to look passionate, like maybe she’s excited to be taking back the song that she wrote and created herself, but I dunno, it’s just kinda scary. So I guess I’m giving Ginger a half compliment/half insult, because the singing is legit good, but the face is scary.
As Ginger sings, we cut a time or two to shots of the ocean. This continues a stylistic device Bill Duke was doing in A New Family, piping a great song on the soundtrack over footage of something else happening. In this case, we cut to shots of the ocean, the waves crashing in, You’re the One continuing to play, and then we cut back to the gang at Daniel, back to the ocean one more time. Finally, when Ginger is finished singing, the camera does this great zoom-in, past her face and right into the gigantic poster of Ciji, basically going into a closeup of her eyeballs. From there, the song ends, the music on the soundtrack gets ominous and scary, we dissolve to a shot of the ocean, and then the camera glides up to the surf, where we see Ciji’s dead, lifeless body lying in the sand. We get our “Executive Producers” credits, and that’s the end of Celebration.
Pretty fucking great, huh? In my notes, in the “Overall Review” section that I put at the end of each episode, I only wrote, “Undisputed Masterpiece of Television,” and I really believe that. While I don’t think this is my favorite episode we’ve seen thus far (I’ll have to get back to you on that one), it’s a real work of art, managing to both pay off a bunch of storylines while also launching a bunch of brand new ones, stories that will continue through the rest of the season and well into the fifth season as well. Bill Duke brings the style and the artistry and also makes tremendous use of music to heighten emotion, right from the beginning with New Romance providing a brief moment of elation to the ending where You’re the One serves to be exciting, ominous, and sad, all in the same beat. Also, as a work of writing, this ep is especially clever, really setting us up for the possibility that anyone could have killed Ciji. It’s somewhat like the “Who Shot J.R.?” season three finale of Dallas (except, in my opinion, much much better) in that we can plausibly find motive for Ciji’s murder within nearly every character (except, say, Karen or Mack, obviously). This is another thing I didn’t recall, by the way. For whatever reason, when I first watched this, I didn’t even view it as a murder mystery; I was just kinda like, “Well, Chip killed her.” Watching it now, I recognize that yes, he’s the most plausible suspect, but we’ve also got motive from Richard (mad about his wife turning into a lesbian with Ciji), Val (last seen having a rather heated argument with Ciji in her apartment), Gary (off on another drunken bender where he could likely do something stupid and accidentally wind up killing Ciji), Ginger (“I’ll get you for this!” she boldly declared back in Emergency), and even Kenny, of all people (jealous of being booted off the record and showing up randomly late to Daniel with no good alibi for the missing minutes).
Now, trying to watch this from the perspective of a new, virginal viewer, I would still vote for Chip as the most obvious suspect. He’s a con artist and a liar who’s been fooling around with two women at the same time, and not only is he mad about Ciji getting pregnant and refusing to have an abortion, but now he’s been threatened with exposure of his real name and his wicked past. So I would say Chip did it, but I also recognize that he seems almost too obvious, you know what I’m saying? My Beloved Grammy surprised me by beginning to say that perhaps Richard was the one (she repeatedly said, “I just hope it wasn’t Richard”), and I can see merit to that argument, as well.
Okay, so that was Celebration, an episode so well made and so exciting and so packed with material that it could easily be a season finale. The interesting thing is that we still have four more episodes to go this season, so let’s move forward to our next episode, Loss of Innocence.