Episode Title: The Fatal Blow
Season 04, Episode 20
Episode 073 of 344
Written by Richard Gollance
Directed by Larry Elikann
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 24th, 1983
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Richard is really concerned about Laura. He opens up to her about his brother's death. Richard and Laura go to pack up Ciji's apartment. Ciji's mother comes by and says Ciji was just a tramp with no morals. Richard defends Ciji's character. Chip tells Diana he's not going to New York, because he needs to support Val. Val and Jeff Munson break up. Gary is going through withdrawal in jail. His bail is set at $5 million, but Abby tells Mitch not to bail Gary out, on the pretext of letting him get sober in jail. Karen tells Val that Ciji was killed by a blow to the head. Val tells them about her fight with Ciji, and that she thinks Gary moved Ciji to protect her. They don't think Val killed Ciji, but tell her to get a lawyer. Instead, Val goes to the police station and tells Janet that she killed Ciji.
After a good-but-not-great episode of KL last week, Loss of Innocence, hampered in no small way by a complete lack of episode score and total silence on the soundtrack whenever characters weren’t speaking (at least on my bootlegged SoapNet DVDs), things get nicely back up to top quality this week with The Fatal Blow, directed by Larry Elikann, and I wanna make note of that because I am starting to notice whenever his name pops up at the start of an episode. Actually, this is very bizarre, because as I wrote that sentence, I felt like we had seen a ton of Larry Elikann-directed eps already, but then I took a gander at his IMDb page and saw that this is only his second ep, after Emergency (which was a good-but-not-great ep). He’s gonna wind up directing fourteen eps of the series, finishing with His Brother’s Keeper in 1986. In addition, he directed one 1983 episode of Dallas (The Sting) as well as the excellent TV movie, Dallas: The Early Years (which I boldly declare as better than any episode of Dallas ever made; yup, I went there). The reason I note his name and will pay attention in the future to see which eps he directs is because I think he really brings a unique style to the small screen (and, indeed, it looks like he generally stuck to TV shows and TV movies throughout his career). If Bill “Cooke” Duke brings a fabulous blend of music and visuals and stylishly rapid-fire editing to his eps, then I would say Larry Elikann brings a wonderfully cinema verite’ look to his eps.
For instance, starting off right away with The Fatal Blow (after the thirty second preview and classic opening credits, of course), we get this wonderfully done bit of hand-held camera on the street of Seaview Circle. See, now that the news of Ciji’s death has spread throughout town, as well as news of Gary’s arrest for her murder, reporters are pounding on Val’s door to try and get a statement from her. When we open the ep, the hand-held camera moves through this crowd of reporters and vultures and then goes into a close-up of the window of Val’s house, where Lilimae is peering out through a smidge of curtain, and from there we cut to inside the house. Does this stuff give you as much of a boner as me? I know that my pretentious film fan douche-baggery doesn’t exactly jive with the way most people view television shows, especially ‘80s nighttime soaps, but I feel it must be pointed out. TV is done much faster than film and is usually much shittier (at least until around 2000 or so, when we started to regularly expect cinematic quality from our television shows, most especially our cable shows like on HBO) and, generally, it’s most important to get your shit done as fast as possible so the episode can be produced. In this instance, I’m sure CBS wouldn’t care if the episode just started with a super quick shot of the street, maybe a few reporters gathered around, and then simply cut to inside Val’s home. Instead, we get that cool tracking shot, which makes us feel as cluttered and claustrophobic as the characters themselves, and then we elegantly glide inside of Val’s house through use of Lilimae peering out the window. I can just imagine some CBS suit being like, “Just get the scene done fast,” and the director instead doing it in this more complicated but far more artistic way (obviously I’m just sorta imagining this fantasy scenario in my own head; I was not there when they shot this and was not even alive at the time).
Another thing I wanna address before moving on to the stories and characters in question is the representation of the media. When did we all start hating the media? I actually asked My Beloved Grammy about this, because I feel like disgust towards reporters and tabloids really reached its peak in the ‘90s with a whole culmination of things (probably most especially the O.J. Simpson trial, followed by the death of Princess Diana due in no small part to paparazzi), and My Beloved Grammy confirmed that it really got out of hand in the ‘90s, but that we still sorta hated the media back in the ‘80s, too. I bring this up because the reporters and everyone gathered around Seaview Circle are shown as pretty annoying and lecherous and none of the characters like them too much (I enjoy when Karen says, “Why don’t you find another way to make a living?” to one of them as she’s trying to walk to her car).
Okay, so we’ve got a lot going on right away as we start the ep. Let’s go down the list: In addition to the paparazzi knocking on Val’s door, we obviously have Ciji lying dead in a morgue somewhere, Gary under arrest for her murder, Abs working and scheming with her lawyer about whether to get Gary bail money or leave him in prison, Mack working on the murder investigation along with Detective Baines from Casino Royale, and probably plenty of other stuff I’m forgetting to write about. Yup, a lot going on this week.
I think I’ll start with Gary and his arrest-related-detox. See, now that he’s in prison, he can’t get any alcohol (I mean, I guess he probably could if he really tried, but I digress), so he’s sorta forced into a detox. There’s a scene near the halfway point of this ep in which Abs visits him while he’s lying in a detox ward, all pale and sweaty and freaking out, needing the doctors to stick that wooden stick thing into his mouth so he doesn’t bite his tongue or whatever, and what I immediately thought of was Sue Ellen going through detox during the dream season of Dallas. On that note, I realized that this is happening nearly three years before that, so KL totally did it first. It’s one of the weird effects of watching all fourteen seasons of Dallas followed by all fourteen seasons of KL; sometimes I’ll think certain things had already happened on Dallas, but then I realize that KL is getting there first. I don’t mean to imply that Dallas was stealing from KL, just pointing out that one show did it first (and way better).
Oh wait, but then, just as I was typing this, I had a thought. Peter Dunne (pictured below), the big cheese and sorta showrunner guy for this era of KL, serves as the producer for seasons four, five, and six, but then during the 1985-1986 season, Dallas and KL swapped producers, with David Paulsen moving over to KL and Peter Dunne going to Dallas for the dream season. Now a part of me is wondering if all the scenes of Sue Ellen going through a violent and frightening detox in that season came about because Peter Dunne was like, “Hey, it worked on KL.” Hmm, any thoughts, readers?
But while we’re still on the topic, I gotta say that I found this a tremendous scene with tremendous acting from all involved, but especially Shack. Yeah, Donna is fabulous, too, having to show that Abs is finally starting to realize just how serious Gary’s alcoholism is (remember that during Gary’s last bender back in season one, Abs wasn’t on the show yet). She shows the fright that Abs must be feeling in her eyes as she recognizes that this is fucking serious, that Gary is not kidding when he says he’s an alcoholic, and I also appreciate the fact that she starts to cry. This is similar to the very quick scene of her crying back in China Dolls. If this was another wicked, villainous vixen TV character, I don’t think she would cry; she would be portrayed as totally heartless and evil. Abs is more complex than that. However, the real star of the scene is Shack, who is probably giving his best acting ever, and in my opinion even better than his bender back in the two-part Bottom of the Bottle. I totally believe he’s really going through this, and it looks real, ugly, and scary. It’s quite a scene. Why doesn’t anyone ever give Shack more credit for being a pretty awesome actor? He rocks!
On the topic of Gary/Abs this week, I wanna note a quick little shout-out to The Texas Ewings. Maybe it's since we watched Dallas first or maybe because I included all those Brief Dallas Interludes as pat of the KL experience whenever they would pop up, but for whatever reason My Beloved Grammy is always bringing up how strange it is that nobody from Dallas seems to give a shit about what’s going on with Gary over here in California (she also frequently points out how specifically bizarre it is that Lucy is barely ever mentioned on the series at all, and that’s absolutely true). But anyway, after it had been established by that black guy who was in everything in the ‘80s and sorta looked like Judge Banks (the actor’s actual name is, get this, John Hancock, pictured below), and he was in lots of stuff, including Brian De Palma’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (which, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, I actually liked) that Gary’s bail is set at $5,000,000.00 (which seems a bit excessive to me), My Beloved Grammy immediately said, “Why don’t they just call the Ewings in Texas?” About two seconds later, Abs said to Gary that she was gonna call Miss Ellie and Gary got all mad and was like, “No, don’t call them; we’re not doing crossover episodes anymore!”
I point this out because it shows the writers sorta covering their asses. Yeah, it’s a little bizarre that Gary could be in prison because he’s accused of murdering someone and nobody from over in Texas has gotten wind of it, but you just kinda gotta roll with it. If we’re gonna get caught up with this stuff, you might as well ask why Gary isn’t constantly wondering about how THE BATTLE FOR EWING OIL is going for Bobby and J.R. or why he isn’t more concerned that his daughter was just recently raped by a psycho stalker photographer. I appreciate the fact that the writers at least throw in a mention of calling Miss Ellie to show that they are aware the two shows are still existing in the same universe (these issues are only gonna get more confusing around 1986, by the way).
Meanwhile, on the Laura and Richard front, we have quite a lot going on. I am gonna take a moment to remind you that we only have ONE MORE EPISODE with Richard; he’s gonna be making his final appearance in the next episode, The Burden of Proof (he comes back for a two episode guest spot in season nine, but you get my point). Watching these eps, I was so caught up in the excitement and the genius of everything going on that I sorta forgot we were approaching Richard’s ending, but it struck me during this episode, because he’s awesome in it and The Plesh is at the top of his game. Richard is so fucking complex, man, and The Plesh is always able to keep him grounded in reality. On what other show could a character hold his wife hostage at gunpoint in one episode and then have them be married and living under the same roof a few eps later without it feeling ridiculous and cartoonish? With KL, it works. Similarly, after weeks of being a real asshole to Laura and Ciji (remember him grabbing her by the hair and throwing her out in Celebration?), Richard is now in this bizarre, mellow, very loving mood. Near the start of the episode, we have a scene I had completely forgotten existed. In it, Laura is sitting in the living room and she is, obviously, very sad because her friend is dead. Richard comes in and starts talking about how his brother, Philip, died in a motorcycle accident when he was fifteen. He talks about how there’s not a day that goes by in which he doesn’t think of his brother, that he still loves him, that he wonders what life would be like if he was still alive. The Plesh is quiet and solemn as he gives this little speech to Laura, and I was blown away. Like I said, I had forgotten all about this scene, so it was new information to me.
I’m not crazy, right? Was there any point in the previous 72 episodes in which Richard mentioned a brother who died? I think this is the first we’ve heard of it, but not only does it help us to see a more gentle and caring side of Richard’s character, it also makes me want to just jump right back to Pilot and watch every ep again to study Richard and his behavior and apply a new lens to him. Somewhat like applying some theory to any work of art (I always enjoy applying the queer theory to stuff, since it’s so easy to do and fits into almost anything), I feel like you could apply The Dead Brother Theory to Richard and suddenly watch the first four seasons of the show with a completely new slant on his character. Maybe Philip’s death altered him in such a fundamental way that it made him behave badly towards Laura for so much of his marriage. Maybe it’s the reason that he’s mentally ill (which, yes, I believe him to be) or why his moods can shift from being a real friend and a good husband to a real shit and a terrible, nearly abusive husband. I love when new information is presented late in the game and gives us the chance to see everything before in a new way, and that’s how I feel about this dead brother story that Richard tells Laura.
But that’s not all he does this week. He also has a killer scene in Ciji’s apartment taking place along with Laura and Ciji’s mother. See, they are there to sorta clean up the place when this woman we’ve never seen comes in and introduces herself as Ciji’s mother. At first, I was thinking how sad it is that this woman lost her daughter, how awful she must feel, what her life is going to be like, but then I immediately stopped feeling sorry for her cuz she’s pretty much a total bitch See, she comes in and starts going on about how Ciji didn’t care about anyone but herself, how she had no values, even going so far as to call her a tramp, for Heaven’s sake.
I’m thinking what a nasty bitchy bitch this woman is when Richard launches into this tremendous speech starting with, “I’m sorry to hear you say that,” and then he goes on about what a wonderful person Ciji was, how she was sweet and kind and caring and helpful and all that. He delivers the speech in this really interesting way, sorta gentle but firm all at the same time, not raising his voice towards this horrible woman or anything like that, just sorta delivering it quietly yet very eloquently. This combined with the Philip story is, for me, some of The Plesh’s best acting on the series ever (along with all 48 minutes of Night, of course). It makes me feel very bittersweet that he will be leaving us (but then I remember that Devane shows up and I get so excited it doesn’t even matter).
We see Knots Landing Motors again this week, by the way, so two eps in a row have featured Sid Fairgate’s beloved dealership. I only mention that because I’m trying to track how much we see it nowadays and also because Karen’s there and I wanna talk about her for a minute. I love Karen and she’s obviously super important, but she’s not doing as much now as she usually would be. The bulk of the excitement is being devoted to Val, Gary, and Abs thanks to Ciji’s murder, while both Karen and Mack are functioning somewhat as the expositionists, if that’s even a real word. I’m not saying that as a criticism, since it’s done very well. I’m not sure if it’s in this episode or in one of the two eps coming up (remember we watched seven damn episodes in a row in one sitting), but there’s a scene where Karen and Mack are in the kitchen and they sorta go down the roster of everyone who could have possibly done it and what their motives would be. This is functioning as exposition, but it’s done well cuz it’s played with a humorous slant that then stops being funny the more the two of them joke about it.
While on the topic of Mack, he’s still investigating the murder alongside boring Detective Baines. I don’t care even a little teeny weeny bit about the romantic “chemistry” between the two. There’s a scene early on in the ep in which they are, like, standing at the threshold of a doorway, and it’s shot in this extreme closeup as the two are staring into each other’s eyes, talking. I’m not sure what to make of this. Are we supposed to think this has the potential to be an affair? If that’s the case, it doesn’t work for me, not just because I don’t believe Mack would cheat on Karen (and please don’t write to me with something like, “He cheated on her in The Best Kept Secret,” because that was not cheating), but also because I just don’t feel it. Even the first time I watched through the series, I don’t remember ever thinking Mack would shag Detective Baines; I just remember being annoyed that Detective Baines seemed to be suddenly taking up so much screen-time.
I think the biggest bit of information unveiled this week is that Ciji didn’t die from drowning. The autopsy revealed not only that she was pregnant (more on that later), but also that she was killed by a blow (a fatal blow, if you will) to the head. So someone knocked her on the head, which is what killed her, and then that same someone or perhaps a different someone took her body to the beach and threw it in the ocean, but who? The mystery continues to grow (even though, just like upon first viewing, I still find myself thinking all the signs point to one specific person and there’s little doubt in my mind that he did it).
One of the stranger portions of this ep for me involves a scene between Chip and Lilimae. In it, Chip pretty much admits to having an affair with Ciji and tells Lilimae he feels he may have been the father of this baby. Lilimae tells him he has to go to the police and tell them about it. Okay, so what is Chip’s angle here? Is he worried that the police will somehow find out he was the father of her baby (which I’m not even sure they could do so easily back in 1983) and then somehow link him to her murder? Does he want to go and tell the police this smidge of the truth to make himself look like a good, honest guy? Why tell Lilimae about it at all? I found this scene rather confusing and his motives hard to read, so if anyone has any ideas, please tell me.
Here’s one development I’m very excited about this week: Jeff Munson leaves the show forever. This character has been a total snore for me since he was first introduced in The Best Kept Secret, just a boring white dude who only existed to fill the suit of being Val’s romantic interest for a few eps. I have no real problem with the way Jon Cypher played the character, but just the very fact that the character existed and was so bland (next season we’ll be getting Douglas Sheehan as Val’s romantic interest, and I’m not too terribly sure if that’s a big improvement or not).
To set the scene for Munson’s departure, it takes place in the living room of Val’s house, and it was another weird instance (much like My Beloved Grammy asking, “Why don’t they call the Ewings in Texas?” two seconds before Abs mentioned that she was about to do that very thing) of me saying something right before it happened. In this instance, Munson walked in and I groaned and turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “When is he gonna leave the show?” A moment later, he goes, “I’m going back to New York,” and then I said, “Yes!” One part of the scene that goes down like an absolute lead balloon is that, as he’s walking to the door and out of Val’s life, she sorta shouts after him, “I love you!” The music swells and I roll my eyes. Val loves Gary and Gary is her one true soul mate. Sorry to break it to you, Munson, but you are boring and you were only in twelve episodes and you didn’t even date Val for all twelve of those eps, so there’s just no way that she actually loved you. I’m gonna do my own personal adjustment to this scene and declare that Val is only saying that to be nice; she doesn’t actually believe it. If we are supposed to think she’s being sincere when she says something so ridiculous to this fucking bore, then I am just gonna freak out.
Val does something almost as nutty a bit later in the ep, by the way. Somehow, because of the fact that she was at Ciji’s apartment on the night of her death and pushed her down onto the table, she suddenly becomes convinced that she is the one who killed Ciji. Never mind the fact that Ciji was alive and well when Val left the apartment, and never mind the fact that Ciji’s body was found on the fucking beach, meaning that somebody else took the body there. Val works out this weird circuitous logic and says that she believes she did, in fact, kill Ciji when she pushed her, and that Gary found the body later and threw it in the ocean to protect Val. Like I said, this doesn’t make much sense, but I can just chalk it up to Val making a dumb choice. I don’t think that Val is dumb, by the way, as I’ve hopefully made clear in previous essays, but I think at this moment in her life she is super stressed and not thinking clearly. I mean, why the fuck else would the episode end with her driving herself to the police station and boldly declaring to the cops, “I killed Ciji”? That’s the end of the ep, by the way, and in terms of raw drama, of making you wanna jump into the next ep right away, it certainly works, but in terms of logic, I’m not so sure. Does it not seem like a big leap for Val to make? Oh, I pushed Ciji down and she hit her head, so I guess I’ll just go say to the police that I killed her. Thinking about it that way, it’s definitely a bit silly, but why carp? It’s still KL and it’s still brilliant and we’re in the midst of one of their greatest storylines ever, so I won’t split hairs too much in this instance. It gives a good bang to the last moments of the ep and makes you want to tune in for more.
That about does it for The Fatal Blow. This isn’t quite up there with Celebration (or even with A New Family, which really stuck out as a highlight episode for me upon this watching), but it’s a big step up from Loss of Innocence and was a pretty terrific episode all in all. This is one of those unexpected instances where I sat down to write about the ep, thought I only had a certain amount of stuff to say about it, and then suddenly found all these little details and intricacies that I appreciated. Even with all the drama of the Ciji murder storyline and even with the utterly fabulous scene of Gary in the detox ward with Abs, I gotta say that those two Richard scenes were the standouts for me this week. I just really loved both of them and thought they were extremely interesting and thought provoking. Also, as I pointed out near the start, there’s a special directorial style to this one that Larry Elikann brings which I noted and which I appreciated, a real sense of claustrophobia and a consistently roaming camera that lends an almost voyeuristic quality to many of the scenes.
So yeah, a pretty fantastic episode, if I do say so myself. Next up is the penultimate episode of season four, The Burden of Proof.