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 MorningAfter 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. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 075 of 344: WILLING VICTIMS


Episode Title: Willing Victims

Season 04, Episode 22

Episode 075 of 344

Written by Peter Dunne 

Directed by David Jacobs

Original Airdate: Thursday, March 10th, 1983

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): When Laura realizes that Richard is really gone, she tells the police, and everyone else, that Richard killed Ciji. Jeff Munson offers Kenny a job and Ginger a contract in Nashville, so the Wards decide to move. Diana and Chip decide to go to New York after all. Karen tells her about Chip and Ciji's affair in an attempt to get her to stay. Gary's preliminary hearing is coming up, but Gary's spirit is broken and he won't cooperate. Mitch thinks if Gary would work with them he could get the charges dropped. Abby wants Mitch to request Gary must go to a sanitarium as a condition of release. Mitch says no, so Abby fires him and asks Westmont to represent Gary. Val visits Gary, and she tells him to shape up because while he's playing martyr in jail, the real killer is on the loose. She also tells him if he respected Ciji, he would do all he could to find the real murderer. Roland Mackey, a private investigator, tells Lilimae he is looking for Tony Fenice, and shows her a flyer with Chip's picture on it. Lilimae shows the flyer to Karen. Karen runs up to Diana's room, but Diana has already left.

 


Welcome to Willing Victims, our season four finale of KL.  As this episode began, I noted with interest two things about who’s behind the scenes this week.  First off, this episode is written by Peter Dunne.  I don’t know if I’ve brought him up yet, but he’s a big deal to KL fanatics and is generally credited with really kicking the show into high gear during season four.  During my first viewing of the series, I paid more attention to the actors and the cast roster and how that changed and evolved over the course of the series, but I didn’t really tend to notice who was working behind the scenes or as the supervising producers for certain seasons.  Now, thanks in no small part to the exceptionally knowledgeable posters on the KL SoapChat message board (which everyone should go off and join right away), I’m becoming more aware of who was working to shape the show and its stories and characters during certain junctures of the series.

Okay, so Peter Dunne serves as the supervising producer starting here in season four, and he’ll continue that roll throughout seasons five and six, as well.  Honestly, that says it all.  If I had a resume that said I was supervising producer of KL for seasons four, five, and six, and it had absolutely nothing else on it besides that, I would still go to my grave a happy man, very proud of the excellent work I did and the art I helped to contribute to the world.  However, Dunne has a big resume which includes lots of other credits, and what’s probably most interesting, something that we’re not going to really discuss for a couple of seasons, is that during the 1985-1986 season, Dallas and KL swapped producers.  Peter Dunne moved over to work on the dreadful dream season of Dallas while David Paulsen (last discussed as the writer of our tenth Brief Dallas Interlude, Jock’s Will) moved over from his post on Dallas to be supervising producer on KL for its seventh season.  That’s going to be an interesting topic to discuss when we get there, because we all saw how the ninth season of Dallas turned out, I.E. it sucked really hard and set the tone for the next five fucking seasons to follow.  How could Dunne do such amazing work on KL and then serve as producer for such a shitty season of Dallas?

In any case, that’s not really important to the topic at hand.  I just bring up Peter Dunne because he’s been our producer all throughout this fourth season and he serves as the writer of Willing Victims.  The other interesting thing to note is that series creator David Jacobs serves as the man behind the camera and directs this week’s episode, his first time doing so.  We’ve discussed his scripts several times in the past, starting with our very first Brief Dallas Interlude (Reunion: Part One) as well as Interludes two and four (Reunion: Part Two and Return Engagements).  In addition, he wrote the KL Pilot that introduced us to this wonderful world and he wrote Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, the episode that first introduced us to Lilimae and explored her turbulent relationship with Val.  Now he’s the director and he’s going to end up directing eight eps, with his last directorial effort being the double whammy of brilliance Noises Everywhere: Part One and Noises Everywhere: Part Two, from season nine (hardcore KL fans should immediately remember what those eps are all about). 

Anyway, Willing Victims is his first time working as the director of an ep, and I immediately noticed that he brought a lot of energy and style to the proceedings, an energy unique and different from some of the other directors I’ve admired throughout the course of the last 74 eps.  For instance, we begin the show with Val running.  As I watched her run, I noted that there is a “full circle” feeling to this, because what was the very first thing we saw as we began season four with A Brand New Day?  That’s right, it was Val going for a run.  Now here we are in the season finale and the ep begins the same way.  Yes, I’m well aware that Val goes running in a ton of eps, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we begin the premiere of season four and the finale of season four with the same scene.  Also, on the topic of stylistic flourishes, Jacobs makes a cool choice here when Val runs directly into the camera, which sorta goes blurry and un-focuses before refocusing on poor Gary in his prison cell.  Nice directorial work!

Val is still coming to Gary’s defense, not believing for a second that he killed anybody.  However, Lilimae has an extra harsh line early in the ep when she’s talking to Val and she gets real firm and says, “Gary Ewing kills people!”  This has to be the peak of Lilimae’s distaste for Gary.  I know I’m not crazy when I say that, at some point down the line, Lilimae and Gary become friendly again, but right here Lilimae really hates him and seems to truly believe he’s a murderer.  I have to wonder if there is even any awkwardness in her future when Lilimae has to be like, “Oooooooooooh, Gary, I’m sorry I thought you killed Ciji back in season four, ooooooooooooh.”

What is Gary thinking at this point, by the way?  I’m really not sure if Gary actually truly believes that he killed Ciji or if he just is punishing himself for being a drunken mess.  I kinda think he’s just given up, much like the Beast in the big fight scene with Gaston from Beauty and the Beast; you know what I’m saying?  Like, Gary is just sorta sitting in prison like a lump, barely talking to anyone, not trying to fight these charges against him, just sorta accepting this as his fate.  I think he’s just feeling like such a loser for being a hardcore alcoholic and for all the drama that’s gone on throughout the last year that he’s just sorta resigned to sitting in prison, doing nothing, figuring that’s where he belongs, but I don’t believe that he truly thinks he’s the murderer of Ciji.

Late in the ep, Val pays Gary a visit in that glass wall/telephone room that you always see in prisons on TV shows.  Gary gets mad and yells and is like, “Get out of my life!”  Somehow, Val manages to calm him down and get him to listen to her, at which point she gives a great big speech about how she’s seen him in all of his drunken states throughout their time together, and even though he gets angry and nasty and has a bad temper, he’s never gotten violent.  This is slightly contradictory, as we saw him have an epic bar fight back in the Bottom of the Bottle eps and he also gave Val a black eye (although I think that was pretty much an accident, so I’ll cut him a break).  Her basic point, which I think she manages to get through to him, is that he is not a man who would murder another person, no matter how drunken he was at the time, and that he’s wasting time lying in prison.  The real killer is still wandering around out in the world, so Gary isn’t helping anyone by taking the blame for Ciji’s death.

Meanwhile, after Richard blew town last week, Laura has become convinced that he is, in fact, the one true murderer.  While this could come off as a silly plot contrivance if handled by a less deft pen, this does work for me, especially when I try to put myself into Laura’s shoes.  Even though I have loved Richard throughout his entire run on the show and I tend to act like Karen and rush to his defense in many situations, he did hold Laura and Jason 2 hostage at gunpoint just a little over a year ago, demonstrating tremendous mental instability.  Not only that, but back in Celebration, when his jealousy of Laura and Ciji’s muff-diving reached the tipping point, he got violent on Ciji, grabbed her by the hair, and threw her out of the house.  So, yeah, considering that Ciji was dead just a few minutes after that occurred, I could see why Laura is quick to blame Richard.

I also wanna note that this episode doesn’t start right off the bat with Laura knowing that Richard is gone.  Instead, he’s just kinda missing and she is waiting to hear from him or see him turn up before, at a certain point, she realizes that he has left her and is not coming back.  It’s around this point that she gets Mack and Karen together for a talk and declares that Richard killed Ciji, showing lots of examples for why this is so.  She says how he got all his affairs in his order, got his money issues worked out, tidied up his issues with the restaurant, all before disappearing from town forever because he was the one who killed Ciji.  She declares that she’s going to tell the police about this and name Richard as the culprit, even though Karen disagrees with her and tells her not to do so.

Watching this as a viewer, I have to wonder: How many people would have actually put money on Richard being the killer?  I remind you that when I first watched this, I didn’t actually know who killed Ciji, but I also didn’t really think all that much about it, because I thought it was very obvious that it was Chip.  Chip has the best motive; we’ve seen him get violent on Ciji in private conversation with her, she was refusing to have an abortion even though he wanted her to, and he was two-timing her with Diana and was probably starting to get annoyed with her nagging.  To me, there was never any doubt that Chip was the one, and while I recognized Laura’s perspective, I never bought into it, especially since I knew upon first watching that Richard had left the show.  Somehow I didn’t think the writers would have an off-screen revelation that Richard was the killer or just have him disappear from the show, be announced as the killer, and then just stay gone from the series; that wouldn’t be classy or smart the way the writing tends to be.

Laura gets my favorite scene in this whole ep, which calls back to Gary trashing the shit out of his bedroom back in The Loudest Word.  With Richard gone, Laura has to go down to Daniel and do a lot of the work herself.  The stress of everything going on starts to get to her and, finally, when she has a moment all by herself in the kitchen, she just starts going to town and trashing the place.  She knocks over a shelf of pots and pans and then grabs a pan and just starts beating the shit out of everything in the kitchen with it, throwing stuff across the room and freaking out.  This is all done in an unbroken shot, no fancy editing, so you gotta know what a pain in the ass it must have been to do multiple takes of this and have to totally redress the set just to have Constance trash it again.  When she’s finally finished smashing stuff, she just sorta leans up against the wall and covers her face and starts to cry.  Here, the camera slowly starts to pan away from her, as if this is too intimate and personal for us to even be voyeurs to.  Another aspect of this scene I dig is the complete lack of music; it’s total silence until Laura starts going to town on the pots and pans.  Finally, I just found this super relatable; haven’t we all at some point lost it and had to start breaking stuff in a fit of anger?  It doesn’t matter that we logically know it makes no sense; we just get that pissed off that we start trashing.  What a fabulous moment and an episode highlight.

Meanwhile, Chip is finally officially going to New York.  This is something he’s been kinda sorta threatening to do ever since about Loss of Innocence, but now he’s really going and Diana wants to go with him.  Karen is very opposed to Diana going, but in the first half of the episode, I think it’s mostly because Karen just plain doesn’t like Chip.  I’m not sure anyone at this point is truly aware of how violent and dangerous Chip really is (the only person who was aware of it is now lying dead).  Karen just gets an uncomfortable feeling from him; she doesn’t know precisely why, but she does know that she wants Diana to stay here in California, not run off to New York with Chip.

Late in the ep, Lilimae is outside watering the plants or something like that when a mysterious man with a moustache arrives (but remember it’s 1983 and it was still against the law for a man to not have a moustache).  This man is a private investigator and his name is Ronald Mackey and he is played by Joe George.  The guy’s IMDb page is pretty big, but the only thing I recognize him from is a super early Seinfeld episode, The Stakeout (that’s the one where George first invents Art Vandelay).  Anyway, he shows up to have a chat with Lilimae and asks her if she’s seen a guy named Tony Fenice hanging around, then he produces a black and white picture of Chip.  Lilimae looks at it and then tells a bit of a fib.  Even though the picture is clearly Chip with sorta different hair and a beard, she tells Mackey that she’s never seen this guy before.

Meanwhile, Karen is trying her hardest to dissuade Diana from leaving.  I should probably note that, after finishing this ep, I did a bit of a status update and asked My Beloved Grammy who, at this point, ranks as her favorite and least favorite character.  She said her favorite character is Karen (an excellent choice) and that her least favorite character is Diana.  My Beloved Grammy’s exact quote was, “Diana could leave the show forever and I would never even think about her,” making me wonder how she’s going to react to all the Diana-related shenanigans of season five.  Anyway, I bring that up because, once again, Diana is acting like a whiny little bitch and not listening to what her mother has to say to her.  We also get a nice little callback to a character I didn’t really care for, Uncle Joe, when Karen says that if Diana must go to New York, she should stay with Uncle Joe (it would be a pretty nifty little callback if she mentioned Jessica Walter from back in Reunion, but she doesn’t do so).  Diana’s having none of it; she is moving to New York with Chip and that is final.

Minutes before the episode is about to come to its conclusion, Karen wanders over to Val’s house and has a chat with Lilimae.  At this point, Lilimae mentions the private investigator who came by earlier, and how Chip is wanted in Seattle (shout out!) for some prior violent offense.  At this point, we get a rare moment of bad acting from Michele Lee, I’m sorry to say.  Still love you, Michele, but this isn’t your finest work.  See, she gets all scared and runs across the street, back to her own house.  This part is fine, if a little bit over-the-top, but then she bursts into Diana’s room and realizes her daughter is gone.  She opens her closet and almost all the clothes are gone from it now, at which point Karen grabs like, a shirt or something, holds it up to her face, and starts to moan in a very theatrical matter, “Oh, Diana, oh, Diana!”  It’s way too much and made me cringe a little bit, but I forgive it cuz Michele is usually brilliant and she has been brilliant in the past and will be brilliant in the future; this is just a rare misstep. 

From this scene, we dissolve to a bit of a final montage before the episode/season ends, and I note this montage because it has a cool dissolve that we are going to see for, I think, something like ninety episodes in a row in the future, since this shot makes its way into the scrolling squares for the opening credits of seasons five, six, and seven.  It’s a shot of Abs looking out the window of The Beach House and then a dissolve to Val sitting in a chair in her living room, looking out her own window.  It’s a nice dissolve, and I noted it immediately since I recognized it from the opening of the next three seasons (I always thought it was cool that one of the scrolling squares in the opening had a dissolve going on it; stylish).  This is our final scene before our “Executive Producers” credit and the conclusion of the ep.

So that’s the end of the ep, but there is one last thing I wanna discuss, and I felt like saving it for the end to show at least some respect for two characters I have been ragging on since the very beginning of the show, Kenny and Ginger.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is Kenny and Ginger’s final episode and we never see either of them ever again (aside from a very brief and completely worthless cameo from Kim Lankford in the 1997 reunion movie, Back to the Cul-De-Sac).  Okay, so what are the circumstances which precipitate their evacuation from the series forever?

Well, after the shenanigans of the last year and the fact that Kenny and Ginger no longer feel like they have many friends in Seaview Cicle, the two decide to move to Nashville after Kenny gets a job offer from Munson (meaning, I suppose, that things are now cool between the two gentlemen, so that’s nice).  Since Kenny has been out of work since about halfway through the season, there’s good reason to take this job offer, so he accepts it and we get one final scene between the two of them in bed.  Even if these characters generally bored me, I will say I’m glad they get a legitimate exit and a final scene together; we don’t just start season five and some character is like, “Kenny and Ginger moved away,” or something like that.  Instead, the theme song kicks in with a sorta gentle, melodic quality, playing much slower than it usually does, as the two lie in bed and discuss the future for themselves and Erin Molly.  I guess it’s pretty nice to see that, after Kenny’s adultery problems throughout seasons one and two, the couple have managed to make it work out, have had a baby that they clearly love, have fixed their marriage, and that Kenny has also finally truly accepted Ginger’s desire to be a singer.  Now, instead of stifling it, he’s encouraging her to use her talent in Nashville.  While this scene is hardly the most exciting portion of the episode, I’m still glad it’s here to put a little bow on the characters before they move away forever.

Also, it’s time for a big revelation of my own, and that is the fact that I no longer hate Kenny and Ginger.  Way back in my Pilot writeup, I used the word “hate,” and called them the toxic bores and bad actors and all of that stuff.  However, throughout these four seasons, it wound up being way less painful to watch their storylines than I remembered it being, and season four was so good and so well written that the writers actually gave them some story and materials to work with, which helped me to dull my hatred of them.  Just to be clear, I’m not saying that I suddenly like the characters or am super sad to see them go; I’m just saying that I’ve decided “hate” was a strong word and they’re not nearly as toxic as I may have remembered. 

The basic problem is that, for most of their run, they didn’t really get a chance.  I think it’s interesting to jump back to the start of the series and reflect that, while the two were introduced in Pilot, they then immediately sat on the bench for episodes two and three, Community Spirit and Let Me Count the Ways, which pretty much set the tone for how the writers would treat these characters throughout their time on the series; they always came last in the roster, and I don’t even have to do any research to know that they sit out more eps than any other main cast members on the show.  In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say that, now, I kinda feel sorry for them, because I’m sure the actors wanted more interesting stuff for their characters to do (to the point that James Houghton wound up writing the episode Possibilities, which was all about Kenny and Ginger).  So my basic point is that while I’m not sad that they’re leaving and I’ll probably never think about them in the next ten seasons, they weren’t nearly as bad as I remembered and they did, every now and then, have their moments, most of them contained within season four, when it felt like the writers were finally giving them something to do.

The last thing I’ll say about this ep is that while it ends on a series of cliffhangers (Diana running off to New York with Chip, Gary awaiting trial for murdering Ciji, Richard disappearing, and so on), it ends on a more quiet note than other seasons have or will.  I won’t spoil the finale of season five at this point, except to say that it’s just PACKED a ton of shit happens really really fast all within the last five minutes of that season, whereas this one is more mellow, more gentle.  It’s interesting to note that other shows would probably make Celebration the season finale, the cliffhanger being the simply fact that Ciji has been killed.  I like how KL has Ciji die and then spends four episodes setting up suspects and excitement so that there’s just a ton of shit going on as we reach the final episode of the season. 

So that about does it for Willing Victims as well as the entire fourth season of KL.  This was a great season finale that director David Jacobs brought a lot of style and class to.  It sets up so many things to unfold throughout season five that, if I was alive in 1983, it would actually physically hurt me to have to wait all those long months for a new episode.  What more can you ask for in a season finale?

Coming up next will be “A Reflection on Season Four,” and after that we’ll get started with one of the most beloved and most watched seasons of KL with the season premiere episode, The People vs. Gary Ewing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 074 of 344: THE BURDEN OF PROOF

Episode Title: The Burden of Proof

Season 04, Episode 21

Episode 074 of 344

Written by Diana Gould 

Directed by Alexander Singer

Original Airdate: Thursday, March 3rd, 1983

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Val is booked and questioned. Abby goes to jail and has Gary sign over power of attorney to her. When she finds out Val confessed, Abby laughs and says, "That's so Val." Abby wants Mitch to get Val's confession thrown out. Mitch tells Abby she'd better determine what is more important - keeping Val and Gary apart, or getting Gary out of jail. Police bring Val to Ciji's to recreate the fight. Other police show up with Gary. Gary's really upset, and says Val has nothing to do with it. Police have to restrain them. Lilimae tells Chip it was his leaking Val's story that started this whole mess, and kicks him out. Chip tries to charm Lilimae, but she's no longer buying it. Police release Val. Richard has decided to leave Laura, but doesn't tell her. He liquidates his assets and takes care of unfinished business, packs, and secretly leaves.

 

As I sat down to write about The Burden of Proof, at first I was like, “What was that one about again?”  I was starting to think it might have been one of the less amazing of the seven eps My Beloved Grammy and I watched upon our most recent visit, but as soon as I read over my notes on the ep, I immediately realized that was inaccurate, that there’s actually a ton of stuff to say about this week’s ep.  While a good majority of the show this week is devoted to the continuing saga of “Who Killed Ciji?” and Gary’s incarceration and Val acting like she killed her and all that, I think the most important thing to note about this episode is that it marks the final (more or less) appearance of The Plesh as Richard Avery.  Yeah, he’ll be back for a guest spot in two episodes way down the line (the 200th and 201st episodes of the series, not to imply that those feel really far away at this point in time or anything), but this is the last time John Pleshette appears as a part of the regular cast of KL and I wanna spend a good deal of time discussing his final moments on the series and how they made me feel.

But first, let’s jump through the other characters and what’s going on with them this week.  I kinda wanna save my thoughts on Richard and his exit for the ending, since his final moments are also the final moments of the ep and they are the parts that resonate most strongly with me in The Burden of Proof.  We open the show with, I’m gonna declare it, some stock ADR dialogue recycled from last week’s show.  See, we start on a shot of the police station and we hear Val’s voice describing the events of the night of Celebration, and I’m absolutely sure that they just went and reused dialogue from last week, in which she was describing these events to, I think, Karen.  The dialogue goes something like, “She backed me up against the wall and she was saying horrible things,” something like that, and it’s absolutely the same and I felt really smart for noticing it, even though I know nobody besides myself cares.

But anyway, to get us up to date, last week’s episode ended with Val doing something very stupid, driving herself to the police station and declaring, “I killed Ciji.”  Now we are starting to see the repercussions of that, but I definitely get the sense that none of the cops, neither Detective Baines (pictured above) nor the stereotypical angry tough male cop dude, really believe that Val did it.  Her story just doesn’t really hold much water, and it’s kinda based in a bizarre fantasy that she has concocted for herself.  In fact, sitting here and looking through my notes, I can’t exactly remember all the details of how Val reaches this conclusion, or how her story goes.  It’s something like she thinks she actually killed Ciji when she hit the table, even though she was alive when Val left, and then Gary came back later and found the body and decided to hide it.  You see what I mean?  There’s a lot of leaps of the imagination in her story, this weird need to take the blame for something she didn’t do, and I think the cops sense that, too.

There’s a cool little stylistic cut done near the middle of the episode, involving the idea of retracing steps on the night of the murder.  First, we see the cops taking Gary for a walk on the beach, in the area where he woke up in the opening moments of Loss of Innocence.  They’re hoping to jog his memory and break through the alcohol-induced fogginess in his mind, but they have little success.  Then, we immediately cut to the same thing being done (via different cops) with Val, this time in Ciji’s apartment.  They take her there to look around and remember the argument she had with Ciji.  While in the middle of retracing her steps, Gary comes walking in with the other cops and there’s this big, dramatic scene where he’s, like, trying to wrestle out of the arms of the cops so he can get over to Val.  Now that he sees her in person and knows what she’s up to, incarcerating herself because of some bizarre need to protect him, he sorta flips.  Aside from shouting a few things at Val and struggling with the cops, Gary isn’t able to do much in this scene, and he is quickly removed from the premises.

Meanwhile, Lilimae has finally had it with Chip.  After nearly a whole season of having him living in the house, she finally tells him he needs to pack up and leave.  The reason she has finally had enough is because she blames Chip leaking the “Booze and Women” story to the press for all the crap that’s going down and, in a way, she’s kinda right.  Gary started unraveling when this occurred and he pretty much returned to drinking in the exact same episode that the story leaked, To Have and to Hold (remember it was the sorta cliffhanger of that ep, Gary holding a glass of bourbon in his hand, contemplating drinking it) and that has further unraveled to all the shenanigans that are now going down with Ciji’s death.  I also think Chip’s little confession that he was sleeping with Ciji in The Fatal Blow really alarmed Lilimae, even more than she appeared to be alarmed during the scene in question.  My theory is that this little confession sorta caused her to open her eyes about the way Chip really is, that he’s a con artist and a liar and possibly very dangerous.

Even though I’ve said a few times how weird it is that Chip just sorta gets to live rent-free under the same roof as Lilimae and Val for almost a whole season, Julie Harris does such a brilliant job of playing her character that her little crush on Chip always comes off feeling both sweet and sad.  I feel bad for Lilimae right here, because she really did just plain like Chip; she thought he was charming and sweet and she viewed him as a friend.  Now that she’s starting to realize what a bad man he really is, she has to order him out of the house, and you know that must be hard for her to do.  I don’t think I can see a relationship this odd between an older woman and a younger man working on any other show, but it always works on KL and I give most of the credit for that to Julie Harris.

Anyway, at first Chip argues and tries to charm Lilimae.  It’s worked in the past and you can tell he thinks it’ll work now, but not so much.  Because of this, Chip returns to an older plan of his to ditch town and move to New York.  Somehow I’ve forgotten to mention all this drama in any of the preceding episodes, but see, Chip was originally saying he was gonna up and run to New York around the time of Loss of Innocence.  For whatever reason, something changed his plans and he decided to stay in California (I believe he claimed it was to help Val and Lilimae deal with all this stress).  Well, now that he’s being booted out of the house, he returns to his original plan, and the question which remains is: Will Diana go with him?

Meanwhile, while Gary’s in prison, Abs is up to her conniving ways with her lawyer.  Now, probably because of seeing what a true alcoholic Gary is and how quickly things turn to shit when he has a drink, Abs has decided she wants to keep Gary in prison.  Near the middle of the ep, she pays Gary a visit and they have a conversation through that prison-glass-wall-telephone thing.  In this scene, Gary signs over power of attorney to Abs, which I guess is important.  This is one of those storylines that I’m sure is important and exciting, but for whatever reason I’m just having a hard time following.  I’m really stupid sometimes and I confess that I don’t actually really know what “Power of attorney,” means, but I assume it’s important because My Beloved Grammy got very excited about all these shenanigans. 

Gary gets a second prison visit this week, this time from Kenny.  In addition to losing Richard this week, we will also be losing Kenny and Ginger next (can you guess which one I’m most upset about?), so I can sense the writers, at this point, sorta wrapping up any lingering threads for Kenny and Ginger so they can be shipped neatly out of town.  This is actually a somewhat sweet scene as Kenny and Gary manage to come to some understanding of all the shit that went down throughout the last year and seem to reach some peace.  It’s a quick little scene but demonstrates the writers crossing their t's and dotting their i's as we get ready to say goodbye to Seaview Circle’s most dynamic duo.

Meanwhile, Karen and Mack are continuing to do everything in their power to figure out this murder.  Also, on the topic of Chip, Mack finally declares, “I’m gonna call some people.”  I take this to mean that he’s going to do some research into who Chip really is and what his past is like, and I gotta say it’s about time.  Chip’s been in town so long and this is the first time that Mack finally decides to use his power and authority to figure out where this guy came from?  Better late than never.

Okay, that about does it for the other cast members this week; now let’s talk about Richard.  I tried to wash my brain out during this episode and to watch it from the point-of-view of a first-run viewer in 1983, and I wondered if I would be surprised that Richard is leaving the show or if I would see it coming.  I think I’ve settled on the latter, because throughout the ep, there’s a real sense of Richard getting his affairs in order and getting ready to leave town forever; it hangs over this entire episode like a storm cloud threatening rain.  All through this week’s ep, we see Richard taking care of little things that he’s been putting off, tidying things up, obviously planning ahead for the fact that he’s about to blow town.  For instance, one of the first scenes with Richard in The Burden of Proof is him talking on the phone, talking about liquidating his assets and getting some money for Laura.  A little bit later, Laura has some little idea about the restaurant, something they could do to make it more profitable.  Richard gets sorta excited and is like, “Hey, that’s a great idea; you should do it.”  When Laura reminds him that he is the owner of Daniel, he starts to sorta ask her if she thinks she could run it by herself.  This is maybe a bit too much too soon in the episode, don’t you think?  If I was Laura, I would find it mighty suspicious that Richard is suddenly asking me if I could run the restaurant myself and even encouraging me to do so. 

Next up, we spot Richard finally fixing his drain pipe.  Karen sees him on the ladder, fiddling with it, and she comes over to chit chat with him.  Since this is pretty much Karen and Richard’s last scene together on the series (barring those two eps I mentioned, of course), it hit me rather hard.  The strange and loving friendship between the two has always been one of my favorite parts of the first four seasons of the show.  There have been so many points where, even if Richard was acting like a total dick, Karen would be in his corner and stick up for him.  Also, many of Richard’s sweetest moments have always been towards Karen.  Let’s not forget The Vigil, when Sid was lying in the hospital and Richard brought Karen a catered gourmet breakfast and helped her deal with her grief, or the very loving way he helped her cope during the episodes following Sid’s death.  Let’s also not forget that when Richard went loony back in Night, Karen was the only one coming to his defense, telling everyone that he was not crazy and that he was not violent.  Following the events of that episode, Karen visited Richard at the sanitarium more than any other character, always making sure to be a good friend and show her love.

Because of all that beautiful stuff we’ve seen in the previous 73 episodes, this scene resonates with a quality we wouldn’t have if we were watching another, less wonderfully written show.  See, Karen says how they should have a dinner party and Richard and Laura should come over and she tells Richard to “bring the wine.”  There’s a sense that she’s looking forward to this occurring, but we the audience get the feeling that it’ll never happen, that there’s something ominous in the air.  This is heightened by Richard’s final question to Karen, when he asks, “How do you like being married again?”  She smiles and says, “I love it,” and walks away.  This is an exchange of dialogue I’d forgotten, and now I can see what’s going through Richard’s mind.  He doesn’t want to live here anymore, not in California, nowhere near where all his past failures and problems have occurred.  He’s thinking of starting a new life and the wheels are turning in his head so quickly that he’s already thinking of whether he could ditch Laura and Jason 3 and start a new life with someone else.  If Karen can find happiness with a second spouse, why can’t he? 

Speaking of Jason 3, we also get a terrific little scene between him and Richard taking place in the Avery living room.  See, Jason 3 is working on some sort of college school project about “the happiest time he ever had,” and he’s focusing on a trip that he took with his parents to, um, somewhere.  Anyway, apparently he was quite young when they went on this vacation (although, due to constantly morphing into new people, Jason seems to always sorta stay the same age and even, near the end of his time on the show, age in reverse in some bizarre way) and Richard is surprised he remembers this trip at all. 

The two sit on the floor and talk about all the fun they had and what they did while they were away from home.  Richard looks melancholy, almost happy/sad at the same time, and I can only imagine the swirl of contradictory thoughts racing through his head.  I have to imagine that he’s having a bit of guilt about what he’s planning to do.  How can he sit here with his son, who he loves, and talk about the fun they’ve had in the past, and then up and leave him later in the ep?  At the same time, I have to wonder if Richard is feeling like a failure all around, if he’s maybe telling himself that Laura and Jason 3 and Daniel will all be better off without him, the man who can’t hold down a job and opened a new business which has been struggling and is probably going to go under very soon. 

The very last scene of the ep is Richard sorta going through the house, collecting his shit, making sure he’s good and packed, and leaving.  I’m not gonna lie; I started to get misty here.  I didn’t bawl like a little faggot the way I may bawl for certain stories and scenes in our future, or the way I bawl whenever I watch Titanic.  Tears didn’t actually roll down my face, but my eyes got wet and watery and I felt very emotional here.  See, Laura is holding Daniel on her lap and playing with him in the bedroom.  Richard walks up to the door and looks in and Laura doesn’t see him, but little Daniel does.  Richard looks at the baby and he smiles and then he gives him a sorta wave with just one finger.  Next, he goes downstairs and he’s about to leave when he pauses, looks at a beautiful black and white picture of himself, Richard, Jason 3, and Daniel, and then decides to take that picture with him.  He goes outside, gets in his car, drives away, stops the car briefly to get out and look back over the cul-de-sac one last time, gets back in his car, drives away, and boom, that’s the end of The Burden of Proof.

It’s yet another credit to The Plesh’s incredible acting that Richard is able to do this, to up and leave his entire family behind without any warning, something that is really a pretty shitty thing to do, and yet I end up feeling sorry for him.  Somehow, Richard has always walked this tightrope where, no matter how he behaved, I could always understand his feelings and sympathize.  I really don’t know another actor who could manage to be such an asshole and also be so sympathetic, often within the confines of the same episode.  Something about the way The Plesh brought Richard to life has always made me able to relate to him no matter how dire his behavior towards others could sometimes get; I always seemed to understand that Richard was not inherently a bad person, but rather a man deeply dissatisfied with his own life who consistently feels like a failure.

I think my eyes got watery not just because of the heightened emotion of the sequence and the excellent musical score, but also because Richard is leaving the show and I am going to miss him.  The cast of KL is generally so strong that it’s impossible to really decide who the best character is.  A lot of my favorite characters aren’t even on the scene yet, for instance, and the cast grows, changes, and evolves in such a way that there’s always someone new and super interesting to focus on.  But I do think, for these first four seasons, Richard is very nearly my favorite character.  I think Karen is always going to be #1 in my heart, but Richard is a comfortable #2 right after her, and he brought the most energy, life, and intricacies to the first four seasons of this show.  In addition, The Plesh seemed to understand his character and be able to write for him in a way that was very special and rare.  In addition to being a tremendous actor (way underrated, I must reiterate), he also wrote eight fantastic episodes during his time as a cast member, spanning Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two through Daniel (with his most shining writing masterpiece being the unforgettable Night).  Whenever he stepped up to the plate to contribute a script to the series, I would always pay attention and know that I was gonna be in for an extra good, extra rich episode of KLIn fact, when I told My Beloved Grammy that this was Richard’s last episode, the first question she asked was, “Does he still write more episodes?”  Even though she generally doesn’t pay as much attention to who’s writing/directing eps as I do, she still found herself noticing that his eps were of a higher quality than the others.  Now, even though he doesn’t contribute anymore scripts to the show, he will be back in the future to direct five eps, starting with Homecoming next season and concluding with Simmer in 1991.  I can’t wait to get to those eps so I can pay attention to how The Plesh does behind the camera, not as the writer but as the director.

One last thing I wanna say, sorta related to the topic of cast members coming and going throughout the fourteen years of the show.  Well, clearly that’s going to happen a lot, which is only natural for a long-running show.  Indeed, the only people who are main cast members on the series from start to finish are Michele Lee and Ted Shackelford.  For the first four seasons, we’ve been pretty consistent with our cast, only losing Don Murray at the start of season three.  When we start season five, we will have, I believe, our mast radical shift in the cast in the whole series, losing Richard, Kenny, and Ginger and gaining the ball of excitement Ben along with a character I can’t wait to discuss, Sumner (and, also, Diana gets a promotion to main cast member next season).

However, the interesting thing about these shifts, and another credit to the quality of the show, is I never feel that hurt by someone leaving, because someone super interesting is generally just around the corner.  In this instance, yes, I’m sad to see Richard depart the show, but we’re about to get William Devane in the cast, and he’s one of the best characters ever and I love him with all my heart, so it’s like I barely have time to miss Richard, because Sumner comes into the proceedings and is so awesome, so funny, and so brilliantly cast.  Contrast this with Dallas, where the loss of cast members was brutal and would generally disrupt the quality of the show in a very toxic way (Patrick Duffy’s departure during season nine being the prime example, but Victoria Principal’s exit is even worse and basically smears shit all over the last four years of that show). 

Okay, that’s gonna do it for The Burden of Proof.  I thought this was an excellent episode in all sorts of ways, but especially as a swan song for Richard, who was consistently brilliant and brought quality humor and drama to the series through many different factors for 74 episodes.  All the other proceedings with the other cast members this week come second for me; The Burden of Proof should be remembered and respected for being our goodbye to Richard Avery, and I thought it did an excellent job of balancing these bittersweet emotions as he blows town.

This is very exciting, because now we just have one more episode left in season four and then we’ll be done with this brilliant year of television.  Coming up next, our season finale, Willing Victims.