Sunday, January 15, 2017

KNOTS LANDING Episode 088 of 344: WITNESS


Episode Title: Witness

Season 05, Episode 13

Episode 088 of 344

Written by Richard Gollance

Directed by Nicholas Sgarro

Original Airdate: Thursday, December 22nd, 1983

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Jane Sumner comes to town, so Greg can't pay attention to Abby. Mack asks Greg to help him find Tom Jessick. A man tells Greg to get rid of Mack or they'll drop his campaign. Cathy goes to Abby and says she wants out of their deal for her to impersonate Ciji, because she doesn't want to hurt Gary, but Abby won't let her. Val and Mack are concerned about Karen. Val finishes her book, "Nashville Junction," about Lilimae's life. Ben asks Val for more of a commitment. Then Val finds out she is three months pregnant with Gary's baby.




                Welcome to Witness.  You’ll recall that when we last left off at the end of Denials, we saw Karen’s friends growing concerned about her pill popping, her yelling at them that she didn’t have a problem, and then we ended on that fabulous mirror shot of Karen running into the bathroom to take some pills and then staring at herself in the mirror, the camera going into a sorta slow closeup.  After that fabulous ending, I went to pee and My Beloved Grammy went to the kitchen to make some popcorn.  After I peed, I returned to the kitchen so we could discuss the sheer brilliance of what we had just watched, and My Beloved Grammy opined that she believed our next ep would be about Karen doing something about her problem.  Is that the case?  Not so much, as it’s gonna take a little while longer before Karen finishes spiraling out of control and truly hits her rock bottom.  Witness is about the escalation of her problem, but as we’ve come to expect by this point in the series, when the stories are so dense and rich, it’s about so much more, as well.

                For instance, Val’s story this week is big, and I mean really big.  You all remember a few episodes back when Gary and Val shagged (it was …And Never Brought to Mind and it was seven episodes ago)?  Well, this week we are going to find out the sweet consequences of that night of unbridled passion, but first we open on a romantic little breakfast scene between Val and Ben.  This breakfast takes place at his Plant House on the outside balcony or whatever and looks rather pleasant, but then Val says the word “love,” and Ben start to look slightly nervous.  Well, of course he does, because if there’s one surefire way to scare a man away right and quick, it’s dropping the L-word on him when he least expects it.  Even still, I think that Ben also has feelings for Val that go behind that of a fling; even though he looks nervous, I don’t think that necessarily means he is afraid of what she’s saying, and perhaps he’s even feeling it too at this early juncture in their relationship.


                However, the big plot twist which occurs involves a trip Valene takes to her doctor near the middle of the episode.  We learn that she’s been having some sporadic bleeding in her vaginal regions that she’s mildly concerned about.  I love that KL will actually have the doctor talk about Valene’s menstrual cycles and spotting, by the way; it keeps the show feeling grounded even as the plot points all around us get more and more twisted and convoluted.  Can you imagine Sue Ellen going to see her doctor on Dallas and having a conversation about her own vaginal bleeding?  No, definitely not, no way; this is all KL territory.  Anyway, the doctor tells her there’s nothing to worry about, as she is simply pregnant.  He says it all excited and happy and I think Val is excited, too.  I mean, duh, we all know Val has mommy issues thanks to her incredibly fractured relationship with Lucy, so of course she’s excited to have a baby, but I think she gets nervous when the doctor tells her that she’s three months along.  Uh oh, this doesn’t quite add up with the idea of Ben being the father of the child, does it?

                When we heard Val was three months pregnant, I jotted it down in my notes and wrote, “How long does she stay pregnant?”  I love to actually track the path of how long TV pregnancies last, because usually they exceed nine months by a wide margin.  Perhaps the longest TV pregnancy I’ve ever witnessed was on Roseanne (during those pesky later years that are really not even worth watching at all) when Roseanne announced her pregnancy on September 21st, 1994, and then didn’t actually deliver the baby until October 31st, 1995, well over a year later.  Well, in this case, I can’t remember precisely exactly 100% when Val has her baby (and I know I could just use the internet to look this up, but waiting to find out stuff like this is part of the fun of doing this rewatch), but I know it’s somewhere within the early portions of season six.  So, we know that the big Gary/Val shag occurred in …And Never Brought to Mind, and that was November 3rd, 1983.  Hmmm, now my brain is already aching a bit, because that’s just a little over a month before this episode, and yet we are told that Val is three months along.  How did that wind up happening?  In any case, I’m gonna do my own personal retcon just for the sake of my own sanity and declare that the insemination of Gary’s sperm to Valene’s egg occurred on November 3rd, 1983; now we will just wait to see when she finally delivers the baby (or babies) and figure out if she, too, suffers from TV pregnancy that lasts over a year.


                In any case, I’m focusing on a random thing when I should just be focusing on how this pregnancy complicates Val’s life.  One thing I appreciate (and that I didn’t remember unfolding in this way) is that there is no mystery presented about who the father is.  With stories like this, you often expect a “Who’s the real baby daddy?” story to pop up, but here Val has no doubt that the father is Gary.  All she does is do the math and realizes that the gap between November 3rd and December 22nd is apparently three months and, based on this timeline, Gary has to be the man who knocked her up.  The next step is figuring out what to do about Ben.

                One quick thing I was surprised did not even get a mention: Abortion.  Now, I’m a good little liberal and so I’m obviously pro-choice, but that’s not really what this blog is about.  I only mention it because abortion has been brought up on the show before (remember Karen in Small Surprises or Richard and Laura and THE SLAP in Best Intentions?) and, by 1983, abortion had now been legal for over a decade and I just feel like, realistically, the doctor would bring it up as an option just to put everything out on the table.  I don’t think that Val would even for a second entertain the notion of having an abortion, but I still would have liked to hear it brought up.


                Oh yes, I forgot one very important Val related thing that happens this week that does not relate to her pregnancy; in fact, this scene occurs before her trip to the doctor, so forgive my shoddy writing for jumping all out of order.  Anyway, we learn that Val has finished the manuscript of her second book, Nashville Junction.  Can I just say her titles are always fabulous?  Not only that, but don’t they sound like the titles of an ‘80s nighttime soap opera?  Can’t you just imagine a CBS lineup of Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, Capricorn Crude, and Nashville Junction?  Look how cozily they fit in there with the other shows!  I would love to know what behind-the-scenes genius came up with these book titles, because they rock.  Anyway, Val unveils her new manuscript to Lilimae and we find out that it’s all about Lilimae’s life.  This is somewhat similar to how Val took her real life experiences with the Texas Ewings and used them to write the pseudo-fiction book of Capricorn Crude.  In this case, she has spun a fictional story out of all the real-life stories her mama has told her about her time singing and having adventures in her youth.  The scene of Val presenting the manuscript to Lilimae is extremely touching, by the way.  It didn’t bring a tear to my eye (perhaps my heart has turned cold, for I haven’t yet cried at a KL ep upon this rewatch, not even when Sid died), but it did move me.  While Lilimae has been a bit of a pill these last few weeks, this scene is so cute because you can tell how genuinely touched she is and it nicely displays her love for Val as well as Val’s love towards her mama.  I also think that now that Chip is dead and buried and Lilimae had her little chat with him in the coffin, coupled with this new book that Val’s gonna publish, have both fused together to allow Lilimae to mellow out a bit, to be less of a psycho.  Certainly, there are no nasty scenes of her yelling at Ben this week, which is a relief.


                Only one person gets to find out about Val being knocked up this week, but it’s not for lack of trying on her part.  The writing is so good and so much better than anything I could ever possibly craft, that we manage to keep that plot point kicking along while also expanding on the other plot points.  For instance, when Val goes over to Karen’s house, clearly wanting to tell her about the baby (and SPOILER ALERT: I know it winds up being babies, but we don’t know that just yet so, for the time being, I will just use the singular word), but instead the scene turns into an impassioned speech on her part about how watching Karen disappear into a pill bottle is tearing her up.  What a fabulous scene this is, and I wish I had transcribed verbatim exactly what she says to her.  Again, I got so caught up in the drama and the amazing acting of the scene that I just sorta sat and stared at the TV and forgot to write anything in my notes besides, “Val gives Karen a speech about pills.”  The basic gist of the speech is that she compares Karen’s pill popping to Gary’s drinking and says how, thanks to living with Gary when he was heavy into drinking, she knows all the signs and sees the same addiction problems manifesting in Karen.  She says how she loves her and she doesn’t want to see this happen to her friend, but then my soul died a little bit because Karen has this glazed look on her face as she looks at Val and calmly says, “Please leave me alone.”  Oh my God, now Karen is beginning to reject the advice and impassioned speech of her best friend in the world, and it actually hurts to watch.

                So who winds up finding out about the baby?  The answer is Mack, in a fabulous scene in which Val goes to visit him at his office.  Mack’s been on the show for well over a year now, and he’s felt like an established part of the show pretty much since the moment he showed up.  It’s interesting, because I’m already having a hard time remembering a time of the series where we didn’t have Mack; he has become a part of the core cast so gracefully that I can’t imagine the series without him.  Even so, I don’t think we’ve gotten a lot of one-on-one scenes between Mack and Val up to this point, which is part of why I enjoyed this scene so much.  See, Val stops by Mack’s office to talk about Karen, and they do talk about Karen for a little while, but eventually the conversation shifts and Val tells Mack that she’s pregnant.  Mack is rather cute in his joy about this news as he just gets all jubilant and starts going on about how great this is.  Only a second later, Val tells him that the baby is Gary’s, not Ben’s.  Again, I love the way Val just puts it out there.  It’s simply not in her nature to lie, and perhaps a lesser show would have her keep this deep dark secret and try to draw it out forever, but on KL, the writers know their characters so well that they know inherently she wouldn’t lie or try to keep a secret, so she just flat out tells Mack the truth.


                Val’s material this week also serves as our final scene of the episode.  See, she winds up sorta accidentally running into Gary in the parking lot of, I think, the dry cleaners (more of those little realistic touches that I just love so much; at what point on Dallas did we ever see somebody take a trip to the dry cleaners?) and the two have a sorta awkward but also super cute conversation in the parking lot.  This is another one of those scenes, like them talking about her not accepting any divorce money, that just goes right into my heart and makes me feel feelings like I’ve never felt before.  In this case, I’m pretty sure that Val wants to tell Gary the truth about what’s going on, about what’s growing inside of her and who really planted it there, but then Gary says something like, “It was wrong of me to try and be part of your life again,” and you can see at that moment that Val chooses not to tell him.  After all, the man is married now, and maybe he’s married to a wicked woman that Val doesn’t like very much, but she’s still so inherently decent that she’s not going to give him this news that could wreck his new marriage.  This is actually the way we end Witness and while it’s not one of your more SUPER EXCITING OMIGOD endings to an ep, it works very well for me because it leaves you yearning for a Gary/Val reunion and wondering when/if that will ever occur.

                Gary is busy this week with Cathy, and this is a big episode in that department, as well, because we get a shocking twist that thickens the plot ever so nicely.  See, this week we finally learn that Cathy and Abby are in cahoots with each other, that Abs somehow found Cathy and, impressed by her more-than-passing-resemblance to the late, great Ciji, hired her to hang around with Gary and distract him.  One can imagine Abs thinking, “Say, this worked in an old Alfred Hitchcock movie; why wouldn’t it work now?”  The way we discover what’s going on is that Cathy pays Abs a visit at her palace office and Abs gets upset and is like, “Didn’t I tell you never to come here?”  Then Cathy starts going on about, “I want my money and I want it now and then I’m done with this.”  Abs helpfully explains this plot twist when she gives a speech to the effect of, “I hired you to distract Gary while I do evil things with his money and his company, so you go on ahead and continue to distract him.”  I wanna discuss this plot twist and how pre-planned it was.  In an earlier episode, we had a scene in which Abs walked in on Gary and Cathy working out together and her eyes got all big and wide and shocked as she got a glimpse of Cathy.  In my writeup on that ep, I said how Donna had to do some cool acting and balance conflicting emotions, since she is already well aware of Cathy’s existence since she hired her to be here.  However, some sources I’ve found state that, upon bringing Lisa Hartman back to the series, the writers didn’t know immediately that she’d wind up being a pawn of Abby’s.  So, looking at it that way, you could see Abby’s big eyes upon first glimpse of Cathy as legitimate shock, but I still prefer to believe that the writers had it all mapped out and that, even right there, Abs was play-acting to sell the story to Gary better.



                One thing the writers do a swell job of is keeping Cathy likable despite this revelation.  This could easily have led to Cathy seeming villainous or despicable, but she stays sweet and good.  Part of that is Lisa’s inherent warmth; she brings a presence to the screen that is just kind and friendly and she seems like someone you would like to hang out with.  Part of it is the writing which shows that Cathy wants to get out of this deal with Abs as quick as possible and before anyone gets hurt.  We are starting to learn that she has had a hard life and is certainly not a rich woman (like when Gary takes her out to a nice fancy dinner and she says, “I’ve never even been a waitress in a place as nice as this”), so we can understand why she might get sucked into a scheme like this just to get some money.  However, now her conscious is getting the better out of her and we get the sense that she’s starting to really feel something for Gary and she doesn’t want to lie to him anymore.

                Meanwhile, we have Sumner.  Remember that thing I said about Mack immediately feeling like an established member of the cast?  Well, the same is true of Sumner, which is pretty incredible considering he was introduced only nine episodes ago, not even at the premiere of the season but a couple of episodes into it.  But just like Mack, I already can’t imagine the show without him, even though we watched 78 episodes in a row that were completely Sumner-free before we met him.  Anyway, he’s real busy this week because his wife, Jane, comes to town.  Let’s talk about Jane.  Much like M.F. (that’s Mary-Frances in case you’ve all forgotten), I remembered having a distaste for this character and being simply bored by her, and yet now I’m immediately changing my mind.  Just like M.F., Jane goes a long way towards helping us understand the kind of man Sumner is and the kind of life he leads.  We definitely infer that she and he are married by-law-only, that they don’t really have much of a relationship anymore and don’t even really care to pretend like they do except when it helps him politically.  This strikes me as very real, as I believe most politicians lead very fake “family” lives to try and impress voters (I’m gonna state right here and now that there is absolutely no way that Hilary Clinton and Bill Clinton have had sex with each other in well over 25 years). 

 

                A real fast bit of info on Jane.  She is played by Millie Perkins (pictured below), and that name sure sounded familiar but her IMDb presents nothing that I recognize, even though she’s built up a nice roster of credits.  Looks like she started her career playing Anne Frank in the 1959 movie The Diary of Anne Frank, and I feel like we probably watched that in school at some point, but I’m not entirely sure.  One thing that immediately surprised me is that she only has six episodes of KL to her name.  This is another one of those cases where I just assumed she was in a ton of eps, but nope, only six, making a final little appearance way down the line in 1990 (season eleven, episode sixteen, the episode called Out of Control).  So anyway, Jane shows up in town and she meets up and has coffee with Karen and learns about how M.F. has been staying with them for the past few weeks.  While she and Karen seem to get along (and Karen seems to kinda sorta be able to hold her end of the conversation and not act completely stoned the whole time, even though she’s still a little loopy), Jane is mad that Greg is continuing to be such an absent father and shuffle these parental responsibilities onto other people.  Hmmmm, this might be a smidge hypocritical as she herself has been flying around Europe or whatever for the last few months, but I digress.



                There’s a big political dinner or something later in the episode, and Abs gets her first sighting of Jane and her eyes get all big and wide and we can tell that she’s horrified.  This definitely adds to my theory (well, a theory My Beloved Grammy shared that I now agree with) that Abs is feeling something more than lust for Greg; she’s really starting to kinda fall for the guy.  Why else would she be so upset by the presence of his wife?  She knows he’s married, right?  But having to see Jane at this political function and be nice and civil to her clearly hurts Abs.  Later, we see Abs getting all prepared for a nice big dinner with Greg, similar to her efforts back in I’ll Tell You No Lies.  In that instance, Greg never showed up and Abs was damn mad, but this time he actually appears, although he’s a smidge late.  We can tell Abs is resigned to him flaking on her because she begins to blow out the candles just as there’s a knock at the door.  She answers it to find Greg with a rose in his mouth and the fabulous greeting of, “Bon soire, baby.”  Oh God yes, what an image and what a line, and this little scene spiraled in my brain to a whole slew of other questions.  During my research, I have learned that William Devane would basically just improvise a ton of his dialogue and make up whatever he wanted and the rest of the cast had to play along.  I’m a big fan of this style of acting, by the way, and if I was a director, I would encourage improvisation and spontaneity in my cast to keep things feeling fresh and real.  My question is: Do you think this little ‘bon soire’ line was improvised?  It just has a ring of freshness to it that makes me wonder if it was in the script.  I’m willing to bet that if one took a gander at the shooting script for this ep, it would say something like, “Greg enters and looks apologetic.”  In fact, I’m willing to bet that even the rose was improvised, that Devane just found a rose somewhere and decided to use it in the scene.  I have no way of confirming this aside from hopefully meeting Devane one day (Bill, shoot me an E-mail), but it’s definitely the sense I get.

                You know, looking over my notes one last time, I think that oughta just about do it for this ep, but I do wanna discuss one more thing, and that’s the absence of Diana.  Diana sits out this episode, the next one, and the one after that.  For all I know, she sits out even more eps after that, but I’ll have to wait until My Beloved Grammy and I power through our next disk to find out.  Where is Diana?  In the case of this episode, we don’t find out; she’s just sorta not around.  I wonder if this is just the way the show was being written or if it has to do with any behind the scenes turmoil with Claudia Lonow and her fondness for nose candy.  In any case, I confess I didn’t miss her.  While I have grown to appreciate Lonow’s acting more as we’ve gone through the series and I think she’s really improved, Diana is just not the kind of character I’m gonna love having to watch.  Indeed, she’s going to disappear next season and I know that I really won’t be missing her, and I doubt My Beloved Grammy will either (she has repeatedly stated that Diana is her least favorite character on the show), so I don’t particularly care that she’s absent from this one.  It’s just kinda interesting to note that she got bumped into the opening credits this year and her character was really getting a shit-ton of focus for that first batch of eps, but now I feel like she is beginning to be phased out.  I’m gonna pay strict attention to see when she shows up again on the series and exactly how the writers wind up finishing up her time on the series, because we really don’t have that much longer until she goes away forever.

                By this point, I am saying this with every episode, but this was another great one.  So much happened that it’s almost hard to remember everything.  We’ve got Val and her pregnancy, Karen and her pills, Greg and Jane, Abs continuing to fall for Greg, and of course Cathy and Gary and that big plot twist that’s so exciting.  It’s a packed 48 minutes and I continue to admire the way the writers can juggle all these stories without ever losing focus of any of them; such skill this must take!  While we’re up to 1983-1984 and the other nighttime soaps are already starting to wane in their popularity and quality (I will actually say that this year gave us my favorite season of Dallas ever, but it’s within the very next season that we start to see signs of a shark fin approaching Southfork), KL is just getting better and better, and while I’ve never done a full-on James From London week-by-week breakdown of each episode of each nighttime soap, I feel pretty comfortable saying KL has to be the best one on TV at this point, just presenting us with top quality entertainment every single week.

                Okay, that does it for my thoughts on Witness, which was brilliant as always.  Coming up next is Secrets Cry Aloud.

2 comments:

  1. Great recap. I'm watching S14 and an just about to witness the (brief) return of Diana. Lonow was the EP on "Sean Saves the World" last season (or the season before?)

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  2. I remember Diana being a lot more tolerable in S14. I think getting away from the cul-de-sac was a good thing for her...and the viewers!

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