Episode Title: Reconcilable Differences
Season 05, Episode 16
Episode 091 of 344
Written by Richard Gollane
Directed by Sheldon Larry
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 12th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby and Westmont scramble to get Apaloon off of real estate documents. The audit goes well and Gary apologizes to Abby. Gary sees that Cathy makes much more than the other ranch hands, and that they are dated from before he met her. Gary hires a detective who says Cathy spent the last four years in prison. Ben and Mack discover that Apaloon owns all the property at Lotus Point except for Abby and Karen's apartment. They think Apaloon is a front for Wolfbridge. Greg and Laura sleep together. Karen suffers from withdrawal. Gary goes to see her and says if he could get through it, she can. Karen is outraged that he would compare her plight with his alcoholism. Karen finally opens up in group. Karen's therapist wants Mack in on her therapy too. Mack feels they're ganging up on him. Ben tells Val to tell people that the baby is Gary's, as he's tired of everyone bugging him about it, and he wants to be free of her.
Welcome back. Lately, I’ve started to become fond of providing some context for how many episodes and what particular episodes My Beloved Grammy and I watch in a given visit. We’ve reached a very comfortable spot that should last for many, many years where each disk has five episodes on it. As far as I can recall, it stays this way until the series ends, with the only exceptions being the last couple of episodes in a season that has an episode count not divisible by five. But, for now, we’ve got season five, which has 25 episodes, and then seasons six, seven, and eight all have 30 episodes each. So, for a long time into the future, we shall always watch five eps per visit, and I like it that way. It’s not just the fact that I want to watch KL and that five episodes makes me happy, but I feel there’s something about that number that just works. If we watched more than that, I think I would struggle to remember all the proceedings and exciting events, and if we watched less than that, I feel I would leave less satisfied. In any case, Reconcilable Differences marked the first of five eps we watched upon our last visit, spanning through High Ideals. So just know that this was our first one and it brought us back into the world of KL and I had my big beer and some spicy chicken teriyaki while starting it up and was all ready for a night of excitement and joy on the cul-de-sac.
Karen’s pill problem has been escalating and we’ve been spending a lot of time on it for the last batch of episodes. It spanned all the way through our last disk and I believe the first inklings of her starting to take too many pills was introduced on the disk before, so that’s something like ten or twelve episodes altogether. I feel like the main thing Reconcilable Differences wants to do is sorta finish up this storyline so that we can move on to new business and, much like the way they handled the demise of Chip Roberts a few episodes back, I feel the timing is pretty much perfect, because if this stretched on much longer, it would run the risk of becoming tiresome. The writers always seem to be good about knowing when it’s time to get a storyline finished up. Even so, I confess I might have some, GASP, criticisms about this episode and the way it handled the Karen storyline. Read on.
See, we open on Mack and Karen in her little rehab hospital, sitting in her room, and Mack is rocking a fabulous leather jacket that he keeps around for, I think, the rest of the season and maybe even some seasons more. Seriously, he looks like Fonzie, kinda ridiculous, but I love Mack so I’m not criticizing. I also feel sorry for Mack at this juncture because, with nearly a year of marriage to Karen under his belt, things just don’t seem to be going his way. However, the title of the episode gives me hope; can Mack and Karen figure out their reconcilable differences and manage to move on? Let’s find out.
Karen looks in better condition at the start of this episode than she has in the last few weeks, but it doesn’t take long for us to see that she’s still dealing with a problem. Early in the episode we see her begging a nurse for some pills to take the edge off, insisting that she only needs one. In fact, she even goes so far as to say that she’ll pay the nurse for them (fifty dollars!), but the nurse has ethics and remains strong in them, refusing to give Karen anything at all. Karen’s timing is bad, by the way, because at that precise moment that she starts offering money to the nurse, Eric comes into the room to visit her, and there’s an uncomfortable quiet moment where Karen seems to realize someone’s watching this display of obvious addiction and then turns slowly around to face her son. However, one thing I appreciated is that this doesn’t explode into some big drama; instead they awkwardly hug and start to exchange chit chat about how things are going. We all know that Eric saw this and we know that Karen knows he saw it, but much like real life, the two just proceed along and sorta try to ignore that anything happened, and it has that fabulously awkward ring of truth to it. A solid little scene.
I’m not so sure about another scene that comes just a few minutes later. In it, Karen is lying in the hospital bed, draped in creepy gothic shadow, thrashing around wildly and screaming and clearly just not having a good time at all. The music is fantastically frightening and coming straight out of a horror movie, and then Karen jumps up and screams and continues her thrashing while a nurse comes in to make sure everything is all right. We get the sense that Karen’s withdrawal is making her crazy in more ways than one, that she is becoming confused about what precisely is going on in her life and where she is, because she starts screaming, “Where is my daughter?! Where have you taken her?!” I guess she’s also wondering why Claudia Lonow continues to be shown in the scrolling squares at the head of the episodes when she has sat out now four episodes in a row (spoiler alert: She’ll be back in the next one), but anyway, that’s what she’s screaming.
We get some intense close-ups of Karen’s anguished face, her eyes getting all big and wild, her mouth stretching out. It’s not a bad scene, but I guess I feel it’s maybe a little….much? I mean, hell, maybe I’m wrong. I’ve lived a very blessed life and have never suffered from addiction and have never had anyone close to me suffer from addiction, so I’ve never had to go to a rehab center and see someone going through a detox. For all I know, it could be as extreme as this or even more, but there’s just something about the scene that felt a little over-the-top to me. Is it my beloved Michele? Mmmm, maybe. After giving her criticism for getting a little hammy at the start of the season, I then felt she was improving nicely and was quite impressive during our last batch of eps as she dealt with the onslaught of her pill addiction, but now I think she’s back to being a bit too much. Make no mistake, I still love her and always will (and yes, she’s still my favorite character on the series), but I just feel this scene isn’t quite as good as it could be.
Next up is a visit from Gary. This scene moved me and touched me and made me feel very sad all at once, because Gary is coming to Karen as a friend and as someone who understands her, but my sphincter tightened up as the scene started because I knew, I just knew that Karen would be unwilling to listen to him and unable to handle the fact that her addictions are the same as his addictions and I didn’t want to watch her be hurtful to Gary, who is shaping up into quite a man this year and is coming to be her supporter. Things unfolded as I expected them to, because he starts to tell stories about how, when he was drinking, no matter what was going on in his life, the only thing he cared about was finding that next drink. Karen flips out and screams about how she is not like him, saying, “You are a drunk!” and she says it with such venom, as if it makes Gary less than human, and it was all rather painful to watch. Unlike the last scene, which I was kinda complaining about, I’m complimenting this scene. These are complex characters; they are neither black nor white and they are not only allowed to be consistently great people or consistently bad people. At her core, Karen is a good person, but she’s got herself into a bad situation and it’s making her be ugly and nasty to the people who love her. One thing that I found especially moving in the scene was that Gary does not get upset; he just calmly gets up and leaves the rehab center. Watching this, I realized it’s because Gary knows where she’s coming from and that, really, it’s not Karen that’s yelling at him, it’s her addictions.
Let’s take a break from Karen for a minute to discuss Gary and what he’s up to this episode. Well, for one thing, he finds out that Val is pregnant, thanks to an even-less-discreet-than-usual Lilimae, who runs into him in the hallway of the rehab center. Rather than exchanging superfluous pleasantries and then going about her business, Lilimae sorta follows after Gary and is like, “Val is dating Ben Gibson and he’s super duper nice and really sexy and he fucks Val good and Val says his wiener is bigger than yours, so what do you think of that?” Gary just sorta nods and accepts this bizarre and awkward bit of conversation from Lilimae, who then just flat out states, “And Val is pregnant with Ben’s baby.” Hmmm, didn’t Val ask her just a few episodes ago not to tell anybody about this? Of course, after that Lilimae immediately ran to Ben’s Plant House to give him fatty foods and talk about the pregnancy, but I’m willing to forgive that one because I think she just assumed he already knew about it. With Gary, though, it’s different, and really rather tactless of Lilimae (who I still love, don’t get me wrong) to just go on and blurt out this private information that Val asked her to keep secret, although I suppose it’s possible that there was some offscreen scene between Val and Lilimae in which she gave her mama permission to tell people, though that seems highly unlikely to me at this point.
Remember how in our last ep, Gary announced that he was going to do an audit on Gary Ewing Enterprises? Well, thanks to some clever finagling that I’m still not quite sure I understand, Abs manages to transfer money from somewhere or something like that and make the books balance okay so that, when the auditor comes, they pass just fine. The only problem, however, is that after the audit Gary notices that Cathy is getting paid way more per month than she’s supposed to (I think he says something like a thousand a month, though I could be mistaken). The plot thickens when he is told that she is being paid by Abs, not by him, and the plot thickens ever more when he learns that Cathy has been receiving these checks since before he ever met her on that fateful honeymoon night in the hotel suite. Now that he’s a wise and sober man, Gary starts to go to work getting to bottom of this little mystery for himself.
Gary is very clever here and both My Beloved Grammy and I are very pleased to see him climbing out of that awful bender from last season and becoming not just clearheaded, but pretty sharp, too. See, he’s talking to Abs a little later and he just casually mentions how he’s thinking of firing Cathy, just testing to see how Abs will react. Naturally, rather than being like, “Sure, fire her, whatever, I don’t care,” which is what Abs would probably really say if this mysterious Ciji doppelganger showed up in Gary’s life for no clear reason and became the object of his obsessions, Abs gets all protective of Cathy and is like, “But Gary, you said yourself that she’s one of the best workers and I think you should keep her!” After this little bit of defense, Gary starts to see what’s going on here.
The last interesting Cathy revelation within this episode comes when Gary goes to a visit some private investigator guy he had hired to do some snooping. The investigator tells Gary that Cathy’s last known residence was not a house or an apartment, but rather, oh my God, a prison. Now what on earth can this mean? What was Cathy doing in a prison? In addition to that, the prison is nowhere near the area Cathy claims to have come from (I think she claims to have come from Wisconsin or something and the prison is in Arkansas, or maybe it’s flipped around the other way, or maybe I’m wrong about both places). Anyway, the basic gist of it is that Gary is starting to realize Cathy has been lying to him about a ton of things, but why?
How about things on the Val/Ben front? Well, they’re still not seeing each other at the moment, but currently only Mack and Ben know the real reason, that Val is carrying Gary’s love-child/children. This is making life hard for Val, but one good thing does happen to her this week, which is that she learns her second manuscript has been accepted. After the big splash of Capricorn Crude, now she can make an even bigger splash with Nashville Junction. I must say I like the very natural progression of Val’s career. If we go all the way back to some really early episode in season one (it feels so far away now that I can’t even remember what episode it was, but I think think think it was The Constant Companion), we learned that Val felt inferior for never having completed high school, so she was studying to get her G.E.D. She succeeded at that and then spent season two going to college and taking writing courses (including that gloriously uncomfortable writing class where The Other Paul Rudd showed up as a substitute teacher and took a big shit all over her story). Okay, then in season three we learned that she was working on a big story of her own, a kinda fiction/non-fiction story based on her experiences with the Texas Ewings. That came out in season four and made a big splash and turned her into a successful author and now here we are in season five and her second manuscript is being accepted for publication. Again, if this were Melrose Place, Val would randomly decide out of the blue one day that she wants to become an author and then she would have a published book an episode or two later. KL is so much better at letting these things gradually unfold organically over time.
I don’t think this episode is as well directed or edited as I’m getting used to at this juncture in the series, when every episode seems to be this amazingly stylish art film and we are getting solidly consistent and yet uniquely different work from such standouts as Nicholas Sgarro, Larry Elikann, or Bill “You Know What I Like About This Car? The Price” Duke. I mean, it’s not a big thing, but I just feel like this one is a little sloppier than usual, and a good example is a scene taking place in Ben’s Plant House. We get a quick stock exterior shot of The Plant House and then cut inside and Lilimae is, like, in the middle of ranting to Ben. How did she get in here? Obviously something was cut out, right? The problem is that I can easily tell something was cut, and I feel the cut, and there were no clever tricks done to make the cut less noticeable or a little more stylish; instead the scene just starts and Lilimae is just, kinda, um, there. I recognized the name of this ep’s director, Sheldon Larry (pictured below), and I knew I had seen it before, but a glance at his IMDb shows that he only directs two KL eps, with the other one being a little earlier in this season with …And Never Brought to Mind. I’m trying to flashback to that one and I’m sure I enjoyed it just fine, but I also don’t seem to recall any cool stylistic flourishes or touches, so maybe there’s a reason Mr. Larry only directs two eps while so many of our other directors seem to be invited back time and time again over the course of years (indeed, I am pleased to announce that Bill “Cooke” Duke will be the man behind the camera for our very next episode).
This episode has one very significant development that gave me a very significant KL boner, and that is the relationship of Laura and Greg. So far as I can remember, we’ve only had one scene with the two of them alone together up to this point (the fabulous scene in Greg’s limo in which he made Laura laugh and smile and she was trying to hide it from him), but this episode really speeds up the proceedings with them. Again, my memories from my first watch are proving inaccurate, because I didn’t think Laura and Greg shagged until well into season six, but it happens right here in this episode. See, he comes to visit the office and Laura is the only one there and they start to make some chit chat and then he, um, smells her neck. I guess this is supposed to be sexy, and I suppose it would be if it was happening in real life and if you felt some electric chemistry with the person doing it to you (and I do confess I find Devane kinda sexy, though certainly not the Michael-Fairgate-I-want-to-immediately-fuck-the-shit-out-of-him-and-then-come-right-back-for-seconds type of sexy), but it came off as a smidge creepy for me. In any case, it must work for Laura because the very next time we see them, they are in bed together. This was done in a nice way, in which Laura receives a phonecall and we start in a closeup of her sitting up in bed. Of course, the closeup was so tight that I immediately called out what was going to happen, and I was right; the camera pans out a bit and there’s naked Sumner lying in bed next to her. Ah, what a fabulous development, though maybe, like my overall criticisms of this episode, moving a smidge too fast?
Speaking of moving too fast, after one night of thrashing around and looking like ass, Karen appears to be doing much better. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this, if perhaps we were supposed to infer that she was being kinda manic and way too “look how healthy I’m feeling today!” But no, I don’t think so, I think the drugs are working their way out of her system and she really does feel better, but still, a bit sudden. Anyway, there’s a conflict going on between Karen and Mack in this episode in which he feels uncomfortable with the counseling session that she takes him to and then they have a little argument in the hallway where she tells him he needs to come to her with his problems so they can work them out and he says, “You don’t listen!” This is a good scene with fantastic acting from both Michele and The Dobsonator, definitely no complaints here. Even if Karen’s detox is maybe moving a little fast for me, I am always enthralled by these two and their relationship and I want them to be happy and work things out because I love them.
The time comes for Karen to be done with the program and leave the hospital. However, probably due to nervous feelings about returning home to where her problems started, she starts trying to postpone it, saying how she should stay another day and see what the doctor thinks before she leaves. This is an interesting inversion to how much she wanted to get out of here in the last episode; in that case she was scared and angry and felt she had only her pills to help her, but now she is afraid to leave this hospital that has become something of a safe haven for her. Even so, Mack tells her that the program is over and it’s time for her to go home, and he’s speaking rather curtly, almost angrily, but then he says, “You’ll be back for counseling sessions, and I’ll be there with you.” This is a sweet moment because Karen sees that, even if Mack is uncomfortable with these sessions, he is going to keep coming with her to be her supporter.
I really liked the very last scene of the episode because I found it tremendously moving and, broken record alert here, very well acted. Also, we get a callback to Mack’s dad. This excited me not because I particularly like Mack’s dad (you’ll recall that The Block Party was my least favorite episode of the otherwise brilliant season four), but because I was quite confused he vanished into the sky without ever being mentioned again by Mack or anyone else for the rest of the series. Nope, I was wrong, for here we are with Mack speaking to his good old drunken Irish dad on the phone (offscreen, but still, we know he’s talking to the dude).
Anyway, Karen comes wandering into the kitchen while Mack is talking and she overhears his conversation and, I think, finally realizes what kind of stress and pressure Mack has been under this last year and, specifically, these last few months. The most moving part is that we hear Mack answering his dad’s question about how Karen is doing, and he lies and says, “Karen is the rock of Gibraltar; I couldn’t go through anything without her.” When the conversation is over, and Mack still thinks he’s alone in the kitchen, he hangs up the phone and sorta leans against the kitchen table and starts to hyperventilate and cry a little bit, just overwhelmed with everything going on in his life (remember that he just got dropped from Greg’s crime commission due to weird and mysterious allegations). At this point, Karen goes into the kitchen and Mack turns around, and he lets the tears fall right down his face, and the two embrace together and he cries into Karen’s shoulder and boom, that’s our final scene of the episode, and a pretty damn good way to go out.
All that said, though, I’m gonna have to say this is the weakest ep of the season so far aside from maybe our premiere, The People vs. Gary Ewing. Make no mistake, it’s not bad in anyway, but I just had some problems with the way a few things were cut and edited together and I thought the direction lacked the usual KL flair that I’ve come to expect now. Also, and most importantly for me, it just felt a little fast in almost all regards. This might be the result of this being the first episode on our disk, if that makes any sense. Like, if this had been the last episode on our previous disk after spending so much time watching Karen struggle with her pills, it might have played differently, but hopping back in with a fresh new disk and having her problems seem to be solved so fast (I think, quite literally, overnight) rang a bit false to me.
Okay, let me backtrack a bit. It’s not that her problems are solved overnight, since she struggled with addiction for a good long chunk of episodes and since she and Mack are still gonna have some relationship work to do because of this. It’s mostly the fact that, within the confines of this episode, we get one scene of her having a nightmare and flailing around in bed and acting all crazy and then, next time we see her, she’s better and she’s acting like her normal self. Perhaps this really is how it works when you detox a drug, I dunno, but it just rang a bit false for me. Similarly, while I’m glad to see Laura and Greg shag, it sure did come about fast, didn’t it? One little sniff of her neck and boom, they’re in the sack. Even so, it’s KL and I love KL and this season has been dynamite so far and, if I wasn’t taking all the time to write these essays and notice all the details of the episodes, this one would have come and gone and I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it was weaker than prior episodes. It’s only because I’m looking at these under such a microscope now that I see more flaws in this one.
But the good news is that it’s all uphill, as the next four episodes on our disk were fucking tremendous, so let’s move right along to our next one, the aptly titled Second Chances.