A Reflection on Season Five of KNOTS LANDING (1983-1984)
Back when I reached the concluding moments of season four and wrote my reflection on that particular season, I declared it to be the best season of the show up to that point and a tremendous step-up from the somewhat schizophrenic and tonally inconsistent season three. Happily enough, this upward trend continues with season five, which is yet another brilliant year of television that everyone in the world should see and enjoy.
This is the first season that I really noticed the beginnings of something that will become standard by the time the series ends, and that is the way that the first handful of episodes of the season continue the stories going from the end of the previous season, tidying up affairs with all those cliffhangers before starting to move on to new business near the middle of the season. To reflect a bit, I’ll remind you that season one didn’t end on a cliffhanger and, when we picked up season two, we were just sorta jumping back into the world of KL and seeing our cul-de-sac friends again, but there weren’t any really major story points that had to be continued and addressed at the beginning of the sophomore year. Then, the big cliffhanger of season two was, of course, Sid Fairgate going off that cliff. Okay, so yes, season three did pick up directly where that left off as we watched Sid struggle to survive and then not make it in the first two eps of the season. However, after that, the season went off in many strange, different directions, not necessarily getting new stories all revved up and ready to go, but rather giving us viewers a mix of serialized storytelling (such as the continuing disintegration of Richard and Laura’s marriage or the constant flirting and near-adultery between Gary and Abs) along with bizarrely standalone episodes like, say, The Three Sisters, to name but one example. Then, the big cliffhanger of season three was Val catching Gary and Abs in bed together and throwing him out of the house. When we picked up with the start of season four, obviously that was still a very important storyline that was building and growing, but really the first five eps of that season heavily focused on tidying up affairs from the end of season two by finally having Karen see Sid’s killers brought to justice. Then, of course, all the Ciji/Chip Roberts shenanigans got started right around the time that stuff was finishing up, leading us directly into our season four cliffhanger, which of course leads us directly into season five. For me, season five is the first season to very clearly spend about half the year continuing and concluding the lingering stories from the year before and then immediately propelling us into a new and exciting story arc with the wicked Wolfbridge group. This is all done very organically, so that just as you are starting to get tired of all the Chip stuff, BOOM, he dies and they bury him and we move our focus over to new stuff. I feel like this template will be pretty much followed throughout the rest of the series, though I will keep my eyes open to see if I’m proven wrong.
One thing that’s very interesting to me as I do this epic rewatch is that I’m discovering every season seems to have its own style and flavor that’s unique to itself, even though in the past I’ve tended to lump certain years together as one era. So far, I think the two seasons that feel stylistically the most similar are the first two; aside from the lack of Abs in season one and the fact that season two kinda sorta gets us started with serialized storytelling, those two seasons do kinda blur together for me, possibly because they are the two seasons to have the same cul-de-sac opening title sequence, possibly because Don Murray is around for both of them, I dunno. But anyway, I’d somewhat lump those two seasons together and say they are the simplest years, if that makes sense, probably the years when the show feels the most grounded in the real world, with lots of domestic problems for the characters to deal with that we could probably relate to. Season three had a distinctly dark and sad quality hovering over it thanks to the death of Saint Sid right at the start; his ghostly presence seemed to hang over proceedings the whole year and I would say this will probably remain the saddest season of the show just because of how we watch Karen cope with being a single woman after nearly two decades of marriage. Then season four comes along and I would say the flavor of that season is rather transitional. We are introduced to Mack for the first time but we still have no Sumner and we still have Kenny, Ginger, and Richard in the main cast roster for the entire season. This season nicely bridges the gap between seasons three and five, because I feel like if you jumped from the style of three to the style of five without a little transition in between, it would be rather whiplash inducing.
Which brings us, of course, to season five. What’s the flavor of this season? I’m gonna steal the word used by the brilliant Tommy K in his brilliant television blog (please click HERE to read the brilliance and genius for yourself), in which he described season five as KL’s most “operatic.” I can’t think of a better term for it, because that’s exactly what it is. This is easily the most dramatic and soapy season we have seen thus far, and the excitement gets cranked up to a fever pitch that pretty much never lets up, all ending in that cliffhanger-tastic season finale which seems to leave everyone in some form of jeopardy. However, the amazing thing is that even as the series starts to expand before us, even as we start to see more wealth and money being thrown around by the characters, even as we are introduced to new, lavish settings like Westfork or Abby’s fabulous palace office, even as we start to bring evil mastermind criminal organizations into the picture, the show still does a remarkable job of feeling very grounded even amidst all this drama and I am not quite sure precisely how they do it.
I’ve mentioned to my friends before how if you just described a season of KL to someone, it would probably sound rather ridiculous, but there’s something about the way the show is put together and the way the actors and the writers and the directors and the showrunners work their magic that always keeps it feeling rather realistic to me. As a little example of my whole “ridiculous” theory, let’s do a quick rundown of how you would describe the events of season five to someone. “Oh yeah, it starts with Diana on the road with evil murderer Chip Roberts, and then he gets arrested but let off, so Lilimae hits him with her car, but he doesn’t die; instead, he slips into a coma for awhile and then, just as Diana is ready to testify against him, he awakes from his coma only to fall on a pitchfork and die a few episodes later. The stress of all these events sends Karen spiraling down into a pill-addiction and she starts popping the pills like crazy until, finally, she overdoses on them in her shower and has to be sent to a rehab center. Meanwhile, Mack is hard at work trying to bring an evil organization to justice, but they start to threaten him with violence against his family, so he decides he needs to fake Gary’s death and….” Well, you get the picture. When you say it out loud like that, it just all sounds so very absurd, but when you’re watching it, it completely and 100% works.
Season five is also a big year of change for the show, which is why many fans continue to designate it as something of a revamping of the show’s style (I continue to argue that this revamp actually began with season four). We lost Kenny, Ginger, and Richard, but as we started the season we gained first Ben and then Sumner. Ben was a character I remember being kinda a snooze but he really worked a lot better for me upon this viewing; he brings a certain strange realism to his character and I like the way he’s introduced without us knowing too much about him, so that when he tells us little stories from his past, we feel like we are sorta piecing things together.
As for Sumner, well come on, what is there to say? It almost feels weird to think that it took us 78 episodes to get him, because as soon as he’s on the show, he is so vital and brings such wonderful charisma and energy that it’s hard to imagine the show even existing without him. For the rest of the series, Sumner will remain one of the most fascinating and intricate characters on the whole series, and he is introduced for the first time in season five and immediately fits into the cast as if he’s been there the whole time; it’s really rather remarkable.
Along with meeting Ben and Sumner for the first time, season five also reintroduced us to Lisa Hartman in the form of Cathy. Again, this is a storytelling move that really should feel a lot more ridiculous than it winds up feeing; it’s done in such a great, entrancing way that we just sorta buy the idea that Ciji’s exact doppelganger would suddenly appear on the scene just a few eps after Ciji’s death. I also think getting Lisa back to the series was just a good idea inherently because she radiates a certain warmth and, despite her glamorous ‘80s clothes, always seems like a very real-world character, someone I might meet on the street at any time. In fact, if there were to be one thing that kinda irked me about season five and could have possibly made me like it less than season four, it’s the fact that Lisa barely sings in this season. I loved how season four would take time out of its episodes to let her sing entire songs, and I always loved listening to her sing and watching her get that tranced out look on her face where she would close her eyes and sorta thrust her head upwards towards the sky. In that season, it felt like every episode would unveil a new song for Ciji to sing. Cathy, however, only gets to sing once in season five, that Journey cover song she does in the bar with her old friends, and we also get a quick scene of her singing while playing the piano, but that’s it. Mark my words, seasons six and seven will rectify this problem by bringing her songs back into the focus, but I definitely missed them here. At the same time, I think the writers were playing it smart by not having her immediately start singing great ‘80s covers in every episode the way Ciji did; they’re biding their time a little bit. Obviously this is a microscopic nitpick that probably nobody besides myself would even notice, but what can I say, I like listening to Lisa sing and season five didn’t have too much of that.
Aside from the rather bizarre way that Diana seems to vanish from the show for a period of time near the middle-to-ending portions of the year, I thought all the main cast members were very adequately represented this year; everyone has great material to work with and great stories and the Wolfbridge investigation did a tremendous job, much like the character of Ciji the season before, of keeping everyone in the cast linked together and involved in a storyline as a group. This is another thing that I’m gonna pay attention for as we move onward to the next seasons: How often do they have a great central storyline that works to link all the characters together? I can already tell you that season six is going to have a mondo one (Val’s babies), but honestly the rest is kind of a blur. Will seasons seven and onwards continue the trend that began with season four and the Ciji story? I really admire this type of storytelling and marvel at how hard it must be to pull off, let alone to do it so well, and I hope to see it continue in later seasons.
Honestly, this season is so good that I almost don’t want to do the highs and lows of the season the way I have done in seasons past. What could I possibly say was the best episode of the year? I thought pretty much all the eps were incredible. However, after going through my notes and reminding myself of the 25 episodes contained within the season, I think I’m gonna pick Secrets Cry Aloud for my favorite ep of the year. You’ll recall that this ep was absolutely packed with material and I even said how it almost felt like a double-length episode only because, when it was over, I couldn’t believe how much had happened within that 48 minutes. As for least favorite, I think I’m gonna pick Reconcilable Differences, mostly because I thought it lacked a bit of style and seemed to try too hard to finish storylines and shuffle them out the door as fast as possible. It was still solid, but if I must pick a worst ep of season five, I suppose it would be that one.
So yes, in case you couldn’t tell, I am pretty over-the-moon about season five. Of the first five seasons, I’d definitely say it’s the best, and it’s the kind of year that, once it gets going, there’s just no letup. Of course, the most amazing thing is that I would argue our best season is still lying in our future, our very near future. I remember thinking season six was the greatest season in all of KL and a total masterpiece of television, but will I feel the same way upon a rewatch? We shall all find out very shortly when we dive into the season six premiere, Buying Time.