Episode Title: Silent Missions
Season 05, Episode 22
Episode 097 of 344
Written by Angelo Pizzo
Directed by Lorraine Senna
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 1st, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Greg tries to get Gary to unfreeze his assets. Gary reports this to Mack, who tells him to keep the assets frozen, as it will force Wolfbridge's hand. Ray spies on Gary and Cathy. Gary tells Karen that if Abby cheated her, he will make it right. Val finds out that the other two men with Ben were found dead. She wants to go to El Salvador, but Karen says she will only be putting her babies at risk. Val's upset and calls Gary, sobbing, who tells her to come out to the ranch. Mack drives out to the ranch and is talking to Cathy when a shot rings out. Mack calls Karen and tells her that Gary has been murdered. Just then Val drives up.
When we last left off, poor Val (POOR VAL!) had just gotten a scary phone call from El Salvador indicating that Ben might be dead. After all, his jeep crashed and no bodies were found at the scene, so where could he have gone? One thing to remember about nighttime soap land is that if you don’t actually see a death, you should always assume there’s the possibility that a person can come back unexpectedly. Hell, even if you do actually witness the death and even if it seems like the person is 100% dead and gone, they could still come back (Bobby on Dallas), although I suppose that’s not the way KL likes to play it; generally the show is a little bit more realistic than all of that. But anyway, as we hop into Silent Missions, needless to say that Ben is still missing and Val is driving herself crazy trying to figure out where he is.
In fact, one of our very first scenes in Silent Missions is a real doozy in which Val is on the phone in the kitchen, calling El Salvador, all panicked and freaked out, when in walks Gary to visit her. There’s a terrific pause as the two look at each other and we the viewers can positively feel the love floating in the air. I think I’ve gone on this little rant before, but I don’t really care, so here it comes again. I believe that you can love more than one person at the same time, so I do believe that Val actually loves both Gary and Ben, but just in a much different way. Ben is good and decent to her and she loves him and wants to make sure he is safe, but the love Val feels for Gary is, like, Epic Love, the Romeo and Juliet kind of love, the Jack and Rose kind of love, the kind reserved for real soul mates; I don’t think Val could ever meet another man who would make her feel the way Gary does, and it’s been that way since she was fifteen. Little details like this pause and the eye contact when Gary enters the house really speak volumes about this relationship, and all with hardly any dialogue.
Val’s worried and that is making her act a little crazy. A little later in the ep, she and Karen are walking on the street and Val is saying how she’s going to fly to El Salvador herself and try to find him. It’s a very romantic idea, but fortunately Karen is pragmatic and reminds Val that she doesn’t even speak the language (I’m a dumb white guy who has never learned any language other than English so I actually have no idea what language they even speak in El Salvador) and, of course, she also reminds her of her babies, those twins growing in her stomach. She tells her how going off to El Salvador will only put her babies lives at risk, and what good would that be? Karen is smart and sharp and manages to sorta talk Val off the ledge, get her to stay in California for the time being.
How’s this story working for me upon this viewing? As with many things, much, much better. I remember this story being a bit of a snooze upon my first viewing, that the whole saga of “Where is Ben and is he alive?” just kinda left me cold, but I reiterate that most of the Ben-related storylines just sorta left me cold upon first viewing. I don’t know how to explain why this has all become so much more compelling upon a rewatch, but it has. Am I just a different person than I was the last time I watched these? Is my mind just ready to focus on and appreciate different things? I don’t know, but I do know that the first time I watched this, I was having a ball with the series and all the stories but I found all this stuff kinda boring. Now, I’d say it’s not THE MOST EXCITING STORYLINE OF ALL TIME, but it works for me and I care about all the characters involved. Also, I remind you that getting myself into that mindset where I pretend I’m a new viewer in 1984, I continue to stress that I would probably think Ben is dead. He doesn’t appear in this ep at all, for one thing, and that season finale is fast approaching, which presents the perfect opportunity to kill off a character and remove his pictures from the scrolling squares at the start of the next season. The only reason I might doubt his death, like I’ve already stated, is because we didn’t witness it ourselves; we just heard about it over the phone (and it’s not even a “He died!” phonecall; it’s a “He’s missing!” phonecall). So, I can see the storyline going either way.
Oh yeah, and one last thing about how all these El Salvador shenanigans relate to the central storyline of Gary and Val’s love: If I was watching this in 1984, without the retroactive knowledge that it’s actually going to take years and years and years for Gary and Val to get back together, I would probably predict that the writers are moving towards a reunion of the couple. They’ve been split up for two years now, since the last episode of season three, and in that time Gary has married Abs and Val has started to see Ben seriously. However, at this point Ben might be dead and Gary is working on divorcing Abs, so the possibility of a reunion with Gary and Val seems eminent. Also, I try to remind myself of how differently it would feel to be watching this week-to-week in the ‘80s, seeing the stories unfold so slowly, versus the way My Beloved Grammy and I are watching, which is in five-episode chunks at a time. With the way we are viewing it, I can say, “It’s been two years since Gary and Val split,” but it doesn’t feel like that to me, whereas if I was watching in real time, it would feel much longer.
Speaking of Gary, he’s busy as a bee at the head of this episode working on some investigations into the books of Gary Ewing Enterprises, trying to get to the bottom of all of Abby’s wicked behavior. Abs comes walking into the office to find Gary hanging around with some white guy and going through files and she’s damn mad about it, saying how if the companies assets are supposed to be frozen, these two shouldn’t even be here tampering with evidence or whatever, but then the white guy says how Westmont is free to hang around the offices and watch them work, if he’d like to. They’ve gotten a court order, you see, so they can investigate as much as they want. I also want to make note of the white guy in this scene, because he’s got a very distinct face and yet I’m not entirely sure what I recognize him from. The character’s name is Pearson and he already previously appeared in High Ideals, and the actor who plays him is named Peter White. The guy’s got quite a roster of credits, but what stuck out to me is the fact that he’s a Transmorpher, and not even one of your regular, usual Transmorphers, but he’s one of those Transmorphers who played two different characters over on Dallas. He appeared in the 1984 episode Fools Rush In as Ellis Newton and then came back for five episodes in 1990 and 1991 as Breslin. I don’t remember him in any of these Dallas eps, but that’s probably because by that late in the game, I was just fidgety when we watched the show, eager to finish the damn thing and move on to KL, so that whole era is just kind of a boring blur in my memory.
In addition to Gary’s continued investigations, we also get heavy implications that his life may be in some serious danger from this evil Wolfbridge group. First off, we have Laura accidentally catching a bit of a conversation between Mack and Sumner at his campaign headquarters. She’s not snooping or anything; rather, she is told that the copy machine is not working or something and then one of those political assistant people is like, “Have some coffee while we fix it,” and while she sips her probably shitty 1984 coffee, she hears Mack and Sumner talking. It’s a quick little scene, but the gist of it is that they establish Gary’s life is in danger.
A little later, Greg drives up to Westfork to visit with Gary, and I must ask: Is this the first time we’ve seen Greg on Westfork? I think it is, and I think Gary might even make some mention of how it’s unusual to see him out here. It’s an interesting little scene in which Greg tries to subtly dissuade Gary from keeping his assets frozen, saying how he’d be best off unfreezing the accounts and allowing business to proceed. Gary reasonably says, “You know, I’m getting a little tired of everybody telling me what to do with my money,” and I certainly see where he’s coming from. It is, after all, his money, and his daddy did leave it to him when he died. The fact that the money is now such a primary concern of Abs and Sumner and whoever else is pestering Gary at this point would definitely make me grumpy if I were in Gary’s shoes. In any case, Greg also makes a cryptic mention of how, “These are not nice people you’re dealing with,” but when Gary tries to get direct and asks Greg is he’s ever met a man named Mark St. Claire, Greg dodges the question and sorta acts like he didn’t even hear it, then he excuses himself from Westfork and drives away.
Meanwhile, we’ve got another visitor on Westfork, but this one is lurking in the shadows. Yes, it’s Ray, the freckled monstrosity that Gary beat the shit out of last week before rubbing his face in the mud and ordering him to stay away forever. Like I said back then, I feel Gary should have also called the police and had the law handle this situation properly, because his words clearly had no effect on Ray, who spends most of this episode hiding behind a tree and avoiding being caught by all of Gary’s visitors. The fact of Ray’s presence helps to provide an unsettling feeling throughout most of the episode; he’s around and we don’t know precisely what he intends to do. Is he going to hurt Cathy or does he have his sights set on Gary, now?
I feel like I’m ignoring Karen and Mack this particular episode, but that’s because the couple doesn’t have quite as much to do this week as we’ve gotten used to by this point. They do, however, share one fabulous scene in the bedroom together in which Karen gets wonderfully naked in her emotions and tells Mack how she couldn’t handle losing him. Mack hugs her and delivers a fantastic line, which is, “We’re gonna grow old and cranky together.” I wrote that down in my notes cuz I found it so adorable and it made me laugh, yet at the same time the scene has an underlying tension to it because we know Mack is fibbing a bit, that he’s been continuing his Wolfbridge investigations and not telling Karen about it. It’s pretty easy to see what’s concerning Karen and why she delivers her little line about losing Mack, by the way. This whole situation is uncomfortably similar to Saint Sid’s attempts to bring those mobsters to justice way back in season two, and we all remember how that turned out. Karen has already lost one husband who chose to mess with the wrong kind of people, and she doesn’t want to lose another one.
Everything sorta comes to a head at Westfork this week, as we see multiple characters heading to the ranch at the same time for one reason or another. Most importantly, early in the ep Gary gives Val a lovely speech in which he tells her that she can call him anytime, even just to talk, “Even if you don’t have anything to say.” Oh my God, can you feel the love in the air? I sure can. Now Gary’s functioning as not only the obvious true love of Val’s life, but also as a great friend who gives her the open invitation to talk about whatever’s on her mind whenever she wants to talk about it. Late in the ep, Val gets another scary El Salvador phone call, and this time she finds out that the two people Ben was travelling with were found dead. Uh oh, so now we know that this little car crash must have been fairly violent and killed at least two of the men, but what of Ben? Where is he? His body is still nowhere to be seen, so does that mean he could be alive or does it mean he crawled away to suffer a slow death somewhere? Val is probably asking such pleasant questions herself, prompting her to call up Gary and tell him how upset she is. She’s crying and stuff and Gary is about to head over to the house to comfort her when he realizes that Mack is coming up to the ranch for a visit, so he can’t leave. He tells Val to drive out to Westfork and she does so.
Meanwhile, we’ve still got Ray hiding in the woods, cooking up something evil. The episode starts to get clever and interesting in the way it’s constructed here, by the way, because we start to get lots of shots of a person’s legs walking through the woods, and this person, whoever he or she may be, is holding a big old sniper rifle. Is this Ray about to get a final revenge on Gary? Is it some new person from the Wolfbridge group sent to shut Gary up once and for all? These are all questions and plot twists that will continue to unfold throughout our next episodes, so patience to all. Basically, we get a lot of crosscutting to different people showing up at the ranch. Cathy is hanging around when Mack arrives and comes up to have a chat with her, while concurrently we see Val driving her car up, getting closer to the ranch but not arriving just yet. In the middle of the Cathy/Mack talk, a gunshot rings out and Cathy screams all horrified (it’s maybe a little bit extreme, but I’ll give her a break) and then some rather quick cutting to Mack and Karen speaking on the phone. At this point, Mack announces to Karen that Gary is dead, but we hear this news played out over the image of Val in her car, driving up to meet him, a pretty stylish little way to end the episode, wouldn’t you say so?
Okay, so that’s Silent Missions, concluding with the exciting “Gary is dead” cliffhanger. Before I wrap up my thoughts on the episode in question, I do wanna address how this plot twist works for me. Again, trying to go into a 1984 mindset and pretend that it’s the original airdate and I have no knowledge of what’s going to come in the future, would I believe Gary is dead? I’m not so sure on this one, but I get the sense that I wouldn’t be entirely fooled. The fact that they killed Sid at the start of season three has certainly helped set a tone in the years to follow that nobody is safe; just because your name and your image are included in the opening credits is no guarantee that you’re going to be sticking around forever. Even so, something keeps me at a distance from believing this one, and I think it’s the simple fact that Gary and Val are just so important to the show that I couldn’t believe they would just blow Gary away and retire his character at this point. I know, I know, Sid was a super important character, too, and he went to Heaven, so why not Gary? I’m not really sure why it feels different, but it does; I just don’t really believe Gary is dead. Oh yeah, and of course there’s the fact that we don’t see this “death.” We see some shots of feet creeping through the woods, we hear an off-screen gunshot and then Cathy screaming, and then we get the announcement that Gary is dead, but we don’t see the death or the resulting dead body; it’s all information we are told. Because of all these different facets, I maintain that I would probably always assume Gary is alive, but I suppose there’d be an inkling of doubt in my brain just because of the way the show has unfolded in the past.
So what of the ep? Well, one thing that surprised me as I went through it was how brisk it truly was; it didn’t seem like there was nearly as much to write about with this ep as there was with the last one, even though before I sat down to write, I would have felt the opposite to be true. For the most part, this ep is pretty focused on just a couple of things, and it hones in on those things rather strongly and doesn’t really lose focus from them. Also, because of the way stories are going right now, we are missing two main cast members from this ep, Douglas Sheehan (which makes sense, as we are going through an “Is Ben dead?” period right now) and Claudia Lonow (who barely even qualifies for main cast member status at this point, as she’s been sitting out a ton of eps in a row and is about five minutes away from being shipped off the series forever). So in addition to missing two characters this week, I would also say the majority of the action is heavily focused on Gary and Val, with the other characters sorta circling around them, not necessarily getting the center of attention. In fact, thinking back now, I can’t even really remember Abs getting anything much to do this week; the only big scene of hers that I remember is when she gets mad at Gary for going through the offices with that Transmorpher white guy. Because of these factors, I’m gonna say this episode is, well, not “slight,” because I don’t like the connotations of that word, but perhaps “brisk.” It’s heavily focused on what it wants to focus on, but it doesn’t feel quite as busy as so many eps we’ve had in the past and will also have in the future.
In any case, we shall now move on to explore the fallout of Gary’s “death” with our next show, Finishing Touches.