Episode Title: Finishing Touches
Season 05, Episode 23
Episode 098 of 344
Written by Peter Dunne
Directed by David Jacobs
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 8th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Gary is murdered, and Val flips out. Abby is in shock. Cathy decides to leave the ranch and Laura invites her to stay with her. Cathy tells Laura she never murdered anyone and took the blame for Ray. Detective Morrison tells Abby that she is a suspect in Gary's murder, and he wants to know about Wolfbridge. Ben is alive, but badly injured and delirious, and is being taken care of by nuns in a mission. At Gary's funeral, Abby tells Val that she is Gary's widow, not Val. Laura tells Val that when she and Gary were seeing each other, Gary only married Abby so that Val would go on with her life. So he married Abby because he loved Val, not Abby. As the funeral begins, Morrison asks Cathy to come downtown for questioning. At the police station, Cathy goes into a room and Gary's there - ALIVE - and they start to kiss.
When we last left off, we had been told via Mack towards Karen that Gary had just been shot and killed, an exciting and thrilling cliffhanger that, if I were watching this in 1984, I would be very eager to see followed up on. Now, I have stated that I can’t properly wash my brain out from all my retroactive knowledge, so it’s hard for me to even be able to play along with the “Is Gary dead or not?” story, but if you were watching in 1984, who knows? As I have said before, the fact that Sid Fairgate died permanently in episode 33 of the series has forever set a tone to linger over the rest of the series, a tone that nobody is ever truly safe. If they can kill Sid, who, for all intents and purposes, was arguably the main character of those first two seasons, then who’s to say they won’t kill off Gary? Just because the saga of Gary and Val has been central to the series since before the series even started, since they were originally introduced in those long-ago Dallas episodes, does not mean it’s not a possibility to kill off Gary at some point in the series, like perhaps now.
Anyway, while I think this is a good episode and I’m eager to break it down, I do think it’s affected negatively by the fact that I just can’t quite get into that 1984 mindset and really believe that Gary is dead. This whole episode is basically about characters thinking Gary is dead, and it’s only in the last five seconds of the episode that we get confirmation that he is, indeed, alive. If I really believed Gary was dead and never coming back, maybe this episode would have jumped out at me more, perhaps affected my emotions more strongly. In any case, let’s explore.
We actually open the episode with the return of a character that, personally, I was ready to say goodbye to quite some time ago, the wonderfully corny Detective Morrison, played, as always, by Richard Donner’s cousin. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I thought this character had been retired from the series after the conclusion of all the Diana/Chip shenanigans, but I was mistaken, for now he’s back. I peeked at his IMDb one more time to see if he’d be surprising us with any more appearances, and there’s only one, our season five finale, Negotiations. After that, Detective Morrison can disappear into the sky along with Uncle Joe and so many other characters that have played prominently during a particular season or two before being retired. We open the ep with Morrison walking around Westfork and making some comment like, “Something told me I’d be back on this ranch one day,” something similar to that. Looks like he’s been called in to investigate this sudden and shocking death of Gary.
Meanwhile, if you’ll recall the culminating moments from our last show, you’ll remember that Val was on her way up to the ranch to have a nice chat with Gary about all her problems. Needless to say, she’s not too pleased when she arrives at the ranch and finds out he’s dead. This is a pretty great moment, by the way, and while I would understand someone if they were critical of this scene for being over-the-top, I think it rings pretty true. See, when Val hears that Gary is dead, she just starts screaming and freaking and yelling, “NOOOOOOOOO!” over and over again, all epic-like. I actually have about a million things to say about this reaction, but I’ll start by just trying to get into Val’s brain. Poor Val (POOR VAL!) is just not having a great time lately, is she? Let’s go down the roster of what’s been up in her life as of late. First off, after moving on from her painful separation and divorce from Gary and managing to find a nice, good, decent, and stable person in the form of Ben, she is now going through a whole process of worrying that perhaps Ben is dead in Central America somewhere. So, angst-ridden and worried about this possible death, she sought comfort in Gary’s company, accepted his invitation to come up to Westfork and talk with him, only to find out that he’s been killed. So, basically, the two most important men in her life are now both dead, one of them only potentially dead (Ben) and one for-sure dead (Gary; although of course this is all part of some elaborate manipulation, but neither we nor Val are aware of this at this time). Naturally this could lead to an angry reaction, no?
But I think it’s more important to note her different reactions to the two situations. Okay, to be fair, nobody has told Val directly that Ben is, in fact, dead and gone, so it’s a kinda different situation. But, what I find worth noting is that, while Val has been fretting and making herself crazy about Ben’s disappearance in El Salvador, she hasn’t just flipped and started yelling and screaming about it, you know? However, the second someone tells her that Gary is dead, that’s her reaction; she screams like a wounded animal and just keeps saying, “No,” over and over again, as if that word said enough times can bring him back from the dead. You see what I’m getting at? The potential death of Ben has left her upset and out-of-sorts, but her reaction to Gary’s death is an immediate and primal anger, and why? Because he’s her one true love and true soul mate, duh! It doesn’t matter that they’ve been separated for nearly two years and officially divorced for the majority of this season; her heart belongs to him and always will, and when she hears that he is dead, she just can’t handle it.
The rest of the ep is pretty much everyone else dealing with the news. Let’s note that the genius Peter Dunne is handling the writing this week while series creator and show runner/creator David Jacobs is doing the directing, lending a feeling of weight to proceedings. It’s easy to see why these two are handling the writing/directing this week, as this is a heavily character driven episode about the entire cast reacting to Gary’s, um, death. You bring out the big guys to handle material like this, no? Anyway, let’s go down the list; how does everyone deal with this news? Well, perhaps most importantly of all, we have the grand return of Ernie Sabella as the coroner! Okay, I can hear the crickets coming from the internet world as everyone reading this tries to figure out what the hell I’m talking about, so let me elaborate. Ernie Sabella is Pumbaa from The Lion King, right? He’s a big fat character actor who has appeared in a ton of stuff, including an episode of Seinfeld, and we last saw him playing the coroner and dealing with the death of Ciji back in Loss of Innocence. Well, now he’s back to handle the death of Gary, and I applaud the continuity of the series for this. They could have gotten any old actor to play the role of a coroner; what viewer in 1984 is gonna give a shit if he’s played by an actor we’ve already seen before? But the fact that they get the same actor to show up playing the same character over a year later, well, I think that’s pretty majorly cool, and it’s a small detail that I appreciated about this episode.
His scene is worth noting, however, because we never see a body in the scene, and I think that’s a significant clue to the viewers at home that Gary is alive. We see Pumbaa sorta hovering over a table and talking about a body that is, presumably, lying down in front of him, but the camera never shows us the body. He talks to someone (I think it’s Mack) about the details of the death and how the bullet entered directly from behind in the center of the head, basically a perfect shot to kill someone. It was actually at this exact moment that My Beloved Grammy announced that she didn’t think Gary was really dead and, instead, she thought the body lying on Pumbaa’s table was actually that of the lovely Ray, the abusive husband of Cathy. Well, spoiler alert, My Beloved Grammy was very right, and she deserves some kudos for calling it this early in the ep (especially since I, the one who has actually seen the entire series start to finish before, couldn’t remember any of these developments at all).
Olivia and Abs share probably my least favorite scene of the episode, but I’m eager to hear some other opinions on this subject. You all know that I’m a big fan of both characters and the actresses who portray them. Donna Mills is always fabulous and, for the most part, plays Abs perfectly all the way from 1980 to 1989 (the only imperfect moment in all nine of those years is her "Noooooooooo" moaning sound from back when Olivia and Brian got kidnapped by their Transmorpher father), and I think Tonya Crowe is a rather overlooked little child actress who, as the years go on, blossoms into a rather fantastic young adult actress. However, this scene didn’t do it for me, and I don’t know exactly what the problem is. Is it the actresses? Is it the dialogue? Is it the general over-the-top nature of the proceedings? Follow me along here.
Abs finds Olivia sitting in a row boat out on the lake by Westfork, looking all sad. I do enjoy the fabulously naked emotions that are on display from Abs towards Olivia in this scene, because she just looks like a wreck, really and truly upset about Gary’s death, and then she tells Olivia that she needs her to come and be with her. I like that Abs is being genuine here, reminding us that for all her lies and cheating and wicked behavior, she is a person and she feels true emotions and true pains like any other person (this reminded me a bit of that amazing two-second scene of her crying over Gary way back in season three’s China Dolls). What I don’t like in the scene, however, is when a crying Olivia starts to just moan, “Oh Gary, Gary, Gary,” over and over again all while dramatically rocking her boat, eventually standing up in it against the vocal protests of Abs, only to, of course, fall into the lake. Abs dives in after her and grabs her and drags her back to land and then the two, like, dramatically hug while the music swells all around them and Olivia continues her little “Gary” mantra.
Eh, I dunno, am I being too harsh on this scene? It’s not that it’s even bad in any way at all (nothing during this era of KL can be so easily dismissed as “bad” because, well, nothing during this era actually is bad), but that I just found it to be a bit much. I think while Tonya is a talented little kid actress, this just isn’t her finest moment; her crying seems a bit much and the dialogue and, eh, I just don’t know. It was my least favorite scene in this episode, and while I think that there’s definitely some sort of deep subtext that I’m probably missing to the fact that Olivia falls into water and Abs has to rescue her and the two are, together, embracing and wet at the end of the scene, I still didn’t like this scene all too much, but I’m not gonna harp on it, so let’s move on.
There’s one very interesting development this week that I didn’t remember at all and that I’m gonna pay attention to in order to see if it continues or leads anywhere. You all remember how Laura and Ciji became hardcore lesbian lovers and performed oral sex on each other constantly? Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that directly stated, but it’s my personal belief based on the writing and the subtext and the way their relationship unfolded throughout season four. Well, since poor Ciji went up to Heaven, it seems that Laura has lost her lesbianic desires (which is too bad, because now that she’s become a powerful 1980’s businesswoman working with Abs, she would really make a perfect power lesbian), but this week we see her and Cathy suddenly becoming awful chummy with each other. Seriously, what is this about and where did it come from? I feel like the two have barely even shared screentime during season five aside from the unforgettable scene back in Homecoming in which Laura caught Gary pulling a Vertigo on Cathy, and I think a few other scenes where Laura and Cathy discussed the latter’s startling resemblance to a recently departed young singer.
This week, however, we have a quick scene of the two of them talking near the start of the episode, and then before you know it, we cut to a scene at the Avery household in which the two are hanging out like old friends, having dinner and playing with the boys (both of Laura’s sons are present at the dinner table in this ep, including the generally-absent Daniel). My question would be: Is Laura heating up to become a lesbian again? Or is this just a simple friendship? Really, now that I’m reflecting on it, it’s rather odd that Laura hasn’t become obsessed with Cathy the way that Gary was, because she clearly had strong feelings for Ciji, as well, and now Ciji’s exact twin is hanging around and getting stories, so shouldn’t that stir up some old feelings in Laura? I’m gonna go ahead and present my own theory that, yes, Laura is having lesbian thoughts again and is hoping to partake in some muff-diving with Cathy. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t get a whole lot of Cathy and Laura together during the next two seasons, but perhaps I’ve forgotten something and I’ll keep my eyes open to see.
There’s one last thing about Cathy that I’ve been meaning to bring up all season and I keep forgetting to, so now here it is. Does anyone else get a really huge whiff of Laura Palmer from basically all of the Ciji/Cathy shenanigans? Follow me along, here, but Ciji was a young girl who was murdered by an abusive and violent man who then threw her corpse into a large body of water, only for it to float to shore, right? Well, the same thing of course happened to Laura Palmer. Even the very shot of Ciji’s dead face on the beach from Celebration makes me think of that iconic and unforgettable shot of Laura Palmer’s dead face from the opening moments of the Twin Peaks pilot. But, after a couple of episodes went by, we then had Ciji reincarnated as the new character of Cathy, an exact dead ringer. This also happened with Laura Palmer, who was reincarnated as her lookalike cousin, Madelyn. Now, it’s important to note that Twin Peaks is still a few years into the future (it started during the second half of the 1989-1990 season, when KL was celebrating its eleventh season), and I’m not saying David Lynch or Mark Frost were intentionally paying an homage to KL since, taking a wild guess here, I’m willing to bet that David Lynch never watched KL (as he was probably too busy being a genius and making incredible art films and dissecting dead rats and chain-smoking and whatever else he likes to do in his spare time), but maybe Mark Frost watched it, who knows? I don’t think these similarities were intentional, but I just find it bizarrely coincidental that so much of the Ciji/Cathy arc is somewhat repeated years down the line on a different TV show with a different character. What are your opinions on this?
This alleged death of Gary clearly has an effect on Karen, by the way, because we have a positively lovely scene that I simply adored near the middle of the ep in which she and Mack are preparing for bed. They’re just talking about whatever and then, clear out of the blue and obviously said with complete sincerity, Karen says, “I love you.” Maybe just having it typed out like that doesn’t really demonstrate how sweet this moment is, but it’s the sincerity combined with the unexpected way it comes out. It tells me a lot about what Karen is thinking, that she’s got Gary’s death on her mind, but I imagine she also has Sid’s death on her mind. She’s probably thinking of how she lost a great husband but has been lucky enough to find another great husband, and perhaps she’s thinking about how her life would be if Mack died, too. Perhaps she’s seeing the obvious love that Val has for Gary and realizing that, if she lost Mack, she would be as devastated as Val is at this moment. Whatever’s going through her mind, it’s a wonderful little scene. It also functions well to remind us that there be trouble on the horizons, that Mack is still ardently continuing his pursuit of the evil Wolfbridge organization against Karen’s wishes and even her very knowledge. This is a moment of unfiltered true love being expressed from Karen towards Mack, but what will happen if/when Karen finds out the truth about what Mack is currently up to?
Back to Val, she gets two more significant and excellent scenes in this ep, the first of which occurs early when she expresses her love for Gary to Lilimae. Both actresses are great in this scene, but I think it’s worth noting how Julie Harris is so good that she can manage to make sitting and listening and not speaking into something super interesting to watch. See, it’s Val that gets to do all the talking in this scene, while Lilimae just listens, but the look in her eyes speaks volumes for the character and is a tremendous feat of acting. Val’s speech is very moving, as well, because she talks about how she remembers throwing Gary out of the house after finding him with Abby, then says how she tried to rearrange the furniture in the house to be different and keep her from thinking about him, but then she says, “This house has never been without him because I’ve never been without him.” Yes, truer words have never been spoken, for we viewers also know that, even in that big dark gap from 1962 to 1978 (the gap that shall one day be filled by the prequel series, Gary and Val: The Lost Years, the one that I’m currently cooking up in my head and that I think David Jacobs should write the pilot for pronto), Gary was always with her. Ever since she first met him at age fifteen, he’s been with her, even if there were many years in which she didn’t ever see him.
Through the whole scene, Lilimae just listens with wide eyes that are glistening with tears that never fall. I found myself wondering what Lilimae is thinking in this scene, and actually I think this might be the moment where she truly realizes the depth of her daughter’s love for Gary. She spent most of the fourth season talking shitty about Gary because of how he cheated on Val and broke her heart, and she’s mellowed on him this season but, I think, still doesn’t particularly like him. With this scene, however, I think she realizes truly for the first time how deeply ingrained into Valene’s very soul Gary Ewing is, ingrained in a way that no other man (sorry, Ben) could ever possibly be.
The other scene is an amazingly awkward meeting between Val and Abs in which Abs gets especially nasty. You know, this might be her nastiest moment up to this point, and I’m tempted to let it slide since I know she’s going through her own grief process, but it’s still pretty awful. We’ve seen many moments in the past of Val being the bigger person during the whole sordid triangle of Val/Gary/Abs, such as in Abby’s Choice when Abs was giving her kidney to Diana and Val told Olivia that her mother was a hero, or an episode earlier this season (blanking on the name) when Val paid Gary a visit at Westfork and, as she was leaving, said, “Say hi to Abby for me.” There have been so many moments in which Val has been decent and good to this person who has, really, kinda ruined her life. In this ep, she pays Abs a visit and is being good and decent and saying how she is sorry for what she’s going through, and Abs just unleashes on her and gives this speech about how she, Abs, is the one who is widowed, not Val, and she concludes with, “You were nothing to him, absolutely nothing.” Honestly, I don’t think Abs actually believes these words that she’s saying to Val; I think she’s just trying to strike below the belt and be as hurtful as possible; anyone can see that Gary’s heart truly belongs to Val just as much as her heart belongs to Gary. Abs knows this and has probably known it for quite some time, perhaps not immediately, not the moment she first moved onto the cul-de-sac and set her sights on him, but probably pretty soon after she had finally attained him.
Because of the possibility that Ben is a dead, lifeless corpse lying in El Salvador somewhere, he didn’t put in an appearance last week, but we see him this week and get official confirmation that he is not dead after all. Nope, instead he’s being held in what appears to be a broom closet in El Salvador. Oh, did I say “broom closet?” I actually meant a, um, hospital. I guess they just couldn’t afford a hospital set, so they redressed the broom closet set instead. Or hell, maybe this is what hospitals look like in Central America; I’m just a stupid white guy who has barely travelled outside of the country and is afraid of anything and everything that is different from my way of life. Anyway, broom closet or not, this is an important scene for establishing that Ben is, indeed, alive. Okay, so we think Gary is dead (or at least we are supposed to think he is) but now we know Ben’s alive. What will happen when he makes it back to California? I suppose we have to wait and find out.
Oh yeah, one last thing on the list before we move on to Gary’s “funeral” is a fabulously wicked little scene in which Abs receives some flowers from Mark St. Claire with a note that’s like, “Sorry about Gary’s death.” Oh, this is so nasty, is it not? This is the man who is essentially responsible for Gary’s death, and he’s so damn calculating and evil that he actually goes out of his way to send flowers to the widow and rub it in her face. You have to love the pure evil that is Mark St. Claire and his fabulous ‘80s glasses and general yuppie-white-guy business attire that he wears while he’s doing his evil stuff.
Now let’s get to the “funeral,” and I feel I must use those quotation marks, for I suppose I do have a bit of a problem with this scene. Eh, or maybe I don’t. One problem (not my main problem, but a smaller one that I noticed) is that all of this is happening so damn fast it’s kinda hard to believe it’s actually real. Even if I am a 1984 viewer and I truly believe Gary is dead just like Saint Sid before him, and I’m watching this and I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe they killed off such an important character,” I still think I would question the fact that this funeral is taking place, what, five minutes after he got shot? Seriously, this is a fast turnaround; is this the very next day? Also, he is being buried on the Westfork property, which seems askew (although Bobby was allowed to be buried on Southfork under his “beloved treehouse” during the dream season, so who the hell knows about these things). My main problem, however, is the complete lack of Texas Ewings at this funeral.
It’s been very interesting to watch through the show and see the series go from being so heavily linked with Dallas to slowly but surely jettisoning off to become its own wonderful thing that hardly ever mentions Dallas or the characters from over on that series at all anymore. Okay, we’ve still got two solid seasons of Dallas and KL existing in the same universe together (this is completely shattered at the very beginning of the 1986-1987 season, when Dallas is in its tenth season and KL its eighth), but by this point in the saga, I’m not thinking of Dallas at all; KL has officially become its own wonderful, independent creation and I just want to bask in the love and warmth of my KL characters from now until the end of time.
My point? Well, I’m pretty much fine with the fact that we never get another crossover from Dallas characters over to KL, kinda fine with the fact that the double whammy of Jock’s Will and New Beginnings served as the ending of those crossovers, at least from parent series to spinoff series (remember that we still have two more Brief Dallas Interludes looming in our future, one in 1985 and one in 1991). So, I’m having this contradictory feeling where I kinda don’t want to see any Dallas characters showing up, but then I have to acknowledge that it’s sorta ridiculous and straining credibility that absolutely nobody from over in Texas shows up to Gary’s funeral, especially not a character like Bobby who has crossed over before and who has expressed his love for his black sheep brother on many occasions. Or hell, how about Miss Ellie, who spent so many Dallas eps whining about how Gary was her favorite child (“He was always more of a Southworth than a Ewing; he loved the laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand”)? You’re gonna tell me that Gary could be allegedly shot to death and Miss Ellie isn’t gonna haul her old ass over to California to see his funeral?
Okay, but it only gets more hard to decide on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing when we reach our next episode. I’ll go ahead and mention one development from our next show that I think pertains heavily to this particular complaint. In our next ep (Yesterday, It Rained), Sumner actually points out the fact that none of Gary’s Texas relatives showed up to the funeral and he uses it to say that he thinks there’s something fishy about this whole death thing. So, while I find it unbelievable that none of them show up to the funeral, I do appreciate that the KL writers go out of their way to acknowledge it and even use it as a means to keep the plots moving along. However, is this a situation of a bit of bad writing and then the writers simply try to cover up the bad writing by acknowledging the plot flaw? Perhaps it is, but in any case, the whole thing is rather vexing, and I suppose if there was one KL ep to come after New Beginnings that deserved a Dallas crossover, it was this one. It’s just way too hard to believe that nobody in Texas would hear about this death or care about it enough to show up and see the funeral.
We’re coming up to the final moments of the episode, and the priest guy is giving a big speech about Gary’s life and death and we are cutting to shots of the mourners at the funeral listening (including Brian, who I feel like we haven’t seen in eons), and then we start to flashcut to a shot of Gary just sorta standing in front of a wall. At first, the viewer might be tempted to write these little flashcuts off as, oh I dunno, just random footage of Gary being used to sorta remind us of him. However, the flashcuts keep coming at us, and then we get to another shot of his face and the camera sorta twirls around him to reveal that he’s sitting in some depressing white room, presumably a part of the police station. The door pops open and Cathy comes running in, all eager to see him, and the two embrace in a big kiss as we get out “Executive Producers” credits and the show ends. Shocking plot twist? Um, again, I have to say maybe, and I think a plot twist that might only work upon first viewing. You know what, maybe I’m wrong here; if you are a person who discovered KL after it went off the air and you watched this little series of episodes and you genuinely believed that Gary was dead, then please write in and tell me so, because I’d be very curious to know what in particular led you to believe that.
I would say this episode was much more of a character study than an action episode. We’ve had lots of eps with exciting dramatic soapy developments throughout the season, and while this ep still has plenty of that, it also just sorta takes a pause to examine how characters react to this news of Gary’s death, and I like that. I keep saying that on KL, character always comes first, and I think this is a good example of that. At the same time, I feel like I’m not over-the-moon on this ep, and I’m not entirely sure why. Am I just getting fidgety to reach the absolutely brilliant sixth season that I’ve been eager to get to since My Beloved Grammy and I first sat down to start this series? Perhaps, but for whatever reason, something just sorta kept me at a distance from this ep, not able to fully appreciate it the way that I’ve appreciated so many eps in the past. Maybe it boils down to something as simple as my problems believing the whole “Gary is dead” thing. Perhaps if I truly believed that were the case, I would get more enjoyment out of this one? See, the thing is that I’m having one of those weird situations where I’m like, “Eh, I kinda didn’t love that one as much as usual,” but I’m not able to particularly articulate why, since aside from the Abs/Olivia scene, every scene and development in the ep was perfectly good. Maybe it’s the fact that this is a Peter Dunne/David Jacobs combination and I expect a little bit more when those two are heavily involved in an ep; I expect it to be one of the best episodes ever made.
In any case, make no mistake, for this ep is still perfectly good, it’s just not one of my favorites from this season overall, you know? But whatever, we’ve got two more eps left to go and then we’ll be officially done with season five, so let us proceed onward to Yesterday, It Rained.