Episode Title: We Gather Together
Season 06, Episode 09
Episode 109 of 344
Written by Richard Gollance
Directed by Larry Elikann
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 6th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Val insists her babies are alive, but no one believes her. Gary tells Lilimae he had secretly hoped that the babies were his. Joshua asks Reverend Kathryn if the babies were born dead out of retribution for Val conceiving out of wedlock. Abby receives another mysterious phone call requesting Gary's blood type. The caller tells her the babies will be placed in the next two days as she requested. Easton is flying in on Galveston's private jet, so Abby goes to meet him, but he's not on it. Abby makes about a million calls, but can't find him. Mack moves back in with Karen, and they decide to throw Thanksgiving dinner for everyone. While preparing the dinner, Karen's hands go numb. Karen asks Gary to get Val. Mack apologizes to everyone for hurting them. When Val and Gary walk in to the MacKenzie's, Val apologizes for her and Gary being late as usual.
Before I go into gushing fan boy mode and start talking about how utterly ingenious this episode of KL is, I want to clarify one thing right off the bat, and that is the very title of the episode. I do not know why, but both IMDb (until very recently) and TV.com have this ep listed as We Come Together. Indeed, that’s what I kinda assumed the title would be just from glancing at IMDb stuff and starting to prep these essays and all that, but the actual onscreen title of the ep is We Gather Together, which really makes a lot more sense and also just sounds better rolling off the tongue. Why the discrepancy? I’m not entirely sure. The title wasn’t changed in post production or in syndication or anything like that, was it? Anyone know? In any case, I wanted to make that clear because I’m going to continue referring to this one as We Gather Together from now until the end of time, but if you actually go into the internet world and try to find it by that title via TV.com or something, you’ll come up empty.
Okay, so We Gather Together is another one of those eps that picks up just seconds after where the last one left off, Back to the Future Part II style, so much so that you could glue the two eps together and create a two hour amazing experience of utterly orgasmic joy. We begin in the hospital, Val in her hospital bed, the news starting to spread about what happened to her in our last ep. I think during one of my last 108 writeups, I said something about how I like eps of series that are all about people just finding stuff out, and that’s sorta what’s happening here; we spend a good early chunk of the ep watching people arrive at the hospital and get the news about what’s happened and just reacting to it. Probably the most memorable reaction comes from Lilimae, in another just-fucking-give-Julie-Harris-her-Emmy moment where the doctor tells her Val’s babies are dead and she flips and starts saying, “Oh my God, oh my God,” over and over again. Some might say over-the-top, but I say a realistic depiction of devastation.
I’m not gonna go down the roster of every single character who finds out about Val’s stillborn babies, but suffice it to say that it’s all very very good and very very well acted. I do wanna note that when Ben and Gary both find out it, Ben tells Gary, “Don’t stay away from her; she needs you now and I think you need her.” He’s absolutely right, and kudos to Ben for being the bigger man and not getting a stick up his ass about Val being around her ex-husband. This is a time when she needs the comfort of Gary and Ben recognizes it. Fuck yes, Ben, I’m so sorry I was dismissive of you upon my last viewing, but I think I was just so busy focusing on the other amazing aspects of the series that I just kinda neglected you, but damn, you rock! In addition, Mack and Karen receive the news and rush to the hospital to see Val. Let’s talk about that scene specifically, because it’s time for some long overdue kudos to J.V.A. along with a personal apology for some mean comments I made towards her way way back in season one’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken? I actually have pulled up my essay on that episode right in front of me so I can sample through what I said and use it as a demonstration of either how wrong I was or how great J.V.A.’s acting has become since that episode. Let’s see, somewhere near the middle of the essay I wrote this:
“Okay, things really start to heat up in this episode when Val is reunited with Lilimae. Let’s just say that Joan Van Ark, well, let’s just say that she sure does pour her heart into this performance. The little thirty-second preview before the episode shows Val’s face contorting like Jim Carrey on coke, turning all grotesque and red as she screams, “MAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMAAAAAAA!”, really drawing that word out longer than I thought anyone ever could. God bless Joan Van Ark, and please, dear readers, please do understand that everything I say about her I say with love. But anyway, Joan is hardly the best actress on the series, and she’s really going over-the-top here, but it’s all part of the fun.”
Oh God, what a horrible thing that was for me to say, but then later on I make this comment:
“Aside from the bad dessert, pretty much everything is going okay until Lilimae starts to sing and talk about her past and all her experiences, making a big awkward speech about how Val never really understood or appreciated what she did for her, and of course this is the big moment where Val has finally had enough. We all saw that thirty-second preview before the show and we’ve all been waiting for it, and Joan Van Ark doesn’t disappoint. The face turns red, the mouth opens up super wide, and she starts to scream and scream about how Lilimae ruined her life by not helping her when she needed help with baby Lucy. ‘I lost her because of you and I hate you I HATE YOUUUUUUUU!’ she screams, followed by that incredible and hilarious, ‘MAAAAAAAAAMMMMMAAAAAA!’ Oh joy, what a scene this is. We the audience feel the uncomfortable-ness just dripping from the walls as everyone is forced to watch this domestic disaster, this unleashing of fury from a woman who has held in resentment at her mother for, well, at least twenty years, but probably more. J.V.A. is glorious in her over-the-top facial contortions and Julie Harris balances her out perfectly by being, you know, a legitimately great actress, and together the two create magic.”
I don’t know if I’m gonna take back what I said about her in that episode, since I’m fairly certain that if I leapt back in time and gave that episode another rewatch right now (which I won’t do, since I’m a start-to-finish kind of guy and don’t believe in hopping around in TV shows), I would probably feel the same way, but that was only episode five and we are now up to episode 109, and during that gap of time, oh how gloriously J.V.A has blossomed, turning into a truly phenomenal actress and putting her entire heart into this incredible performance.
I’ve been really liking Val and J.V.A a lot more since around, say, season three and onwards, but with season six I feel she has elevated to a whole new level and is probably doing her best acting on the entire series, and I think it really begins to show in this ep as she starts to realize that nobody believes her about the babies being alive. Specifically, it’s the scene with her and Mack and Karen in the hospital room. They are here to be her good friends, but when Val says the babies are alive, that she saw them and that she heard them cry, Karen gently says how they’ve already spoken to Dr. Ackerman and they can understand her confusion because of all the sedatives. During the scene, we mostly stay focused on Val’s face as she listens to Karen speak, and it’s heartbreaking. Val doesn’t even say anything, as far as I can remember, she just sits there, and we don’t have any big facial reactions or anything like that; she says it all with her eyes; we can see that realization come into her face as she sees that nobody is going to believe her, and it’s all silent and done with just her face and was a moment I really noticed and put in my notes and it made me want to write a personal letter to J.V.A (which maybe I will do, because perhaps it could lead to me scoring an interview with her) to say, “I’m sorry for what I wrote about you in episode five; you are BRILLIANT!”
Everything involving Val in this episode is just sublime and provides the core and heart of the ep, but let’s move our focus over to some other characters for a moment. First off, let’s talk about Abs, who is frantically running around and trying to track down Scott Easton and figure out what the hell is going on and what the deal is with the babies. I’m not entirely sure if, at this exact point, Abs knows for sure that the babies are alive or not; I think she is just very confused by everything and not understanding what that phone call last ep was about (and she gets another phone call this ep that’s pretty much the same shtick as before, with the whole “the father’s blood type is essential for our paperwork” bit) or how all of this relates to Easton. Perhaps she still believes, like everyone else, that Val’s babies are dead and there’s nothing shady going on, but anyhow, she’s got to find Easton. I confess that some of this Easton stuff is a bit confusing to me. I’m still not entirely sure on how the whole water-supply-from-Galveston thing relates to the Easton thing which relates to the baby thing. I am clear on the fact that Easton got Dr. Ackerman to be evil and make Val’s babies disappear, but I don’t quite get how that connects to Galveston and I don’t quite know exactly why it’s heavily implied that he was killed. See, he gets on this plane and takes off or something, and then Abs goes to see the plane arriving back, but Easton is gone and she is instead greeted by another white guy with an '80s Rapist Beard.
I do wanna complain about this real fast and say, “Seriously, guys?” The casting agents just had to hire another white guy with an ‘80s Rapist Beard? Am I the only white person in the world who often can’t tell different white people apart from each other and has a hard time keeping track when there are too many white people in one movie or show? I think I might be unique in that regard, but I do know that My Beloved Grammy also said she didn’t understand why this new character had to be another white guy with an ‘80s Rapist Beard who looks exactly the same as Easton. See, this new ‘80s Rapist Beard white guy gets off the plane and tells Abs that Easton wasn’t on the plane or something or other. Like I said, all this stuff is rather confusing to me but, as I so often say, I don’t blame the show for my confusion, but only my own stupid brain.
The fact that Abs is legitimately concerned about Val’s babies and this whole situation is very important, in my opinion. I’ve always said that what keeps Abs so interesting and such a great character is that she is always fully fledged and complex, never just a snarling villainous who lives her life to destroy others. Yeah, she deliberately chased after Gary when he was married to Val and took him away from her, and that was wicked, but now we are seeing genuine concern on her part for Val and her babies. I also think it’s worth noting (and I’m sure that all KL fans know this tidbit) that when the season was originally mapped out, the plan was to have Abs be deliberately and directly responsible for the loss of Val’s babies, that she specifically would seek to have it done. Donna wisely said this would be way too far for Abs to go and that the audience would never forgive her for doing it; we would no longer kinda like Abs even when she was wicked, because she would have done something far too evil and far too unforgivable. She also pointed out that Abs is a mother, she has the maternal instinct, for all her flaws she is a good mother, and she wouldn’t take another woman’s children away from her; it’s just too much. The writers and producers and creators and all that were wise to listen to her, but this is actually just one example out of many in which the actors get to have quite a bit of input into their characters and their stories, and I think that’s one of the things that keeps the series so strong.
Oh yeah, and one other fabulous moment of naked emotion from Abs this week, the kind of moment I really cherish. Near the middle of the ep, as everyone is getting dressed up and prepared to go to Thanksgiving at the Fairgate MacKenzie house, Abs comes up to a fully dressed Gary at Westfork and tells him she’s not going to go. She says how she can’t sit at a dinner table across from Val and says, “I stole her husband from her,” and Gary kinda scoffs at that and says, “You didn’t steal me.” Fascinating character stuff for both of these guys, by the way, both in the way Gary delivers that line and in the obvious shame Abs seems to be displaying for her behavior throughout seasons two and three. Again, it’s moments like this that really elevate Abs as a character and keep her from being one-dimensional. Another trashier show would be perfectly happy to just have a wicked evil adulterous character who is purely and 100% awful all the time to everyone around her, but KL keeps it classier, remembering that we are all people and we all have different emotions and facets to our personalities.
We also have a smidge of Ben and The Desperate Horny Chick this week, and I continue to be bored and annoyed with her. This time she really is stretching it too far, because Ben is actually, like, sitting atop a cliff and gazing at the ocean and being sad and she has to go out of her way to climb this cliff and find him and harass him by rubbing his arm and snuggling her head up against him while, as always, he continues to look disinterested and think about Val. What is with this chick? How long does she stay around? Why is she here? Is she only here to function as a cock block and keep Ben and Val apart from each other for awhile? Usually the writers do a better job of making even the minor characters super duper interesting, but this chick just ain’t doing it for me and I want her to go away.
For me, the ep really kicks into high gear when it’s time for Thanksgiving. Real fast, I do wanna note that this ep aired December 6th, which would have been something like one week after Thanksgiving, which is a bit odd. What’s that about? I wonder if this relates at all to a bizarre two-week gap I noticed earlier in the season, in which the premiere of the season (Buying Time) aired on October 4th and then there was a two week gap and the second ep of the season (Calculated Risks) aired October 18th. Why start a season and have the big premiere and then immediately skip a week? I’m not sure, but perhaps that’s why we’re getting a Thanksgiving ep in early December. Oh yeah, and one other thing while I’m on the subject of dates: I do want to note that it has been officially over a year of Val being pregnant, since she and Gary had their one special night of nonstop passion way back in …And Never Brought to Mind on November 3rd, 1983, and then Val delivered (after only eight months, we were told in dialogue) on November 29th, 1984. Of course, I remind you that in television land, there are no summers, and we had a gap of over six months between seasons five and six, which helps explain a lot. Perhaps my obsession with observing airdates and generally assuming that airdates coincide with the timeframe of the show is completely futile, since this is a universe in which there aren’t summers at all and pregnancies can last nearly thirteen months but be “only eight months” in the storyline of the show.
Let’s get to the Thanksgiving feast, in which nearly everyone in the scrolling squares shows up to celebrate the holiday (I believe the only person missing is Sumner, who we see sitting lonely in a hotel room somewhere in Washington or wherever). I’m looking at my notes and I see that I wrote, “Sexy Michael wearing pink cutoff shirt with sexy arms showing/Must masturbate.” Hmmm, it’s a shame that I can’t remember the exact context of when I wrote that note, but I’m willing to bet that the sexy pink outfit is not what Sexy Michael chooses to wear to Thanksgiving; this must have been a note I wrote to myself in an earlier scene. Anyhow, everyone hanging out together at the cul se sac at the same time really made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and it also made me flash back to our earlier, simpler days on the cul de sac when we’d get a whole lot of the characters just sorta hanging out and having barbecues and nighttime cocktails together and all that good stuff. I love how, even if that stuff isn’t happening as frequently nowadays just because there’s so damn much going on in the story by this juncture, the show still hasn’t betrayed that original notion and it will still remain true to it with eps like this that remind us of the community spirit of the series. So far as I can remember, this type of thing is never completely gone from the series, even as far as the final season.
There’s a lot I loved about this latter portion of the ep, but I’ll start with Karen’s hand, which finally goes numb for the very first time at a most inconvenient time, right when she’s in the middle of preparing lots of food in the kitchen. My Beloved Grammy particularly appreciated this scene and said something about how she loves the timing of the stories on the show, how just when one thing has finished happening, something else kicks in, and she said how just when you’ve kinda forgotten about the whole “your hands will start to go numb” thing from the premiere of the season, boom, it pops back in a big way at just the precise moment; very skilled writing and storytelling. Fortunately for Karen, nobody notices her little numb hand, but the music swells and we kinda go in on her face and can tell how freaked she is, knowing that those stages of death have finally started to kick in.
Next up, we have a fabulous and touching speech from Mack to everyone gathered at the table. Mack stands up and raises his glass and says how happy he is to have everyone at the house for Thanksgiving, and then he says how he wants to apologize for any pain he’s caused within the last year. God, don’t you just want to climb into the TV and give him a big hug and tell him what a good person he is? It was during this scene that My Beloved Grammy, whom you’ll recall declared Sid Fairgate her favorite character on the series as early as season one (I even remember the ep where she said he was her favorite; it was Civil Wives) declared that not only is Mack a good replacement for Sid, but that he’s better and that she’s no longer missing Sid. This was lovely to hear since for most of the third season My Beloved Grammy seemed to be in as much grief over the loss of Sid as Karen was, and would say nearly every ep how much she missed him and how the show “wasn’t the same” and stuff like that, but now thanks to the glorious charisma of The Dobsonator, she has been able to move on from that character.
Oh yeah, and Karen also gives a toast that I think might show her hand a little bit too obviously. Nothing too directly comes from it at this point, and not even in the next episode, so far as I can remember, but I still think we’re planting some seeds here to show that Mack is starting to suspect something. See, Karen raises her wine glass and gives a little toast that sounds somewhat morbid when she concludes with, “We never know how much time we actually have left,” or something like that, and then we get a shot of Mack’s face looking a little concerned, and I get the feeling that he may be putting the pieces together in his brain, though we’ll have to wait to see how this all plays out.
Time to talk about the best scene in the ep as well as one of the most moving and emotional scenes we’ve had on the series up to this point, and probably ever. See, earlier in the ep, we had to see the awful sight of Gary and Lilimae cleaning out the baby nursery, getting rid of the crib and all that stuff (a good scene in which Lilimae told Gary, “You’re the continuous thread who runs through Val’s life”). Now, with everyone together at the dinner table at Karen and Mack’s place, the only absent face is Val, who we catch up with in a phenomenal scene in which she slowly enters the empty nursery. This is one of the most stylish shots we’ve seen on the series yet, a shot so good that you could freeze it and frame it and display it as a painting. See, she opens the door to the nursery and everything is fairly draped in darkness and shadow and I especially noted the way that three, like, bars of shadow were splashed across the wall outside of the room, looking kinda like a prison or something. No music or anything in this scene, just Val slowly walking into the room and running her hand across the wall and looking at the big emptiness where, just a day or two earlier, there was a crib and other baby things and now there’s nothing. She kinda goes into the middle of the room and then leans back against the wall and sits down on the floor and we get this really magnificent sorta bird’s eye view of Val sitting on the ground. The camera is able to go up real high, almost like in the scene from Body Heat where William Hurt and Kathleen Turner decide to kill her husband (I remember director Lawrence Kasden saying that the camera goes up way past where the ceiling should be and that when someone asked him who’s perspective this was supposed to be, he answered, “It’s God’s perspective”) and we just have Val framed in center, sad and quiet and alone.
If that scene doesn’t touch your heart, the next one will, because Gary is growing concerned about Val’s absence at dinner and decides to go across the street and see what’s up. At this point, I’d really like to go into a lot of details about what Gary and Val talk about and how the scene is shot and the style and all of that, but honestly my notes totally stop here because I was so moved by this scene that I just sat and watched it and actually cried a little bit, and so did My Beloved Grammy, in fact. Watching Gary comfort Val and her hugging him and crying and trying to talk about all of her feelings; it’s just an unbelievably emotional scene and, absolutely shockingly, I honestly didn’t remember this scene that much, or perhaps it didn’t move me as much upon a first viewing, I don’t know. This scene hit me like a fucking gut punch and while I didn’t go into full on hysterical sobbing mode like, say, when I was a kid and watched Here Comes Garfield, it made me cry the way that The Elephant Man made me cry the first time I saw it, with silent tears just rolling down my face.
This is one of the best scenes we’ve ever seen on the entire series. Both Shack and J.V.A are absolutely perfect in the scene and your heart goes out to Val like crazy. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve reached a point in the series where these actors have been playing these characters for so long that they probably have some inherent and deeper understanding of the characters, like they are almost melding together into the same people. A scene like this wouldn’t be nearly as touching if it happened in, say, season two; it’s the fact that we’ve had 108 prior eps and of course those early Dallas eps where we first met Gary and Val. Now we’ve been with these characters for long enough and we know their past history so well that this kind of scene is able to hit home in a really emotional way. Also, a scene this good pretty much officially has caused me to renounce the Emmys, which I used to actually kinda sorta give a shit about. The fact that, after throwing two nominations at Michele and Julie way back in season three, the Emmys are now completely ignoring this series and this monumental acting is enough, for me, to completely invalidate the whole stupid awards show. You can’t look at a scene this good and say that Shack and J.V.A don’t deserve to be awarded for their absolutely incredible acting.
The comfort of Gary provides Val with the motivation to get up off the floor and go over to Thanksgiving, providing us with our extremely cryptic and ominous little episode ending. See, the turkey’s being carved, the wine is flowing, people are eating and chatting and starting to unwind and have a nice time, including Abs, who did decide to show up for the celebration. A moment later, Gary and Val enter the house and Val is actually smiling and looking happy; everyone is clearly pleased to see her up and about and on her feet, but then she makes a rather strange comment with, “I’m sorry that Gary and I were late as usual.” She delivers the line, we get our “Executive Producers” credit, and that’s the end of We Gather Together. What to make of this? Well, I’d say it’s pretty clear that all this emotional turmoil is causing Val to come unhinged, something that could come off as extremely campy and silly if done on a much lesser series with much lesser writing, but is playing as exceptionally emotional and deeply sad because of this writing, directing, and, most importantly, this acting.
Oh boy, what a fucking episode. This episode is so moving that even sitting to write about the Gary/Val scene actually did cause me to well up; no tears rolling down the face, but I got some wet eyes, let me tell you. I can’t think of any flaw with this ep, nothing I would change, nothing even tiny that could have made it a bit better; it’s a perfect ep of television and exemplifies KL at its very best, great entertainment that has a real heart and soul and is presented to us with style and technique by the amazing Larry Elikann. In fact, I’m gonna get bold and go ahead and declare that, as of this moment, this is the very best episode of KL we’ve seen. It was almost something of a surprise to watch it and be so moved by it, because I think a lot of my memories of season six focus more towards the latter half of the season, and this one was actually just kinda a vague blur in my memory, but watching it again, it’s a 48 minute masterpiece of television. At this exact moment in time, if someone told me to pick one ep of KL to demonstrate everything that makes KL great, I would choose this one. Will it remain the top ep all the way to the end of the series? We’ll have to see, because we have some great stuff coming up in both the near future and the faraway future, but right now, with 109 eps under our belt, this is the best episode we have ever seen. The fact that it made me cry is really not that impressive, since I’ll cry at tons of bizarre things in movies or TV (I actually cry at the end of freakin’ Kindergarten Cop when Arnold is wheeled out on the stretcher and that super cute kid from Picket Fences is crying and says, “Mr. Kimble, are you all right?”), but the fact that when the ep was over I turned to My Beloved Grammy and saw that it had made her cry as well tells me that this ep is really something special.
While I don’t think it’s possible for an ep to top this one for some time, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t immediately proceed to our next one, which I’m sure will still be stunning, and that would be Message in a Bottle.