Episode Title: Calculated Risks
Season 06, Episode 02
Episode 102 of 344
Written by Susan Goldberg
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 18th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): The doctor tells Karen that she'll die within the year unless she has a risky operation with only a 50% survival rate. Mack wants to get back together with her, but Karen lies and says she doesn't love him. Mack moves in with Ben. Diana moves to New York. Joshua Rush shows up at Val's. His mother was Lilimae's sister. She abandoned him and he wants to learn about her from Lilimae. She says her sister was a vicious, wicked tramp and he should be glad that she's dead. Val invites Joshua to stay with them. St. Claire threatens Greg and he comes to the yacht. Abby sees a gun in a drawer and gives it to Greg. Greg shoots Mark St. Claire.
When we last left off, Karen’s black doctor was informing her that, due to the positioning of a bullet fragment lodged near her spinal cord, within about one year’s time she would be dead. That’s the way we concluded our last episode, Buying Time, yet as we pick up with Calculated Risks, we quickly learn that Karen is not completely out of options; there may still be hope for her in the form of a very risky spinal surgery. The Liar Liar doctor (who I really like, by the way; he just seems like a real good man who is both professional and yet candid with his patients) gives her all the details about this surgery and all the pros and cons. See, if Karen does nothing and doesn’t have the surgery and simply chooses to return home, there’s no doubt that she’ll die within one year’s time, right? If she has this surgery, she has a 50/50 chance, but not just as 50/50 chance of a successful operation, the doctor stresses that she has only a 50/50 chance of getting out of the surgery alive at all. At first Karen is quick to respond and is like, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s have the surgery right now,” but she becomes more reticent as soon as she hears those frightening odds.
I love it when I feel like the show and I are exactly on the same wavelength, as if the show is somehow reading my mind and then rewarding me for it. I say this because My Beloved Grammy was going on about how Karen should absolutely have the surgery, no doubt about it, because a chance to live is better than certain death. At that point, I said how I agree with her but I also said we should try to understand Karen and remember that Sid died while having a risky surgery that Karen did not support him having. About two seconds later, Karen says to the doctor, “My first husband, Sid, died in surgery, a spinal operation, too,” and I felt like the writers were reading my mind and then validating all my thoughts by putting them right up there on the screen (never mind the fact that this episode aired six years before I was even born; let’s just go ahead and say the writers were still reading my mind, anyway). Again, I love the rich past history of all the KL characters; I love that Karen still thinks about and talks about Sid and I love how Sid’s tragic death, rather than being something the writers did and then quickly shuffled under the rug, continues to hold sway over Karen’s decisions even as late as season six.
One thing worth noting: The doctor tells her that as soon as Karen gets out of her hospital bed and goes home, her odds immediately decrease. They are 50/50 for survival at this exact moment in time, but if she goes home and ignores her spinal problem for awhile, the odds will only get worse and worse. Basically, if she’s gonna do it, she needs to do it now, so what’s she gonna decide? Well, for the time being Karen decides that she’d rather just go home and act like everything is okay until it’s time to buy the farm. I think I understand her decision, actually, which is that if she goes into this surgery and it fails, well, then she’s dead. Instead of having one more year of her life to be around the people she loves before she goes to Heaven, she would just die right away.
The one part that’s a little harder to understand and support is her refusal to get back with Mack, to even attempt to work it out with him. I have to say that, upon first viewing, I don’t recall feeling so damn sorry for Mack as I do right now. I remember loving Mack, that he was one of my favorite characters, that I loved what a good human and good husband he was to her, but I don’t remember Mack and Karen getting married and then him immediately being thrust into a whole bunch of shit, which is exactly what has happened. After spending all of last season dealing with bitchy Diana and Karen’s pill popping problem, Mack is still a solid guy that’s hanging around and wants to make it work with Karen, yet she continues to give him the cold shoulder. One of the hardest scenes to watch in this ep occurs when Mack pays Karen a visit at the hospital, proudly displaying a big bouquet of flowers to show his love. However, when he tries to broach the topic of their working things out, Karen says, “I don’t want to hurt you, but I just don’t love you anymore.”
It actually physically hurts me to watch Karen say that to Mack, but even so, I am able to dive into her brain and understand what’s going on in her world. Basically, Karen sees this situation as having two options and neither of those options appeal to her. One option is to tell Mack that she is dying and then leave it up to him, but she doesn’t want him getting back into her life just because he feels obligated to do so now that she is dying, right? Secondly, she could just get back with him but leave the little spine information to herself, but in that case it would be an act of cruelty in which she allows Mack to be a part of her life only to go and die on him in a year or less, and she doesn’t want to do that, either.
Alright, we’ve still got Abs on the boat to contend with, but for now I want to move over to Val and Lilimae’s house and focus on our newest arrival to the cul-de-sac, Joshua Rush. Joshua is played by Alec Baldwin, as you’ll recall, and although we saw his name in the opening credits last episode, we don’t actually meet the character until this ep. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I tend to love how KL introduces its new characters; it’s always done with such an inauspicious aura, to the point that you could hardly guess what excitement and stories will result from whoever this new arrival is. Let’s flash all the way back to the premiere of season two (Hitchhike: Part One), in which Abs first arrived on the cul-de-sac. In that case, we had a cool P.O.V. shot of her car making its way up into the driveway, but we didn’t have any BIG DRAMATIC EPIC SCENES of Abs that immediately demonstrated how wicked she would be; instead, she was introduced quietly and then gradually worked her way into the fabric of the show along with the other characters. The same has been true for pretty much all the new characters who have been introduced into the series, including when Lilimae moved in back in season three, when Ciji was introduced at the start of season four, or when Sumner first showed up a couple of eps into season five.
The same is true here, because Val is on her way out the door and is telling Lilimae how she’s gonna be gone for awhile, then she opens the front door and Joshua is just standing there, like he was just about to knock on the door in a second. Val invites him in and he introduces himself and says how Val is his cousin because his late mother was Lilimae’s sister. However, right off the bat we get something of a strange feeling from this, mostly based on Lilimae’s quiet, stern looking face. Personally, the feeling I get from this right away is not that Joshua is a threat (this is what My Beloved Grammy thought; she kept saying how strange it is for this guy to just show up and start hanging out in the house; she believed he was here for some sort of weird, creepy revenge), but rather that Lilimae is holding in a secret and she’s worried that this secret will come out shortly.
Let’s talk about Baldwin for a minute, shall we? For pretty much as long as I’ve known and loved KL, I’ve always assumed that Baldwin’s time as a cast member on the show was the very first thing he ever did, ever, that KL officially introduced the world to Baldwin. Turns out I was slightly mistaken, as he has a few credits on his resume before this, although not many. His very first credit is a stint on the soap The Doctors from 1980 to 1982 and then nine episodes of Cutter to Houston (whatever the hell that is). Then we have a 1984 TV movie called Sweet Revenge and then we’re about up to date, with KL being his next credit. I don’t want to spoil things too much (going on the assumption that somebody reading this may, in fact, be experiencing the joys of KL for the first time and I don’t want to ruin any of its myriad of surprises for them), but I will say that we’re not gonna have a tremendous amount of Baldwin on the series. Basically, he’s in the entire sixth season and then a little smidge of the seventh season and then that’s it. What I find interesting is that I learned, via an interview he did with Howard Stern, that he knew this all along. He said that when he was hired on, the writers and producers made it clear to him that this would be just about a year-long gig. This tells me that the show runners already had a layout for how things would unfold with this character, which is a testament to the writing and the storytelling skills of all the creative talent involved. Anyway, for the time being, let me just make it clear that I’m a Baldwin fan, I think he’s a terrific actor in all regards, and I’m excited to be meeting his character for the first time.
Okay, so what does Joshua do within the confines of this ep? Well, not too much, but it’s all about pacing; we are setting things up to unfold over the course of the season. In this case, I can see why My Beloved Grammy is suspicious of this character. After all, where did he come from? He shows up at their door and declares himself some sort of relative of theirs, but it’s all very abrupt. Also, handsome as Baldwin is (and he is, by the way; when he entered My Beloved Grammy said, “Oh my God, he’s so cute”), there is a hint of darkness underneath him, something that’s a little bit off-putting, something that can make you slightly uncomfortable. However, I think it remains pretty obvious that Lilimae is the one keeping secrets, here, because when Val returns home, she finds Joshua all alone in the kitchen. He says something about how Lilimae had to run off to some sort of function, and then we see Lilimae creeping quietly in the front door and then going straight upstairs, clearly avoiding having to interact with Val and Joshua at this time. What secrets could she be holding?
Another thing regarding the Joshua character that I want to note: During a scene between Lilimae and himself, he casually mentions how, if he ever mentioned his mother to his father (his “papa,” as he calls him), his dad would “beat him black and blue.” He delivers this line like it’s no big deal, kinda chucking a little bit when he says it, like, “That’s fathers for you,” but I took a lot of meaning from this small line of dialogue and I think we are going to see that this little insight into his past will prove very important to his character. I’m flashing forward a good year into the future, to some point in early season seven (can’t remember the ep at this point) in which Joshua and Lilimae discuss child abuse and he talks about being beaten by his father in great detail. Here, it’s just that one small line, but it tracks and will remain important as we proceed forward. This scene is not one of Lilimae’s finest moments, however, because as sweet, innocent Joshua is talking about how he never got to know his mother, how she died when he was young, Lilimae just unleashes and goes on about how his mother was nothing but a tramp and it’s better that she died so Joshua never has to know her. Then she storms off, leaving poor Joshua sitting all sad and alone, and of course Val in the other room having heard the entire cruel display.
Meanwhile, at the same time that we are saying hello to a brand new character, we are also saying goodbye to an old veteran who has been around annoying us since Pilot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Diana is finally leaving the series, and I’m just gonna go ahead and say, with no offense intended, that I’m not gonna be missing her. We will wind up seeing her in three more eps of the series, but those three eps are way near the end of the series, not until 1993 when the show is about five minutes away from ending, so for all intents and purposes, this ep is pretty much her final appearance. I will say that I definitely get the sense that the writers are pushing Diana out the door; while I’m fine with her evacuation from the series, it’s all rather abrupt and seems to happen in fast forward. Why not let this unfold a little more slowly by placing it in the latter half of season five? What the hell did Diana even do in that latter half? After Chip died, Diana would either sit out several episodes in a row or she would show up for five seconds and just be kinda there. I think it might have been more organic, following Chip’s death, to then shift the focus to Diana getting ready to move away or whatever, and then just go ahead and ship her off at the end of season five and not bother having her in season six at all, not even for these first two eps. But oh well, that’s not how it unfolded.
I really don’t have any idea what was going on behind the scenes, but am I wrong in sensing that Diana is getting kicked out the door? Was her coke problem at a new height or something? In our last ep, she was snarling and being vicious to Mack, then they quickly made up and hugged each other, and now as we jump into Calculated Risks, she is announcing her plans to move to New York and, I think, live with Uncle Joe. We have a scene of her leaving the Fairgate/MacKenzie house, getting ready to climb into a taxi cab. We even get another hug between her and Mack! Next up, we have her at the hospital paying Karen a final visit before she heads to the airport.
This final visit is about a lot more than the fact that Diana is leaving the series. Really, the scene is about Karen and how she’s now thinking about her life ending. See, instead of just giving some sort of generic “Knock ‘em dead!” pep talk to Diana, she gets very serious and gives a speech that you can tell sounds like last words, like she’s trying to impart some last bit of wisdom onto Diana. She says something about how Diana has always done what she believes is right and that’s the aspect she most admires in her and that she never wants her to lose it. Honestly, I have a hard time believing Karen here, and I think it’s a bit odd how everyone is pretty much fine with Diana after last season’s shenanigans. This is the same mentally ill girl who took up with a known murderer and then defended him even after she had confirmation that he had killed a young girl in cold blood. After he escaped from the hospital, she even went to the trouble of housing him on Westfork against Gary’s knowledge, and her insane behavior is pretty much what lead to Karen’s pill problem. Despite all that, I guess she and Karen are totally cool with each other again, and Karen gives that little speech, and then Diana leaves. However, after Diana exits, that hunk of pure sexy man known as Michael sticks around for a minute to tell Karen how upset he is about their fractured family. He points out how Diana is leaving, how Mack doesn’t live at the house anymore, how Karen is here in the hospital, and how he’s damn upset. I bring this up because I think Michael is not only sexy (super duper duper sexy), but also smart. I think he saw through Karen’s speech to Diana and he realizes that there’s more going on than might immediately meet the eye.
Before I move on to Abs on the boat, I want to sorta finish up my thoughts on Diana since we pretty much won’t be seeing her again (at least until The Way Things Were in 1993, only nine short years away from where we are currently at). I want to make it clear that any distaste I express for the Diana character is purely for the character. In the early stages of this blog, I believe I declared Claudia Lonow to be not a very good actress and I would usually be critical of her in that regard. I maintain that she’s not too great for seasons one through three, but around season four she really improved, and I think she got even better in season five. By the point we’re at now, I can respect Lonow’s acting and I think she does a fine job, but the problem for me is that the character is just so unpleasant. Yes, she provided great drama through the Chip Roberts shenanigans of seasons four and five, but I just find myself glad she’s leaving because, to be frank, the character is just so unpleasant and nasty to watch. I’m just tired of watching her be a brat and be nasty to everyone around her, which is why I’m fine with her evacuation from the series. Also, being that My Beloved Grammy has declared Diana her least favorite character pretty much since day one (I’m trying to remember the exact first time My Beloved Grammy said she hated this character, and I think it was actually somewhere in mid season two), you can bet that she was pleased to see Diana being sent off to New York.
And hey, now that I think about it, even that development tracks pretty well throughout the course of the series. I’m starting to really admire the way the writers manage to boot people off of the series without it feeling tacky; generally, it feels very organic. Even if it’s two boring characters like Kenny and Ginger, the writers don’t just start a season with characters being like, “Oh, they moved away;” instead, they give them a little final moment to be on the series before they naturally leave the story. With Diana, we’ve seen her express a desire to live in New York many times, perhaps most notably in that awful season three episode Reunion, in which Jessica Walter came to town and almost got Karen to move the entire family to the Big Apple. Also, Diana was originally heading to New York with Chip at the ending of season four. It feels like now she has finally reached that goal; New York has always been where she wants to be and now she gets to be there. Again, it would be so easy for the writers to just ship her away offscreen and then dismiss her in a passing line of dialogue, just have Karen be like, “Oh, she moved away,” but instead she gets a nice little exit, and I appreciate that.
Our last big story this week is Abs on the boat. St. Claire still has her held captive on this rather lovely yacht that I would be pretty much fine with being held captive on. Like I mentioned in the last ep, security isn’t exactly tight on this boat, because at one point someone opens up a drawer and Abs glances over and, well wouldn’t you know it, there just happens to be a gun sitting in the drawer. You’d think maybe St. Claire would tie Abs up or perhaps, you know, not have a gun sitting unattended in a random drawer next to Abs, but whatever, St. Claire is a big bad guy and I can buy that there would be random guns lying around in any area in which he conducts business.
As with last ep, the boat is remaining docked because St. Claire is afraid of police interference if he tries to leave the area. He hatches a plan to get Greg over to the boat, with the idea being that no police road blocks (water blocks?) will stop them if they see this great potential future senator is on the boat. So, in typically wicked St. Claire style, he somehow manages to, like, get some checks that Sumner wrote him and attach them to the menus of the exact restaurant that Sumner is dining at with some random white dudes. Basically, Sumner opens up his menu, sees the check, and then he gets a phone call from St. Claire who asks, “Did you see the specials?” and then orders him to the pier in 45 minutes or less. He says it Sumner is not there soon, Abs dies. Honestly, I don’t think St. Claire will really kill Abs, but the threat works sufficiently to get Sumner driving over to the pier.
I like it when relatable real-world things end up getting in the way of all this soapy drama, and we have a good example in our next scene, in which Greg decides to run a red light only to be stopped by one of those awful bike cops. However, I will say this bike cop isn’t all that bad, actually. He pulls Greg over but he’s nice to him when he recognizes him and says how his brother is convinced he’s gonna be the president one day or something. Then he does Greg a favor by only citing him for speeding, not for running the red light, and he also only cites him for going forty. They shake hands and Greg is nice and thanks him and then returns to his car. This is one of those random scenes that played out completely differently than I remembered. In my mind, I thought this scene involved an altercation between Greg and the cop; I thought that Greg got nasty or sassy and wound up being held up longer because of his nasty attitude. Nope, instead they shake hands and are friendly and Greg goes on his way. Perhaps I’m thinking of some later episode where Greg gets into an argument with a cop; I guess we’ll see.
Greg reaches the boat and enters to find Abs, you know, just sorta sitting on the couch, hanging out. St. Claire is also there, of course, and he gives some vaguely threatening speech about how he could totally destroy Greg’s political career. At this point, Abs manages to get the gun by, um, opening that drawer and grabbing the unattended gun. Then she stands up and points it at St. Claire and Greg is like, “Give me the gun, Abs,” and then St. Claire is like, “No, give me the gun, Abs.” Well, Abs chooses to hand the gun over to Greg, who takes a moment to consider and then decides to just go ahead and shoot St. Claire in cold blood. This is all shot rather undramatically, as we have the gunshot and then an immediate cut to St. Claire lying on the ground, dead. One thing I will note (in a loving way) is how everyone who gets shot on this series seems to never bleed. We just watched Karen get shot by Laura Palmer’s mother, and in that case she elegantly fell to the ground with not a single drop of blood on her, and St. Claire is the same way. I’ve never shot someone to death (at least not yet), but I have the feeling that if you’re really standing at close range to someone and you plug a bullet into their belly, there would probably be some blood.
The death of St. Claire provides the ending for the episode, and I again note the terrific way that the writers manage to bring in new stories while finishing up the old stories all before anything manages to get boring. Back with the Chip saga, I said how I was barely about five minutes away from getting tired of that story, and at that precise moment, they killed off Chip and moved on to new affairs. The same is true here, because while I’ve greatly enjoyed Mark St. Claire’s white-collar crime style and all the scenes of him sitting in dark, smoke-filled rooms and making vague threats to people over the phone, I think if he had hung around much longer, he would have become boring. With typically great KL timing, the writers have Greg plug him with a bullet and the character is killed off before he has the chance to become uninteresting.
Okay, so that was a pretty loaded episode, wasn’t it? Yes, Calculated Risks had a lot going on, what with the exodus of Diana to New York, the introduction of Joshua to Seaview Circle, Karen’s Sophie’s Choice situation involving whether to have that risky surgery or not, Michael looking sexy, and finally the death of St. Claire. Busy busy busy. So how was the episode? Well, I thought it was great, duh! This was a tremendous step up from last episode and, in my opinion, nicely ditched that “premiere” feeling where we are mostly getting up to date on proceedings. Now I feel like we’re off to the races, with exciting stuff happening and old storylines finishing up as we also introduce our new stories for the season. Join me next time as we watch these stories continue to grow with Hanging Fire.