Episode Title: Hanging Fire
Season 06, Episode 03
Episode 103 of 344
Written by Alan Goldfein
Directed by Alexander Singer
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 25th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Greg tells the police that he shot St. Claire because he had a gun and was about to shoot Abby. Abby concurs. Greg asks Abby to make a public statement on his behalf. Gary buys the cable station Ben works at. Gary takes Abby back, but says he's taking control of the business, and it will now be run honestly and fairly. He says he had Lotus Point redesigned to fit into the environment and that Karen will be an equal partner. Gary tells Cathy he loves Abby, but hopes they can remain friends. Val figures out that Lilimae is Joshua's mother. Lilimae tells her that she was never married to Joshua's father Jonathan. She stayed with him for a year after Joshua was born and tried to be a good mother. She doesn't know how to tell Joshua that she is his mother.
Our last episode, Calculated Risks, quite literally ended with a bang as Greg Sumner finally decided to put a bullet in Mark St. Claire and finish that character and that storyline. As we pick up with Hanging Fire, we can see that Greg is going to have to tread lightly when it comes to handling this topic. After all, he’s still a big shot political figure who wants to become a senator, and generally people don’t look too kindly on their senators murdering people in cold blood on boats.
We pick up Hanging Fire about two seconds after Calculated Risks ended, opening on Greg and Abs getting off the boat and Gary and Abs finally reuniting and joyfully hugging each other, which I greatly enjoyed. However, I do find it a little odd that Greg and Abs just sorta, you know, walk off the boat. Was St. Claire not surrounded by a bunch of lackeys and henchmen who lived to serve his every need? Where did all those guys go? I know we didn’t get all that much boat action last week, but whenever we did get over to St. Claire on the boat, there was always at least one or two other people around with him, making sure Abs didn’t get away. How, then, was Greg able to kill St. Claire and just walk casually off the boat? Perhaps it’s the thing where, by cutting off the snake’s head, you effectively kill the entire body, like St. Claire is the head of the snake and all the henchmen are the body; now that their boss is dead, they may very well have no interest in the affairs of Greg or Abs.
A little later into the episode, we have a great camp scene that made both My Beloved Grammy and myself laugh aloud, and that is Abs lying in bed, thrashing around and screaming out as if she’s having the most terrifying nightmare of all time. Look, I know it sucks to be kidnapped in any regard, but she was kidnapped for about five minutes, and during those five minutes, she mostly spent her time sitting on a nice cushy sofa on a real nice boat parked in a yacht. St. Claire didn’t beat her or threaten her or rape her or anything like that; basically she just hung out on the boat for awhile until she found that gun so carefully stashed away in that drawer. The idea that she is now experiencing P.T.S.D. flashbacks to this terrifying afternoon on the boat is just hilarious to me. Even so, this whole kidnapping incident provides the impetus for Gary and Abs to get back together, something I didn’t entirely remember. See, sometimes I can remember the incidents and storylines from the series clear as day, and sometimes things sorta blur together. In this instance, the exact length of time that Gary and Abs stay together is still a blur to me; when we reached So Shall You Reap and he threw her off the ranch, I actually kinda thought that was the real end of it, because I couldn’t remember if or when Gary forgave her and took her back into his life. Well, turns out it’s right here, following her terrifying ordeal on the boat.
It’d be easy to dismiss Gary as a fool for allowing Abs back into his life, but we actually get some fabulous stuff this week that makes it pretty clear that Gary’s no fool. See, after Abs has been safely rescued from the boat, she and Gary are taking a walk around Westfork and discussing Lotus Point and the future. Gary announces that he’s going to be running things from now on and there’s going to be a strict focus on environmental friendliness and all that good stuff. He says something about how what happened before is partially his fault because he sat back and let Abs handle everything when he should have been actively involved. Next up, he delivers the real kick in the nuts to Abs, which comes when he announces, “I want you to meet your new partner,” just as our lovely Karen comes walking into the scene, right on cue to create drama between Gary and Abs.
After Abs sees who she’s going to have to be working with, she storms into the house and Gary follows her and the two have a talk. This is the scene I really wanted to discuss, in which we realize that Gary is definitely seeing clearly by this point. See, Abs says something like, “Shouldn’t you trust me?” and Gary laughs at her, which I found delightful, and then says, “I love you; I don’t trust you.” That’s it, that’s the line, that shows us that Gary is no longer a fool and he sees the woman he’s involved with for who she is and he’s smart enough to know what she’ll do if he gives her the power. I also just love the way he laughs, because it’s not in a malicious way or like he’s trying to hurt her feelings, but rather that he’s just amused by her question, amused by the very idea that he could just blindly trust her. And what of this ‘love’ business, by the way? Does Gary really love Abs? How can he love Abs when his true soul mate is Valene? Well, I’ve gone on in the past about how I think you can love more than one person, just the way that I think Val loves both Gary and Ben. I don’t think Gary loves Abs with the same soul-crushing intensity that his love for Val brings out, but he does love her, just the same. I also want to make special mention of this scene because I actually saw it on YouTube out of context a long time ago and it’s what lead me to pursue finishing KL after watching the first two seasons on DVD and being underwhelmed. I remember watching this scene of Abs and Gary sorta fighting and, even without any understanding of what was going on around them at this juncture, I saw this and I thought, “Yes.” Everything looked so much more exciting than those first two seasons, and Abby’s hair was obviously a big selling point for me when I first saw this clip. So excited was I by this brief little scene that, upon viewing it, I began to make efforts to procure the post season two years of KL.
Even though Karen’s keeping busy by going to work for Gary at Lotus Point, she’s still got plenty of other things going on in her life, like the whole dying thing and the way it’s ruining her relationship with her great husband, Mack. Oh, poor, poor Mack; I just want to climb into the TV set and hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. In this ep, we have a scene displaying both characters sitting alone in bed (or “in couch,” in the case of Mack, who has been spending his nights at Ben’s Plant House), clearly thinking about each other. Mack picks up the phone and decides to give Karen a call, prompting a scene that reminds me of all the yearning we typically get from Gary and Val. In this instance, I absolutely want both of these characters to work it out with each other, to patch things up and make peace, but just as the writers dangle a little carrot of hope in front of me, they then take it away. See, the two are having a nice conversation on the phone, being pleasant, but after the ice has been broken a bit and Mack says how he thinks they should go out for dinner the next night, Karen gets stern and says, “No, the marriage is over.” Oh God, it hurts.
Can I just take a pause to say that these characters are soooooooo interesting? I feel like I might say that a lot, but damn, is it not true? Even back in the early years, when the eps were a little more inconsistent and you would be randomly assaulted with eps like Land of the Free or Man of the Hour or Silver Shadows, the characters were still super interesting. Now that the show has officially morphed into the greatest artistic achievement in television all around them, the characters have only gotten better. Also, and I feel like this might have something to do with passing the 100 episode mark, but now I’m really starting to feel as if I know these characters, as if they’re real people, as if they’re old friends. This entire storyline with Karen potentially dying and her relationship with Mack disintegrating could be a boring snore; it could be like Mike and Susan on Desperate Housewives (remember them? No? Exactly), where the writers are just trying to keep the couple apart and we the viewers are supposed to want them together. However, this just all plays as so real, like both characters are real people who I love and understand. Karen doesn’t want Mack to take her back only for her to die within a year, while meanwhile Mack can’t completely understand why his wife continues to shut him out all the time and it’s starting to eat away at him. Yeah, it hurts to watch because I love the characters so much, but it’s great drama and great writing and really great acting.
Meanwhile, Cathy and Laura continue to seem like they might become lesbians with each other, even though I’m fairly positive no such thing ever happens. Again, I’m sorry if I keep bringing it up, but it’s because I just have no memory of this. I remember lesbian undertones for Laura and Ciji, but not Laura and Cathy, and yet as we start Hanging Fire, the two are getting especially cozy and now Cathy has moved into Laura’s house, something else that completely slipped my memory. I bring this up a lot because, realistically, I find it hard to believe that Laura could have lesbian feelings for Ciji and then not have those exact same feelings for Ciji’s exact freaking twin double, Cathy. So maybe Cathy isn’t having any lesbian thoughts, but I just feel like those thoughts are still creeping around in the back of Laura’s brain, especially since, at this juncture, having chosen to split from Greg for the time being, she is now a single woman, ready to mingle.
However, it doesn’t look like there is going to be any muff diving this week on KL, mostly because all the evidence suggests to me that Cathy is a fairly staunch heterosexual woman. In this ep, she has some good scenes with both Gary, sorta ending a relationship, and then Joshua, sorta beginning a new relationship. First she pays Gary a visit up at Westfork and is a bit dismayed to see that Abs has returned to living on the ranch. Gary explains that he loves Abs and that they’re going to try and make it work by living together again. Cathy gets rather naked here (emotionally naked, not literally naked) and asks Gary, “What was I to you?” Gary answers with, “What I hope you still are, a good friend.” I can respect his answer; I actually think that, even when he and Cathy were actively sleeping together (which was very brief in the grand scheme of things), she was his friend first. I think Gary looked at her as someone to ride horses and explore the land with; the fact that the two also had sex a few times is almost secondary to the friendship part.
Later on, Cathy meets up with Joshua, who is relaxing on the porch and looking out at a peaceful night on the cul-de-sac. Ah, how wonderfully exciting and cute it is to see these two interact for the first time. I don’t mean to immediately get into spoiler territory, but based on the way things unfold over the next year, it’s easy to forget how sweet and adorable Joshua and Cathy are upon first interacting with each other. See, he’s making some sort of cool duck sound with his hands, and then Cathy comes to sit with him and asks him how he made that sound, and then the scene proceeds forward with the two talking a bit about their lives, beginning a fascinating relationship that we shall continue exploring well into the next season.
Joshua himself is not having the best of days either, by the way. Can I just say that I actually feel rather sorry for him right now? Even though Baldwin usually drips with a certain slimy charm in all his roles, at this point Joshua is just so pure and innocent and gentle; watching Lilimae tell him last ep that his mom was a tramp who is better off dead really made me feel sorry for the poor guy, a feeling which continues this week. After all, Joshua only has three living relatives in the whole world, his papa (who likes to beat him black and blue, as you’ll recall, so he’s hardly winning any father of the year awards), Val, and Lilimae. He has come out to California to try and forge some new connection with these people, and while Val is being nice and sweet with him, Lilimae is having none of it, and I imagine it would hurt to take all that effort to go out and meet someone only to have them shut you out. So let’s just get right to the point, shall we? Joshua is obviously Lilimae’s son, and I feel like most viewers could probably call that plot development well before it occurs, pretty much from the moment he shows up at Val’s doorstep. For these first two eps featuring Joshua, My Beloved Grammy has seemed convinced that he’s in California for some sort of revenge against Val and/or Lilimae, that he has duplicitous motives. This could be due to the fact that the last random stranger to show up and start living with Val and Lilimae was, well, Chip, so I understand My Beloved Grammy’s suspicions, but I also think they softened throughout this ep as we get to learn more about him and his true relation to Lilimae. I appreciate the fact that the writers don’t draw out the surprise of Lilimae being Joshua’s mother for ten or twenty episodes the way they would do it over on Dallas. Instead, we get confirmation right here in this ep via a nice bit of superstitious back story. See, Val is all busy getting things prepped and ready for the arrival of the babies, and she and Joshua wind up discussing the topic of cribs. Joshua tells Val that his mother had a superstition about cribs being bad luck for babies, so little baby Joshua slept in a sink full of pillows. As soon as we hear this insight, it’s pretty clear that it’s going to come back a little later in the ep to reveal a shocking secret.
It may be a smidge of convenient writing, but I’ll forgive it since I love KL and since we are currently watching a show at the peak of its creative powers and I’m not gonna complain about some slightly convenient writing, but anyway, it just so happens that on the exact same day that Joshua brings up his sleeping-in-a-sink-full-of-pillows memory, Val and Lilimae also get to talking about cribs and Lilimae says, “It is my firm belief that cribs bring bad luck.” Well, as soon as Val hears this little insight, she is able to put two and two together and figure out what’s really going on around here. I do have to ask, however, if Lilimae also raised Val sleeping in a sink full of pillows. This seems like the kind of superstition you don’t just lose one day, so don’t you think she probably did the same thing with Val? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t Val have probably heard this story a time or two beforehand?
In any case, Lilimae doesn’t tell Joshua the truth until our next ep, but this ep does provide some helpful backstory so that we understand exactly how Lilimae could wind up having another kid. It helps that Lilimae’s entire backstory is so draped in excitement and wild adventures. Since she was always travelling around from place to place, it’s believable that there would be gaps in her past history or different events that she doesn’t discuss with others. In the case of Joshua, we learn that she was seeing some preacher guy named Jonathan way back when and she got pregnant out of wedlock by this preacher (how scandalous!). The two never officially got married, but they carried on as if they were man and wife and she helped him run his congregation and then she had baby Joshua. We learn that after a year of trying to be a good mother, Lilimae simply couldn’t handle it and so she took off and went on to whatever adventures lie in her future (in addition to Gary and Val: The Lost Years 1962-1978, I’m also starting to really think that a Lilimae prequel series could make a stunning TV show, and obviously the title of it would be Nashville Junction).
I’ve probably said something like this before, but it’s a real testament to the inherent sweetness Julie Harris brings to her character that Lilimae doesn’t just come off as reprehensible most of the time. When you write out on paper all the stuff Lilimae has done, she sounds like kind of a shitty person. After all, we all remember the early days when we first met Lilimae in a guest spot in Will the Circle Be Unbroken? In that ep, we learned about how young mother Valene came running to Lilimae for help with baby Lucy in her arms, J.R.’s good old boys hot on her tail. When she found her mother and begged her to protect the baby, Lilimae refused, citing the fact that some (probably imaginary) big record producer was in the house visiting with her and couldn’t know that she’s a grandma. Thanks to Lilimae’s selfishness, baby Lucy was taken away from Val and was raised as part of the cast of a less good show. So yeah, that was some pretty shitty behavior, but now we learn that she also abandoned her pseudo-husband and her new son after a year of trying to make it work. However, there’s some indefinable special quality that Julie Harris brings to proceedings which makes it hard or impossible to judge her because we see her now as an older and wiser woman who has lived a long life and made some decisions that she regrets. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone else playing this character and making her work so well and remain likable despite all we know about her past history (I’m obviously speaking for myself right now; at this exact point My Beloved Grammy is still not a Lilimae fan and I’m starting to doubt she ever will be).
Oh yeah, and even if the actors aren’t always necessarily playing their real life ages when they play their characters, I still like to know how old the actors are so I can use it to gauge the characters. Alec Baldwin was born on April 3rd, 1958, which would put him at 26 years old right here (that’s how old I am, and I’m not on a hit show yet…) whereas Julie Harris was born December 2nd, 1925, putting her at almost 59 years old here, 33 years older than Baldwin. Of course, the characters could be slightly different ages than the actors. I get the feeling that Joshua is supposed to be a little younger than 26 (maybe 21 or 22?) and I also get the feeling that Lilmae is meant to be a little younger than 59, like maybe 53 of 54. In any case, even though I don’t think the exact ages are stated and we don’t know precisely how old Lilimae was when Joshua was born, we can imagine that she was a young mother and that she was probably unprepared for all the responsibilities.
Oh yeah, and one other thing to note: It’s hard to feel too judgmental of Lilimae because, even before we meet the character, we’re definitely getting the sense that this Jonathan guy was something of a scary asshole. During the entire first disk of season six, I was convinced we were going to meet this character on this disk, but apparently I’ll have to wait until the next one, because we don’t see him yet. However, we get enough cryptic little mentions of his name, and we get Joshua’s “black and blue” story, and a little later we hear a story from Lilimae about how Jonathan humiliated the choir she was working with and made them feel worthless, so we definitely get the sense that this isn’t exactly a great dude. While I’m on the subject, I might as well insult religion a little bit before I move on. Suffice it to say that, while I do believe in a God above us, I am not a religious person and will probably never ever go to church (us gays have a weird relationship with religion, don’t you know), I have always found churches tremendously creepy and as a child would never ever go inside of one, and I tend to think of most religion as this scary and oppressive thing that sucks all the joy out of life. Certainly, we are already getting that sense from this off-screen Jonathan character, and we get the feeling that he instilled a lot of fear and shame into Joshua, something we are going to see further explored as we move along through the season.
This episode ends on a more mellow note than our last three or four eps. Instead of ending on Karen getting shot or on a pronouncement from the doctor that she’ll be dead within one year or on Mark St. Claire finally taking a bullet in the chest, we instead end on a conversation between Greg and Abs, who meet up at some parking lot somewhere to talk about the state of affairs. See, Greg is walking a tight rope now because he shot a man to death; he needs the public to believe he was only doing it in the interest of protecting Abs from this evil man, so he needs Abs to go along with the story and say that Greg is a hero. At first, Abs doesn’t want to do it, but Greg manages to convince her that they’d be better off working together and helping each other out and we end on a freeze frame (rare; I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve had the freeze frame ending) or Abby’s smirking face and that concludes Hanging Fire.
Wow, I really found a lot to say about this episode, a lot more than I would have originally expected. While I don’t think this was my favorite episode of that entire disk we watched (which spans Buying Time through Ipso Facto), I think it was the best of the first three eps of the season and really shows a ton of fascinating character stuff. I love how the show can introduce a new character like Joshua and, after just two eps with him, I feel like he’s an established part of the cast and an important part of the series and equally as interesting as anyone else in the cast. I also admire the skill of the writers who are able to always keep things moving, to finish up the old stories before they can become boring and to move in the new stories in a way that’s organic, making us feel like things are always developing and changing right in front of us.
Continuing on from our episode ending, we shall see Abs giving Greg that little help he needs in our next episode, appropriate titled A Little Help.