Episode Title: A Little Help
Season 06, Episode 04
Episode 104 of 344
Written by Diana Kopald Marcus
Directed by Robert Becker
Original Airdate: Thursday, November 1st, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby gives a press conference on behalf of Greg. Afterwards Greg tells her he will never work with her again. Mad, Abby asks a reporter at the cable station to dig up the medical history of Greg's opponent, Bob Caufield. He finds out that Caufield had been in a psychiatric hospital. Abby overrides Ben and runs the story, and Ben is livid. Greg tells Abby that he will wring the neck of whoever leaked it. Abby smiles and tells him that HE leaked it. Cathy invites Joshua to hear her sing. Val convinces Lilimae to tell Joshua that she is his mother. Lilimae does, and Joshua, upset and angry, walks out. Val talks to him about how Lilimae abandoned her, too, but if he's willing to give her a chance, he'll find out she's a beautiful woman. Joshua decides to stay.
When we last left off, the writers had wisely realized that if they drew out the Mark St. Claire storyline too much longer, it would threaten to become uninteresting, so they had Greg shoot him to death on his boat two eps ago. Last ep, we saw Greg explain to Abs why he needs her support and he needs her to give a public press conference in which she makes it clear that Greg was saving her life. After some pleading, Abs agreed and that takes us nicely into the very first scene of A Little Help, which actually starts out in a tremendously exciting and cinematic way, with lots of rapid cuts to cameras going off or being loaded with film, to lights being prepared, stuff like that. You could easily just start the show out with the press conference already in progress, or with some boring stock establishing shot of people getting ready to hear Abs speak, but instead we start the ep in a way that feels like it’s from a movie and that immediately gets the audience excited to keep watching.
Now might be a good time to mention the director of this particular KL ep, Robert Becker. Considering what a brilliant start to the episode he presents us with, I felt bad that I’ve neglected to mention this director more, especially since I get so excited and have heart palpitations every time Larry Elikann or Bill “Cooke” Duke show up behind the camera, but then I took a peek at his IMDb and realized that he’s only directed two eps prior to this one (A Change of Heart and High Ideals, both from season five), but he’s also going to direct twelve more eps after this one, going as late as 1992 and the episode Fair Warning, so I’ll try to keep my eyes open for his name whenever it pops up and see what kind of cool, unique directorial flair he brings to his eps.
Okay, so this press conference goes off fairly smoothly, with Abs telling everybody how her life was in jeopardy and Greg Sumner is the hero who came to her rescue and saved the day singlehandedly by wrestling the gun out of St. Claire’s hand and then killing him in self defense. The majority of the press seem to eat this story up with a spoon, but Ben is lurking in the shadows and not swallowing it quite so easily. He brings up the fact that St. Claire doesn’t need to carry a gun; that he has people hired all around him to function as his guns (where all of these hired guns were when Greg and Abs just, um, walked off the boat at the start of our previous ep remains a bit of a mystery). Oh yeah, and while we’re on the subject of Ben, I regret to inform you all that his cool little beard has now gone bye bye. I was impressed by the continuity when we leapt from season five finale to season six premiere and saw that Ben’s stubble remained exactly the same (unlike Abby’s magically restyled hair), and I was even more impressed when the stubble held on for a few more eps, but it’s officially gone now and both My Beloved Grammy and myself miss it. I didn’t really think about it until she brought it up upon our last visit and said how much she preferred bearded Ben, but I’ve decided so do I, and I’m not generally a beard guy. Ben’s beard made him look tougher or cooler or something, I dunno, and it’s gonna take me awhile (meaning basically just this one episode) to get over the loss of his beard, especially since I’m almost certain it never returns to the series, despite many letter writing campaigns from fans demanding the return of Ben’s beard.
Oh yeah, and what of Ben at this point in the series? I feel like I’ve been slacking the last few eps on keeping abreast of what’s going on in Ben’s life, but he is a busy boy this week and so he deserves discussion, especially with his recent promotion in my eyes from a character I never really thought twice about to a character I’m starting to greatly appreciate. I neglected to mention a fairly important plot development last week, but that’s okay cuz I’m mentioning it now, and that is the fact that Gary has bought Ben’s little news station. Now, Ben himself isn’t aware of this at first and even Abs doesn’t know that the news station Gary buys is specifically the one that Ben works for, so this week when Ben and Abs happen to run into each other at the station and she’s all like, “Oh yeah, I own this company now,” both characters a bit surprised to see each other.
Abs and Ben are linked close this week, sharing a pretty good storyline involving Sumner’s political opponent, Bob Caulfield. See, Abs does something this week which I’m not entirely clear on the motivation behind. She hears some whisperings that Caulfield has something mysterious and shady in his medical history, so she hires some lackey to do a bit of digging and find out the truth. After about five minutes, the lackey returns with the fact that Caulfield spent a period of several months in an institution back in the ‘60s after suffering some sort of mental breakdown. Oooh, how scandalous! What links her and Ben is that she wants to run this story right away, this very moment, without a single minute’s wait, while Ben wants to do the right thing and present this information to Caulfield, inform him that they have obtained this information, ask him if it’s true, and then give him a warning in advance before they do so.
God, what a guy. It’s stuff like this that’s igniting a newfound appreciation for the Ben character. It sounds super boring when you say it, but I love it when characters in TV shows are super duper morally just and ethical (and I of course love the exact opposite, which is why I love characters like J.R. or Abs), but I especially love that when the characters manage to be morally just and ethical and yet not boring; that’s the real trick. There have been plenty of boring, shitty shows about people being good people, and usually they are impossible to sit through (or they’re absolutely 100% awful and some of the worst excuses for art ever made, and yet they manage to become fascinating and hold a sway over my life, such as the gloriously demented 7th Heaven), but it’s a real talent when you can keep your good, moral characters managing to be interesting. In this case, I respect Ben for being a true reporter and for striving to report the news in a fair and ethical way.
In any case, Ben goes out to see Caulfield and presents him with the documents and asks if the information in them is true. Caulfield says it’s definitely true, but that it was such a blip on his radar nearly twenty years ago that he had somewhat forgotten all about it. Ben promises Caulfield time to break the news himself before his station does it, but then two seconds later a guy comes over to Caulfield and tells him that the story already ran. We all know what that means, and so does Ben, which leads us to our next scene in which he is damn mad. He arrives fuming at the station and starts packing up his shit. He says how he’s going to announce to Abs that he’s leaving, but then he just sorta storms off and says something about how she’ll figure it out herself.
On the Abs front, I do have to ask why exactly she is doing this. I honestly don’t know if she’s trying to do Greg a favor (the title of the episode is A Little Help, after all), or if she’s doing it for duplicitous reasons. On the one hand, after giving that big press statement and exonerating Greg, she doesn’t really owe him another favor, does she? Or is she doing this as a second favor to then say, “Okay, you saved my life, then I gave that press conference, so we were even, but now I’ve done you one extra favor, so you owe me one more”? I feel like it might be that, and I’m also sure it’s not nearly so complicated as I’m making it sound and that my confusion is just a result of my own stupid brain (there was no drinking upon this visit; I can assure you).
Enough about Abs and Ben and Pacific World News or whatever it’s called (I’m pretty sure I’m correct); what’s going on with Karen and Laura? Happily, after a long year of the two being not-exactly-friends, the friendship is reignited, and can I just say what sheer joy flooded my soul as I watched this? It’s also so gloriously simple in the greatest KL way. There’s no big fanfare or epic speeches; instead Laura just pays Karen a visit and gives a real sincere apology for the way things went down in the last year and the two forgive each other and hug and say it’s nice to see each other again and there you go. I know some people might prefer this to be drawn out a little longer, maybe for the two to stay a little uncomfortable with each other for awhile, but I think it’s just perfect. In real life, friendships can die unexpectedly but they can also come back just as unexpectedly and suddenly, so this had a nice ring of truth to it.
I also wanna stress that I appreciate Laura not being vilified. I love how the writers managed to have her do some pretty duplicitous things throughout the course of the fifth season, yet now as we start the sixth season, we don’t feel that she’s an evil or immoral or irredeemable character. She got greedy, wanted “her piece of the pie,” screwed up, made a mistake, she admits it, now Karen is ready to forgive her and they can all move on. I feel like on another show, the writers would present this as a “Laura is turning EVIL!” storyline, but it’s much more realistic on KL and done in a way that keeps us feeling relatable towards Laura. That’s some skilled writing and planning. However, I do also wonder if Karen’s forgiveness of Laura stems from the recent news she received from her doctor. Indeed, that recent news comes up in a big way later on in this ep.
See, that heartfelt reunion with Laura is not all Karen does this week, because she also makes a very abrupt and surprising announcement to Gary, that being the little fact that she’s dying. Wow, now this I did not remember at all and I’m eager to see where this leads us. In my memory, Karen’s little season six bout with near death remained pretty much private and known only to her for a good chunk of the season, but nope, I’ve again misremembered. This scene is also mondo touching and hits you when you’re least expecting it. See, Gary and Karen are walking around Lotus Point (we finally get a little tour of this development as we see Gary, ever the environmentalist, proudly showing Karen the stream he didn’t have to divert which he has running right through the main lobby), having a little argument about something or other. Actually, if I’m remembering this correctly, it’s an argument about some project Gary wants done, and how Gary thinks it can be done in two years but Karen is pushing for it to done in less than one year, for reasons that we know but might not make sense to another person. Her and Gary have this little argument, and it’s not violent or a great big epic fight or anything like that, but they fight a bit and then, as Gary is walking away, Karen calls him back and then just flatly states, “I’m dying.” See what I mean about a gut punch? And then the scene turns extra dramatic and touching because she starts crying and Gary hugs her and she cries on his shoulder.
Oh wow, let’s just go back to 1984-1985 and give Shack and Michele some Emmys, shall we? In fact, let’s add this season six Emmy to the one next to Michele’s season three Emmy that only exists within the alternate reality that fills my head. This scene is just great and, sorry to repeat myself, but it again is done in that perfectly realistic KL way. No big music flares or anything, nor does Gary GASP with a big shocked reaction. Instead, Karen just puts it all right out there on the table and Gary looks surprised and concerned and they hug and it’s just glorious. Reflecting on a scene this good, it also makes me reflect on the fact that we’ve now officially crossed the 100 episode mark and are at the point where the characters are really and truly starting to feel like real people and my own real friends (I realize how sad and pathetic I sound saying that, much like all those people with no real life friends who would say, “I feel like all the characters on Friends are my friends!"). Especially with characters like Karen and Gary, who have been around since the very first episode and will be around until the very last episode, we have now spent five years and 103 episodes watching them know each other and be close to each other and love each other. I definitely feel like we’re entering a new era for the show in which all that rich past history established in previous seasons really starts to pay off as we feel nice and comfortable with our whole cast of characters.
Why don’t I remember this development at all? Obviously the easy answer is that there are 344 episodes and I’ve only watched the series once and it’s hard to remember all the details (and, of course, there’s the vodka I consumed so regularly during my college days). I’m pleased with this development, however, and glad that Karen decided to tell somebody about her medical crisis, especially since she’s still shutting out Mack and, based on my memories, will probably keep shutting him out for another ten episodes or so. Why she chooses to tell Gary the truth and nobody else is up for debate, but I honestly think it might be a heat-of-the-moment thing, and I think it’s very important that the two are having a little argument when she tells him. I feel like Gary’s walking away from her and Karen realizes that she will be dead in a year and she thinks to herself how she doesn’t want to have fights and arguments with someone she loves, like Gary, and then I think in the heat of that emotion she just goes and blurts it out.
If we’re going to give Shack and Michele some incredibly belated Emmys, then I think it’s time we also give one to Julie Harris (although I would argue she probably deserves an Emmy for every season that she’s been a main player on the show) and maybe even Alec Baldwin, too, because A Little Help continues to gloriously explore this relationship and provides some really fabulous scenes between the two, one a comfortably established character and one a brand new arrival to the block. Last week we established, via that bizarre crib superstition, that Lilimae is indeed Joshua’s real mother. This week, thanks to some gentle prodding from Val, Lilimae decides to do the right thing and tell Joshua the truth. Needless to say, he doesn’t take it too well, and disappears out of the house for the rest of the episode to wander the beach and go visit with Cathy. It’s not hard to blame him, and I again stress how sympathetic I’m feeling for Joshua and how innocently and sweetly Baldwin plays him. This poor young guy’s lived such a small, sheltered life, only really knowing his papa (loveable old papa who used to beat him black and blue, you’ll all remember) and the congregation and whoever went to their church (not to throw clichés around, but I’m willing to bet that all the devout Baptists of Jonathan’s congregation were not exactly open-minded, tolerant, fun-loving party animals who were super joyful to be around), never even leaving his little town until this recent trip to California. Now he finds out that his mother, a woman he has thought to be dead since he was a little baby, is actually alive and is actually Lilimae, the woman he thought was his aunt. My head would be all turned around, too, and I’d probably go walk on the beach just like he does.
Amazing how even a scene as simple as Joshua taking a walk on the beach still manages to captivate my attention and leave me drooling and staring at the TV screen like the Nazis opening the ark of the covenant at the end of Raiders. Even though nothing actually happens in this scene, I’m just enthralled, and I love how so much is said without actually saying anything at all. We just watch Joshua, looking sad and forlorn as well as decidedly out of place, walking along with his arms crossed, his head down, not looking at anyone around him. I also like how the beach is so crowded in this instance, with lots of people in bathing suits hanging out and having a good time, only helping to make this fully clothed, shy looking man stand out even more. I also think I’m gonna finally have to renege on something I said way back when My Beloved Grammy and I were still making out way through season one. Back then, I said something about how the beach seemed to figure much more prominently in the first two or three seasons of the show and then it became less of a character. Well, I think that’s actually not true, because the beach has remained this perpetual extra cast member pretty much since day one and all the way up to this point. Who could forget Ciji’s poor dead body washing ashore, for instance? Or Gary finding her dead body the next morning? Or hey, how about The Beach House? Obviously you can’t have The Beach House without, you know, the beach. Now here we are in season six and the beach is still being featured heavily, so I officially take back what I said way back when.
When we hit our next scene with Joshua, it also involves Cathy and, I’m not gonna lie, a little bit of precum probably came out into my pants. Why? Well, duh, it’s because Cathy is singing. Yes, thank God and Allah and Mohammad and whoever the hell everyone else worships, because the singing is officially back and I love it and I couldn’t be more excited about it. See, in either our last episode or maybe the episode right before that, Cathy told Laura that she had gotten a new job singing at Isadora’s, a bar that we have not seen on the series prior to this point. When I heard her announcement, I perked up and was like, “Oh yes, it can’t be much longer until we hear her singing again.” You all know how much I love listening to Lisa sing, you all know that I proudly own a vinyl copy of her Letterock album (with the B side warped, but what are you gonna do?), you all know how much I loved Ciji’s constant singing back in season four, and you all know that one of my only beefs with season five was lack of Lisa singing. Here, however, Joshua timidly enters Isadora’s while Cathy and her band are in the middle of a fantastic cover of I Can Dream About You (which, like all of her covers, winds up far surpassing the quality of the original version). Joshua watches and yearns and probably has some confused feelings about why the quality of this music is so much better than whatever shitty church music he’s used to hearing, and then after the song is over, Cathy comes down to visit with him.
Can I just say what great chemistry these two have? Can I just say how adorable they are? Can I just say how much I love watching them interact onscreen? What utter cuteness Joshua and Cathy are! Joshua’s discomfort with being in a bar also adds some major cuteness points, as Cathy is looking all cool and casual and ‘80s and he’s sorta looking around the bar and is like, “I’ve never been in a place like this before.” I imagine Joshua’s never even tasted a beer before, let alone tasted a beer in an establishment in which you can also listen to fabulous ladies sing fabulous cover songs. You can also sense that Cathy is charmed by Joshua’s innocence, much as I am. Now, I’ve had relationships with somewhat, um, repressed people, and you can take my word for it that it pretty much never works out, but it’s definitely fun in the early stages when you realize that this person that you’re interested in has never tasted a beer or had sex or danced or sang or, you know, all the stuff that normal human people like to do. At a certain point you usually realize that the repressed person has no intention of becoming unrepressed and eventually their stupid little hang-ups about stuff like sex and nudity just become grating, but it’s sure fun for a little while.
Joshua and Cathy sit at the bar (neither drink, however, though I’ll pay attention in the future to see if Joshua ever indulges) and he discusses his future plans. This is a very strange thing for me to be blanking on, but I honestly can’t remember if he fills her in on all the details of Lilimae being his real mother. I think he does, but I’m not completely certain, so sue me. Anyway, he tells Cathy how he’s thinking of heading off to the most exciting place in the entire world, Salt Lake City, to party hard and get down with some really wild people. Cathy just sorta listens and doesn’t really try to encourage his decision in either way, but Joshua does boldly declare that he’s never going back to Val and Lilimae’s again. My God, this character is just way too interesting to leave for boring ass Utah so quickly, so we should consider ourselves very grateful that Lilimae manages to track him down to the bus station and plead for him to stay. Again, I can’t remember the exact contents of the scene except that both characters are super interesting and both actors are super amazing and it takes a minute for Lilimae to sway him but finally she says, “Your name was just added to the scrolling squares, so you can’t leave yet!” With that in mind, Joshua decides to stay, and thank God, by the way, because I’m already in love with this character and I know that I’m in love with every storyline this character gets involved with, as well, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see him quietly shipped away on a bus so quickly.
This actually unfolds into a larger point I was going to make, yet another in my endless supply of “Why KL is so much better than Dallas” arguments, and that is the amazingly organic way that they are able to introduce new characters to the proceedings, most specifically new family members. See, for all intents and purposes this whole thing should really feel a lot stranger than it does. In most shows, introducing some long-lost and never-mentioned-before son to proceedings in episode 102 would not generally play out that well; it would probably seem like the writers stretching credibility for the sake of a new face in the cast. Think of every single fucking time that Dallas would bring in some new and incredibly uninteresting long-lost Ewing character to proceedings (oh look, it’s Jamie Ewing, the boring as fuck daughter of Jason Ewing, and we haven’t mentioned Jamie or Jason once in any of the previous seven seasons!). Why, then, does it work so tremendously well on KL? I think it all comes down to the characters, the acting, and the writing. It’s the fact that none of this feels inorganic; it all works very well for what we know of Lilimae and her fairly wild young life. I feel like if this was Dallas, Joshua would just sorta show up and Lilimae would be like, “Oh yeah, that’s my son; have I never mentioned him before?” Instead, the fact that she has kept this a secret for so many years is playing into the story in a very real way, and the characters are just so damn interesting to watch together.
I love KL and I loved this episode. I feel like I need to just end this right away because if I don’t, I’ll just keep writing about the sheer joy that is watching KL and that was watching this episode. We’re only four episodes deep, we haven’t even started to get to the real meat of season six (that being the television storytelling masterpiece that is Val’s babies), and yet I’m already over the moon about this year. Despite being at the start and what will probably wind up being the weakest portion of the season, I already think it’s clear that this is the best season. It’s the fact that we’re so comfortably established in this world, we’ve got such a terrific cast of characters by this juncture (when all is said and done, I have a feeling that I’ll declare the season six cast roster as the best of the entire series run), the writing is so damn good, the stories are so gripping, and it’s just the fucking greatest feeling every time you dive into this world and explore a new episode. I just fucking love this show and I fucking love this episode and I love everything KL is and everything KL represents to my entire world and I just felt like dropping all my academic and snooty criticism for a little while just to shout out, “I FUCKING LOVE THIS SHOW.”
Alright, so that was A Little Help. Our next episode provided the final episode of a disk for My Beloved Grammy and I, leaving us with many exciting cliffhangers and developments, so let’s just move right along to that particular ep, which is called Ipso Facto.