Episode Title: Tomorrow Never Knows
Season 06, Episode 08
Episode 108 of 344
Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum
Directed by Nick Havigna
Original Airdate: Thursday, November 29th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen and Mack talk, but she doesn't tell him she's dying. Scott Easton calls Abby and says he has negotiated Lotus Point's water rights with Paul Galveston, and to expect a bonus within the next few days as a "thank you." Ben is away on a story. Val has pains all day, and Dr. Ackerman tells her to take more pills. Home alone, she goes into labor. Michael and Eric take her to the hospital. They call Gary, who immediately leaves, angering Abby. Ackerman tells Val he's going to put her under anesthesia. She protests but he says there are complications. Everything goes fuzzy for Val. She gives birth, sees the babies, and hears them cry. She hears the nurse say that the babies are healthy. Val wakes up, and Ackerman tells her that the babies were stillborn. Val insists that she saw and heard them, but Ackerman says her mind was playing tricks on her because she was under sedation. Gary calls Abby to tell her that the babies are dead. Abby is genuinely concerned. Then Abby receives a call from a man who tells her he will need the blood type of the babies' father, and he'll be in touch with her later.
I hope my dear readers don’t mind when I continually blow my wad right away by starting my little essays with, “My God, what a work of profound genius this ep is!” I only say that because I’m about to do it right now, so deal with it. What a work of profound genius this ep is, continuing the glory run of monumental television artistry that is season six of KL. With Tomorrow Never Knows, we pick up pretty much where we left off with the continuing saga of Val’s pregnancy and the wicked Scott Easton and Dr. Ackerman, and we wind up getting an episode that is actually extremely frightening and winds up being the most “horror movie” episode of the entire series, I would say, unless there’s one or two down the line that I’m completely forgetting. Seriously, this episode is scary, much scarier than the last distinctly horror ep I can remember, The Constant Companion from way back in season one.
God, where to even start with this one? I think I’ll actually start with Karen and Mack, since I’m afraid if I start with Val’s babies I’ll get too excited and neglect to mention everyone else in the cast, and that would be unfair since everyone is firing on all cylinders right now. Karen and Mack finally start to make some progress during this ep, and it’s all thanks to a little confrontation Mack witnesses between Val and Ben at Pacific World Whatever. See, Val comes in and is talking to Ben about how she doesn’t want anyone to know Gary is the father of the babies, and Ben makes the point of how everyone thinks he’s a weirdo for abandoning Val while she’s pregnant with his babies, and so on and so forth, until Mack finally loses his temper and is all like, “I’m sick of listening to you guys and Bob Loblaw,” and then he storms out of the room and slams the door. I like the fact that even though he’s mad, he’s still funny and, I would argue, cute. He’s not scary-mad, but more frustrated and finally letting it out for the first time, and I’m starting to really appreciate the comedy and warmth that The Dobsonator brings to this role.
That humor continues the next time we see Mack, when he’s angrily speeding his jeep along and talking out loud to himself. This could come off as far fetched to some, perhaps, but I drive around all the time and talk to myself, often in a way similar to Mack here. Your car tends to feel like something of a private, safe place (even though it’s clearly not), so I understand, and I also like how Mack’s angry speech to himself does the job of providing both some humor while also kinda giving us an update on what’s been going down the last year or so. He actually goes pretty far back and even mentions Diana and Chip, which already feels like it was a million years ago, and he also has one of my all-time favorite lines from the whole series, “I should have taken French, then I would have known: Cul-de-sac , dead end.” I’ve always loved this line even though I’m not entirely sure why, but whenever I see a cul-de-sac in my real daily life, I usually say this out loud (because every time I see a cul-de-sac I think of KL). The only bad thing about this scene is a rather obvious dub-job that I’m assuming was some sort of network mandate or perhaps a censor rule. It comes when Mack says, “Why do I have to be Val’s Lamaze coach? Why couldn’t she get one of the other guys who mixed her up?” His lips very clearly say “knocked her up” and his voice suddenly changes sound and is clearly some bad A.D.R. Were you not allowed to say “knocked up” on television in 1984-1985? I know I’ve heard the term used on regular network shows later on in television history, but perhaps it was still forbidden at this time (sorta like how “shit” slowly started to become kinda-sorta acceptable to put into network shows aftera while; I vividly remember Dr. Greene yelling “Shit!” on E.R. while he was dying and I was violently sobbing). Anyway, aside from that bad dub, this is a terrific scene, and I think it’s important to note the humor because of how scary and upsetting the ep is going to get; everyone knows that when you’re doing horror, you need to have some comedy in there to keep things kinda balanced out.
Mack and Karen have agreed to go up the coast together and have some alone time. I can’t entirely remember how this ends up happening, but I think it’s because of Karen’s little argument with Eric last week. In fact, that brings up a subject worth discussing, which is what Karen thinks will happen to her kids and to Mack after she dies. Mack has spent the last two years being a really awesome father figure for the boys (Diana never liked him, but nobody ever liked Diana, so it all evens out) and really skillfully filling the hole in the series that was left by Sid (and winding up being a far more interesting and dynamic character, to boot), so wouldn’t you think that, if Karen died, he would be responsible and, most importantly, willing to continue acting as a father figure to the boys? I do know that the boys are pretty much all grown up (Steve Shaw would be 19 here, and I think his character of Eric is 19, while Pat Petersen is 18, but I think Sexy Michael is supposed to be 16), so maybe she just figures that she’ll die and leave them with an inheritance and the business of Knots Landing Motors and all will be cool, but I dunno. I have a hard time believing that the boys wouldn’t want to keep Mack around as a part of their lives after their mother died.
I’m actually starting to think I might be being a little too gentle with Karen because of how much I love the character. When I’m really sitting to think about it, maybe she is being really unfair and unreasonable, and maybe I’m not entirely sure I understand her reasons. She’s essentially just waiting a year until she dies and then she’s just gonna, you know, be dead. The fact that she has only told Gary about her illness is also interesting; why hasn’t she spoken frankly with the boys? Or why didn’t she talk to them about it when she was in the hospital and was first presented with the option of the risky surgery? It’s one of those things that, sitting to write about it and really analyze it, I find myself able to poke some holes in it, but somehow it plays very well onscreen and I don’t really find myself asking these questions while I’m staring in awe at the television screen and drooling.
I thought Karen and Mack were driving up the coast so that she could finally tell him the truth, but it doesn’t work out that way. They do have a lovely weekend together and they do make love for the first time in some time, which is definitely good, but she continues to avoid the truth, instead preferring to tell him that she believes his work is very important to him and she doesn’t want to be preventing him from doing what he believes he needs to do. Ugh, this is maybe maybe maybe the only story at this point that is stretching on a little too long, and My Beloved Grammy does tend to keep shouting at the screen, “Just tell him, Karen!” I guess it’s been about eight episodes of secret keeping, so maybe it is time for Karen to open up and finally tell the truth to Mack, although it doesn’t happen within this ep.
One last thing on the driving-up-the-coast story this week, probably the very most important thing we need to discuss: When Karen and Mack are getting ready to leave, Sexy Michael wishes them goodbye and he is wearing a pink shirt and an orgasmically fantastic pair of super short shorts that highly emphasize his monumental bubble butt, a bubble butt that I could easily write volumes of poetry about. While I haven’t masturbated in front of My Beloved Grammy since the ep where Michael wore that cut-off ‘80s shirt that showed off his belly button while he was playing basketball, I came pretty damn close here. Jesus Christ, is he not just the most perfect slice of twinkish all-American white boy ever committed to celluloid? How could the actors even be on the same set as him without desperately trying to violate him? This is maybe the first episode where I really noticed his butt, too, which is probably the most perfect butt that God has ever sculpted, and I found myself achingly wishing that this was some sort of cutting edge HBO series in which we could have Michael disrobe and bare all for the television viewers (it would probably wind up being the most watched episode in television history and it would certainly result in everyone in America subscribing to HBO, if not indeed everyone in the entire world).
This ep is actually doing a clever thing by making sure to keep all the characters besides Val occupied with some sort of business so that nobody can be around for Val when she really needs them. It’s like when I’m reading Cujo for the seven thousandth time and I note the skill with which Stephen King makes sure to establish that all the characters are going somewhere and are busy and occupied, setting the stage for Donna and Tad Trenton to be trapped in the boiling hot car with the rabid Saint Bernard outside. I mention this because we already have Mack and Karen going up the coast, along with Greg and Laura presumably doing something or other in Washington (I honestly can’t remember them doing much of anything in this ep, even though I’m fairly certain that they both put in an appearance), Cathy and Joshua and Lilimae occupied by watching Cathy sing at Isadora’s, and finally Ben busy with a news story that requires him to be out and about for some time.
The Desperate Horny Chick that I’m now fairly certain is named Cherie continues to annoy both My Beloved Grammy and myself this week, because it seems like she’s intentionally trying to sabotage a possible reunion between Val and Ben. See, early in the ep a fucking clown delivers some flowers to Val, effectively scaring the crap out of me (I really wanted to know who played this clown but had trouble figuring it out via IMDb’s episode page, so I gave up). Anyway, the clown is scary, but the flowers are lovely and they come attached to a note from Ben saying maybe he and Val could, you know, give it a shot. Excited and happy, Val calls the news station only for The Desperate Horny Chick to answer the phone, get a real stoical look on her face when she hears Val ask her to “Thank Ben for the flowers,” and then she assures Val she will deliver the message but I think it’s pretty obvious that she’s not going to do any such thing. Oh bleh, just go away, Desperate Horny Chick.
Things start to feel really scary whenever we see Val having her pains and looking upset. Remember that, for a first time viewer with no idea of where this is leading, we could easily think that these babies are about to die, that these pains mean she is going to miscarry or deliver stillborn or something like that, which just makes the whole episode feel deeply unsettling. Also, anytime Dr. Ackerman is onscreen, my skin crawls. We have an early scene where Val is walking along the boardwalk and is struck by pains that are so bad that a nice blonde mother/son pair (who look so identical that I’m convinced they were, in fact, related) stop to make sure she’s alright. She tells them she’s okay and asks where the nearest pay phone is (remember those?) and calls Ackerman, who evilly answers the phone and looks creepy while assuring her that the pills he gave her are very mild and she should probably take some more whenever she’s feeling pain. Oh ick, all this stuff is so creepy and horrifying, that a man who took the Hippocratic oath and promised to do no harm to his patients is deliberating lying to this pregnant woman in some attempt to either fuck with her pregnancy or do something else evil. This remains the scariest thing I can imagine and probably the most reprehensible thing a person can do (this might explain why the movie Beethoven is so upsetting to me). Also, just like clockwork, as soon as he hangs up with Val, he immediately picks up the phone to call Easton and say something cryptic like, “She’s starting to suspect,” or something equally evil.
Before I get too sucked into talking about Val and her pregnancy, let’s shine the spotlight on Cathy and her fabulous cover song of the week. This time it’s really a case of two things I love combining forces in a new and fantastically exciting way, because when Lilimae and Joshua enter Isadora’s, Cathy is in the middle of a cover of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time. Ah, yes, what bliss, for Cyndi Lauper’s stunning debut album She’s So Unusual became the first album I got really obsessed with when I was a wee lad back in high school. I remember I would go running and just listen to that album on a loop and absolutely nothing else, which seems rather narrow upon reflection considering there are only nine songs on there, but oh God I loved it, and Time After Time remains one of her most excellent and iconic songs. I’ve generally declared that Lisa’s covers of songs are always better than the originals, but in this case I must admit that I prefer Cyndi. Lisa’s version is cool, too, and has a rather different sound to it, like the background instruments are either slightly different or being played in a different way or something like that, and of course I loved listening to it and wish it was available on an album somewhere (shamefully, I don’t think any of Lisa’s songs post season four are available in any sort of physical media), but I’m still giving the edge to Cyndi just for being such an amazing and memorable song. But this is kinda like having to choose between blowing Sexy Michael or fucking Sexy Michael; in the end, both options are going to be quite excellent and unbelievably satisfying.
Oh yeah, and on the subject of Cathy’s songs, we do have one little detail that I found rather amusing, and that is the fact that Cathy is now doing the same songs that Ciji did. See, when Val starts having pains in the middle of the night and calls Isadora’s to try and reach somebody, the waitress who answers can’t hear a word she’s saying because Cathy is singing Hole In My Heart so loudly. Any KL fan will remember that this was one of Ciji’s first songs ever (I think it was her second one right after that cover of Open Arms), and I find it very funny that Cathy appears to have just sorta, you know, turned into Ciji. We have now reached a juncture in the series where nobody really cares that this doppelganger is running around, to the point that they don’t even notice she’s singing the same songs that poor dead Ciji used to sing two years back.
The ep cranks into horror film mode with a ferocious intensity as Val wanders around her house all alone, crying out in pain, trying to reach anyone on the phone who can help her before finally managing to reach Eric and Sexy Michael, who are having a little party over at their house with a public domain record blasting (wouldn’t it be much cooler if they were playing the record that Ciji recorded back in season four?). I want to note that this episode, and indeed this whole period of eps that we are currently in, are actually literally darker than the show has tended to be in the past. There’s so many dark scenes with no lights on and shadows cast on the walls to look extra creepy, and I have to think that this literal darkness is here to emphasize the metaphorical darkness of what is going on in the storyline at this point. In any case, it really helps to keep the episode feeling horrific.
Eric and Sexy Michael come to Val’s rescue (one of the reasons Sexy Michael is such a dreamy boy is because he’s not only so unbelievably and stunningly beautiful to look at, but he’s also super sweet and nice and caring and always willing to help, although obviously none of those qualities are as important as his amazing bubble butt) and manage to get her to the hospital, which leads us into the scariest scene of the entire ep. See, Dr. Ackerman has Val all prepped and ready to deliver, legs up in the stirrups and all that, a couple of nurses to either side of him (including a black nurse; pay attention to her because, if I remember correctly, she’s gonna come back to be an important part of the plot later), when he announces that Val is bleeding violently or something or other and he’s going to need to give her a sedation, which he does. As soon as he’s got her sedated, things get trippy. The camera starts to go into this weirdo wide angle lens and everything is distorted and the sounds of voices sound scary and tinny and far away and I don’t even know how to describe the fucking music, which is just horrifying and which I could never possibly listen to as a standalone piece of music, especially if I was all by myself in the dark. After a little while of this trippy and terrifying insanity, Ackerman says the babies are coming, we hear the sound of babies crying (this is important) and then Val passes out. When she comes to, she’s all alone with Ackerman, who's looking sleazy and awful. She asks to see the babies, at which point he announces that they were stillborn, dead on arrival, and that there was nothing he could do to save them. At this point, My Beloved Grammy said, “But they were crying!” and then two seconds later Val said the same thing, “I heard them crying.” Ackerman tells her that she was under a heavy sedation and it would be very easy to get confused and think she heard crying at that point, but Val insists that she also saw the babies while she heard them crying, which Ackerman dismisses in similar fashion.
I thought it was very interesting that, immediately following this scene, we cut to a scene of Abs alone in bed (Gary takes off after he receives the call that Val is in labor), being paid a visit from Olivia who has suffered some sort of horrible nightmare. Abs lets Olivia sleep in the bed with her and we get a nice little scene of her being a good mother to her daughter, which I found important. The cut from Val being told her babies are dead to Abs comforting Olivia feels very deliberate to me, and I think it’s important to note that, for all of her faults, Abs has never been a subpar mother. She loves her kids (Olivia more than Brian, probably, but that might just have something to do with the fact that Brian is a non-character) and she is good with them. I’m gonna further explore this notion of Abs as a woman who does have a strong maternal instinct when we move into our next episode.
Tomorrow Never Knows ends with Abs receiving a mysterious and creepy phone call in bed. Olivia is asleep by this point, so she doesn’t hear Abs having this little conversation with a creepy, authoritative male voice on the other end that asks her for “the blood type of the father” and says, “It’s essential for our paperwork.” We can see that Abs is legit confused as she asks, “What are you talking about?” The voice remains vague by saying, “The babies in question, Mrs. Ewing,” and then asking that she “obtain the necessary information” as soon as possible. Then the line goes dead and we end on Abs face and, again, if I was watching this in 1984, I would just be sitting there thinking, “How am I going to wait seven days for another episode?” Fortunately My Beloved Grammy and I didn’t have to wait seven days and were able to proceed right away to the next ep, but imagine watching this upon original airdate and just having to wait to see what happens. How could one even function in their daily life? I would spend all of my time thinking about this, unable to exert any mental energy towards anything else going on in my life. Indeed, what in 1984 could have possibly been more important than this?!
So it goes without saying that this episode was brilliant and an absolutely incredible experience from start to finish. I’m gonna go ahead and predict that there’s no way there will ever be a more frightening episode than this one, which was just horrifying in so many regards, but most especially in that delivery scene with the creepy music and the wide angle lens. Kudos to director Nick Havinga, who has impressed me so much with this effort that I’m going to really keep my eyes open for his future eps (this is only his second after, interestingly, my least favorite episode of season four, The Block Party, but he’ll be back for another fifteen eps starting with Message in a Bottle). Overall, this ep was nearly perfect for me from start to finish; I can think of almost nothing that would have made it better. It was scary and intense and beautifully filmed and acted and it was just fucking great.
I predict that this gushing and adoration will only continue as we continue onward to another Larry Elikann helmed and absolutely unforgettable episode, We Gather Together.