Episode Title: Distant Locations
Season 06, Episode 11
Episode 111 of 344
Written by Richard Gollance
Directed by Larry Elikann
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 20th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen finds out that Val went to the bus station, but when she was seen there, four busses left. Abby and Gary have lunch with Galveston, and Galveston notices that Abby's not happy with Gary's preoccupation with Val. Galveston asks Gary to go into business with him putting up communication satellites. Abby hires a detective who finds Val, and Abby tells him to follow her, but to keep the information only between them. Joshua gives a plea for Val to come home on Reverend Kathryn's show. Val goes to Enoch, Nevada, and checks into a motel. She berates herself in the mirror. Then she dresses up like a tramp, and goes to a bar where she flirts with several men. The next day Val gets on another bus, and tells the girl she sits with that her name is Verna Ellers, she has no family and is going home to Tennessee. Abby's detective follows her. Val gets off the bus in the small town of Shula, Tennessee, and gets a job as a waitress in a diner.
REALLY QUICK RANDOM NOTE BEFORE THE ESSAY: IN THIS ESSAY, I MENTION HOW IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY AND I SPENT IT WITH MY BELOVED GRAMMY AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF. I JUST WANT TO POINT OUT/REMIND MY READERS OF THE FACT THAT I MAKE SURE TO HAVE A GENEROUS BACK CATALOGUE OF EP ESSAYS WRITTEN SO I NEVER RUN OUT. FOR THE MOST PART, THESE ESSAYS ARE EXACTLY AS I ORIGINALLY WROTE THEM, BUT OCCASIONALLY I'LL THROW IN LITTLE THINGS RELATING TO OUR CURRENT WORLD (LIKE A TRUMP REFERENCE IN THIS ONE THAT I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE TO PUT IN HERE, UGH); IN REAL TIME, MY BELOVED GRAMMY AND I ARE CURRENTLY WATCHING SEASON EIGHT AT THE SAME TIME I'M PUTTING UP MY SEASON SIX ESSAYS. SO, IN CASE ANYONE WAS CURIOUS, MY BIRTHDAY IS MAY 13TH, 1990, AND FEEL FREE TO SEND GIFTS IN A MONTH WHEN WE REACH THAT DATE, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EP, IT WASN'T ACTUALLY MY BIRTHDAY A FEW DAYS AGO.
Oh God yes, we’re back into the world of KL and I couldn’t be happier. This entire disk of eps, spanning Distant Locations through Inside Information, was such a joy to behold and was not only one of our best disks of eps ever, but also just such a perfect fucking way to spend a night. To provide a little context, I’ll tell you that it was my birthday (26 years old), and after getting off of work, I was so excited to do my absolute favorite thing in the world, which is go to My Beloved Grammy’s house and watch KL. Since it was my special day, she made me my favorite meal, her goulash, along with a delightfully crunchy Caesar salad and we sipped a fine red wine together while enjoying these stunning eps. So not only are the eps great, but it was just the perfect way to spend my birthday and was everything I wanted it to be and more, putting me in a delightful mood that continues well into the moment in which I am typing these words.
In our last batch of eps, Val delivered her babies prematurely due to Dr. Ackerman’s evil plans and then they “died” even though both she and we heard those babies crying and we know something is up. After that, she began to suffer from scary stylish dreams and then we concluded our last ep with her sneaking out of the house to parts unknown in the middle of the night. Distant Locations picks up just mere hours later, with style to spare right away, courtesy of, get ready for this cuz I’m finally OFFICIALLY gonna declare it, my favorite KL director, Larry Elikann. Yes, folks, I’ve finally realized that he’s the man, the very best and most creative director to ever helm eps. I love anyone who’s ever helmed a KL ep because, you know, they helmed a KL ep and that guarantees them a special place in Heaven, but whenever Larry Elikann’s name pops up in the credits, I’ll always turn to My Beloved Grammy and say, “Ooooh, this is gonna be a good one.” My Beloved Grammy has also learned to keep her eyes peeled for certain names in the credits, such as whenever we see that Peter Dunne wrote an ep, she’ll always say how this one should be extra good. I’m so proud of her, and we never discussed things like this when watching Dallas.
I love the way this ep starts right away, because we have a bunch of our characters (Ben, Karen, Lilimae, and so on) speaking directly into the camera to some unseen character as they explain what Val’s been going through in the last few weeks and why they’re concerned that she’s disappeared. It’s cool enough to start the ep with the characters kinda sorta speaking directly to us viewers, but it only gets more stylish when we cut to see Val, who appears to be bopping around Nevada, and yet the dialogue of the characters on the cul de sac continues to be played over the footage of Val. It’s the first two minutes of the ep and I’m already impressed; surely Larry Elikann is the Alfred Hitchcock of the small screen.
Where is Val? My Beloved Grammy and I had a smidge of difficulty figuring out the precise location, but it turns out to be Enoch, Nevada. I asked My Beloved Grammy if this was a real place and she didn’t know, and neither did I because I don’t know geography and couldn’t tell you where a certain place is on a globe if you paid me (I’m a lot like George W. Bush in that way), so for most of this ep I actually thought this might be taking place in a fictional Nevada town, but nope, it’s a real place, cuz I looked it up and found out. Anyway, she immediately checks into a cozy motel run by a nice old married couple who seem very sweet. One thing that’s interesting is that she uses her real name, Valene Ewing, and I would think that if Val is trying to keep on the D.L., she would use a fake name. After all, by this point in the saga, Val is a famous author with two published books, one very successful and one not so much. In fact, the nice couple even asks her if she is indeed that Valene Ewing and Val looks kinda uncomfortable and says she’s not the same person.
There’s a lot going on in this episode with absolutely everybody in the cast roster, but let’s make no bones about it, this is Val’s episode (indeed, one could easily argue that this whole season belongs to Val). Almost as soon as she arrives in town, things get a little, well, spooky. I’m pretty sure that, when all is said and done and all 344 eps have been watched and written about and I get a phone call from The President of The United States of America (not the fake one we currently have, whom I would refuse to speak to) asking if I’ll accept a Nobel Peace Prize for excellence and accomplishment because of writing about the whole show, I’m probably gonna say season six is the darkest and scariest season of the series, because we already had the horrifying ep where Val delivered the babies (that one was Tomorrow Never Knows) and now we have another dark and scary one with Distant Locations. This one isn’t nearly as horrifying as Tomorrow Never Knows (mostly because of how horrific the whole evil-doctors thing is for Brett personally), but it’s got some spook factor, for sure.
It takes a minute for things to get scary, cuz first Val goes out shopping or whatever, and she happens to run into a woman with two adorable little, gulp, twin babies. God, what a sad scene this is, and as soon as we see those two twin babies, we know what Val is thinking about. She goes over to the lady and tells her how cute her kids are and asks if she can hold them for a second, and at first things are cool, like Val just appears to be a friendly stranger and the woman seems to be viewing her as such, but then Val holds the one baby and starts to get kinda creepy, saying how she is never gonna let the baby go and stuff like that. Yeah, sometimes friendly strangers say that about babies, but they usually use that annoying voice that people use when they’re talking to babies, and Val’s not using that voice, she’s just kinda drooling over the baby and clearly wishing it belonged to her. After a minute, the mother clearly becomes uncomfortable and takes the baby back from Val, saying how they’ve got to run. From there we cut to the first scary scene of the ep, which is Val returning to her darkened hotel room and screaming at herself in the mirror about how ugly she is. Not only is this scary, but also sad. I feel bad for Val as she looks at herself in the mirror and scolds herself for not having a perfect body, for not having good boobs, all that stuff. One can only imagine the mental anguish that is going through Val’s head, now that she’s not only lost her husband to a hotter woman but also her first baby and now her newest babies. I don’t find it ridiculous to see Val going crazy the way she is going, because I can not even begin to imagine what feelings must be going through her at this point in her life, where everything seems to be falling apart so rapidly.
A little later, the motel owner guy knocks on the door and tries to get Val to come out. Here’s another arty scene that uses darkness and shadows really well, as Val is sitting on the floor and is sorta framed between two, like, chair legs, and the camera is sorta filming her as if looking up at her. It’s another case of Elikann striking with his usual tremendous style (and I got sick and threw up when I looked at Elikann’s IMDb and saw that he’s only got three more KL eps left in him; how am I going to function when he evacuates the series?!). The motel owner finally persuades Val to come to the door, but she leaves the chain bolted and won’t let him come in, saying how she looks a mess and doesn’t want anybody to see her, which prompts the guy to say how pretty she is and how any man in town would go crazy for her. I have to wonder if this nice man’s words are what prompt Val to do what she does next, which is trash herself up to look, shall we say, a little bit skanky, and then hit the bars looking for a man.
This is what all television should be, by the way, and if you don’t like what you’re seeing when you watch this, you should just never watch television again, because you clearly have no taste. When we next catch up with Val, she’s putting on some makeup in the mirror and admiring her face and saying, “You are beautiful and there isn’t a man alive who wouldn’t want you,” the same words I say to myself in the mirror every morning. After that, she stops at a nearby bar full of drunken assholes and quickly becomes the life of party, entertaining a whole group of men all at the same time, all the while keeping her eyes firmly set on some married guy who is sitting at a table with his wife. As soon as the wife steps away for a moment, Val swoops in and starts to work her magic on this man, asking him if he’s looking for company or whatever. The man gets kinda nervous and is like, “My wife just went to the ladies’ room and she’ll be real mad if she sees you here,” but he also tells Val that he’d be willing to meet up with her for a shag later, after he drops the wife off at home. Things would probably work out okay if Val nodded and then walked away, but instead she hangs around too long and the wife does indeed return and start to kick her ass.
This altercation is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, when the wife confronts Val, Val has a response that is something like, “I can have your husband anytime I want him,” making me think of a certain other hot blonde who may have said a certain similar thing a few seasons back. Is Val trying to transform into Abs? Is she just trying to be flashy and trashy and powerful and seductive in the same way that Abs is? Is she feeling like being a nice, good, sweet person hasn’t exactly worked out for her too well and now it’s time to be bad? I guess the answer to all of these questions could be, ‘yes,’ but I appreciate that it’s sorta left up to us to figure out what’s really going on with Val.
The second thing worth noting is how not funny and not campy this scene is even though it very easily could have become both. Again, I remind the readers that I never have watched Dynasty (don’t worry, cuz it’s definitely on the list for when I one day finish this KL rewatch), so I can’t really say anything about that series with any real authority, but I will say that I’ve heard that show is exceptionally campy and that bitchy catfights were a highlight of that series to anyone who watched. Additionally, Dallas was positively brimming with camp for pretty much its entire run, and sometimes that was a good thing and sometimes that was a bad thing, but it was always inherently a part of the core. I think it’s interesting to note that I don’t find this little catfight between Val and this random wife to be campy, but just kinda sad. You feel bad for Val, who is clearly going through some sort of awful trauma and not knowing how to deal with it, and now as she tries out a new personality or lifestyle or whatever, she immediately gets her hair yanked and nearly gets her face beaten in by this really pissed off wife.
From here we go to the best scene of the ep and one of the most memorable of the entire series run, a scene that burns itself into your memories and can never possibly be forgotten. I am of course talking about the long unbroken scene in which we watch Val return to the hotel and go even more insane, now morphing from some version of Abs into, well, Verna. I suppose all KL fans should immediately know what I’m talking about when I say this, because what’s happening here is going to fuel several eps in a row of sheer brilliance as Val decides that she is, in fact, Verna Ellers, the lead character of her flop second book, Nashville Junction. This is not coming out of the blue, by the way, because a little earlier this season, Joshua read Val’s book and then asked Lilimae if she was actually Verna, which Lilimae denied. Now we get this stunning scene of Val scrubbing all the make up off of her face in front of the mirror and finishing her scene with yet another little pep talk to herself, about how she’s going to return home and find a nice job and Bob Loblaw, and then she says something like “You gotta make yourself look pretty, Verna.”
Real fast I’ll give some deets about why this scene is so great, even though I feel like I won’t be able to justify it; the only way to truly understand is to watch it yourself, preferably twice, one viewing right after the other, to really soak in the amazingness. I think the most impressive thing is the fact that this is an unbroken scene; I didn’t time the whole scene but it feels long and there’s no point where the camera cuts to something new; it just stays on Val the whole time as she goes through this bizarre personality change in front of the mirror. The music in the background is creepy and there aren’t really any lights turned on in the room, which adds some definite spook factor, and obviously J.V.A is stellar in the scene and makes me wish I could get Doc Brown to fly me back to 1984 so I could just give her that much deserved Emmy already.
We actually end on Val’s arrival in a new town, this time Tennessee, and we see that she meant it quite literally when she looked in the mirror and told “Verna” that it was time to return home; she’s going way back to her roots, although I don’t believe she picks the exact same town that Val lived in, but rather some other obscure and probably made up Tennessee location (honestly can’t remember the name of this town at this point, sorry). Anyway, it looks like a cozy place and the cinema is showing a Peter Sellers movie (Being There), so it makes sense when Val climbs off the bus and enters the diner with the “Help Wanted” sign in the window and immediately secures a job working there. We also end on confirmation that she has morphed into a new personality, because when the diner owner asks for name, she smiles and answers “Verna Ellers.” I will say that I suppose we the viewers don’t know for sure yet that Val has actually morphed; a first time viewer watching this in real time might believe that Val has just chosen a fake name to get away from all her troubles, but as we proceed a few eps further, we are going to see that Val does, indeed, believe herself to be this Verna person.
So obviously Val is getting the best material and the most to work with this week, and J.V.A of course delivers in spades, but let’s check in on our other friends, as well. First off, Karen is continuing to keep Mack in the dark about her illness, and we get another scene of her suffering from the numb hand this week. I appreciate the way KL will be rolling along with something happening and our minds occupied with that one thing, and then it will organically introduce or remind us of something that’s developing in the plots. For instance, in this scene we start with Karen on the phone to someone or other, working on locating Val (and she also gives Val’s address as “22229 Seaview Circle,” and I wrote that down in my notes along with, “Is that accurate?”), and we are with Karen in that our thoughts are focused on Val and we want to find out what’s going on with her, as well, but then as Karen is on the phone, her hand goes numb and she can’t really hold the phone and write stuff down too well, so we watch her try to awkwardly do this maneuver and in the scene we are immediately reminded of her illness. What writing! What skill! The scene manages to propel two storylines along at the same time just by having Karen on the phone while also dealing with her hand. Later in bed we see Karen lie to Mack again, once again causing My Beloved Grammy and I to scream at the screen, “Just tell him, Karen!” See, we already saw her make up a lie to him about how she smacked her hand on the desk at work or something, but this time she says she burned it on the coffee maker. When Mack says she oughta take the bandage off and give it some air, she says how it’s no big deal and to not focus on it, but we can see that Mack is starting to get suspicious.
We also get some growing trust in the relationship between Gary and Galveston this week, and I’m gonna explore that, but first I wanna note that we also get a shout out to some Dallas characters. This again shows the writers doing a good job of covering their bases in explaining why Valene continues to have no on-screen relationship with Lucy over in Texas. In fact, it was only about two seconds after My Beloved Grammy said, “It sure is odd how they never talk about Lucy on this show,” that we did, indeed, get a mention of Lucy. Lilimae says how perhaps Val went off to Texas to be with Lucy, and Gary says, “Valene would never go back to Dallas,” and he reiterates how J.R. stole baby Lucy away from her oh so many years ago and all that, a nice little callback that pairs nicely with the scene a few eps ago in which Val told Ben that story while sitting at the beach. Also, during an early scene in which Gary and Galveston walk through Galveston’s ranch, Galveston tells Gary, “In the end, you’ll be the Ewing they remember, not J.R. and not Bobby.” Again, we’re in kind of a gray area of Dallas/KL right now in which the two shows still exist in the same universe (and they will continue to exist in the same universe until the very start of the 1986-1987 season) but we aren’t getting any crossovers from Dallas characters anymore and the references to those characters have become more sporadic. I’m fine with it, though, and I think when they do choose to bring up characters from Dallas in dialogue, it’s always appropriate to the scene.
What about Gary and Galveston, anyway? Well here’s another in a long line of stories that I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to upon first viewing, because I think I didn’t even realize that Galveston was a villain upon first watch. I know, right? I’m starting to reflect heavily on how bizarre it is that I was able to get sucked into this world so heavily back in college during my first watch despite not really following the big plot arcs too terribly well. At this point, I think I thought Galveston was a good character, and that might just be because of the charisma Howard Duff brings to the part, which is plentiful. Looking at this guy, you just want to believe anything he says because he has that fabulous old style “man’s man” quality about him. Aside from a few scenes between Gary and Galveston, we don’t really get much with them this week, but it’s important to see that Galveston is around and that he is starting to become someone Gary really likes and respects, so keep that in mind for future eps.
Distant Locations also gets a pretty important plot point kicked into gear when Joshua agrees to go on the air for Pacific World Whatever and give a little sermon that’s really a clever way to get Val to return home. See, he gives a nice speech about how sometimes God does bad things to good people, and he uses the example of some family he used to know that were very faithful but had a bunch of shitty things happen to them. As with most sermons, you hear a long story about life being really shitty and then the conclusion is, “So you see, God is here for us!” After that, though, Joshua looks at the camera straight on and says Valene’s name directly and then tells her that she is loved and she should return home to the people who live here. How many people are watching this show, by the way? This is a California cable station, and I don’t know how far it reaches in terms of where it is broadcast; I can’t imagine some daily church show on a random cable network is exactly getting “Who Shot J.R.?” level ratings, nor am I sure if Val could even have the chance to see this sermon from her far off adventures in Nevada and then Tennessee, but it’s still a noble effort on the part of everyone involved to try and reach out to her. It’s also important to note Joshua giving his firm on-television sermon and starting to get a taste for that job and, perhaps, wishing to pursue that career path; we shall have to wait and see.
That oughta do it for Distant Locations. Obviously it was brilliant and I really don’t know that I have much else left to say about it besides that. Elikann brings his usual flourishes that elevate this above a standard 48 minute episode of television, plus J.V.A’s acting is really top quality at this point, but that’s something I’m just gonna keep saying all season, so get ready. I think the craziness of this ep and all of Val’s adventures in Nevada also help to keep this ep real memorable; this is one that never faded out of my brain the way certain eps have over time. No, I always remembered this ep vividly as the one where Val hits the road and goes crazy in a little Nevada town, and that scene with her taking off her makeup in front of the mirror is just classic and one of KL’s all time most memorable scenes.
However, as much as I enjoyed Val’s little stop off in Nevada, I’m much more excited to see her get to work being Verna in Tennessee, so let’s proceed forward to our next ep, Uncharted Territory.