Episode Title: Uncharted Territory
Season 06, Episode 12
Episode 112 of 344
Written by Joyce Keener
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 27th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Galveston asks Gary to go in with him on a planned community in Empire Valley. Galveston tells some men that he's using Gary because he's stupid and won't know what's going on, but he will be helpful in getting the community built. Gary asks Greg to go in on Empire Valley, but Greg wants no part of it. While driving with Michael, Karen's hands go out again and they almost crash. Mack insists she see a doctor. Karen finally tells Mack what is going on and he says he won't let her die. Joshua gets a lot of fan mail after being on TV, so Abby asks him to make another plea to Val. Kelly asks Ben to give her a chance, but he says he can't. In Shula, Val rents a room and hears a report on the radio about her disappearance, but doesn't respond to it in any way. She meets Parker Winslow, the local dry cleaner, who asks her out to a pancake breakfast.
In our last episode, Distant Locations, I said how Val/Verna has moved on from Nevada into Tennessee but that I can’t remember the exact location. Well, isn’t it nice that Uncharted Territory starts almost immediately with a helpful subtitle telling us, “Shula, Tennessee,” and once again I didn’t know if this was a real place or not and I looked it up and I’m pretty sure it’s not. Of course, all I did was go to Google and type in “Shula, Tennessee” and see what popped up and nothing much did, so I’m gonna go ahead and assume that it’s a made-up place.
God, even the way that we get that subtitle and figure out Val’s location is done with style. See, the episode starts with Karen and Lilimae together and then Laura arrives at the front door with a piece of luggage that belongs to Val. She declares that it was sent to her house by accident and then the ladies read the letter attached, which happens to come from the nice old couple that ran that Nevada motel, saying something like, “You forgot your clothes at the motel so here you go.” The ladies start to get excited about how now they know Val is in Nevada, but then someone (I think Karen) points out how Val must have left the motel at least four days ago and could now be anywhere, and then we cut to the little subtitle about “Shula” and pick up with Val/Verna working in the coffee shop. See, another series would just sorta, you know, start the scene, but KL gives us that nice sexy transition by having Karen say, “Where could she be?” and then immediately cutting to where she is.
Val/Verna is already getting along nicely in this little town, and why not? I remind you that the very first time we saw Val ever, indeed the very first shot of her in television history, was way back in that Dallas episode Reunion: Part One in which we saw her working at The Hot Biscuit, and she’s always been established as a pretty great waitress. We also saw her waiting tables back in season three with Acts of Love, when she took Olivia out driving and the two of them got stranded with no money and Val had to work for that Dukes of Hazzard guy. In addition to getting cozy as a waitress, we also see Val/Verna start renting a rather cozy little apartment that I found very endearing. I’m being serious here, by the way, because it is a fairly simple little place with not a lot of room, but I find it charming and could probably comfortably live there. You’ll note that I’m able to appreciate all sorts of living spaces on this series, because while I would ideally wish to live at either The Beach House or Westfork if I was allowed to live inside this universe, I could also be at home in a nice cozy apartment like this one right here; I just find it very cute.
We the viewers get official confirmation that Val has become Verna in this ep, by the way, thanks to an early scene in which she is ironing and listening to the radio. They interrupt the music for a quick news bulletin and the announcer says something like, “Everyone is continuing to look for missing California author Valene Ewing,” but then we see Val/Verna doing her ironing and not even looking up at the sound of her own name on the radio, completely unfazed by what’s playing in the background. Yes, it is now very clear that Val/Verna is not just hiding out in a little Tennessee town and using a fake name to try and keep a low profile, but rather she has gone rather nutty and truly believes herself to be this person, this Verna from her book.
Val/Verna meets a character who’s gonna prove to be pretty important in this ep, and that would be Parker Winslow, who works running the local dry cleaner. Once again, IMDb is proving to be completely useless when it comes to KL because they don’t even have anyone credited for playing this character, not in this episode or the next one, either, so I can’t tell you the actor’s name, because I do not know it. I do know that when Parker first walked onscreen, I thought I recognized the actor for some reason, but thanks to IMDb being inaccurate in every way when it comes to their episode pages for KL, I’m afraid I can’t tell you quite yet who plays him. Anyway, is Parker a nice guy or is he sleazy? I guess that’s going to be up to us to figure out, because as he’s first introduced, he seems nice enough. Val/Verna just comes in to get some laundry taken care of and that’s where she meets him and they have a little interaction but nothing too major and that’s it for this week. Don’t worry, this character will wind up having a lot more to do in the coming weeks as we continue to follow Val/Verna throughout her adventures in Shula.
We also get a surprise reappearance that I wasn’t expecting this week, and that would be from one Clayton Landey as James Westmont, Abby’s faithful little lackey from pretty much all of seasons four and five. This was an interesting surprise, as I thought we had seen the last of Westmont when we finished up season five, but here he is now, although IMDb (which I just finished saying is wildly inaccurate, so please take this information with a grain of salt) does say that this will mark his final appearance. We get a good little scene between him and Abs in which Abs finally is able to spill her big secret to somebody, and I appreciate that it’s this guy. Lazy writers could have just devised to have Abs spill the secret to anybody they felt like, but the KL writers are not lazy writers, they are a higher class of writers than any other writers in the entire universe, so they do this in the classy way by bringing back a character who, logically, we can believe that Abs would actually confide in. Even so, Westmont doesn’t want to hear any of this, and as soon as Abs tells him about dead ‘80s Rapist Beards taking skydives without parachutes and having Val’s babies stolen, he’s like, “Wo, hey, I’m not listening to any of this,” and just walks away, nicely ensuring that he keep his own ass covered in case any future problems should arise.
We get more Gary/Galveston this week and I continue to relish the charisma that Howard Duff is bringing to this character. Also, we get some confirmation that Galveston is probably actually a bad dude, because we see him having a little private meeting with some other bad dudes and making vague exchanges about how Gary Ewing is the man he wants to do this project or something or other. Again, this is the stuff that went flying right over my head upon first viewing, maybe because I wasn’t actually putting that much effort into paying attention and my energies were just focused on other aspects of the show. But anyway, this is the ep where Galveston essentially asks Gary to be the man to run Empire Valley for him, bringing up another name that should be familiar to all long time KL fans. We are definitely in an era of the series in which we get lots of big, cool company names and it can be difficult to keep track. We’ve already had Wolfbridge and Gary Ewing Enterprises and Apolune and Lotus Point and the Tidal Basin murders, and now we’ve got Empire Valley to throw into the mix. What is Empire Valley, you ask? Well, I guess it’s basically Paul Galveston’s version of Lotus Point, a big fat piece of land that he owns personally and that he wants to develop in some way, expand upon, and he wants Gary to be the man to help him with it. The problem is that there are lots of red flags that perhaps Galveston shouldn’t be trusted, such as that weird vague meeting he has with those other guys in which he declares that Gary is the man for this job, where the insinuation we get is that he’s tricking Gary in some way. I’ll be honest, even with My Beloved Grammy along to help me with this, my brain still has a bit of trouble figuring out what’s going on. As I often say, I don’t blame the show for my confusion, but rather my own brain and the bizarre way that it works and often has trouble following plot developments.
In any case, what’s worth noting here is the human drama that is created due to this, because when Gary announces to Karen and Abs that he is planning to sorta back away from Lotus Point for awhile and focus all his attention over on Empire Valley, they are both damn mad. I like this scene because it provides a rare chance to see Karen and Abs on the same side, both arguing with Gary about why he should keep his energies focused on Lotus Point. However, Gary reminds them that Lotus Point is basically his to do with whatever he pleases and that, for the time being, he’d like to work on Empire Valley with Galveston. Both Karen and Abs are suffering from a funny feeling about Galveston and don’t precisely trust him, although Gary says how Galveston is very similar to his father and he knows how these guys work. There’s the temptation to say that Gary is being naïve here (and indeed My Beloved Grammy is utterly convinced that he’s going to lose his entire fortune because of this and then return to the bottle and basically ruin his life), but I understand him. Yes, Galveston definitely has a certain charm about him, and yes, I definitely see a lot of Jock Ewing in him, so I could understand why hanging around a man like this on a sexy ranch would be right up Gary’s alley and why he would probably feel some inherent trust for the guy.
I feel like Ben is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to stories at this exact juncture in the series, and that’s sorta disheartening after coming to a new appreciation of his character throughout season five, but we do get a quick upsetting scene this week between him and The Desperate Horny Chick. Okay, so I finally learned that The Desperate Horny Chick's name is P.K. Kelly and she’s actually played by someone I should have recognized immediately but failed to, an actress named Wendel Meldrum (pictured below). Terrible name, I agree, but this lady is actually kinda iconic because she played The Low Talker in the classic Seinfeld episode, The Puffy Shirt and even reprised that character for the not-so-classic Seinfeld episode, The Finale. In addition, she played Ms. White, the teacher Kevin Arnold had a mondo crush on, in seven episodes of The Wonder Years. Again I reiterate that IMDb is hopelessly screwed up when it comes to KL eps because they only have her credited for three eps when I know for a fact that she’s in a ton more than that, so really I think IMDb should hire me to work as the guy correcting and face-checking all 344 eps of KL wouldn’t you agree?
Anyway, even though I now know her name and the actress who plays her, I’d rather continue to refer to her as The Desperate Horny Chick, because let’s be honest, that’s really all she is, and this week she sinks to new and frightening lows by sneaking into Ben’s Plant House to rouse/harass him in the middle of the night. Seriously, Ben is asleep as we begin this scene, and then this crazy Desperate Horny Chick comes walking in to wake him and beg him to give her a chance at a relationship. Ugh, and it only gets worse when, instead of telling her that she’s crazy and should probably go home, Ben kisses her. This does not reflect badly on Ben, however, as he is a man very confused at this point in his life. This reflects badly on The Desperate Horny Chick, who is just using the fact that Ben is vulnerable to get closer to him. I want this character shipped away as soon as possible, and My Beloved Grammy agrees with me. Whenever she’s onscreen, you can just smell her pathetic desperation dripping off of her and it’s not even fun to watch. The sixth season is obviously utterly brilliant and a sheer work of artistic genius from start to finish, but this lame character is the closest this season comes to having a flaw.
Let’s see, who else is on the agenda for stories this week. Well, we have the continuing investigation into the Tidal Basin murders, which I think I’m getting a better grasp on as we work our way through the season. Basically, Mack and Jessick are continuing their investigation into all these women who were killed and it somehow links back to Galveston Industries because one of them was a secretary for the company or something. The real important thing worth noting about this story this week is Mack’s completely unnecessary and hilarious little workout that he does on the floor of his office. This scene has burned into my brain since the first time I watched it as one of the most bizarrely brilliant in the entire series run, but perhaps I am the only person in the world to feel this way. See, as we start the scene, Jessick is sitting behind the desk of Mack’s office and they are chatting about these murders, and then the camera sorta pulls back to reveal Mack sitting on the floor, working out on one of those ‘80s rowing machines that you’d usually see at the gym. What is this machine doing in the office? Why is Mack working out on it while fully dressed in a suit and tie? Was this in the script or was it some sort of cool, sexy Dobsonator improvisation? I love The Dobsonator and all you readers should know that and you should know that I love the character of Mack and everything he represents, but he does occasionally become a little bit campy and this is definitely a good example of that, and I do have to wonder if The Dobsonator showed up to the set asking to work on this rowboat machine as some way of looking sexy or something; anyone have any ideas? I suppose it makes some sense that Mack would want to stay in shape and he works a fairly sedate job sitting at a desk all day, which is boring, so I guess I’d want a sexy ‘80s rowboat machine too, but still, it’s a fairly strange (meaning amazing) choice for something to do during this scene.
Meanwhile, the jig is finally starting to be up for Karen and her whole dying saga. See, she’s taking a nice joyride with Michael (and yes, obviously I would be delighted to take a joyride on Michael) when she goes numb, not just in the hand but in the entire arm this time, and nearly crashes the car and kills some kid on a bicycle. Basically, it’s bad, but thankfully nobody is hurt and most thankfully Michael’s face is not injured in any way. After this exciting incident, we cut to commercial, but when we get back we see the fallout of this little near-car crash. Karen is getting dinner prepared and trying to act like what happened was no big deal, that she just got distracted driving the car or whatever, but Michael is adamant that, had he not grabbed the wheel away from Karen, they would both have crashed. We see that Mack is at the end of his patience by this point and he sends the boys off to go do something in the kitchen and then announces to Karen, “We’re going to the doctor’s tomorrow.” I like to see Mack get cool and authoritative in this way, reminding us that he is a very patient man and he has put up with a lot and I do mean a lot in the two years or so he’s been married to Karen, but he knows when it’s time to put his foot down about something, and this is it.
Karen manages to avoid the meeting with the doctor by busying herself with something or other at Lotus Point, which means Mack has a little one-on-one time with Dr. Garner, that fabulous black doctor that I love so much played by Jason Bernard, rest in peace. What a great scene this is, reminding me of that magical ability that KL has to make every character, even the most minor ones, extremely interesting to watch onscreen. See, Mack tries to get Dr. Garner to tell him the truth about what’s going on with Karen, but Garner refuses, and I appreciate that. I could see any other show (7th Heaven, perhaps, since doctor/patient confidentiality didn’t appear to exist in that show’s universe) just having Garner sorta sigh and say, “Aw, fuck it, your wife is dying,” but instead Garner reminds Mack that he has a doctor/patient confidentiality with Karen and can’t just go around telling Mack what the deal is and he advises Mack to talk to Karen himself.
When Karen returns home, she finds Mack on the couch, holding some magazine and glaring. She tries to shrug off her failure to show up at the doctor’s office by saying something like, “Oh, I hope you got my message about why I couldn’t make it,” but Mack has finally had enough, and I think we the audience also have. This is not a criticism since I think KL almost always has brilliant pacing with its stories and knows when its time to finish something up; this is more an observation about the fact that we are now twelve eps deep into the season and Karen has been keeping this secret for pretty much all twelve eps. I’d say it’s definitely time for Mack to find out the truth, and so the writers let it happen. Mack gives a nice speech about how he and Karen don’t have a marriage because, “You’re lying to me and you caused an accident that could have killed a kid.” This is finally enough for Karen to tell Mack the truth, the fact that she is dying thanks to that little bullet in her spine.
I love it when a KL ep is rolling along and I’m staring at the screen and drooling and wouldn’t notice if a dump truck came crashing into the living room and I’m just so damn invested in what’s going on and then suddenly the ep is over and I’m like, “Omigod, it’s over!” That to me symbolizes that the show has done its job by sucking me into its world and making me completely unaware of the time passing around me, and this ep does that. See, our last scene is a super powerful one between Karen and Mack taking place in their bedroom in which Karen says how she didn’t tell Mack because she didn’t want him to worry, didn’t want him to feel obligated to come be with her as she died, didn’t want to distract from his work, all that stuff. Then the topic of the surgery comes up and Karen says how she didn’t have the surgery when she first found out and Mack says, “When the choices are slim or none, you go with slim, always.” Just written out as a line of dialogue that way, it’s hard to convey the amazing way that The Dobsonator delivers the line, but it’s slow yet firm and with every ounce of heart and feeling really thrown into it, fully conveying the emotions of the scene in a fabulous way, and then he declares, “I won’t let you die,” and we get our “Executive Producers” credit played over that beautiful image of Karen and Mack looking into each other’s eyes and we just have to wait for our next episode to see how all of this is going to turn out.
Holding each and every episode under a microscope the way I’ve been doing for 112 episodes now, I would say that this episode isn’t quite as good as our prior one, Distant Locations, but that’s because that one was really especially memorable and had many scenes that are just etched into my mind forever. Maybe this one was a smidge more regular than that ep, but it was obviously still great and still had amazing acting and story plotting from all involved. Why split hairs when you’re getting something this unbelievably stellar each and every week? Aside from The Desperate Horny Chick who I want to see take a walk off of that big cliff from the start of the opening credits, this episode is nicely moving the saga alone with lots of good drama, most especially for Val but also for Karen and Mack and all that stuff. Overall, very solid.
But wait, there's more! I almost forgot to mention that this is our very last episode of 1984, a most important year not just because of George Orwell but also because it was just a great year. As usual by this point, I just don't really feel the energy to write too much about what happened this year because, well, my fingers hurt and I want to take a break from writing and watch some TV. For movies, some of the most important things to happen this year, in my opinion, would be the release of James Cameron's absolutely brilliant The Terminator, which is probably my second favorite movie of all time (after my #1 favorite movie, which also happens to be from J.C., Titanic). Also, David Lynch (one of my other favorite directors) released Dune. Maligned upon its original release, I feel this movie is now finally appreciated the way it should be. It's a bizarre and crazy work of mad art with plenty of unforgettable visuals and it's one of my faves from Lynch's canon. Also, Brian De Palma released Body Double, a movie I seem to bring up constantly on this blog, mostly because I love it and also because tons of people from KL pop up in it. Finally, the top ten shows of the 1983-1984 season were (going from #10 to #1), Cagney & Lacey, Hotel, Kate and Allie, Falcon Crest, Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, The A-Team, Dynasty, 60 Minutes, and Dallas.
Next up, we finally see Karen start to accept that she needs to do something about her serious medical condition with our first episode of 1985, Weighing of Evils.