Episode Title: #14 With a Bullet
Season 06, Episode 14
Episode 114 of 344
Written by Peter Dunne
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 10th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen's surgery goes well. Galveston tells Greg to tell Mack to stop investigating the Tidal Basin murders, but instead Greg tells Mack to look for a connection between the murders and Galveston Industries. Gary's private detective tells Abby that Val has become Verna Ellers from her book "Nashville Junction" and that she seems happy. He says he'll do a fake report, in exchange for sex with Abby. He tells Gary he has no leads and is dropping the case. Galveston has his men bring him Abby's detective. Galveston threatens him, so the detective tells him where Val is. Then another man brings him all of Scott Easton's papers. Abby waits for the detective, but instead Galveston shows up and tells her that he knows where Val is and all about the babies and unless she comes up with a damn good explanation, he's going to tell Gary.
Last week I said how I’m still managing to find each and every ep of KL to stand out as its own special and magnificent little 48 minute movie, and that trend continues this week. God, how do the people working on this show do it so well? You’ve got all these long, continuing, epic plots going on all concurrently, and you have to keep everything powering along and going good and exciting, yet they also manage to be artistic and keep each ep special, really standing out. If our last ep was all about high emotions and a feeling of mounting dread as Karen prepared for her surgery, this episode is almost a religious experience, and I do mean that quite literally, since we open up on Mack entering a church and looking up at that big, creepy Jesus statue that always kept me afraid of going into church as a kid.
Behind the camera this week, we have KL’s most prolific director, Nicholas Sgarro. I feel like I’ve become so excited by other directors like Nick Havinga and Bill "Green Beret" Duke and, most especially, Larry Elikann, that I’m almost failing to give Sgarro his due. Make no mistake, this guy is great, and he’s definitely got a special place in Heaven for directing more KL eps than anyone ever; I think it’s just the effect of how he’s directed so many that when his name pops up, I don’t generally get all EXCITED like I do when I see Elikann or Duke; I’m more like, “Oh yes, that old trustworthy Sgarro.” However, let’s go ahead and give him an immediate shout out for how he shoots this scene with Mack in the church and how he cleverly runs audio of Karen’s meeting with her doctor over the footage. Oh, such style, and all taking place on the small screen on a network show!
Oh yeah, and one other thing that we gotta mention regarding this ep: It’s written by none other than the landmark television giant Peter Dunne (pictured below in the only photo I can manage to find of him in the entire internet world), the man who’s dick I currently want to suck really hard because I’m crediting him with saving the show from cancellation with the brilliant triple whammy of seasons four, five, and six after a rather schizophrenic and sometimes hard to sit through third season. Maybe I’m mistaken in giving him so much credit, maybe I’m not, and I’ll probably never know since I can’t time travel back to the set of the show at this point (although dear God, how I want to, if for no other reason than to violently sodomize Michael). Anyway, I’m willing to say maybe Peter Dunne isn’t actually a genius in absolutely all regards considering some of the other credits on his IMDb (such as the dream season of Dallas and the rather awful final season of Melrose Place, a show that was hardly great art at any point in its run), but he was definitely a genius when it came to writing and crafting and understanding KL and all its characters, and his talents really shine this week with an excellent script full of fantastic character moments.
So Karen’s in the hospital and she’s about to have her surgery and all that, but what’s Val/Verna up to over in Shula, Tennessee? Well, we saw her making kissy with Parker Winslow last week, and now the kissy continues with Parker yet again (Parker Winslow can’t lose!), this time in the darkened back pantry or broom closet or whatever. Basically Val/Verna goes wandering off into this dark room and is kinda sorta assaulted by Parker, who jumps out at her unexpectedly, and then the two continue to make kissy. This would all be very romantic aside from the fact that Val/Verna is soul mates with one person and one person only, Mr. Gary Ewing, and it’s also upsetting to watch only because Parker continues to give us viewers a funny feeling. After all, is his interest in Val/Verna really just stemming from a human physical attraction or is it from something deeper and more lecherous? Again, we shall have to wait and find out.
That’s about all that Val/Verna is up to this week, but Greg is busy as a bee with lots of different secret meetings, most notably one taking place in the back of a limo between him and Galveston. We the viewers are definitely starting to get the sense that there’s some sort of crazy past history between these two (like perhaps maybe, just maybe, Galveston is actually Greg’s father) based on the way that they speak to each other, like two guys who have spent time together in the past but don’t really get along much. This scene is similar to the one from our last ep in which Galveston creepily materialized by Greg’s bedside, although the gist of the scene is a smidge different. In that scene, Galveston was saying ominous things about how the senate wouldn’t give Greg the power he wants and needs, something like that, but in the back of the limo, Galveston is telling Greg to get Mack far away from the Tidal Basin murders, to somehow encourage him to get off the case. Greg is like, “Oh yeah, whatever, you’re old and I don’t like you and your guest appearance in a few years on Dallas is gonna suck,” and that pretty much ends the scene. We kinda assume that Greg will go to Mack and do as Galveston asked, but he surprises us by doing precisely the opposite. He comes walking into Mack’s office (the one with the ‘80s rowing machine on the floor, you’ll all remember) and My Beloved Grammy was like, “Ah, here’s where he tells Mack to drop the case.” Instead, he tells Mack to further pursue the case and, indeed, to be even more aggressive in his pursuit. Because of the way things have unfolded between these two over the last year or so, Mack is understandably a little bit reticent to take any advice from Greg, wondering why he’s suddenly showing up at his door to give him advice on a murder case. He’s right to be suspicious since Greg has behaved questionably in the past, but in this case we get the sense that Greg is doing something he believes to be ethical and right, not listening to the orders of Galveston even though Galveston has a distinctive deep voice and a cool moustache.
This episode kicks into action movie mode during a delightfully unexpected car chase involving Mack and Jessick and, um, some other guy. I can distinctly remember that there were three guys in Mack’s jeep, but damn it all, I can’t remember the third guy, and I’m not all that sure it’s too important anyway. Basically the guys are hanging out and then suddenly they get into an epic high speed car chase. I love how this comes so wonderfully out of nowhere, how Mack sees this car and is like, “Oh shit!” and then immediately spins his jeep around and goes chasing after this other car, a car with two random dudes inside. The whole time, Jessick is like, “Jesus, why are we having a high speed car chase?” but he gets no response from Mack, who manages to corner the car and then goes running out to violently assault the driver. Seriously, Mack goes to town on this guy, really kicking the shit out of him for something like 72 minutes, even throwing him down against the hood of the car. The guy is quickly abandoned by the other random dude in the car, who goes running off in pants-wetting terror, but just before the scene concludes, as this random dude lies all beat up and bleeding against his car, Mack points at him and says, “Wolfbridge hired him to beat me up!”
Ah yes, this brings me to a flashback from around, I think, mid season five, in which Karen was waiting for Mack to meet her for her drug rehab counseling and he instead got assaulted in the parking lot by Wolfbridge thugs. Don’t you just love how that can happen so long ago but still play into the plots of the show now? This is a type of storytelling that I have to think was pretty unique to this era of television, something we’d be more used to nowadays with the cable shows and the whole idea of binge watching TV. Seriously, who in 1985 would see this scene and be like, “Oh yeah, I remember that scene!” It feels like it happened so long ago, but it still plays into the plots now, and I like it that way. On another, more base level, I also just enjoy whenever Mack gets really randomly angry and beats people up; it keeps his character so wonderfully unpredictable and, again, so manly. Fuck, I’m starting to get really turned on by Mack at this point in the series, which is a new feeling. The first time I watched the series, I obviously loved him and cherished him and respected him, but I don’t remember ever finding him sexy upon the first viewing and I’m starting to feel that way about him now. Does this mean I’m growing and maturing or does it just mean I’m really horny? I suppose that’s an issue for me to deal with on my own personal time, preferably with a good psychiatrist.
Meanwhile, Abs is up to her wicked ways again this week, helping to keep her character fully fledged and fascinating. See, we’ve been watching Abs desperately try and figure out what happened to Val’s babies as well as what happened to Scott Easton, running around in bad hats and acting like a little amateur detective. We have seen that she is not completely cold and heartless, that she does understand the maternal instinct and that she feels awful about what has happened to Val and her babies. Now, on another show, this might lead to a “Abs turning good” storyline in which she goes to the join the rebels like the end of Return of the Jedi or something, but KL is more complex than that, and this week we see her still up to her duplicitous ways.
See, that P.I. guy that Abs hired found Val/Verna last week, right? When he found her, she was in the diner kissing Parker and he made the assumption that she had chosen to disappear into Shula and a new life with some new man, which is what he’s told Abs. This week, Abs gives him orders to write a nice, tidy little report that says he failed to find Val and he’ll be moving on to a new case. Abs declares, “I want the case on Valene Ewing closed.” Later, she and the P.I. have a nice little meeting at her office at Lotus Point (where Abs mentions that she was an English major, just like me!), in which he starts to get, well, a little Trumpy. I feel like it’s been a long while since Trumpy rape made its way into KL (I honestly think season one’s The Lie might have been the last rapey episode we’ve seen), but now it’s back. See, the P.I. holds up two files and says, “This one brings Val home, and this one keeps her away.” Abs sorta sighs and clearly makes the assumption that this is all about exploiting her out of money, so she starts to pull out her checkbook and scribble something and is like, “Okay, how much?” However, things get creepy/rapey when the P.I. walks over to her and starts to slowly stroke her face while moaning, “Money isn’t everything, Mrs. Ewing.” Then he goes walking off, leaving both Abs and myself with a genuine feeling of disgust.
Ugh, let’s talk about rape for a minute. It’s one of those subjects that is a horrible thing but that is sadly a part of our world, something that happens all the time and is very hard to digest. Back in The Lie, I didn’t enjoy seeing Laura get raped, but I respected the episode for being well crafted and incredibly acted and exploring the subject in a complex way. Here, as that horrible P.I. started to stroke Abby’s face, I honestly couldn’t remember if Abs was gonna get raped, either later in the episode or right here in front of me. As it was happening, I kinda thought we might cut to commercial just as the P.I. started to rape, sorta like the two times J.R. raped people on Dallas and they would just cut to commercial as it was happening (yes, J.R. raped twice, I’m not making this up; once he raped Dr. Goodhead and once he raped that boring British chick that Clayton was obsessed with). All I knew is that I did not want to see it. There is something about the idea of Abs being raped that is just too horrible for me to deal with, and I don’t know if I would have been able to handle it happening to her. She may be wicked and she may be duplicitous, but she’s also really strong and she’s sharp and smart and she’s my girl and I just don’t want to see her get raped. Happily for me, that does not happen. Again, if this was another show, like Melrose Place for instance, I have no doubt that Abs would get raped and the writers would be like, “We need a rape to create good drama!” On KL, the drama comes from continuous unexpected avenues, from the curveballs the writers constantly throw at us and the characters. For instance, the next day, the P.I. shows up to show Abs and Gary his report, and it’s the report that ends with his failing to find Val at all. Also present in the scene (and this is significant for the latter portion of the ep) is Galveston, sorta watching proceedings like a hawk. The P.I. hands the file over to Abs and when she opens it, she sees a little post-it note inside saying, “Meet me at your office at 8:00PM so I can rape you.” I don’t know if Galveston actually sees this note or what, but I think he does, because he gets this sharp look in his eye and we can tell wheels are in motion in his head.
In one of the last scene of the ep, Abs is sitting in her office waiting to be raped, but instead of the rapey P.I. coming to pay her a visit, it’s actually Paul Galveston. Over the last few eps, we’ve seen that these two have a, shall we say, contentious relationship with one another (can we ever forget such dialogue as, “Shouldn’t you be at home making babies?” and “One more thing, don’t call me ‘Cookie’?) and that contentious relationship only escalates here. See, Abs is kinda surprised to see Galveston here and so she asks if he’d like a drink and he’s like, “Another time, perhaps,” and then he launches into this speech where he’s like, “I don’t know what I have planned for you,” but then a second later he shows that he has a lot planned for her. He tells her how he knows where Val is and that his next step is to figure out where the babies are, and once that’s completed, he’s gonna tell Gary absolutely everything. Then he marches off and leaves Abs looking like she’s about to poop her pants.
It’s been a few eps since Cathy graced us with one of her fabulous cover songs, but she more than makes up for it in this ep with a rousing rendition of Beat of a Heart by Scandal. Now, I didn’t know this song or this band as we were watching the ep, but after finishing our disk I immediately sped home, running over puppies and old people in my frantic quest to return to my abode and look up this song, and I found the original version by Scandal on YouTube. It has a fabulous ‘80s sound to it but, as usual, Lisa gives us the better version. While Scandal’s music video is basically just one of those boring ‘80s music videos with lots of singing in front of white walls (I attached it below so you can all see it for yourself), Lisa’s rendition at Isadora’s is positively stunning, a true ‘80s explosion all around her. I could happily watch this scene on a loop for the rest of time, never moving or getting out of my chair until the time comes for me to finally die and go to Hell. My God, not only do we have the fabulous song which positively drips with ‘80s goodness, but we’ve also got Cathy’s wild electro-shock hair, as if she accidentally stuck her finger in an electrical socket and then had to go onstage right away and wasn’t able to give it a comb, plus we’ve got just about a million star filters going off behind her while the band plays and the people listen to her and it was just one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I feel like KL is a much more ‘80s show than Dallas, and I obviously mean that in the complimentary way, because the ‘80s are awesome. It’s rather strange to notice this since both shows were on the air all the way through the entirety of the 1980’s, yet I felt that Dallas existed in something of a time warp in which everyone just sorta lived on the ranch or in stuffy offices full of liquor, but there were hardly ever any scenes where we heard a good ‘80s tune being blasted or went to a sexy ‘80s nightclub. Indeed, whenever an ‘80s song did make its way into the series (such as when Charlie and Brad Pitt were dancing around to a cover version of Mony Mony), it would always feel jarring to me and I’d be like, “Oh yeah, we’re watching an ‘80s show; I kinda forgot.” Here on KL, it’s impossible to forget the decade because there is so much ‘80s aesthetic just oozing out of every frame, and I feel like everything great and brilliant about the 1980s is rolled up into one fantastic ball of genius and exemplified through Lisa and all of her fabulous songs and performances. God, don’t you just want to climb into the television screen and live in this world forever?!
Last thing I’d like to note before we move on to Karen and her surgery: Gary gives a wonderful speech to Abs this week about a man speaking at his recent A.A. meeting. He talks about how this man would always go off and disappear from his family so that he could also disappear into the nearest bottle. He would get black out drunk and wander around for awhile before waking up in some strange new environment and having to figure out where he was, but whenever he would come home, his wife would be waiting to be nice and help him get cleaned up. Gary makes the point that it wasn’t until his wife finally took the kids and left this guy that the man began to see straight and decided to quit drinking forever, but of course the sad irony is that by the time the man was straight and sober, he had lost his family. Gary then goes on to say something about how Val would always do the same for him during his big benders, and then Abs delivers a line that actually made me laugh out loud, in which she asks, “Honey, are you thinking of drinking again?” Um, no, Abs, he’s just telling you a story and making a point, and I think it’s funny how the point seems to go flying over her head. This is a good scene for many reasons. First off, it causes us to pause and reflect on Gary’s drinking and his fantastic sobriety that he’s maintained all the way through season five and now six, but it also makes us reflect on the negative qualities of his marriage to Val. We realize that, in many ways, Val was an enabler for Gary’s drinking because she would always be there to support him afterwards, to make like it was okay. This really opened my eyes and made me realize there are many positive qualities to the union of Gary and Abs. Back in season four, during Gary’s big final bender, Abs was very cold with him and said, “If you want to drink yourself to death, go ahead.” She did not merely stand by to be a good doting wife the way Val probably would, and I think that is one of the primary reasons that Gary truly got straight. If he had been married to Val during that period, he could very well still be drinking at this point in the saga. Also, I just like to have little shout-outs to Gary’s A.A. meetings to help establish that he’s continuing to go to those. We may not see him going to the A.A. meetings on a regular basis, but we know that he is doing so and that’s good information to have.
Okay, let’s get back to Karen. Last week she agreed to the risky, scary, could-possibly-kill-her-the-way-it-killed-Sid surgery, and this week she’s ready to go with the surgery. She spends most of the ep in the hospital, getting prepped, and we get a lovely scene between her and some kid in a wheelchair. See, in case I forgot to mention it, one of the big risks of this surgery, in addition to, you know, death, is that Karen may end up in a wheelchair paralyzed forever. This is a scary prospect, but near the middle of the ep, she’s sorta wheeling herself around the hospital, getting used to the feeling of moving in the chair, and she runs into this nice young boy who is also in a wheelchair. At first, when we see him climbing out of his bed and getting into a wheelchair, we think this is supposed to be a sad scene, but then we quickly realize that the boy has a great attitude, that he’s not going to let this wheelchair ruin his life, and that he sorta shows Karen that this doesn’t have to be the end of the world. She’s having a hard time moving her chair around, and he says something like, “For the first month, I broke everything in the house,” and shows her it’s just a period of adjustment, really.
When the time for the big surgery comes, the tension really rackets up, and My Beloved Grammy continued to make little comments like, “Oh they can’t kill Karen off…..can they?” How pleased I am to see this suspense and excitement really working on her, and how pleased I am to see the show’s sublime magic truly taking control of her (at the end of this disk of eps, she declared, “This is a brilliant series” and I was like, “Yeah, I fucking know, right?!”). Like I mentioned before, if you manage to wash your brain out of the retroactive knowledge that Karen will be with us until the final episode in 1993, and if you manage to just look at this as its unfolding in front of you, not knowing what lies in the future, it could definitely seem like Karen might die. Again, I remind you that they killed Sid, and not even in the spot where you would usually kill a main cast member, between two seasons, but rather at the very start of the third season, even after going through the trouble of redesigning the opening credits and keeping his name in there. So yes, because of all that, it seems that Karen may die.
However, she wakes up from her surgery, so we know that we’ve dodged that bullet (you see what I did there?), but will she be paralyzed? This is an incredible scene and yet another one of those scenes that has ingrained itself into my brain for all time, ever since the first time I watched the series back in college. See, Karen wakes up but is still groggy and unable to speak, so the doctors and nurses ask her to blink if she can understand them, which she does, and then they say how they’re gonna touch her feet and she needs to blink if/when she feels any sensation. Oh God, the music gets scary as the doctor runs that, like, wheel thing over her foot, and no blinking. Is she paralyzed? The KL writing and plotting is so good that it honestly seems like a distinct possibility, that perhaps the next big story for Karen will be adjusting to life in a wheelchair, like Bobby Brady in another brilliant CBS series, The Bradys. However, after a good long moment of suspense in which Karen appears to feel no sensation below her waist, the doctor runs the wheel thing over her foot one more time and we go into a really great closeup of Karen’s eyeballs as she blinks along with them filling with tears. Oh man, such acting, can you imagine having to make your eyes start out dry and then fill with tears all in one extreme, tight closeup? I think I could make myself cry pretty well if I was an actor and it was required for the scene, but I don’t know if I could do it knowing that the camera was in a super duper tight Wayne’s World style extreme closeup and that every detail of my eyes filling with tears would be photographed in microscopic detail, but Michele does it here, adding yet another stunning performance to her many past and future stunning performances. Fuck me, yes, it’s all so good.
We actually end on something that should be incredibly corny and eye-rolling, and that is Mack entering the church again to give a great big thumbs up to Jesus. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous when you write it down, and for all intents and purposes it should seem like high camp to witness onscreen, but somehow, God bless it, somehow it works. How does the KL team do it? On what other series could you end an ep with someone giving a thumbs up to Jesus and not have all of America pee their pants in laughter? Why does it work so well here? Why is it maybe one of my top ten episode endings of all time? I don’t know, but all I do know is that this is a stunning ending to a stunning episode.
Last thing I wanna address before we move on to our next ep is how long this storyline has been going on and how not boring it has been. Over on Dallas right around this time, America was suffering through the absolutely toxic “Jenna Wade murder trial” storyline in which Scooter Warren was the lawyer of her ex-husband or something equally boring. This story went on forever and is absolutely impossible for any living human to sit through (making it even more of a mystery how Dallas could finish at #2 in the rating while KL was #9, again showing that American people generally have no taste when it comes to what they will watch on television), yet this Karen storyline has also gone on pretty long, fourteen eps long, yet somehow it never bored me and it never felt long winded. I know some fans disagree, as I’ve seen some people write that the story went on too long, but I simply disagree. Yeah, it spans nearly half the season, but I was never bored, and in the typical KL fashion, it wasn’t just drama for drama’s sake, but it was drama coming from the inner core of the characters, keeping them interesting and real to us, and I think the pacing was just perfect and that this was the best spot to end this storyine and wrap it up. Give it another two or three or four eps and I would have started to get bored with it, but ending it right here in episode #14 (with a bullet!) was the perfect choice.
Clearly this episode was a sublime and shining work of genius, so let’s move right along and find out if our next episode can be equally good, as we explore the inside information of our next episode, Inside Information.