Episode Title: Lead Me to the Altar
Season 06, Episode 17
Episode 117 of 344
Written by Parke Perine
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 31st, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Joshua's ego is getting really big. Joshua tells Cathy she needs to mend her ways and sing in church, not in a bar, and he breaks up with her. Abby's worried that Mack will find out her connection with the babies. Galveston has Jamison and Whiteside sign a confession for Lila Maxwell's murder. A man gets into Mack's car and tells him that he's not aiming high enough in his investigation of Galveston. Gary continues to try and convince Val that she is not Verna. Val makes plans for her wedding, and imagines dancing with Gary in her wedding dress. Gary shows Val her picture on the back of "Nashville Junction." Parker's worried when Val is late for the wedding. She's in her room, staring at her picture on the book cover. Val finally goes to the church. Gary barges in and interrupts the ceremony. Parker wants the Minister to continue, but Gary insists he is going to bring Val home to California.
When we last left off, ominous wedding bells were ringing for Val/Verna as the ultra sleazeball douche bag Parker Winslow had successfully gotten her to agree to marriage. With our last ep, Out of the Past, Gary flew to Tennessee to try and stir up Val’s/Verna’s old memories, but to little success. True, he got her to have that quick sense memory of how they first met and experienced love at first sight, but that was very brief and she quickly returned to being Verna. Now, we begin an episode entitled Lead Me to the Altar, and with a title like that, we should all be feeling deeply uncomfortable about what may be lying in store.
However, as I did last week, I’d like to save the Val/Verna stuff for the end of our discussion and begin by focusing on other characters. Who to start with? Oh gee, let's look at my notes here, let’s start with Cathy and Joshua, who’s relationship is on increasingly thinner and thinner ice due to Abby’s manipulations and Joshua’s inflated ego, not to mention his repressed religious issues. Take my advice and just never date a religious person, and most especially never date a preacher’s son, because it’s just gonna be a whole can of worms that you don’t need to deal with. We’ve seen Joshua have some problems with Cathy singing at Isadora’s in past eps, but it’s starting to become even more of an issue now. See, Joshua now believes it would be bad for his image if he was dating a woman who, you know, sings in a bar (although he uses the word “saloon,” which I appreciate; definitely helps to emphasize his very old fashioned view of the world). I appreciate that Cathy doesn’t even consider compromising herself for him, but rather stands up for herself and her right to sing where she wants to sing and do what makes her happy. At the same time, however, if something like this were happening to me, I would have no patience for it and immediately drop Joshua and go start sleeping with a new person, but Cathy is in love with him and so she’s having a hard time being as cold as I can be. I can appreciate that, and it also goes back to that rather incredible ability Baldwin has already displayed for changing his personality and performance in a way that’s really rather subtle. When he first showed up, I thought he was genuinely cute and sweet, all wide eyed and innocent, and I felt sorry for him, but now that we’re starting to see hints of his darkness; he’s starting to become rather frightening, honestly. Another important Joshua/Cathy thing to note this week is the fact that he does not believe her claim about how Abs hired her in season five. Abs denies this to Joshua and says, “Why would I want my husband to fall in love with another woman?” Later, Joshua tells Cathy that Abs would never lie to him, that he trusts her, and he accuses Cathy of being the one who’s lying. These are some harsh words and so, quite understandably, the two break up for the time being.
I might actually have a criticism right here, but note that it’s a very small one. I love KL and I love season six of KL best of the entire series and so far, not only is it just as good as I remembered from first viewing, but it’s actually even better and I’m just sitting in awe that a 30-episode season of television can possibly be this amazing, but no art is completely flawless, so I do have one little micro-complaint here, and that is that I’d like to see Cathy doing a bit more, getting more of her own material. It actually feels somewhat like she can only exist if she is firmly attached to some male character, and now that I think about it, the same thing was true of Lisa’s first character on the show, Ciji. Ciji was most firmly attached to the wicked Chip Roberts (although of course her character and her death had a significant ripple effect that ran down through pretty much everybody in the cast, which is a main reason why that storyline was so damn strong). After Ciji came back from the dead in the form of Cathy, she was firmly attached to Gary and the question of whether or not they would sleep together was a continuous thing throughout season five. Then, Gary cut it off with her and two seconds later Joshua moved into the neighborhood and now she’s firmly attached to him. What would it be like if Cathy was completely free of a boyfriend? What if we just got stories about her, you know, sorta doing stuff? I think one of the reasons I’m only just bringing this up is because usually the show will throw in some absolutely fantastic cover song for Lisa to sing and I’ll get so distracted and amazed by it that I won’t notice if her character is kinda not really doing too much aside from singing and fighting with Joshua.
Let’s shift our focus over to a storyline that I remember not following very well but which I believe I’m finding much easier to understand now, that of Paul Galveston and the Tidal Basin murders and all that fun stuff. We can tell that Galveston is getting rather nervous about Mack poking around and asking questions regarding the murders, so now he’s sorta overcompensating and being way too agreeable and helpful to Mack, but it’s all in the interest of covering his own ass, and in my opinion he doesn’t do it very well. At some point (it’s either in this episode or the one right before it), he is speaking with Mack and he gets very serious and says, “If you find out that anyone in my organization is responsible for these murders, you come to me first so I can take care of it,” or something like that, and even though he tries to sound really angry and “Murder is bad” and all that, we can tell that Mack’s not buying it, cuz he just sorta glares at Galveston during this whole speech. Next up, Galveston meets with two of his lackies, including the non Scott Easton ‘80s Rapist Beard. Yes, at this point I’m fairly sure that Easton took a skydive without a parachute out of that plane and we won’t be seeing him anymore, so this ‘80s Rapist Beard (Jamison) is the only one we need to focus on for the time being. Anyway, Galveston, Jamison, and some other guy (TV.com says his name is Whiteside) meet up for lunch and Galveston gives them something to sign and they’re like “What am I signing?” and he’s like, “You just signed confessions to the murder of Lila Maxwell," and honestly the two guys seem to take this pretty well in stride. If my boss took me out to lunch and then abruptly made me confess to a murder, I’d be a bit more perturbed than these two, but perhaps such things as this were covered way back when they signed their contracts. Indeed, Galveston is all calm and is like, “Now now, boys, you know that this might happen when you started working for me.” A second later, we see Galveston pop a couple of pills like Father Merrin in The Exorcist and a little red flag goes up in our brains; could Galveston possibly die?
When Galveston shows up at Mack’s office with two signed confessions, Mack’s still not buying it, and good for him. Do you see what I mean about Galveston being too helpful? Doesn’t it seem strange that he would hear Mack’s investigating these murders and then immediately show up with two signed confessions from some of his staff? I’m kinda surprised that Galveston thinks this will work, since he’s clearly just using Whiteside and ‘80s Rapist Beard to serve as a distraction from the real bad guy, who is presumably Galveston himself. It’s also worth noting that Mack doesn’t say he doesn’t believe him; he sorta takes the confessions and says thanks and is quiet but we can tell he’s finding this all a little bit suspicious, himself.
I’m looking through my notes here, and let’s shine a quick spotlight on Greg. We have one of the most earth shattering events in Greg Sumner History with this ep, and I am talking, of course, about his very first cigar. Whenever I think of Sumner, I think of him smoking a big cigar; it seems like this inseparable part of his character, and yet we haven’t seen him smoke a cigar all through season five and now more than half of season six. This week, however, he and Laura are kinda unwinding for the night, sitting around in their robes and getting ready for bed, and he’s enjoying a nice big cigar while relaxing in a chair (taking me back to a better time in American history when a man could enjoy a big cigar in an enclosed environment without a bunch of people wanting to have him murdered). I have been meaning to attempt to count all of Sumner’s cigars as we move through the series, but I had almost forgotten about that goal since it had been some time and we still hadn’t seen him smoke one, but here it is, his very first, so let’s go ahead and start up the Sumner Cigar Counter with Cigar #1. Ooooh, this is all very exciting.
Aside from Sumner Cigar #1, we also have a fabulous line delivered impeccably by Devane that I really really hope was improvised. As I’ve said before, I’ve read that Devane improvised a ton of his dialogue, and I like trying to spot it, if I can. Sometimes it’s just a feeling I get, sometimes it’s a long speech he’ll go on and that feels very natural and spur-of-the-moment, sometimes it’s a funny little extra bit that isn’t strictly necessary to the plot but just adds a little life, and sometimes it’s just a funny little line or joke. In this case, we have a scene of Paul Galveston barging in on Greg and Laura and angrily demanding to know, “What the hell are you doing with Mack MacKenzie?” Without missing a beat, Sumner dryly replies, “We’ve having an affair.” Oh boy, did I laugh at that line, as did My Beloved Grammy. You tell me, my dear readers, does that sound like something that was written in the original script, or does it strike you as something Devane would improvise and make up on the spur-of-the-moment?
Honestly, that about does it for our other characters this week. This episode is very heavily focused on Gary and Val/Verna; looking through my notes it’s clear that the majority of the action this week is in Shula as Val prepared for her nuptials. As I mentioned before, I have some logical problems with this development, most specifically the fact that I’m pretty sure getting married is a smidge more complicated than just showing up at a church and saying, “Hi, I’m ready to get married.” Pretty sure you need to, you know, prove who you are and where you come from, provide a valid I.D. and social security number, stuff like that. This week, Parker just sorta shows up while Val/Verna is working and is like, “I got us our marriage license!” No questions are asked about how he got a marriage license for a woman who isn’t who she says she is and who has no actual proof that she is Verna Ellers. In any case, it’s just not that big of a deal, and it’s certainly not something I was focusing on upon first viewing; I was just way too enraptured with the drama and nervous about what was going to happen to Val/Verna.
Okay, I might have one more little logical flaw in this particular ep, and this time it lies with Gary being the only person in Shula who knows what’s going on and is trying to rescue Val/Verna. We get some scenes here and there throughout the ep of other characters being like, “I’d better get to Tennessee and see if I can help” and then usually Abs shuts them down for one reason or another. We actually open the ep with Ben and Joshua saying they’re gonna go there and Abs gives them some line about how Gary has the situation well in hand and doesn’t need outside help. However, I just kinda don’t believe that a character like Ben, especially, wouldn’t just ignore Abs and go off to do his thing. The same goes for Lilimae, as well. When she hears where Val is, she gets very excited and wants to go right away, and then I think Karen or someone says how Val’s not herself and it’s best that just Gary is there. The problem, of course, is that nobody in Shula is believing anything Gary’s saying and, since he’s the only outsider trying to let the truth be known, he comes across as crazy. If he had shown up with Ben and Lilimae and Karen to be his support and affirm what he is saying, he wouldn’t look so nutty, but instead he’s going solo and it’s proving to be a bit of an uphill battle. Again, it’s a little plot flaw that I’m willing to overlook since the drama is this good.
Gary is persistent and pretty smart with his methods of jogging Val’s memories. First off, he starts with the simple method of sending her flowers and a “Good luck on your marriage” note. This might seem odd, but really it’s not, cuz he’s serving to remind her of his own existence and of her previous life with him and the two marriages they had (I’m referring to their nuptials in the Dallas ep Return Engagements as their second marriage, but did they ever actually get an official divorce in all those years between the early ‘60s and 1979? Maybe in reality Gary and Val have only been married once). The flowers scene is nice because they arrive at the diner and Parker tries to grab them real fast and is like, “Oh, I’ll go put them in water,” clearly not wanting Val to see the note, since she’s assuming they came from Parker himself. Then she reads the note and sees they’re from Gary and Parker looks rather dejected. Later he and his two goons show up at Gary’s hotel room and he smashes the flowers against the wall and is like, “We don’t want these!” This scene interests me because as Parker is being threatening to Gary his two goons are sorta going through the room, looking around, clearly on the prowl for something, but what? I assume they’re just looking around for either something to damn Gary with or something that proves Gary’s telling the truth, but whatever it is, they don’t find it and end up leaving empty handed.
Next up is a scene that I had forgotten existed, and I don’t know how the hell that could be, because it’s sublime. It’s the night before the wedding and Val/Verna is all dressed up in her wedding gown, sorta hanging around her cute little apartment and admiring herself in the mirror. Then, in a very ghostly little appearance, Gary just sorta shows up in the mirror. She’s looking at herself and then suddenly Gary is there, standing behind her. This could come off as creepy but instead it comes off as unbelievably romantic, and it only gets more romantic when this really cool and strange music kicks in (it sounds like music coming directly out of a little music box on a nightstand or something) and Gary and Val/Verna start to dance around the room. She’s in her wedding dress, he’s in his tux, the music is beautiful, the scene is very dreamlike and strange, but not creepy, just loving, and it’s a good long scene that really lets you disappear into the moment, and then it’s very rudely interrupted by asshole Parker, who just sorta comes walking in and sees Val/Verna in her dress, which we all know is bad luck. Val/Verna gets real upset and yells at Parker and is like, “You knew I’d be in my dress tonight and you know it’s bad luck to see me and you came over anyway,” and she basically shoves him out and slams the door in his face, not hiding her anger one bit. Of course, I think we all know the real reason she’s upset is not because of a superstitious belief in the groom seeing the bride before the wedding, but rather that she was having this transcendent dream dance sequence with her true soul mate, Gary, and Parker ruined it. How did I forget about this scene? It’s totally trippy and cinematic and romantic all at once, and it so aptly demonstrates the cool arty things KL will do regularly that parent series Dallas would never have even bothered to attempt, and I’m willing to bet the other ‘80s nighttime soaps wouldn’t attempt either. Plus, it’s just beautiful. The more I watch, the more sure I am that Gary and Val are my favorite TV couple of all time. During this long, long period in which the two are split up, I just want them to be together so badly; my heart melts during romantic scenes such as this. It actually makes me believe in the idea of true love and soul mates.
Gary’s last effort to help Val/Verna see the light is also one of his first uses of anything real or practical to try and snap her out of her stupor. In this case, he brings a nice hardcover of Nashville Junction (I don’t know if they’ve put it out in paperback quite yet) with a great black and white photo of Val/Verna on the back. He shows her the cover and says, “Look at this, it’s you.” Even still, Val/Verna continues to resist, only paying the photo the very briefest of glances before mumbling something about how, “That doesn’t mean anything.” Gary gets a bit aggressive and grabs her and looks her firmly in the eyes and says, “You look at me and you tell me that you’re getting married this afternoon.” Then there’s a bit of a dramatic pause and Val/Verna says, “I’m getting married this afternoon.”
Before that, however, we get to see Val/Verna hanging around her apartment all alone in her wedding dress, a private moment in which she looks at the photo and, I think, kinda sorta starts to want to accept the truth. Again, I think her brain is all confused; if she decides to accept the fact of her identity and her long history with Gary, that would also mean having to accept the other horrible things that have happened to her, with of course the most horrible thing being the loss of her babies. I think it makes sense that her mind would continue to try and block this information out. As she sits around, we also keep crosscutting to the gatherers at the church, getting nervous about her absence. I want to give a quick shout out to a character I’ve sorta neglected, Ron Merriwether, the boss down at the diner. This is a small character who I really warmed up to during the course of Val’s/Verna’s stay in Shula. In the last ep, he wasn’t very helpful to Gary at all, but now through small details we are starting to see him having a change of opinion. I noted the way he looks at Parker while they’re at the church, waiting to see if the bride will show up, and I also noted some little snarky things he says to Parker here and there; I get the feeling that he’s starting to smell a rat with this whole operation, starting to think maybe Gary is right and Parker is perhaps holding in some sort of secret.
In any case, the suspense lasts for awhile and then Val/Verna does indeed show up, quite a bit late but looking nice in her wedding dress. She stands up with Parker in front of the preacher guy and then Gary comes bursting in and tries to stop what’s going on. Actually, he does the cool thing I’ve always wanted to do and waits for the guy to say, “If anyone should have any objection Bob Loblaw,” and that’s when he says how Verna is not Verna, she is Val, and she belongs in California, and so on and so forth. I’ve always wondered about that little “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” thing. Do they really say that thinking anybody will stand up and object, or is it just a formality that you do as part of the wedding tradition? I’ve been to lots of weddings (and they’ve usually been boring and I generally get drunk because I hate weddings) and I’ve never seen anyone object, but there’s always hope.
KL knows how to milk suspense and how to keep us coming back for more, so they do the smart thing here and simply end on Gary pleading with Val/Verna and her looking at him, having to make a decision, and then a freeze frame on her confused face, not sure what to do. Happily for My Beloved Grammy and I, we just took a small pause to make some popcorn and then we immediately jumped into the next ep, but oh man, imagine being in 1985 and seeing this for the first time and having to wait seven long days to find out what Val/Verna will decide. Oh boy, talk about your agonizing suspense.
With season six, I almost feel like I could just copy and paste my final thoughts on the eps for every single one, since it basically just boils down to me saying, “Well, that was clearly brilliant.” Lead Me to the Altar was clearly brilliant, as well, but why? Well, I think there’s a real sense of importance and urgency to this ep, a feeling that Gary must rescue Val/Verna and he must do it now, before it’s too late. I felt legit excited watching this even though, in the back of my mind, I could remember how things were gonna turn out. Also, the ep has Sumner’s first cigar (OMIGOD!) and of course the fabulous little dance dream sequence between Gary and Val/Verna that is simply the personification of true love captured forever on film, a moment to make even the blackest of hearts lighten a little bit. Finally, it ended on a fabulous cliffhanger and it would be actually literally impossible for a person to watch this ep and not tune in for the next ep. So yeah, overall super solid.
Next up we shall see if Val/Verna decides to escape from Shula with Gary or if she’s gonna stick around for a shitty marriage to a shitty man named Parker. The title kinda gives away what’s gonna happen, but in any case, coming up next is Fly Away Home.