Episode Title: Fly Away Home
Season 06, Episode 18
Episode 118 of 344
Written by Neal Bell
Directed by Bill Duke
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 7th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ben has a flat tire on the road to Empire Valley. A truck with radio receivers stops to help him. Ben takes one of the receivers and tells Mack that he thinks that Empire Valley is only a cover for something bigger. Mack's men go to pick up Jamison and Woodside, but they're gone. Gary and Parker fight. Val realizes that Parker lied to her, and knows that she is Valene Ewing. She starts to remember Gary, and agrees to go home with him, but thinks that they are still married. At home, she doesn't recognize anyone. Abby tells Gary that Ben needs to take care of Val, and that he has to make a break from her, or they're through. Gary takes Val to the beach and tells her they're not married. She's upset. Abby asks Galveston if Mack will find out about the babies, and Galveston says no, that he will personally tell Gary about his heirs. Later, Abby sneaks into his house and goes through his desk. Galveston comes in and then suddenly has an attack. He asks for his pills, but Abby doesn't help him.
Welcome back. When we last left off in the closing moments of Lead Me to the Altar, we had a cliffhanger worthy of a season finale with Val/Verna staring at two men who claim to love her, one who is a liar and a user named Parker Winslow and one who is her one true soul mate named Gary Ewing. We pick up Fly Away Home with a tiny repeat of the last minute from the last show and then we proceed on to new footage in which we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief as Val/Verna comes rushing out of the church along with many confused guests. I really enjoyed this scene outside of the church that essentially starts our ep. It serves as a conclusion to a story that’s been going on for a good long while now, that of Val turning into Verna and disappearing to Tennessee, and it also has some small character moments I enjoyed. First off, Parker finally lets his true colors hang out when he blurts out something like, “I don’t care about how many books she wrote or nothing,” and with that little slip, everyone knows that Parker has been well aware of Val’s true identity for some time now. After that, we get a quick little fight between him and Gary in which Gary easily takes him down. This I could have used more of, I will confess. I know Parker isn’t a super evil moustache-twirling villain or anything like that, but I thought he was a real slime and he was taking advantage of Val and he and his thugs beat up Gary, so overall I do not like this guy and I would have liked to see more than one quick, simple punch take him down.
However, the last part of the scene I have no complaints about, and that is Ron (pictured below in a photo I found from a different show), the owner of the diner, shaking Gary’s hand and saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t help you before.” I’m a big believer that a sincere apology can really be a good thing, and this shows that Ron is a good dude who cared about his waitress and now realizes he was doing more harm than good by ignoring Gary. I like the simple handshake between him and Gary and the way Gary just says, “That’s alright.” It’s a nice little moment that makes me sad that we’re leaving this town, because I was starting to dig all the characters that inhabit it. This small moment and the little story we’ve seen developing in the background of Ron becoming suspicious of Parker also demonstrate the amazing ability of KL to have even background or side characters be super interesting. After all, this character of Ron could have easily been nothing, just a small guest actor who’s in a couple of eps as a diner owner, but somehow the writing and directing and acting all fuse together to make even this character very interesting to watch.
After this, we say goodbye to Shula forever as Gary and Val fly back to California. I’ve read some fan opinions stating that this Shula story goes on too long, but I don’t agree. If I’m doing my math right, Val is in Shula for around eight eps (she first steps into town in the closing seconds of episode 111, Distant Locations, and now she’s leaving town at the start of episode 118, so I guess that makes a stretch of around seven eps), and I really liked the way that the long season gives the stories an ability to unfold at a much more genuine pace. Nothing feels rushed to me because we really gave Val the time and the stretch of eps to disappear into this town and this storyline. I feel if this was another show (Melrose Place, perhaps?), this entire storyline of Val going crazy and running off to Tennessee would take up all of one and maybe two eps before being unceremoniously wrapped up; with KL and the big 30-episode season, everything is able to unfold at a much more deliberate pace and I like it that way.
The return of Val to California sorta serves as the nucleus story this week, with all the other stories sorta circling around her. Where to even start? Well, I thoroughly enjoyed an early scene in which Val returns home to be greeted by her friends and family, including Ben. The only problem is that she seems to think she and Gary are married, as evidenced during a positively heartbreaking scene early on in which she cuddles up to his leg and says some memories are coming back and says, “We’ve been in love a long time, haven’t we?” only for a very sad-looking Gary to say, “We’ve had some good times.” Returning home now, she says something like, “It’s gonna take Gary and I a little while to get situated,” demonstrating that she still doesn’t completely remember or understand the state of their relationship at this point. Poor Ben looks so uncomfortable during this passage and my heart goes out to him. The poor guy has really been dealing with a shit storm since he first joined the scrolling squares at the start of season five, hasn’t he? The man just wants to love Val and be a good supporter to her, but it’s very clear that Gary will always be this obstacle, this pink elephant in the room, the man to whom Val’s heart truly belongs.
Fortunately, Ben still appears to be gallivanting around with The Desperate Horny Chick, who we haven’t seen in a good stretch of eps. In this instance, they are driving around in his sexy red convertible while she has her legs, like, sprawled up on the dashboard all sexually, really having no subtlety or tact whatsoever. Then the two suffer a blow out and Ben gets very excited about how he can fix a tire in like three minutes or something, but then he pops the trunk and realizes they have a broken tire iron and are, therefore, stranded. Fortunately, a few minutes later a nice truck pulls up and the two trucker guys help them change the tire while The Desperate Horny Chick spreads her vagina in their faces and tries with all her might to get their attention (and let me tell you, there was real venom in My Beloved Grammy’s voice during this scene when she said, “She is just disgusting”). Now, after the truckers finish up with the tire, Ben produces some sort of, um, thing that he stole out of the back of the truck. It’s some sort of high tech science fiction style something or other, I forget what exactly it is, but the fact that the truck was loaded with these things sends Ben’s antenna up. He mentions how it’s odd for a truck loaded with sci-fi devices to be driving this way because, “This road doesn’t go anywhere.” However, we do learn that this road is, like, directly part of Empire Valley, so whatever those dudes are doing with those gizmos, presumably it has something to do with Empire Valley and Paul Galveston.
Real fast: I like this development just cuz it’s intriguing and I like big secrets and cover-ups and evil wicked organizations that do bad things, but I also like it cuz I’m happy to see Ben doing something. Since doing this rewatch and holding a microscope up over every single episode, the character of Ben has skyrocketed in my esteem; suddenly I find myself loving him. I love the realistic everyman quality he brings to proceedings, I love his dry humor and little sarcastic comments that he’ll make that often sound like they might be improvised and not even coming out of a script, and I love his constant struggle to be good and decent and honest. I felt our last disk didn’t have enough Ben material; that he was sorta around and he was doing stuff but he wasn’t getting much focus. Therefore, I’m pleased that his material seems to be increasing on this disk with more focused stories and more involvement in what’s going on, most particularly with the return of Val to the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, we have the continued relationship dramas of Cathy and Joshua, who are broken up for the time being. I wouldn’t exactly be in a hurry to get back with son of a preacher man, by the way, because he’s really starting to show what a narrow mind he has. When Cathy tries to talk to him with some logic about how there’s not just black and white in the world, Joshua responds with, “No, there’s good and there’s evil, and that’s it,” to which she replies, “Singing at Isadora’s doesn’t make me evil.” Good on her for defending her honor against Joshua’s ridiculous religious logic, but bad on her for still hanging around and hoping for him to love her. I get that she’s in love and all that, but come on, there are plenty of nice boys in the world who don’t have horrible, annoying, all-consuming religious problems that make them completely un-fun to be around. Joshua gets to function for the setup to a pretty hilarious moment early in the ep, right after Val has returned home. She’s getting reacquainted with people at the house, and she’s talking to Joshua and says how she can’t remember him all that well, but she knows he’s her brother, and she says something like, “How did you get here?” and then Ben, looking offscreen, sorta sarcastically says, “God.” As soon as Joshua hears that, you can see his ears perk up and he glares at Ben and then is like, “You’re absolutely right, Ben, and God brought Val back to us, so I think we should all sit on the floor and give a prayer to God!” Ben looks pretty reluctant to do this, much as I would be, but nevertheless everyone in the room kneels down and joins hands and does the silent prayer in a scene that I found very humorous and amusing.
However, it’s not all laughs this week, because not too long after that scene, we get one that almost made me cry, but not quite (I haven’t cried since Val in the nursery in We Gather Together). To provide some context, when Gary returns home to Westfork, Abs is not pleased about what he’s been up to the last few days or weeks or however long he was over in Shula, and she tells him it’s time for him to make a clean break from Val and stay out of her life. She points out how he comes running to Val every time she calls, how he’ll drop everything in his own life to go help her and be with her, and she says it needs to stop now. Gary appears to really listen to her, and he’s also probably having some guilt about Ben getting the short end of the stick and the whole “Gary and I need to get situated,” line from Val earlier. Because of that, he takes Val out for a walk on the beach and uses the opportunity to be straight with her.
Oh, so much to say about this scene. First off, it takes place at the beach, which we have seen time and time again to be something of a religious place for Val. Indeed, she starts to go on during this scene about her deep love affair with the ocean, about the first time she saw it, all that stuff. I do have one micro criticism about this scene, and that is that Val says how the first time she went to the ocean, she specifically went alone. However, those of us who remember the Pilot should remember that when Val first saw the ocean, she was not alone; she was with Sid Fairgate’s wayward and estranged daughter, Annie. I don’t know if this counts as a plot flaw, because you could argue that Val is still coming out of her Verna state and slowly starting to remember past events, so maybe she just doesn’t remember Annie, but whatever, it’s a tiny little criticism of a great scene.
The scene gets really sad when Gary finally tells Val the truth. He tells her how they used to be married, but they aren’t anymore, that he can’t be hanging around with her all the time. Rather than a big dramatic performance, Val just makes this kinda sad sound, almost like a squeak, like she has no words to respond, and then she turns her back and goes walking off into the tide for a minute, and it was just a really painful scene to witness. Again, I marvel at the writers’ ability to keep Gary and Val apart for so long and to keep us wanting so bad to see them back together again. I’ve never seen another TV couple like this; usually these “Will they or won’t they?” couples leave me bored to tears or you have to deal with a lot of sloppy logic for why they spend the series apart (Ross and Rachel), but in this case, it just works so well. The fact that Val thought she and Gary were married and now she gets the sad truth also just lends this really painful weight to the scene that made it rather hard to watch; my heart goes out to Val and I just feel so bad for all the pain she’s going through. Amazing scene with amazing acting by both J.V.A and Shack.
After this, Val continues to act, well, a little nutty. In this case, she seems to go into a sorta manic cleaning mode to deal with her angry feelings, scrubbing the kitchen floor like a madman until Mack comes in to speak with her. Right here, we get yet another great scene with some more fabulous acting, as Mack has to sorta be rough but sorta be loving all at the same time. He says something about, “There are a lot of bad guys in the world, but there are also a lot of good guys, like me or Ben,” or something like that, and I think his words help Val slightly in dealing with her feelings, but you also get the sense that this may be a long road ahead, that Val will not just snap back into being her normal self right away. Again, I like that deliberate pacing; I don’t want to see Val instantaneously change overnight into the same woman she was before she had her babies taken away; I want to see the steps that lead to her returning to normal.
The last big important storyline for this week involves Paul Galveston, who continues to hold the threat of the truth about Val’s babies over Abby’s head. Frustrated at the current state of things, Abs busts into his home office late at night to search desperately for any evidence of her own wrongdoing. Fortunately, she finds a handy little notebook in Galveston’s desk which has all the incriminating evidence against her. Perhaps it’s a plot shortcut that all this information is nicely contained in just one notebook and that all Abs has to do is take the notebook, but I’m willing to go with it, especially since the excitement of the scene immediately cranks up to a thousand when Galveston catches her snooping around. He sits down in his chair and says something about how he’s gonna expose Abs and all that, but then he starts to act sorta funny, mentioning how he has this really bad headache and it doesn’t feel normal. We can all smell what’s coming, since just an episode or two ago we saw him pull a Father Merrin and pop some sort of pills. Now, he doesn’t have his pills and Abs is certainly not helping. When Galveston asks her to call his doctor and have him sent over, Abs gets the fabulous last line of the episode when she says, “Call him yourself, Cookie,” and then she just walks out, leaving Galveston to, well, die, I suppose. Or is he going to die? Watching this ep, I had that fabulous experience where I had completely forgotten all these developments and couldn’t honestly remember what would happen in the coming eps. Watching the scene now, I just assumed Galveston was dying, but as we move forward, we’ll see that perhaps it won’t be all that easy.
As usual, this was an absolutely fabulous episode of KL directed with style and class by one Bill “Cooke” Duke (and I am very upset to peek at his IMDb and see that he only has a mere two more eps of KL on his resume!). I found that a lot of the best joys of this ep came not from the big stuff, but from the small stuff, little lines or scenes that I appreciated. Obviously I already mentioned the hilarious scene with everyone praying to God, but we also had some funny dialogue from Ben when he gets his flat tire, not to mention the great final line from Abs towards Galveston. I liked that Val does not simply return home and immediately resume normal life, but rather that we see it’s going to take some time to get her back to normal, and I also liked all the good drama flying around, most especially that cliffhanger ending with a possibly dying Paul Galveston. Last of all, this episode really hits hard on emotions with the scene of Gary and Val at the beach, which honestly makes my heart break a little. Overall, an exceptionally solid 48 minutes of KL.
Next up, we shall see Val continue her slow process of returning to the Val we all know and love with Rough Edges.