Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Reflection on Season Six of KNOTS LANDING (1984-1985)


A Reflection on Season Six of KNOTS LANDING (1984-1985)

And so we’ve come to the end of season six, the season that, upon embarking on this voyage with My Beloved Grammy, I was most excited to revisit, the season that I remembered being the absolute best of the entire series run.  Were my memories accurate?  Absolutely yes.

Honestly, I don’t even know where to start on this reflections essay.  How can I even begin to demonstrate how fucking amazing this season of television was?  I guess I’ll start off by saying that, for one thing, there’s not a single bad episode in this entire season.  Of course, I think I said the same thing about season five, but season six is even more impressive because it leaps up to thirty eps after season five had a 25 ep count.  A good deal of my respect for this season comes from the fact that it’s so long, that the creative team have to fill thirty solid eps with dramatic material and storytelling, and yet it’s never, not for a single moment, boring.  Dallas was also doing thirty eps per season by this point, and when I think of those seasons, I think of really long, boring, drawn out storylines that take forever to get finished with but essentially lead nowhere (this is the last time I’ll ever bring it up, but Jenna Wade’s trial, oh dear God Jenna Wade’s fucking trial).  This is absolutely not true with season six of KL; every ep feels dynamic and alive and really moving us along in the story, yet at the same time the length of the season allows plenty of time for the characters to live and breathe and feel like real people.  Look at how well done the whole portion of the season was in which Val ran off to Tennessee and turned into Verna, for instance.  That storyline alone is good enough to be a full season on some other show, but with KL it’s just a series of eps near the middle of the season, yet it’s stretched out in such a way that we really feel like we get to live and breathe in this world with Val/Verna for quite some time, and that helps it all to feel very realistic and truthful, versus having to rush through the story like you would have to do with a shorter season.

Really, that’s also a good portion of what inspired my awe for this season, which is that so much stuff happens.  There’s enough drama and excitement in this season of KL to fill three seasons of any other show, and by the time you reach “They’re gonna take the babies” in the concluding seconds of The Long and Winding Road, the season finale, all the shenanigans with Karen shot and in the hospital and Abs kidnapped by Mark St. Claire from Buying Time, the season premiere, feel like they happened eons ago; it’s rather amazing to reflect and realize that it’s all been a part of the same season of television.  But drama for the sake of drama is not enough; plenty of shows can claim to have a lot of drama but you never feel all that impressed when you watch them, and that leads me to my next point.  This season has easily the greatest storyline in KL history, and that is of course Val’s babies.  I remembered this being the best storyline from the show, and it not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them.  The first time I watched this, I was basically just drooling and staring at the screen and trying to cram as many eps into one day as I possibly could.  I was watching so fast and was so compelled by the sheer dramatic force of what was happening, that I don’t think I was able to pause and reflect on why it was so compelling.  Now I am older and wiser and realize what makes this storyline so good, and that’s actually a number of things.

First off, this storyline continues in the grand tradition of the Ciji story from season four and the Wolfbridge story from season five, in that it really brilliantly manages to use this central storyline as a way to link the entire cast together.  Absolutely everyone in the series is involved in the saga of Val’s babies, yet it doesn’t feel like the writers have to stretch to link them.  Instead, it feels super organic and well done, and this would also probably be a good time to mention that season six has easily the best cast lineup of the entire series.  Every single person in the opening credits this season is an extremely interesting character played exceptionally well by the actor bringing the character to life.  There are still characters I love that we haven’t even met yet (Paige and Anne Matheson spring immediately to mind), yet the cast as a solid, full unit will never ever be as perfect as it is at this exact moment in time with season six.  Watching the scrolling squares for season six (which, random interruption, I’ve actually decided I like even better than the season five version, so I’m officially voting for the season six opening of KL as the greatest opening credits in television history), I feel like I’m looking at royalty pass by me, that these are all awesome people who I love and want to spend as much time with as possible.

However, the absolute star of the season is Joan Van Ark, who gives the best performance of anyone in the cast during this season.  When I first started doing this blog, I said how Karen was my favorite character start to finish and that I predicted that would never change, but now I’m realizing that it’s silly to just pick one character out of such a huge cast and simply say “She’s my favorite and that’s that.”  Now I’m realizing that the different seasons really emphasize the different characters in a pretty profound way, that I might have a favorite character during a particular juncture of the series and then I might have a new favorite during another portion.  While I’d say Karen was my favorite character and the best actress on the show during season three, during season six it’s easily Val.  J.V.A is stunning throughout this season, and it’s such an incredibly marked improvement from where we began in season one, when I was kinda making fun of her for hamming it up during certain eps and scenes.  Here, she is perfect, and I can’t believe anyone could  watch this season and not feel just devastated for her and for all she goes through.  She has so many moments that are simply incredible, but one of the first to spring to mind is when she gets the news that her babies are dead, and that look on her face that tells us she knows this isn’t true.  She’s equally amazing just a few minutes later when talking to Karen and Mack and realizing that her friends won’t believe her when she says the babies are alive.  J.V.A played all that stuff so quietly, but you could understand everything just by looking at her, and then of course we have her giving some really Emmy worthy stuff in eps like Distant Locations, where she does that one-take scene with no cuts of scrubbing all the makeup off of her face, and then of course the Verna Ellers stuff that I love so much that occupies the next chunk of eps.  Ugh, there are just too many great moments to name, so hopefully I’ve done them justice when discussing the season episode-by-episode.

Another reason that the Val’s babies storyline is so good is that we’ve built up to it.  If they’d done this story in season two, it simply wouldn’t have worked, and that’s because we wouldn’t have had the necessary time devoted to fully understand Val and her past.  By placing it in season six, we begin the season with exactly 100 eps under our belt and we’ve had 100 eps (plus those early Dallas appearances) to get to know Val and understand Val and see how her life has been.  We know that she had baby Lucy when she was fifteen or sixteen and that Lucy was taken away from her, and we’ve seen five seasons of her wanting so desperately to be a real mother to someone.  We’ve seen this through her relationship with Olivia as well as in tons of other ways throughout the prior years, so when we get to the point where her babies are taken away from her and she is told they are dead, we fully understand how devastating this is for poor Val (POOR VAL!). 

Okay, and this just came to me as I was sitting here writing, but I also realized another thing that makes this story brilliant.  If this had been another series, I could very easily understand the temptation to play the story in a completely different way.  I’ll bet another series would show Val deliver and then show us, the viewers, as the doctors and nurses take the babies away and send them off somewhere and do their evil thing and then return to Val to tell her the babies are dead.  We would be a step ahead of Val throughout the season, knowing something she doesn’t know.  However, the KL team goes the much more artistic route by allowing us to follow Val along on her journey.  When she delivers the babies, she’s all drugged up and then she passes out, and while she’s passed out, she’s not privy to what happens, but neither is the audience.  Instead, we sorta return to consciousness with her and get the news that the babies died.  We certainly have the suspicion that something is up, that things are not as they seem, but we haven’t been shown this directly.  Therefore, as the mystery starts to solve itself closer to the end of the season, we really feel like we are along with the characters in solving the mystery, as well.  We are never ahead of the characters, waiting for them to play catch up, but rather we move along with them and feel like we are a part of the series, as well, working to find out the truth.  This just shows how switching things one notch in a certain direction can dramatically improve things.

But aside from all the Val’s babies stuff, which everyone who’s ever seen this season instantly remembers, absolutely everything else about the season is great, too.  There’s not a single storyline in here that I would call bad.  We have the cast at its absolutely most fabulous ever, and everyone within that fabulous cast is getting really great stories that are awesome to watch.  Just look at the whole Joshua thing, for one quick example.  Joshua is introduced at the start of the season, in the second episode.  Throughout the season, we watch him make the switch from meek and mellow and really very sweet and cute to thoroughly reprehensible and evil, yet it never feels too fast or inorganic.  Also, despite the fact that he’s the new kid on the block at the start of the season, he almost immediately feels like a part of the cast that deserves to be there and is a very fascinating character in his own right, a skill that KL always remains really good at.  I also wanna take a moment to say how fucking great Baldwin is in this role, which is especially impressive when you consider that this was one of his first gigs ever.  So often when watching old shows and movies, you’ll stumble upon something where an actor who is now super famous is there, but not super famous yet.  Sometimes you find yourself making a bigger deal out of the character than is warranted, simply because they became famous later.  With Joshua, I feel like you immediately see that you have a great actor on your hands, and rather than being the thing where you’re like, “Oh yeah, Alec Baldwin was on that show before he was famous and he was, you know, alright,” I actually will say this is my favorite Alec Baldwin performance ever (followed closely by his hilarious and biting portrayal of Trump).  He is just perfect in the part and inhabits him so organically, making his arc from nice guy to asshole all the more believable, because he plays the part so well and with such subtlety.

The arrival of Joshua to the cul-de-sac also provides great material for both Julie Harris and Lisa Hartman.  We’ve already discussed at length how amazing Julie Harris is in all regards, but I think she really gets some of her finest material near the start of this season, particularly when interacting with Joshua’s father, Jonathan, and exploring their complex and tumultuous past relationship.  She’s frankly stunning in all the scenes with Jonathan, as well as in her early scenes with Joshua in which she is just starting to get to know him.  Meanwhile, Lisa Hartman gets some really great material through her interactions with Joshua as her romantic love interest.  Lisa always strikes me as so sweet and kind and very real world, so I feel bad watching her fall in love with this seemingly sweet boy and then have him turn so nasty on her.  I was critical of her a bit for not being more active in putting her foot down with him, but I also understand her as a woman in love and Lisa portrays that well.  Oh yeah, I’m also willing to bet that this season has the most Lisa songs of her four years on the show.  You may remember I actually had a bit of a gripe with season five for only giving us two or three Lisa songs, but season six more than makes up for it by giving her many, many fabulous songs throughout the year.  I lost count pretty fast as we were going through, but off the top of my head I can think of Jehovah, Time After Time, Beat of a Heart, Words, and We Belong, and there are obviously a ton more.  In terms of pure musical satisfaction, season six really hits my ‘80s sweet spot and I think it has the best collection of cover songs for Lisa to sing.

Another thing to love in season six is the whole saga with Karen having a bullet lodged in her spine, something that could come off as hopelessly campy and melodramatic on any other series but that comes across as fantastically grounded over here on KL.  Some fans say this storyline goes on too long (occupying fourteen eps of a thirty ep season), but I disagree, and I actually like the length of time it takes to resolve this story.  This was the big cliffhanger of season five, I remind you, and while another show (like, say, Dallas) would be tempted to heal Karen right away in the season premiere or maybe throw in some sort of retcon nonsense like “The bullet just grazed me” or whatever, the KL team goes all out with this story and lets it span nearly half the season.  And yet another thing worth noting about this story, and perhaps all the very best KL stories, is that the drama comes from within the characters and their core.  On another show, it could just be like “She’s got a bullet in her spine and if it moves, she will die; how dramatic!”  On KL, the storyline results in Karen having to do some serious thinking about the end of her life, her relationship with her family and her children and with Mack, her thoughts on the way she wants to leave this world, not to mention the fact that she tells Gary her secret and he keeps the secret until she gets the bullet taken out, which to me says a ton about the beauty of their friendship with each other.  Oh, it’s just all so good, and when we reach those concluding moments of #14 With a Bullet and those close-ups of Karen blinking her eyes, I’m fighting hard to keep the tears back because it’s just soooooooooo good.

Meanwhile, we also have the continuing relationship between Greg and Laura, which I just love.  I loved Greg as soon as he entered the scene in season five, but he’s even better in season six, and I’m starting to see that fabulous blurring between the actor William Devane and the character Greg Sumner.  I find myself wondering which Sumner lines Devane improvised himself and I’m really seeing the actor and the character come together in this truly fabulous way.  Also, having Sumner on the scene allows us to get two of our best KL guest stars ever in the form of Howard Duff as Paul Galveston and Ava Gardner as Ruth Galveston.  Duff gets to be a big part of the earlier portion of the season while Ava occupies the later portion, and they are both perfect.  First off, I think Duff just brings this fabulously raw and masculine style to the performance and I think Galveston is a very interesting character who, while evil and duplicitous, remains very human and fascinating.  After he dies, we move over to Ava and she fucking rocks.  I had really brushed over all this stuff from my previous viewing; in my memories I was like “Some famous old Hollywood actress shows up for a few eps and she’s, like, evil or something,” but now I realize how truly amazing she is and it makes me want to, you know, go back and watch some old Ava Gardner movies.  What truly fantastic qualities she brings to the series, from the smoking and the cocktails to that amazingly gravelly voice and all her incredible little witticisms and snide remarks towards she makes towards Laura.  Oh God, such genius.

Another thing I appreciated about season six was its willingness to take chances in the way it told stories.  It had a fantastically experimental nature that I think remains very underrated.  Compare this to what else was going on in the TV landscape during 1984-1985 and I think you’ll see that this was pretty unique and that the show was being very bold in mixing up genres.  I’m immediately thinking of two things right off the bat.  One would be Val’s creepy and surreal dreams throughout Message In A Bottle and the other would be the thigh-meltingly romantic dream dance sequence between Gary and Val in Lead Me to the Altar.  I feel like I can close my eyes and easily imagine some sort of stiff, stuffy network suit talking to the producers and being like, “This is a nighttime soap, we don’t have time for all this arty stuff with dream sequences,” and the creative team holding strong and being courageous and allowing all this stuff to go into the eps, anyway.  It’s not just the dream sequences, however; it’s also in the very tone of eps, how we can dabble in one genre for awhile and then be in another genre for a different ep.  Tomorrow Never Knows is essentially a 48 minute horror movie about a woman alone going into premature labor and I found it legitimately horrifying to watch.  Again, I can imagine a network suit saying, “This is too dark, this is too weird, this is too scary, just do whatever the hell Dallas is doing cuz that show is more popular.”   

Let’s discuss season highs and lows before I move on to my wrap up on the season as a whole.  Okay, so what was the best ep of the season?  I didn’t even have to think about this before I wrote it, because the answer is obviously We Gather Together.  Not only is this the best ep of the season, but it’s the best ep we’ve seen of the entire series thus far, and perhaps forever, in all honesty.  The whole cast is linked together for the Thanksgiving feast, the ep is brilliantly shot and has some truly stunning camera work, plus it has a raw emotional undercurrent running through it that, honestly, can bring tears to my eyes just by thinking of it.  When I just imagine that scene of Val sitting alone in the baby nursery and Gary coming in to find her and the two of them talking together, I well up.  It’s a scene so good that it actually makes me believe in the idea of true love and soulmates and reminds me why Gary and Val will always be my favorite television couple. 

As for season lows, it’s hard to say because I honestly think every single ep this season was great and nothing sticks out as “a bad one.”  I finally settled on picking the premiere ep, Buying Time, as the worst ep of the season, but even saying that word, “worst,” seems unfair.  I think it’d be more accurate to describe it as “the least good,” since every ep this season is good.  The reason I pick this one is because, while of course compelling, it is just the least exciting of the season and is mostly concerned with tidying up affairs from the concluding moments of season five.  I actually feel like maybe the creative team is aware of that, as well, and gave the ep the title they did as a kind of meta joke, like, “Yeah, we’re just buying time until we can get to the really good stuff with Val’s babies.”  Even still, it was a great way to start the season and I have no complaints about it; I’m just picking it because I feel like I must pick a bottom ep for the season.

In the past, I have declared season six of KL to be “the greatest season of television ever made.”  I was planning to make that bold claim yet again after I was done writing about the season, but now I’m gonna backtrack a bit and use language that’s a little more realistic and less like hyperbole.  See, in the end, absolutely all art is subjective and there are no hard facts about art and that’s the whole beauty of it.  There is no “best” movie or TV show or whatever because it all depends on individual tastes and how one particular piece of art resonates with a certain person, so to say this season of KL is “the best” season of television ever made would really have no meaning, because I’m sure somewhere in the world is someone who thinks season nineteen of The Big Bang Theory is the greatest season of television ever.  Therefore, I have settled on saying that season six of KL is my personal favorite season of television ever made, based on all the television I have watched throughout my life.  I just think it’s perfect, start to finish, because it manages to remain compelling and dynamic but also super deep, with super interesting characters who are just a joy to spend time with, incredible writing and storytelling and wit, and a central story that provides a solid foundation for the entire season and all the characters in it.  The core cast is incredible, the guest actors are sublime, and the season just books along and never lets up and never stops being exciting.  In conclusion, it’s easily my favorite season of the entire series and is also my favorite season of television ever made.

However, I wanna make sure and note that this does not mean it’s all downhill from here.  Based on my memories, I loved the series all the way until the very final episode in 1993 and never felt it “jumped the shark,” to use a way overused expression.  I get annoyed when I see fans talk about things and be so dismissive of later seasons, basically saying, “Well, it never gets better than this, so just stop watching.”  What a sad way to look at the world, such a glass-half-empty perspective.  To stop watching the series after this season would be a great disservice to anyone who appreciates quality entertainment, and I remember the show remaining very strong for a very long time.  All I’m saying is that this is the most perfect season of the series as a whole, that it’s never at this level of artistic achievement again, but to not watch the remaining eight seasons would be a real crime, because there’s still plenty of great stuff in store for us.

In fact, I’m actually very eager to dive into the next season and I’m gonna be focusing on it in a whole new way.  The first time I watched the series, I would just power through and finish one season and immediately jump into the next one, not paying any attention to what was going on behind the scenes or who was running the show at one time or another.  Now, of course, I know that season seven is the year of the big producer swap, that my much cherished genius Peter Dunne moved over to run Dallas for a season while the Dallas guy, David Paulsen, moved over to spend a year on KL.  I’m gonna try to focus really hard on what different qualities David Paulsen brings to his year of KL (and I’m also considering watching the dream season of Dallas just for fun to see what qualities Peter Dunne brings to it, but I’m honestly not sure I can sit through that thing again) and what differences I see throughout the year, because honestly I remember this season being great but I’ve noticed a lot of fans not speaking too highly of it lately.  In any case, for the time being I should give you my ranking on the seasons as a whole, and then I’ll conclude this.  Clearly season six is getting the #1 spot, and I’d follow it with season five at #2, season four at #3, season two at #4, season one at #5, and then the contentious and controversial season three ranking at #6 (a season that I’m frankly surprised to see get so much love from so many KL fans).  That is my list and I’m sticking to it, but suffice it to say that everyone in the world should see season six of KL, because you’ll never see another season of television quite like it.  It’s really up there as a remarkable achievement of television and a prime example of the very best that the medium has to offer. 


  1. Dream Season of Dallas is atrocious. It's fifty percent Dynasty, and fifty percent KL, and it 100% fails. The attempts to ground the characters, create a more visually artistic palette, while at the same time having T-Rex Barbara Carrera stomping all around in big hats with poison hair pins is painful. Don't waste your time.

  2. I am going to say it. I cannot even believe it. I watched the dream season first run. And a handful of times since then. I always dread it when I am getting to that point in my Dallas viewing. HOWEVER, I watched it again about 2 years ago, and I actually really enjoyed it. It's not Dallas for sure. And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't change a fucking thing. But it's interesting to see what Dallas would have become. Linda Gray is amazing as she takes Sue Ellen way to the bottom. Even Pam has some decent stuff. Dallas COULD have continued on without Bobby. I think it's almost a shame they brought him back. Don't get me wrong. I love me some Bobby Ewing. But the last seasons of that show are awful. They may have gained 5 more seasons but in my opinion, they weren't 5 quality seasons. I think Dallas really could have ended with Bobby's death. That's another whole story. Anyway. If you go into the dream season with fresh eyes and an open mind, you might actually enjoy it. A little.

  3. You hit the nail on the head. Best TV ever. EVER. That's amazing and I pity anyone who has never seen it. Man, I miss that kind of fun!

  4. Why they would mess with the creative team behind KL season six is beyond me; if it's not broken, no need to makes any fixes.

    Seasons seven and eight also have thirty episodes but you will definitely not finish them with the same sense of storytelling satisfaction. Empire Valley was a big dud of a story, even in season six, but it really becomes a snoozer in season seven. New characters like Peter Hollister and Paige are just uninteresting. Jill Bennett provides dramatic interest in seasons nine and ten, but not in seven and eight.

    You will soon be wishing to rewatch season six!

  5. I agree with Brett. Season Six was the best, but the series was far from being over creatively. Donna Mills' best work on the series was during the Olivia-drug-problem episodes. And I know a lot of Knots' fans are down on Paige, but I thought she breathed life into the second half of the series.

    And my vote is thumbs down on the Dallas dream season. For the reasons given.

  6. What a glorious season. I like it explores the character of Val, and why we find her relatable. I like how the show takes it time to give us amazing development within the storytelling, understanding the characters and following us along through their continous journey. It such great television and this is why this show deserves its fourteen seasons.

  7. Paige. I wish I liked her more. Anne on the other hand. Oh, I can't wait!!!

  8. In which season six episode does Cathy perform "We Belong"?