KNOTS BLOGGING UPDATE: I HAVE BEEN POSTING TWO EPS PER WEEK SINCE I STARTED DISCUSSING SEASON THREE. STARTING WITH THE SEASON SEVEN PREMIERE, I WILL BE RETURNING TO JUST ONE POST PER WEEK, EVERY THURSDAY. THIS IS MOSTLY DUE TO ME BEING BUSY AND NOT HAVING ENOUGH TIME TO DO TWO PER WEEK, BUT WHEN WE HIT SEASON EIGHT, I WILL MOST LIKELY SWITCH BACK. I HOPE MY ADORING FANS WON'T BE TOO UPSET BY THIS.
Episode Title: Vulnerable
Episode Title: Vulnerable
Season 06, Episode 29
Episode 129 of 344
Written by Parke Perine
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, May 16th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ruth tells Abby that she'll only give her the notebook papers if Abby will help her get rid of Laura. Laura goes to Greg's one morning, and Abby is there in her robe, so Laura leaves. Abby and Ruth congratulate themselves. Greg tells Coblenz he wants Gary out of Empire Valley. Coblenz also tries to placate Gary, who says he refuses to spy anymore. Karen, Mack, and Ben are working on the case so much that Val feels neglected. Joshua tells her that she scares her friends away because she makes them feel uncomfortable. Ben comes over with flowers for Val, and she apologizes to him and tells him about her conversation with Joshua. Ben storms up to Josh's room, tells him off and punches him. Nurse Wilson finally comes forward and tells Mack that Ackerman had something on her and blackmailed her into doing it. Mack, Karen, and Wilson go to the bridge tournament where Ackerman is. Ackerman runs out and gets into his car. Karen hits him with her truck. Mack tells Ackerman that it's over. Ackerman pulls a gun out of his glove compartment and shoots himself in the head.
Welcome to the penultimate episode of season six. By this point, we are nearly finished with what has been a truly breathtaking year, with 28 eps down out of thirty. Vulnerable will speed us along ever closer to our season finale and I think it proves to be a very memorable and wonderful episode all on its own, courtesy of a director who is rising in my esteem, Nick Havinga, giving us his fifth directorial effort on the series after The Forest for the Trees. Let us explore everything that happens in Vulnerable.
Who to start with? Well, I’m deeply saddened to announce that this ep marks Ava’s final appearance on the series, and that’s a real shame. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the producers and creative team were all very happy with Ava and would have liked to have her back, but I think she had a stroke in 1986 (actually, I just did my research and it said she had two strokes in 1986) which prevented her from further acting, and then she died in early 1990. What a shame all that is, because what fabulous life and wit Ava brought to the screen inhabiting this fabulous character of Ruth Galveston, and I have to wonder why I don’t remember taking much note of it upon first viewing. I remember that Ava showed up and I was like, “Cool, some old famous movie star, whatever,” but I don’t remember enjoying her banter with Laura and Greg nearly as much as I do now, when I’m positively drooling over it. I would have been very happy to see Ava return again and again and continue to bring this fabulous energy and old Hollywood class to proceedings, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Ava is busy this ep doing wicked things before she takes off to Africa and leaves the show forever. The basic gist of her story in Vulnerable is that Abs still desperately wants those secret papers from Galveston’s files, the ones that will tell her the location of Val’s babies. Ava agrees to share these papers with Abs on one condition, and that is that she help her get Laura out of Greg’s life. Together the two cook up a scheme that seems, well, seems like it has a huge potential for failure, but it ends up working, so good for them. Basically, it’s early one morning and Laura comes by the ranch to visit Greg, but when she goes inside the house, into his office or whatever, in walks Abs wearing nothing except a simple robe, acting all embarrassed and being like, “Laura, my goodness, have you seen my underwear lying around anywhere?” I dunno, I’d think Laura would be smart enough to see through this little deception, but instead she runs off and hops in her car and speeds away, missing Greg, who comes walking out into the morning air just as Laura’s car is disappearing over the horizon. He asks if that was Laura who just left and both Ava and Abs feign innocence.
Now, I don’t believe for a minute that Greg doesn’t see through this ruse, and I am correct. I like the fact that the writers are smart enough not to draw this stuff out, for in our very next episode, we shall see Greg declaring to Laura that this was all a trick and that he sent Ava packing right afterwards. I like the fact that this doesn’t go on forever the way it would on Dallas and that, yeah, Greg can figure out what’s going on. After all, let’s say you wake up one morning, you come outside to find your evil mother and the duplicitous girl you used to shag enjoying coffee together, while at that precise moment the woman you actually love is angrily speeding away like the whole place is about to explode. Not too hard to put two and two together, no? This could have easily been played as, “How long will it take Greg to discover the truth?” Instead, the writers do the smart thing and trust in the intelligence of the character and let him figure it all out right and quick.
I have a few more things to note on this story beat, and then we shall move on. The first is that I think Abs and Ava are taking a pretty big risk, here. They are planning for Laura to see Abs in her underwear and get mad and dump Greg, but they don’t seem to account for potential word of mouth, for rumors getting spread about what Abs was doing up at Greg’s ranch one morning. What if Laura decided to go ahead and tell Gary what she saw? Let’s not forget, Abs and Gary are married at this point and have been married since early season five. What if a super angry and bitter Laura went to visit Gary at Lotus Point or Empire Valley and was like, “Oh Gary, you’ll never believe who I saw in their underwear this morning”? Would Gary divorce Abs and throw her out of the house? Or has he just sorta accepted that Abs is a village bicycle and a nymphomaniac and she’s probably going to step out on him more than once throughout their marriage? So much to think about!
Also, I wanna take note that Greg and Abs have shagged at least once this season, and it came and it went and it was gloriously inauspicious, so inauspicious that I can’t even remember the episode it took place in, but it’s somewhere right smack dab in the middle of the season, like I think in that episode fifteen through twenty block of eps, and it was when Abs came to visit Greg at his hotel room home and he shoved her against the wall and started to passionately make out with her (a shot that’s going to make its way into the scrolling squares next season). Okay, we didn’t physically see the shagging; we didn’t have a full on penetration shot as Greg entered her violently, but I think we can all infer what happened after he shoved her against that wall, no? When that happened, I was like, “Hmmmm, I don’t remember this at all,” and that’s because it’s pretty much forgotten and never mentioned again, and I actually like that. You could argue that this is a flaw in the writing; why have Greg and Abs shag in one ep out of nowhere and then never mention it again? I don’t consider it a flaw, though, I think it’s this fabulously isolated sexual incident, it comes and it goes, it’s forgotten. To me, that feels very realistic to how life is (which might reflect poorly on my own life and how I view sex, but those are my own issues). I only bring it up here because it’s kinda funny to think that Abs and Greg had a shag somewhere in mid-season six and, so far as I can recall, it’ll never be brought up again and no other character will find out about it, yet now here we are in late season six and Greg is being tricked by having Abs planted at his place at just the exact right time to send Laura flying out the door.
Meanwhile, there’s really fabulous linkage with pretty much everyone else in the cast going on this ep, with pretty much every character being directly involved in the continuing Val’s babies quest. The episode title is Vulnerable and My Beloved Grammy and I were talking about what that title could mean when we got started. At first, I said I think it’s referring to Dr. Ackerman, that he is becoming vulnerable as more and more people start to look for the truth, but about halfway through the ep, we realized the title refers to poor Val (POOR VAL!), who is feeling kinda sad and alone, abandoned by her friends, but it’s all a great big misunderstanding. See, basically Ben, Mack, Karen, the whole gang, they’re all getting so busy researching Dr. Ackerman and adoption agencies and what have you, they keep kinda forgetting about stuff they’re supposed to be doing with Val. Karen is supposed to go out, like, shopping with Val, or something (the details are foggy in my brain), but she never shows up and it hurts Val’s feelings. However, it’s not really that she’s abandoning her friend, which is how it seems to Val, but that she is busy helping her friend, trying to get her babies back. It reminds me of an early Brady Bunch ep in which Marcia wants Mike to win some sort of Father of the Year trophy or something, but in attempting to get him said trophy, she keeps getting in trouble because Mike thinks she’s being naughty and disobedient. Due to all the misunderstandings, the episode climaxes with Mike putting Marcia across his knee and whipping her with a stingray tail like the bad guy from Licence to Kill.
We actually open Vulnerable in the shitty trailer park that Nurse Wilson lives in. She is still reticent and scared to speak with Karen about anything, and at the start of the ep, she is ordering Ben and Karen to get out of here, to leave her alone. Then they call Mack to come and give them some muscle, but by the time he shows up with a cop, the trailer has been abandoned. Her groceries are still sitting in their bags, but they can tell someone packed a suitcase real fast and hit the road. How are they going to find Nurse Wilson now?
Surprisingly, Nurse Wilson winds up coming to them. There’s a really terrific scene right before we go to commercial in which Val is over at the MacKenzie house (or should I be referring to is as the Fairgate MacKenzie house?) and she’s just getting up to leave and as she opens the front door, there stands Nurse Wilson, her hand up in the air, clearly about to knock on the door. The music swells, we wonder if Val will recognize this lady from her horrifying delivery back in November, and then we cut to commercial. When we come back, we get confirmation that Val doesn’t recognize this lady, as she’s just like, “Oh hey, how you doing?” and then she leaves the house. Nurse Wilson stays and finally spills the beans to Mack and Karen, confirming that Dr. Ackerman is a really evil man who stole Val’s babies and sent them away someplace. We also find out that Dr. Ackerman has some sort of dirt on Nurse Wilson, that he got her to participate in this baby theft because he threatened to expose whatever this secret is. One thing I really appreciate is that we don’t actually find out what Nurse Wilson’s big secret is; she’s about to tell Karen and Mack and seems embarrassed and then Karen sorta says how it doesn’t matter, what matters is finding the babies. I like the mystery of this as well as the fact that the writers are saying yeah, it doesn’t matter. Whatever Nurse Wilson did, it’s something she regrets and Dr. Ackerman is using it to manipulate her. It makes me wonder precisely what the big secret is, and I just like that little aura of mystery.
In fact, I really like Nurse Wilson. Again, I had kinda forgotten about this character, yet she’s another beautiful example of KL’s ability to turn every single character interesting. For all intents and purposes, Nurse Wilson could be treated as just a plot function, here to help the characters find the babies. Instead, she comes alive and seems real, and I feel like there’s this whole other person with this whole other life here, and we are just briefly getting a glimpse into her life at this precise moment in time. I also like the fact that this character is never presented as bad and that we get a real sense of her life in this scene. She talks about how hard it was to put herself through nursing school, yet she managed to do it. Honestly, I just marvel at this stuff, because there’s really no reason that we need to know this stuff; a lazier writing staff could just have Nurse Wilson show up to provide exposition and then ship her right back out of there, but the KL writers take the time to give us a little information on her back story and her character history, and it makes everything all the more richer because of it.
Joshua is on a real roll of evil this ep, by the way, and he’s certainly not helping Val to feel any less vulnerable or any less depressed about the state of her life. By this point, I’m officially ready to declare Joshua as evil. I can’t put my finger on the precise moment when it happened, as everything has been done so well and so subtly that it was almost hard to notice him changing from good to evil, but I feel now he has arrived at evil. He’s not just egotistical, he doesn’t just have a big head, he isn’t just kinda socially weird; he’s very calculating in the way he manages to degrade Val and hurt her. For instance, in this ep when Karen fails to show up as Val expected her to, Joshua goes on about how all of Val’s friends abandon her, and he lists Karen and Gary and Ben and all these people, and he says how the only real friends Val has are her family, Lilimae and himself. This scene takes place right in front of both Cathy and Lilimae, by the way, and while Cathy speaks up and tells him not to speak to Val in that way (much the way that Val appears to be the only one sticking up for Cathy when Joshua degrades her), Lilimae remains conspicuously silent. I still love Lilimae and always have and always will, but I’m having a hard time liking her as much at this juncture because of the way she stays silent about Joshua and lets him be a tyrant.
There’s a fabulous scene later in the ep involving Joshua and Ben, and I do mean fabulous. This scene was so great it made both My Beloved Grammy as well as myself clap and cheer. See, Ben comes over to visit Val and gets word of all the nasty stuff Joshua’s been saying to her and filling her head with. He gets damn mad and marches upstairs and right into Joshua and Cathy’s bedroom (the room where they don’t ever have sex because, you know, Cathy mentioned how she’s not ready to start popping out babies immediately and so now Joshua refuses to touch her, in the grand spirit of all religious fanatics worldwide) to have it out with Joshua. He asks Cathy to leave them alone for a minute and then he totally confronts Joshua and I love it. Again, I wish I had transcribed this speech down word for word so that I could share it with you right now, but I was too stunned and enraptured by watching this amazingness unfold before me, so I just stared and drooled and wrote nothing in my notes. The basic gist of it is that Ben calls him on his bullshit and he says, “I’ve seen the way you work,” and how Joshua manipulates people to get what he wants, all that good stuff. Then Joshua says something mean to Ben (I think it’s something about running out on his responsibilities, how he knocked Val up and then left her all alone) and Ben punches him. We’ve all been waiting to see Joshua get punched for a good long while now, and I found it very satisfying even if it does look a smidge too stagey, but why nitpick when you are being given such a wonderful gift as this scene?
Before I move on to other business, I want to make sure and note real fast that while I’m starting to hate the character of Joshua, in no way does this reflect on Baldwin’s performance, which is frankly quite stunning considering this is one of his first acting gigs ever. Also, I hate the character in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s not the way I hated Kenny and Ginger for being so useless (and, if we’ll flashback to their departure at the end of season four, I believe I declared that I had graduated to not hating them anymore, which was a big deal for me) and it’s not the way I hate, say, um, Friends or Family Guy or those awful seven and a half hour superhero movies that just keep coming out every two seconds; this is the kind of hatred where the audience is supposed to hate the character. Joshua is evil and nasty and treats people I love very badly, and that’s why I hate him, but this is fully intentional on the part of the writers and Baldwin is playing the part just precisely right.
The big quest to find Dr. Ackerman is the central thrust of this ep, and it’s unbelievably compelling and delivers us directly into one of the most exciting and memorable episode endings of the entire series run, at least in my opinion. There have been so many truly wonderful episode endings (with probably the first GREAT ep ending being Laura getting her cigarette lit in The Lie), but this is definitely top ten material right here. In fact, I actually thought we were gonna get this episode a few eps back, when Joshua and Cathy were getting married and Karen tracked Dr. Ackerman down to Vegas. Nope, I was wrong, it was this episode I was thinking of. Basically, after speaking with Nurse Wilson at some length, Karen is doing some brainstorming and she realizes that, whether he’s supposed to be on the run or not, Dr. Ackerman can’t not go to the upcoming bridge tournament. She sorta narrates out loud to Mack and says how people who are addicted to gambling really can’t stop, no matter what’s going on in their lives, so she thinks even though he probably knows logically that he should lay low and keep a low profile, he won’t be able to resist going to play bridge. This is confirmed when we see Dr. Ackerman packing up a bag and getting ready to, I guess, blow town, when his friend calls and leaves a message on his machine saying how he’d better be at the tournament and that they should play together, or whatever. We see Dr. Ackerman stare sorta thoughtfully at the phone, the wheels spinning in his head, and we realize Karen is right; Dr. Ackerman can’t resist the lure of a bridge tournament any more than I can resist the lure of a naked Korean spa packed to the gills with hot young men.
Karen, Mack, and Nurse Wilson all successfully manage to track Dr. Ackerman down at, oh, someplace. It’s not really really far away like Vegas this time, but it’s kinda sorta far away. I’m sure they tell us directly at some point where the characters are heading, but suffice it to say that I have forgotten the details and let’s just say it’s kinda sorta far away from where they live, but not too far, like maybe an hour away. Anyway, who cares about that, anyway? Let’s talk about this incredible sequence that leads to this incredible ending. Basically the trio burst in on Dr. Ackerman when he’s right in the middle of some big important hand and when he looks up and sees them glaring at him, he gets pretty scared. He immediately makes some sort of weird, inadequate bet (I don’t know my bridge, so I’m not really sure what he does that’s inappropriate) and then the people around him are all like, “Hey, you can’t do that,” and then he loses his cool big time and is like, “Those people are distracting me!” Then he makes a run for it and manages to make it out to the parking lot. Mack tells Karen to get in the car and cut him off so he can’t drive away, and they crash real good when Karen backs her car right into him. Then, as Karen and Mack loom in front of him and Mack yells, “It’ s over, Ackerman!”, we go into super slow motion (that sorta choppy type of slow motion) as Dr. Ackerman pulls a gun out of his glove box and blows himself away. Obviously this isn’t Boardwalk Empire, so we don’t actually see him pull the trigger and blow his own brains out, but the message is clear and we end on a nice shot of Mack and Karen looking rather horrified right after he pulls the trigger. I actually got real morbid during this sequence and started to wonder what it would really look like and feel like to watch someone shoot themselves in the head, what a hard image that would be to shake off after you’ve seen it.
Anyway, what an ending, right? A lot of times I’ll declare a KL ep ending as so good and so exciting that it could function well as a season cliffhanger, and I feel this one qualifies (I believe I also declared that earlier this season with the ending of Lead Me to the Altar). Really, if this was a season finale cliffhanger, it would be pretty terrific, no? You’d still have lots of dangling threads left to tidy up next season and this would remain a very memorable final scene that people could think about all through the summer.
But thank God this is not the season finale, for we still have one more glorious episode in this most glorious sixth season, a season so good I’m seriously tempted to call it the greatest season of television ever made. Let’s move right along to our season six finale, the aptly titled The Long and Winding Road.