Episode Title: The Long and Winding Road
Season 06, Episode 30
Episode 130 of 344
Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum
Directed by Alexander Singer
Original Airdate: Thursday, May 23rd, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Greg keeps trying to call Laura, who hangs up on him. He follows her and explains that it was a stunt Ruth set up, so he kicked her out. Greg asks Laura to marry him, but she says she's already married. The police question Karen about Ackerman, while Mack goes to his office and finds Val's file. He sets the alarm off and is arrested. After Mack is out, they find a list in the file that has the names of couples who illegally adopted babies, but there are no addresses on the list. One name on the list, Harry Fisher, rings a bell. The next day at work Karen tells Gary the babies are alive. Mack remembers that he and Ben were at the Fisher's house, and they had twins. Mack calls Karen and tells her to meet him there. Gary goes with her. Harry Fisher rushes home and tells his wife Sheila to pack and that they have to leave on a vacation now. Sheila says she won't leave because she hasn't picked up the prescription for the twin's ear infections. Frustrated, Harry takes one of the twins and goes to pick it up while she packs. Abby receives the notebook pages via messenger. She picks up Val and tells her that she received a mysterious phone call meant for Val. She said they told her that the babies were alive and where to find them. Mack, Karen, Ben, and Gary arrive at the Fishers. Karen and Mack tell Sheila that the babies were adopted illegally and taken from their mother. Sheila says that's not true. Abby drives up with Val, who is surprised to see everybody there. Val hears the baby cry and starts to walk up to the door. Sheila is very distraught. Harry drives up and sees all the people outside of his house. Sheila yells at him, "Harry, they want to take the babies!" Harry speeds off.
Welcome to The Long and Winding Road. I confess that I’ve kinda been putting off writing this essay, and while a good reason for that is probably my own laziness and the fact that I’d rather just hang around the house or have sex or go to one of my naked places or do whatever it is that makes Brett happy, I think another part of it is that I’m almost sad to write about this ep because it will mean I’m done writing about season six of KL (pretty much; you’ll still be seeing my “Reflection on Season Six” essay a few days after this one goes up), and it’s been such a divine pleasure to re-explore this season and really get down to the nitty gritty by focusing on each and every ep. Remember that this is episode thirty of a thirty episode season, and it continues to astound me at how amazingly the whole creative crew has managed to keep this season feeling unbelievably brilliant and exciting even when stretched out over the course of so many eps. In any case, let’s dive right in and discuss the season six finale.
Well, after our usual thirty second preview and brilliantly brilliant scrolling opening credits, we actually get a pretty long recap of the end of last ep. When I say “pretty long,” I mean, oh, maybe two minutes, but it feels kinda long when you just jump from the previous ep right into this one, as My Beloved Grammy and I did. In fact, she actually said, “Oh, why do we need to see all this again?” and I reminded her that, in 1985, it had been a whole solid week since last ep and people probably needed a little reminder of what went down. Also, you could argue that starting an ep with a man blowing his brains out is just a good way to hook those viewers in if they happened to miss last week for some reason, so it works in that regard, as well. In any case, the ep starts up with Karen and Mack staring down Dr. Ackerman as he tries to focus on his bridge game, then also shows us him getting up to escape, the little car crash, and of course the slow motion of him grabbing his gun and buying the farm.
From there, we jump into the episode credits proper, playing over footage of someone, face unseen, frantically busting through Dr. Ackerman’s house and throwing files and papers everywhere and generally causing a big old mess. They keep cross cutting from this person to shots of police cars rushing to the scene, since whoever it is that broke into Dr. Ackerman’s place also caused the alarm to go off. Once the police arrive and do the usual “Freeze” routine, we reveal that it is, in fact, Mack who has caused this disturbance. Why would Mack be raiding Dr. Ackerman’s place in such an obvious way? Well, I find this easy to justify from a storytelling perspective, which is that he’s simply desperate now that Dr. Ackerman is dead and can’t confess to anything, so he’s just real fast trying to find any evidence in any way that he can, but I also learned of a behind the scenes story that explains this. Apparently The Dobsonator injured his back filming the prior ep and they had to find a way to sorta shuffle Mack out of the story for a portion of this ep, and this is how they do it. Honestly, it works for me and didn’t feel in any way inorganic when I was watching this; I only learned of the real reason after reading the trivia on TV.com.
Most of this episode will heavily focus on Val and her babies, but I wanna take a moment to mention Laura and Greg before I move on to all that stuff. After the little scheme hatched by Ava and Abs in Vulnerable, Laura no longer wants to have anything to do with Greg and is refusing to answer his calls or talk to him in any way. However, when he finally does manage to corner her and get her to speak with him (by driving up to her while she’s on the sidewalk and then just abandoning his car for a minute to get out and chase after her, which I found amusing), he does something that I really appreciated from a writing point of view; he tells her that the whole thing was a stupid setup by Abs and his mother. I appreciated this so much because you just know that if this was some other series, the writers would really draw this out forever and make it take an eternity for Greg to figure out what really went down. They would simply make his character dumber for awhile so they wouldn’t have to deal with him realizing he was tricked, but the KL writers do it in a way more organic way. I remind you that all Greg saw last ep as he came walking outside was Abs and Ava sitting together while an angry Laura sped away; it wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what was really going on. The writers respect the intelligence of Greg as well as the audience enough to not dumb him down and keep this going on; they just have him go right up to Laura and say, “It was a trick; I know it was a trick.” Yeah, Laura doesn’t believe him and doesn’t take him back, but that’s not my point; my point is that the writers let it be revealed good and quick that Ava and Abs were in cahoots to screw both Greg and Laura. Oh yeah, and one last thing, which is that Greg tells Laura he shipped Ava off to Africa and that’s the last we’ll be seeing of her. I’ll take one quick moment to reiterate how much I enjoyed Ava during her seven eps and I loved the energy she brought to proceedings; if she hadn’t sadly suffered that stroke and then passed away in 1990, I would have loved to see her return to stir up more trouble later down the line.
So let’s back to Val’s babies, the story that has provided the nucleus for this entire incredible season. When we first catch up with Val and Ben, it’s a scene that I found positively delightful, because they are at Ben’s Plant House and Val is in bed and Ben is, for some reason, parading around the place in a kilt, playing bagpipes loudly. What the hell is going on here? The sheer strangeness of this image is what made me like it so much, and both My Beloved Grammy and myself actually laughed aloud, and quite uproariously, when we first saw it. I again have to ask: What the hell was I thinking a few years back when I first watched the show and I so callously dismissed the character of Ben as “boring”? We’ve now seen two of his four seasons on the series and he’s incredible. Not only is he fabulously decent and just an inherently good person, but he has this fantastic dry wit about him and often gets these really killer sarcastic lines during the eps, plus he’ll randomly start playing bagpipes for no reason in the bedroom, and it’s astounding. I feel like I oughta send a wine and cheese basket to Douglas Sheehan along with a letter of apology for ever calling his character boring; I was absolutely 100% wrong in that regard and his character has just skyrocketed in my view, because he is so incredible. I also like this bit because it’s just silly and rings true to the way couples will behave in their private lives. One of the keys to a good relationship is to be able to be silly together, so my thighs would definitely melt for a guy that puts on a kilt and does a bagpipe solo performance for me.
In any case, Ben only gets to play the bagpipes briefly before the phone rings and he’s interrupted with news of Mack’s incarceration. He leaves Val with some excuse or other and rushes to the police station to deal with this and we get another scene that I found rather fabulous. Basically, Ben sits down and spends several minutes talking to this officer about what he thinks Mack could have been doing at Dr. Ackerman’s place, and then after a certain amount of time has passed, the officer reveals that he’s not holding Mack and that Mack is probably waiting for Ben outside at this precise moment. Ben has this little moment where he says how clever it was for the cop to distract him and try to get information out of him this whole time, and I don’t know why, but I found the whole thing unbelievably cute. I also like how the officer says he’s letting Mack go because he believes, if Mack was breaking into someone’s house, there has to be a good reason. I like this sorta inherent trust the officer shows towards Mack, and it also reminds us that Mack is well respected in the community and can maybe, every now and then, get away with bending or even outright breaking the law if he needs to.
Meanwhile, Karen is still stuck at the bridge tournament place waiting to find out where Mack has gone. She’s all alone and we are told that Nurse Wilson has fled the scene, probably frightened by the sight of Dr. Ackerman or perhaps by what happened to him. I honestly can’t remember if we ever see Nurse Wilson again and I am far too lazy to pull up her IMDb page and look to see if she’s got more eps to her credit (and we’ve also established that IMDb could very likely be wrong about such things, so it would be a futile waste of time in any case). However, Nurse Wilson is not where my priorities lie at this point; I’m more interested in Mack and Karen and the whole gang, so I’m glad we’re mostly focusing on them now. After awhile, Karen is reunited with Mack and he explains what happened and where he went and then everyone runs off together to go continue their research.
The way that Mack connects the dots to the Fishers I found rather good and very believable. I already covered that it’s a slight contrivance that Ben and Mack just happened to find the Fishers’ address a few eps back and just happened to stop by the house and just happened to not see that they had a set of twins and all that stuff, but that’s a teeny tiny nitpick that I’m gonna go ahead and overlook now. Basically, the characters are hanging out at, I think, Pacific Cable Whatever, and Mack happens to see a piece of newspaper with the announcement of Greg leaving the senate or whatever, and then he says to Ben how he remembers the moment they found out that Greg was stepping down from the senate and he remembers exactly what they were doing, hanging out with Sheila Fisher. I should probably mention that, at this point, they have this list of people who could be involved in illegal adoptions, but they have no addresses or nothing, just names. But the name “Harry Fisher” has been sticking out to Mack, and he doesn’t know why, but now he puts it together; they were standing in the Fishers’ house when Greg resigned, and now they know they just need to go back to the Fisher house.
Meanwhile, Abs is figuring out the exact same information thanks to the little deal she worked out with Ava. See, in case I forgot to mention it before, Ava didn’t just have Abs pretend to be sleeping with Greg and upset Laura because she hates Laura, but because they had worked out a deal. If Abs agreed to her little plan, Ava would give her the pages that she’s been seeking for the majority o the season, and now she proves her word is good by giving Abs the information. This works out well for Abs, who can now tell Val what she has “discovered” and come out looking like the big hero, which is of course what she does. She finds Val sitting at the beach (of course) and she tells her how she got a phonecall asking for “Mrs. Ewing” and at first she thought they meant her, not Val, but after a bit of talking, she realized they were looking for Val. Then she lets it out of the bag and says, “Val, your babies are alive,” and tells her where they are and that she can take her to them. From there, the two ladies hop into Abby’s car and drive off together.
What an interesting sight this is. When was the last time that Abs and Val were alone together for an extended period of time? Maybe somewhere in season three? You’ll recall that during seasons two and three, Val and Abs were kinda chummy, but that has all changed since Gary ran off on Val to be with Abs, so it’s a unique sight to see these two ladies one-on-one in a scene, pretty much managing to get along. Also interesting to note in this scene is how calm Val is. When she hears that her babies are alive, it’s not like a big dramatic thing; you get the feeling that she’s been waiting for this moment. After all, she never stopped believing they were alive, now did she? Abs even notes Val’s serene demeanor and asks her what’s up and Val tells her she knew this would happen, that she never lost faith.
At the same time that Abs and Val are driving to the Fisher house, Karen, Mack, Ben, and Gary are all doing the same thing, but one thing I really appreciated is that they get lost. Not only is this a fabulous reminder of a pre-GPS world in which you just sorta had to know addresses and how to properly read a map (a skill I never learned), but it’s just so wonderfully down to the earth and real. We’re right on the precipice of finally solving this big baby mystery, of finally finding the babies and returning them to their rightful mother, but then there’s a delay in the action because the characters can’t remember how to get to the house. This feels totally realistic and like something that would happen in real life to any of us, so it successfully keeps this whole situation from feeling to melodramatic or soapy or over-the-top.
While all this is going on, what’s happening over at the Fisher house? I’m glad you asked, because we have some really interesting moments between this couple right near the start of the ep. I think I already established that I just inherently like this character of Sheila Fisher. I think she seems sweet and nice and like a loving mother and I feel bad for what’s about to happen to her. However, I’m not sure I like her husband and I’m not sure I’m supposed to. Real fast, I wanna note that Harry is played by an actor named Joe Regalbuto, and I didn’t recognize him from anything, but I did some research and found out that he was a series regular for all ten years on Murphy Brown, a show I’ve seen maybe five eps of in my entire life (but I will say I enjoyed all five of those eps), so there you go. Anyway, when we first see the couple, Sheila is in the middle of the usual breakfast chores and Harry is sorta ignoring her. There’s some good suspense building because the newspaper is on the table with a picture of Dr. Ackerman on the front page and a headline saying something like “Baby stealing doctor blows head off in concluding moments of KL episode,” but Harry is more interested in the stocks pages and fails to see this big old cover story. We all know that if he saw it, he’d probably freak out, but he checks his stocks, gets real grumpy that one of them is down or whatever, and then he heads off to work. Tellingly, Sheila is talking to the twins and says something like, “I know it may not seem like it, but your daddy really does love you.” Wow, what a fascinating line; what are we supposed to make of this? Is this put in here to establish Harry as a bad man? Or is he, like all of our KL characters both large and small, simply complex? We are still unclear on exactly how he got involved with Dr. Ackerman, so we don’t know how aware he is of what duplicitous means were necessary to obtain these babies in question. In any case, I’ll say that I like Sheila but I don’t like Harry, and perhaps we are not supposed to like Harry because it would simply be too hard and too sad to watch a nice, loving couple have the babies they adopted yanked away from them. By making the husband something of an asshole, it makes it sting less.
A little later in the day, Harry hears the news about what happened to Dr. Ackerman and he immediately rushes home to find Sheila and the twins, only the house is empty. He finds Sheila taking a walk around the neighborhood with the twins and says how they need to get out of here right away, pack a big suitcase and hit the road. Sheila is confused, and justifiably so, as Harry is acting like a bit of a psycho, not pausing to explain anything to her, just throwing out frantic comments about how she’s been bugging him for a vacation and now they are taking one. Sheila says how they can’t just run off, how she has to go to the pharmacy to pick up some sort of ear medicine for the twins. Harry says he’ll go do that and when Sheila reminds him that she can’t very well pack while also attending to two babies, Harry takes one of the babies with him.
To provide a little context from someone who doesn’t know what’s going to happen next the way I do, My Beloved Grammy did the super cute thing she does where she kinda narrates what she thinks might happen next, and she seemed fairly convinced that the big cliffhanger was just gonna be the Fishers taking off, leaving the country, something like that, and she said how she hoped that wouldn’t happen. Fortunately for her, that’s not what happens. Instead, Harry takes one baby and runs off to the pharmacy and Karen, Mack, Gary, and Ben all arrive at the Fishers’ doorstep at that moment to confront her. When Karen tells Sheila how the babies were obtained illegally, how they were taken away from their natural mother, Sheila denies all this, and I believe her. Again, I like how the writers have managed to keep the Fishers pretty vague. We don’t know the exact circumstances and situations that have lead to them raising Val’s babies and we don’t know how aware they are of it. Harry’s behavior right now definitely indicates that he has at least some knowledge of the truth, but I don’t think Sheila knows a thing and she’s the character I feel bad for. Again, she just seems like a nice, sweet lady, and she seems like she’s doing a pretty good job of being a mother to the twins, so imagine how it would feel to have strangers arrive at your doorstep and tell you that your babies were stolen and that they are not rightfully yours. Oh my, such a sordid state of affairs.
From here, things really start to hit a crescendo of high drama, because it’s at right about this moment that Abs and Val arrive on the scene. Val gets out of the car and starts to walk towards the house, all slow, kinda in a daze, and that’s when Harry’s car comes driving on up the street, as well, and that’s when we go into the super slow motion. This is similar to the super slow motion used when Dr. Ackerman decided to put a bullet in his brain, in that it’s that sorta choppy looking kind, if that makes sense. I like the slow motion and I like the scene, though I confess that it might go on a few beats too long and it has one little detail that’s perhaps a smidge too much. That one little detail is also something that probably any KL fan should remember vividly, and that’s Sheila Fisher screaming, in super slow motion and with the sound all elongated and drawn out, “Harry, they’re gonna take the babies!” I considered writing that sentence out in the same way that she says it but decided not to, mostly because it would look dumb. I find this line to be a slight bridge too far, that it’s maybe trying a little too hard to be really super dramatic and it just ends up coming off as slightly campy (indeed, My Beloved Grammy laughed at this particular part), but this is a micro complaint that’s barely even worth mentioning. After the big line, we conclude the season with Val spinning around to look at Harry’s car and the little baby passenger inside of it, and then the camera freezes on her and goes into a closeup of her face and, well, that’s it; that’s the end of the season.
As far as the cliffhangers go, this one is definitely near the top. If we are just focusing strictly on THE CLIFFHANGER in question and not the entire season leading up to the cliffhanger, then I honestly might prefer the cliffhanger of season five, which was really more like a whole rapid fire series of cliffhangers, a ton of shit happening all at once. That season five finale was packed, and then the very conclusion of it was Karen getting shot and Mack holding her body. Okay, so maybe I like that one better in that regard, if viewed simply as a cliffhanger, but this is clearly better if we are taking into account all the factors that have lead to it and the season as a whole. It feels like it’s been a long time coming to get to this moment, that we’re about to reach a moment of real catharsis, and that’s the exact moment that the season concludes, which is pretty great. I also appreciate that it’s fairly mellow; another show would be tempted to, say, have Harry crash the car and a great big explosion going off and someone screaming “Oh my God!” and the music swelling and then concluding the season that way, something like that. Instead, this plays as more down to earth, and I appreciate that the final image of the season is Val’s face, because she’s been the heart of the show for this whole sixth season and it’s been all about her journey.
So that was The Long and Winding Road. Honestly, I have a ton to say about this but I feel like a lot of my comments would be better suited to my upcoming reflections essay, when I’ll talk about the season as a whole. For now, I’ll just say that this season finale does not disappoint, does an excellent job of bringing all the different elements together and starting to tie up the loose ends, and then leaves us eagerly waiting to see what will happen next season. This has been a frankly stunning year of television, so before we get started with season seven, I will be posting my “Reflection on Season Six” and then, after that, we will dive right into season seven with the premiere episode entitled The Longest Day.