Episode Title: While the Cat’s Away
Season 07, Episode 03
Episode 133 of 344
Written by E. Jeffrey Smith
Directed by Lorraine Senna
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 10th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Greg tells Abby he's having problems with Elliot, the construction foreman. Abby tells Elliot they had new soil samples done so he can blast. Gary returns home, and breaks down over Bobby's death. At the station, Abby promotes Ben to General Manager, so now he's Joshua's boss. Mack meets with the Fishers and says they are victims, too, and they should work together. The Fishers weren't approved for a conventional adoption because Sheila had had a nervous breakdown. Val is having a ball with the babies and doesn't have much time for Ben. Joshua does his show on how the power of prayer brought back the babies. Val's angry and tells him that SHE kept the faith, not him or his viewers. Ben finally spends time with Val, but is upset when Gary comes by and she invites him to stay. Val tells Gary she is naming her son after Bobby, and Ben is really hurt.
In our previous episode, Here In My Arms, we didn’t actually even see Gary and it was, I think, the first time that Shack has sat out an ep of KL. I know there are one or two eps where he appears physically but doesn’t actually have any speaking lines (I think way back in season one with Let Me Count the Ways?), but I do believe our last ep marked the first time he just didn’t show up at all. Am I mistaken? Write in and yell at me if I am. In any case, he’s back in a big way for this ep, so let’s get started with discussing him.
There’s a lot going on with the KL characters and the KL stories, so if I seem kinda obsessed with that Dallas Interlude and Bobby Ewing’s death, I apologize, but I’m surprised by how directly it’s affecting stories over here, as well as how organic the Interlude was overall. See, this week we learn that Gary is returning to California, but he’s doing it the slow way, taking a big road trip. When we first catch up with Abs this ep, she’s talking to The Most Interesting Man in the World, who asks her where Gary is, what’s going on, etc. etc. Abs tells him, “It’s really been hard on Gary since his brother died,” but assures The Most Interesting Man in the World that Gary’s gonna be back soon. Not too long after that, we get to see Gary, apparently having some car trouble, as he’s in a shop with a mechanic fiddling with his car. A little seed is planted here, because Gary picks up a drill-bit and looks at it like it’s the most beautiful, most wonderful, most fascinating thing in the world, and then he asks the mechanic if he can buy it from him. At first, I was like, “Huh?” What’s the big deal about a drill-bit? I am not a mechanic or a car expert by any means, but aren’t these common things? Aren’t these drill-bits the kind of material you would find lying around any auto shop or car dealership? In any case, we don’t get the payoff to this setup until a little later in the ep, after Gary has returned to California.
See, back in Empire Valley, Abs and Greg are doing, um, something wicked. Honestly, does anyone know what’s going on here? They’re trying to build some sort of James Bond secret lair or something so they can, I guess, act like George W. Bush and spy on everyone’s private conversations and do highly illegal things under the guise of doing it for the government…..or something? Honestly, as I have said previously, I’m not understanding this storyline and neither is My Beloved Grammy, who is usually so sharp at following all plot machinations in all shows (whenever we were watching Dallas and there was some sort of boring business deal going on as there so often were and I would tune out for awhile, she would always help me get back on track and figure out what was going on in the plot), so I think I might have to do something I hate to do and blame the KL writing team for this being so confusing. If Peter Dunne was still around and not busy over on the sinking ship series, perhaps this storyline would make a bit more sense? Anyway, suffice it to say that Abs and Greg are doing something evil, something they don’t want Gary to know about, something that involves Empire Valley, and most notably something that involves blasting, um, something.
My basic point is that Abs and Greg are happy without Gary around checking up on what they’re doing, and therefore Abs is not terribly pleased when Gary returns home and immediately announces that he wants to go out to the Empire Valley site. Abs gets one of those fabulous looks on her face where you just know she’s peeing her pants but she has to try and maintain her composure, and then she calls Greg up real fast. This is a funny little bit, because Gary’s hovering right over Abs, so she makes up some sort of fake lady name when she’s talking to Greg and then she’s like, “I can’t go out to lunch today or whatever cuz me and GARY are going to the site. That’s right, I’ll be at the Empire Valley site with GARY and that’s where I’ll be!” On the other line, Greg gets the message (if I’m not mistaken, I believe he’s talking on one of those amazing 1985 cell phones like William Petersen in Manhunter) and immediately orders The Most Interesting Man in the World to blast that area that he wants to blast for, you know, whatever reason.
From here, Gary and Abs hop in the car and he starts driving. Abs briefly tries to detour him by being like, “Do you wanna go to McDonalds?” or whatever (she doesn’t really say that; clearly I just can’t remember what she actually says so I’m just using that as a stupid example), but Gary is determined. I love Shack here, because he’s got this cool, sexy look of a man on a mission, not getting deterred by any possible distraction. However, when they get to the site, things get a little weird. Gary’s looking around, making chit chat, and then he finds another drill-bit on the ground. As soon as he sees this, we go into a closeup of his face and then a very interesting audio flashback that I had completely forgotten about. Basically, we hear some audio of Gary and Bobby as little boys, discovering a drill-bit somewhere, and they have this exchange about whether they should take it or not. I liked this whole scene just because I liked it but also because I think it has a pretty super continuity with the Brief Dallas Interlude. I think I forgot to mention this back in The Family Ewing, but Miss Ellie and Clayton were hanging out by this old tree house (a tree house that only exists within the confines of the dream season) and Ellie says something about, “This was always Bobby’s favorite place to go, and that’s why we’ve never ever ever mentioned it in almost 200 episodes.” Well, during this scene right here, we hear audio of one of the little boys saying, “Let’s just go back to the fort.” Could this fort be the tree house we saw in that Interlude? I like to think so, and if that is the case, I like the continuity a lot; it makes it seem like the two shows are still trading notes with each other so they can flow organically, something which will obviously change very soon.
Also, this audio flashback demonstrate that Gary is just not coping well, cuz he stares at the drill-bit for about seventeen days, going into a trance state, and then he tells Abs they can leave and he marches off like Terminator and he and Abs drive off together, but then it gets even stranger. See, as they drive off, Greg tells The Most Interesting Man in the World to blast, and blast he does. There’s a great big loud exciting explosion and Abs looks behind, all startled, but Gary doesn’t react at all. At first I was a little confused and asked My Beloved Grammy if Gary hears the explosion but just doesn’t care, and she told me that Gary is so lost in his own head that he doesn’t even hear the big explosion. Yikes! Clearly Gary’s going a little nutty over Bobby’s death (and clearly it’s being handled much, much, much, much better over on this series than, say, Jenna Wade going nutty over Bobby’s death on the parent series).
Meanwhile over at Val’s place, she’s real happy to have her babies back with her, but that doesn’t mean the drama is over. See, now the problem is that she’s so busy with the babies that she doesn’t have any time for Ben (this is why you should never have babies). Ben is a true gentleman, though, and doesn’t get angry with her or yell at her or anything like that, but we viewers can see that he’s upset. After all, he is one of the few people to know the truth about the father of Val’s babies (it’s getting hard to remember who all knows what’s going on, but if I’ve got my facts straight, I believe the people who know THE TRUTH are, at this point, Val, Ben, Mack, Abs, Karen, and Greg), so that’s probably hurting his self esteem a bit. Not only that, but now that the babies are returned, Val’s forgetting that she has dinner dates with him, or she’s falling asleep and not showing up at his house like she promised to, stuff like that. I feel really sorry for Ben, which is a pretty consistent feeling for me since he’s been introduced. Talk about a decent guy, and he really gets pissed on quite a lot due to all of this drama, yet he always handles it very maturely, one of the reasons why he’s elevated so high up in my esteem from my first viewing when, in my drunken stupor, I so callously labeled him as “boring.”
Bobby’s death effects something permanently on KL, and it happens right here, when Val decides she’d like to name her baby Bobby. Oh, how I love this (especially since, as of right now, I’ve officially decided that I recognize seasons 1 through 9 of Dallas as canon and refuse to recognize 10-14 as canon because I just hate how it fucks up the KL continuity so badly, plus those seasons are just so shitty and boring and horrible). I love this for so many reasons, the first of which is that we are maintaining a fantastic continuity with what we saw going down in so many of our previous Interludes. For instance, Val tells Karen, “Bobby was the only one who ever acted like he was on my side.” This isn’t just something the writers are making up to propel a story forward; it’s actually true and we saw it way back before KL even existed, in our third Brief Dallas Interlude, Secrets, when Bobby helped Val to reunite with Lucy. Also, Bobby came to visit Val when she had her one-episode-and-then-never-mentioned-again cancer in season two’s The Loudest Word. So what Val is saying about how Bobby treated her holds up well under scrutiny if one were to go back and look at those eps.
Anyway, when Val tells Ben she’s thinking about naming the baby boy after Bobby, we can tell he doesn’t love it, but again, he handles it like a grown up and doesn’t get mad and yell. Instead he says, “Bobby’s a good name,” and Val does work out a good compromise in which they’ll name the baby girl Betsy after Ben’s mother. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, really, but I also understand Ben’s discomfort. Now, not only is Val raising two kids that Gary planted inside of her, but she’s also gonna name one after Gary’s brother. There’s just a whole lot of Gary in Val’s life and I might be uncomfortable if I was Ben, as well. Actually, Ben’s discomfort provides our last scene of the ep, which is fabulously quiet and subtle in that wonderful KL way. See, Ben and Val finally have some time alone to themselves to enjoy having intercourse with each other when, wouldn’t you know it, the doorbell rings and it’s Gary coming by to say hello and see the babies. Val leads Gary upstairs, announcing that she’d like to name her baby boy Bobby, leaving Ben all alone downstairs, looking sad. Ah, yes, so good.
That’s how the ep ends, but there are a few details I’ve forgotten. First off, even though Harry Fisher did the decent and moral thing by giving Val her babies back in our last ep, he and Sheila are still a part of the story here, as we see them having a meeting with Mack. I like this a lot, because another show might be tempted to just toss these characters away now that they’ve served their plot function, but instead KL shows us some follow up and, in doing so, helps to answer a few questions I’ve had. See, Mack is having this meeting to remind them that they are, in fact, victims too, just like Val. Neither Harry nor Sheila knew that their babies were coming to them via theft. Yeah, they were doing some illegal stuff by looking into black market babies, but honestly lots of people have done that since adoption is so unbelievably stupid and makes it so hard for so many people (including my own people, the gays) to have kids. It’s totally fine for some sixteen year old girl to have seven kids in a row even though she works at Burger King and can’t even take care of herself, let alone seven kids, but if some harmless gay dudes with high paying jobs who love each other a lot wanna adopt a kid and the adoption agent inspects their house and finds a dildo in the closet or something, it’s all over for them.
This double standard doesn’t concern me too much personally, since I don’t think I ever wanna have kids, but I feel protective of my people and I think it shouldn’t be so damn difficult to adopt a kid. Harry and Sheila didn’t have a dildo in their house (at least not that we know of), but apparently Sheila had a bit of a mental breakdown in the past and that affected their ability to adopt. In this scene, Sheila gets real upset and starts to go on about how they were deemed “unsuitable” by the adoption agent. In this scene, she starts to scream and shout a bit and she messes up Mack’s desk by, like, throwing a big pile of papers down, something like that. Again, I like the subtlety here. If this was Dallas (and I apologize if I seem to be shitting on Dallas a lot this week, but, well, it’s just so damn easy to shit on when you’re experiencing the sheer genius and glory that is KL), I’ll bet Sheila would, like, destroy the office in a big over-the-top scene while loud, annoying music blared, but here it’s more quiet. All she does is throw some papers, but Mack does give her a look kinda like, “Yikes,” and later he tells Karen that he can see why they were denied the adoption in the first place.
Joshua’s disgusting behavior continues to escalate. In this ep, Pacific Cable Whatever airs a really big sermon from him in which he essentially takes all the credit for Val’s babies being returned and goes on about how he “kept the faith” the whole time. Obviously this is crap, since what really happened is that Val’s babies went missing and Joshua gave her such comforting advice as “It was God’s plan,” or decided to go take a big piss in her face in that one ep where she was sitting in the kitchen late at night. Fortunately, Val is really toughening up lately and she’s not putting up with Joshua. After the program airs, Val gets angry and tells Joshua she didn’t want him to talk about that and she very directly reminds him that he did not keep the faith, nor did he have anything to do with her babies being returned to her. Fuck yeah, go Val, I love seeing her all tough and direct, and my God is Joshua ever a creep. I had forgotten how truly wretched he becomes in this season; it makes the last few eps of season six seem like he was a really great, swell guy by comparison. I was also amused when My Beloved Grammy said, “What a creep, I can’t wait to see him fall.” I thought to myself how (SPOILER ALERT!) that will be happening most literally, and not too long from now.
Let’s talk about Greg and Laura last and then I’ll wrap this up. I don’t remember anything too exciting from the two of them this ep, aside from one absolutely brilliant scene that made me pee my pants in laughter. See, the two are still broken up and Sumner is clearly, um, broken up about it. Since he’s Sumner, he doesn’t cry or give big emotional speeches; we just have to pay attention and watch the subtleties and complexities of this fantastic character. The scene in question occurs at his home or his office or some damn place, and some random call girl comes out of the bedroom, looking all sexy, while Greg is occupied with pouring himself a drink or whatever and looking disinterested. The girl comes out and says, “You know, you were really great,” and then Greg just says, “Whatever.” Honestly, it’s only funny if you see how he delivers the line, cuz it’s just the most dismissive, blasé, I-don’t-care-about-you delivery of a line that you can possibly imagine, and both My Beloved Grammy and myself laughed out loud. I consistently marvel at how fucking funny KL is and how underrated it is for its wit and its humor. I also consistently wonder which lines Devane improvised, and I really hope this was one of them. Fuck, it’s all just so good.
I think that about does it for While the Cat’s Away. Clearly it was great and, three eps deep, I’m still waiting to see why so many fans seem to consider this season to be so weak. I remember thinking it was great and, so far, I still do. Perhaps these feelings will change as I work my way through the season, but honestly, while this is not as good as season six (but no season of television is as good as season six of KL), it’s still super high quality, in my opinion.