Episode Title: The Christening
Season 07, Episode 04
Episode 134 of 344
Written by David Assael
Directed by Larry Elikann
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 17th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Mack decides to investigate adoptions and asks the governor to send him someone to help him with the red tape. He sends Jill Bennett. She and Mack flirt and they kiss. Greg sees Laura with a co-worker and is jealous. Greg gives Abby a phony report that says the site for the TV station is better than where Gary wanted it. Ben tells Joshua that his ratings are slipping. Joshua apologizes to Cathy and asks her to sing on his show again. Val plans the babies' christening. She asks Mack and Karen to be the godparents. Val decides to name her daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) after Ben's mother. Lilimae's shoulder hurts, and so she goes to a few doctors' appointments, but it's nothing serious. Joshua tells Cathy that Lilimae's dying, so he can't move out. Sheila Fisher follows Val and the babies around. Harry's worried about her. They go to Val's and tell her they're moving, but will always love the babies. Val lets them say goodbye to the twins.
Hello my beautiful readers, it’s time to discuss The Christening. Does anyone care if I just blow my wad right away and say, right here in the very first paragraph, that this episode is brilliant and I loved watching it and it was clearly the best of the first five eps of this season? Well, I’m saying it, cuz fuck, this episode was good, which is exactly what I’d expect from the genius Larry Elikann, who is back in the director’s chair for the first time since Distant Locations 23 glorious eps ago. My sphincter is tightening up a little, though, because a peek at Mr. Elikann’s IMDb page confirms that he’s only got two more eps to contribute, Until Parted by Death and His Brother’s Keeper, both here in season seven, and then he goes off to make other things that are probably brilliant and that I probably need to see right away. I won’t cry just yet about losing Elikann, but I will cry when we reach His Brother’s Keeper and I have to say goodbye to Elikann, Sheila-and-Harry-style.
Speaking of Sheila and Harry, we actually open on Sheila, who is clearly not coping well with the loss of the babies. Time for an immediate compliment for KL and all its brilliance; don’t you guys think any other show would have had Val get her babies back and then Sheila and Harry would be utterly forgotten and never mentioned again? In fact, didn’t that happen over on Dallas? During the good seasons of that show (I believe this particular story occurred at the start of season three), didn’t some lady kidnap John Ross from the hospital and then the characters, like, tracked her down and took the baby back? And then wasn’t she never mentioned again? That’s all I’m saying. Over on KL, we get to witness the ramifications of Sheila and Harry raising the babies for several months and then having to return them back to Val, and we see how difficult that must be for both of them.
But wait, I wanna save all that for the end because the Sheila and Harry material is clearly the best stuff in this episode and it provides the best scene of the episode and, honestly, one of the best scenes of the entire series, so I kinda wanna save the best for last. Let’s go ahead and get started by talking about Mack and Jill Bennett (who, for the same of brevity, I am going to henceforth refer to as simply “J.B.”), who is making her second appearance right here in this ep. You might recall that she had a small but amazing scene near the end of season six with A Price to Pay. She came to Mack’s office, she told him the governor was interested in him having a seat on the senate or something, she was sexy, she looked slightly wicked to me, and she left the office. For all intents and purposes, I’m pretty sure that J.B. was only meant to be a little one ep character and then someone brilliant working on KL decided to bring her back for season seven and, well thank God they did, because now we get to see the amazingness and wonderment of J.B. all throughout seasons seven, eight, nine, and most of ten. Truthfully, J.B. peaks for me (at least based on memory) during seasons nine and ten, so perhaps a new viewer watching through for the first time would spend seasons seven and eight wondering why I’m so damned excited by this character, but just wait and see.
Honestly, though, and this is probably the only criticism I have about this ep (and it’s a small one), I think J.B.’s stuff this ep moves a bit too fast for my liking. You’ve got 30 eps this season; why rush it? See, her and Mack seem to have this instant rapport going on, where they’re sorta flirtatious and they also sorta act like they don’t like each other at the same time. The thing that happens too fast here is that they kiss. Interestingly, it’s initiated by J.B., who gives this big speech to Mack about how he’s a good guy, he’s got a nice wife, a good reputation in the community, Bob Loblaw, but that his big problem is that he’s a flirt. Then she gets up all close to him and says something about how it’s dangerous to be a flirt and one day he’ll have to act on it, or something, and then she plants a big wet kiss on him. Yikes! See what I mean about this being a little fast? However, I ain’t complaining too hard, because then the music sorta swells in an uplifting tone and Mack looks super happy and puts on this fabulous Hat; God, I wanna have a love affair with The Hat. I wanna meet The Hat in cheap motel rooms and have a torrid romance with it. I wanna take The Hat into Abby’s hot tub and pour champagne all over it and lick it. I fucking love The Hat. It’s hard to describe The Hat except to say that it looks like something a gentleman might wear in the 1920s, when all the men always wore hats, and it’s just sorta goofy looking, but the goofiness is part of its amazing charm.
Now would be a good moment to do a quick reminder of how much I adore Mack. Already, those first three Mack-less seasons seem like this distant memory and I can hardly imagine KL existing or functioning without the shining brilliance of Mack and the insanely charismatic charm The Dobsonator brings to the role. Part of that charm is his often strange sense of fashion, such as this amazing Hat. Travilla is still the man behind the scenes handling costumes and wardrobe, so I wonder if The Hat was his contribution or The Dobsonator’s. Honestly, I wanna think it was The Dobsonator, that he showed up on set with The Hat and was like, “I’m wearing The Hat whether you like it or not.” The beauty of The Hat, and indeed any of Mack’s unique clothing choices (I also love whenever he rocks a bow tie), is the way that he just owns it; he puts on the goofy thing with such confidence that he immediately looks cool.
By the way, should we the audience be upset with Mack for being so pleased with the J.B. kiss? Like I said, happy music swells and his face really lights up before he puts on The Hat, and then he walks away looking very pleased with himself. Again, I’m gonna come at this from the perspective of an unbelievably slutty gay man and say this doesn’t bother me. I’m sorry to let the cat out of the bag here, but all men like getting some sexual attention from other people, whether it be a woman or another, whatever’s your bag, baby. If I was in some significant relationship and some male J.B. planted a kiss on me one day, I’d be happy about it. One difference though (and I don’t know if this relates to me being a gay person or it just relates to me being me) is that I would go home and immediately tell my significant partner about it, “Guess what happened to me today.” Mack doesn’t do that, and I wonder what would happen if he had. What if he’d gone back to Karen and been like, “J.B. kissed me today; isn’t that wild?” I wonder if Karen would be upset or if she would appreciate the honesty and the two could just share a nice laugh over the situation.
Meanwhile, things are getting heated over at Val’s house. Joshua is descending to new depths of awfulness with every ep we watch, and one of the first scenes of the ep is a rather intense family fight at the house in which Joshua declares that the babies need to have a christening and be baptized because, “They were conceived in sin.” Val’s growing bigger balls this season, I’ve noticed, and I appreciate it, because she’s really not standing for any of Joshua’s crap at this point. I feel like if he made a comment like that in mid-season six, Val would look uncomfortable but probably keep her mouth shut; now she yells at him and reminds him that they’re not his children, that it’s her business whether they are baptized or not. Also, fuck Joshua and his “conceived in sin” nonsense; the babies were conceived by Gary and Val, who are soul mates and meant to be together forever and the greatest couple in television history, so fuck you, Joshua, and fuck all the religious people who act like you. Of course, Joshua doesn’t know Gary is the father; he still thinks it’s Ben, but in any case, he’s wrong and he’s stupid.
Now might be a good time to provide my readers with some insight on where I stand on religion, since I know I talk a lot of shit about religion whenever Joshua’s stories come up. I’d like to state that I do believe in God, although I don’t necessarily believe that God is a man or a woman or any sort of physical thing; I think God is more of a spiritual thing, and my God is not the same angry, finger-wagging dude that all the religions seem to worship. I think all religions are equally stupid, so I think I can get away with talking shit because, to me, they’re all dumb. I believe in America as a land where people are free to worship anyway they see fit, but it's also a land where we are free and I have the right to say that all the religions are equally stupid. The main thing I hate about all religions is all the shame involved; I think sex is the most beautiful and life affirming thing in the entire world, and I hate the way that religions have made people feel so guilty about their 100% normal and natural sexual urges; we are all sexual beings and it’s the most essential thing that keeps the world going on. But I just want to make it clear that if I talk a big game and make fun of religions, I do consider myself spiritual and I do believe there is a God, so now you guys all know where I stand on that. Okay, rant over; let’s move on to more KL.
Joshua really really really does not want to move out of Val’s house anytime soon, perhaps ever. I’m not entirely clear on why, so maybe you guys have some opinion; what is it with Joshua’s obsession with staying in the house? Is it because he gets off on having the control and he likes being able to hurt and degrade Val? I think that might actually be it; I think he likes being sorta in the center and able to stir up trouble with everyone around him, and that wouldn’t be nearly so easy if he wasn’t living under the same roof. Anyway, Cathy is acting like a sane, rational person and saying how they need to find their own apartment and go off and live independently, not turning Val’s house into the fucking Camden house from 7th Heaven, but Joshua is so desperate to stay put that he works up a rather wicked plan this ep. See, throughout the ep we get references to Lilimae having a hurt arm or shoulder or something. At first, I didn’t know what was going on here, but it all comes together in the end. See, she goes to the doctor, she finds out there’s nothing wrong, he tells her to take aspirin (“And for that he charged me forty dollars!” she says in her fabulously inimitable Julie Harris way) and that’s it, no big deal. However, Joshua sees an opportunity here, so at the end of the ep (I’m hopping around, cuz this is actually the very final scene of the ep), he gets all quiet and serious with Cathy and tells her that the real reason he wants to stay in the house is because Lilimae is dying. As he says this, Lilimae is mingling and socializing and having a nice time, looking perfectly happy, so I’m moderately surprised that Cathy buys this lie so easily, but eh, whatever. This little development is something that’s clear flown out of my memory; I don’t remember it happening and I don’t remember where it will lead. Let’s all stay tuned!
The title of this episode is The Christening so obviously that event is sorta the central plot point, the nucleus of this 48 minutes. I think I might have mixed up some stuff when writing about our last ep, because I said that was the ep where Val says they should name the girl Betsy and asks Ben if they can name the boy Bobby, but I think that actually occurs here. In any case, one person who does not support this Bobby idea is Lilimae, who tells Val, “You can’t name him after a member of Gary’s family, and when he comes back from the dead in a year, it’s gonna really screw up our continuity from show to show!” Val tells Lilimae that she doesn’t give a shit if Bobby is coming back from the dead in a year, that no legitimate television writer would ever write anything that stupid, that for all intents and purposes, he’s dead right now and she’s gonna name her little baby boy Bobby.
While all the storylines are going on, we keep returning to Harry and Sheila Fisher. As soon as we started this ep, I immediately remembered THE BIG SCENE from it based on the title alone, but I’d forgotten how the writers do a clever job of misleading us throughout the ep. See, we get a lot of cryptic scenes of Sheila and Harry together, saying stuff about how they’re gonna leave town, and it’s done in this tone where it seems to imply they’re gonna snatch the babies before they run off. Also, Sheila is getting a little stalky on Val, following her around when she takes the babies out to the park or what have you. Last ep, Karen said to Mack about the Fishers, “Their loss is like Val’s,” and that’s what I think is so interesting about this. The show could have easily portrayed them as villains, but I feel really sorry for both of them. They spent something like half a year loving these babies and raising them and caring for them, and now they have to give them back. Turning them into snarling, scary villains would be one way to go on a series with less subtlety, but KL keeps it more real, presents them as real people with feelings who are hurting and suffering a loss like the one Val suffered in season six.
The day of the christening comes and everyone’s invited. Joshua answers the door for Laura and we have a brilliant exchange of dialogue that I immediately wrote down in my notes. Joshua says something like, “Don’t worry, Laura, you’re always welcome in my house,” to which Laura replies, in her fantastic Laura way, “Yes, I know I’m always welcome in Valene’s house.” God, yes, go Laura, you rock, and this exchange made both My Beloved Grammy and I laugh aloud in joy. Anyway, Sheila and Harry show up (and I might be screwing up the flow of events; I think this might occur before the christening, but whatever, who gives a fuck, let’s talk about this scene) and we think they are probably gonna snatch the babies. See, Harry is talking to Sheila and says how he’s gonna go up to the house and that Sheila should “wait for the signal.” Hmmm, “wait for the signal” usually doesn’t mean anything good in a movie or TV show, so we viewers are being lead to think something awful’s gonna happen. Instead, we get one of the most powerful and moving scenes of raw emotion ever presented on KL.
See, since Sheila has been scaring Val by following her all over town, nobody is too pleased to see Harry showing up at the door. At first, Lilimae tells him to go away, but Val lets him come in, and then Harry gives this fabulous, give-the-guy-from-Murphy-Brown-a-best-guest-actor-in-a-drama-series-Emmy-right-away speech that started to bring tears to my eyes. He tells Val how he and Sheila are moving far far away to start a new life together, figure things out, but they just want to see the babies one last time and say goodbye to them. His speech is very moving, and he says how they raised the babies and loved them for six months or whatever (remember continuity is weird on these shows cuz of summers not existing in TV land), that Val is going to have the opportunity to see them grow up and become adults, all that stuff. God, this is a good speech, and the actor from Murphy Brown does a great job, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the scene, in which he signals to Sheila that it’s okay for her to come in. I’ll see if I can find this scene on YouTube or somewhere (I’ll bet it’s there cuz it’s so memorable and some good soul has to have put it up) so everyone can just watch it and not have to depend on me doing a shitty job of describing it. Basically, it’s just this very tender and emotional scene, underscored by some really beautiful music, and Sheila and Harry have these two stuffed animals they give to the babies, and then they both get to hold them for a minute and kiss them on the head, then they hand them back and go away to drive off together. Again, it doesn’t sound like much when I describe it here, but it’s a very moving scene, one of the most emotional in KL history, and it definitely made me cry; I can tell you that. I think it made My Beloved Grammy cry but I was too captivated by the screen to turn over and look at her. I will say that when the scene was over, she said, “Well, that was very touching,” and she sounded pretty choked up, so there you go.
Fuck, this scene is so emotional. What a gut punch, and what a brilliant ending to the whole “Val’s babies being taken” story, which I think we could say officially ends here, with this ep. Yeah yeah, it kinda sorta ended with the second ep of the season, but this is the last we see of Harry and Sheila and this scene is really the last little button on the greatest storyline in KL history. I’d like to take another moment to shit on Dallas and add further compelling evidence to my “KL is better than Dallas” argument by saying that I never cried in an ep of Dallas (although I do remember being moved by a really early ep in which Bobby sorta falls in love with one of the vampire boys from ‘Salem’s Lot but then the boy and his father have to move away and he and Bobby hug; I liked that one). KL is able to make me cry, and if I’m counting correctly, this is the second time upon this rewatch that I’ve cried. I surprised myself by not crying when Sid Fairgate went to Heaven back in Critical Condition, although that was amazingly genius and moving, as well. My first cry (and My Beloved Grammy’s first cry) was in season six, in the incredible We Gather Together, when Val was sitting in the empty nursery and Gary came in and spoke to her. Ugh, I don’t know which scene is more sad, that one or this one; they’re both so amazingly brilliant (and I just thought of this, they’re both directed by Elikann! Maybe he’s the man for the job if you’re doing an ep that you want to be really hard hitting and emotional). In any case, they’re both astounding scenes and I can easily point to both of them and say, “Nothing this good ever happened on Dallas; I rest my case.”
So that was The Christening. Fuck, what an episode. As I sat down to write about it, I knew that I loved it, but now I’m realizing how much I loved it in the greater context of the entire KL story. Like, I think this might be a top ten episode and maybe even a top five; it’s really up there. I love everything about it, all the stories for all the charcters, the seeds being planted as well as the stories being wrapped up, and of course the big kicker is that final goodbye from the Fishers to the babies, which is just stunning. I think when all is said and done and I’ve gotten through all 344 eps (I’m starting to think it might actually happen!), I’ll compile my top ten or top twenty for the whole series, and I have no doubt this ep will be on it.
Let’s move right along now to an ep that probably won’t be as good as this Undisputed Masterpiece of Television, but which should still be really solid, and it’s called A Little Assistance.