Episode Title: Pictures at a Wedding
Season 07, Episode 08
Episode 138 of 344
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, November 14th, 1985
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Gary is sure the twins are his. Joshua tries to break into Cathy's apartment, and then trashes Val's house. Val kicks him out and Lilimae is upset. At the station, Joshua finds out that Ben gave his show to Cathy, and he and Ben fight. Cathy tells Ben that Joshua is upset because Lilimae is dying. Ben talks with her doctor, who says Lilimae only has bursitis. Cathy is upset that Joshua would lie to her like that. Greg thinks Peter is snooping too much, but Peter says Greg is sloppy with information. Equipment convoys for the underground communication center are coming to Empire Valley on Monday, so Abby asks Gary to go away with her to get him out of town. Val and Ben ask the MacKenzies to stand up for them at their wedding, and to go along with them that Ben is the twin's father. On the day of the wedding, Val and Lilimae make up. Gary decides to drop Olivia off before going out of town and stops to talk to Val. Ben sees this and isn't happy.
Welcome to Pictures at a Wedding, our first episode all about a wedding since, well, For Better, For Worse near the end of season six. I guess it hasn’t been that long since we had a wedding episode, but what’s exciting about this ep is not necessarily that it’s about a wedding, but the people who are finally getting married, Ben and Val. I’ve gone on and on about my love affair with the slow burn storytelling of KL, and right here in the relationship between Ben and Val, we have a perfect example of that quality. Ben was introduced right in the first episode of season five, which was The People vs Gary Ewing, which aired September 29th, 1983, and which was episode 076 of the series. Now here we are with Pictures at a Wedding, which is airing November 14th, 1985, and which is episode 138 of the series. So we have a gap of over two years and 62 eps between Ben being introduced as Val’s new romantic interest and the two of them finally tying the knot now. On another show, let’s say Dallas, perhaps, I feel like Ben would be introduced and then, five episodes later, he would be marrying Val. On KL, things unfold at a more realistic and grounded pace, and it’s one of the many qualities I respect so much about the series. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself by declaring that they tie the knot in this ep; maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but the question of will they or won’t they is kinda the central thrust of this ep. There’s a lot to discuss here and this is episode is also coming to us courtesy of two important people in the KL universe, Michael Filerman and David Paulsen.
This might sound immediately contradictory to everything I just said, but it could certainly be argued that this wedding is happening a smidge fast considering it was only in the closing seconds of our very last ep that Val said to Ben, “I think it’s time we got married.” However, I don’t see it as happening fast specifically because we’ve had those 62 eps of buildup in the relationship between the two characters, so after waiting 62 eps, I can’t blame the two for now wanting to get the wedding going as fast as possible. As we open the ep, Karen is all excited about having gotten her living room remodeled (this has been a small little side plot sorta going on throughout the last couple of eps), when Ben and Val stop by for a visit. They tell Mack and Karen about how they’re getting married, everyone’s all good and excited, and then they have a nice chat about how, for all intents and purposes, they are going to be raising the twins with Ben as their official father. This is a good scene because it helps to remind us of who exactly knows what as far as Val’s babies are concerned. So, for those of you keeping track at home, the people who know that Gary is the real father are Val (duh), Ben, Karen, Mack, Abs, and, if I’m remembering correctly, Greg Sumner. I’m not crazy, right? There was a scene in season six where Abs spilled her guts to Greg and told him that Gary is the true father, right? If I’m remembering wrong, write in and yell at me. The timing of this wedding is pretty much perfectly terrible, by the way, because it was just last ep that we finally got to see the light bulb going on in Gary’s head as he held the babies while Lilimae narrated about how, “You’d think Ben wasn’t even their real father.” In this ep, Gary is facing a moral crisis, not knowing what to do or how to behave. Can he just pretend that there’s no possibility of him being the father and go along shagging Abs in hot tubs and being happy? Or does he have to know the truth? And if he does know the truth, would it be possible for him to watch Ben and Val get married and live happily ever while still keeping his own mouth shut? So much to chew on here.
I love Shack deeply and adore his acting and the way he brings Gary Ewing to life. I feel like sometimes I forget to mention that because it’s just such a given; he’s such a vital part of the show that I just tend to accept his amazingness and forget to acknowledge him as much as I really should. With Pictures at a Wedding, I feel we are seeing some of his best acting as he wrestles with what decision to make, and we have many fabulous scenes from him, one after the other. Probably my favorite scene from him this ep takes place at Lotus Point between him and Karen. He comes to visit her at her office, they’re making polite chit chat for a couple of seconds, and then things get real when he shuts the door to her office and looks her right in the face and says, “Let me ask you something; are those babies mine?” We then cut right to a commercial, which is a brilliant decision and the perfect place to insert an ad for Tide before we get to return to the main drama a moment later. Karen manages to hold her own very well when she tells Gary that they are not his babies, that they are Ben’s babies, and then she heavily discourages him from bringing the subject up with Val or interfering with the wedding in any way.
I’ve also gone on and on about how I feel we have crossed the threshold where the show is no longer new and the characters are now firmly established and completely fully inhabited by the actors playing them. I bring that up yet again only because I feel this scene is a perfect example of that. Here we are watching Michele and Shack sharing a very excellent scene together, and these are both characters we have followed all the way from day one, since the very first episode of the series. I think that longevity is one of the reasons why a scene like this comes off as so good, because both actors know their characters inside and out as if they are, in fact, real people.
Despite what Karen says, Gary is still having a hard time, and you can hardly blame him. We get another callback to Bobby’s death (and, now that I’ve officially finished my just-for-fun rewatch of the dream season of Dallas, I can officially declare with 100% certainty that Bobby’s death is handled far better on KL than it is over on the parent series during the exact same season) when we see Gary sitting and gazing at a black and white framed photo of him and Bobby as kids, and wouldn’t you know it, the two boys standing side by side together look pretty much exactly like Val’s new twins. God, what a fabulous way to stay linked to the parent series but do it in a super organic and interesting way that propels the plotlines on the spinoff further, because now this photo that Gary found is serving to move the storyline over here on KL. This is quality writing, folks.
I’m gonna move away from Gary for a moment to focus on some other characters. In case I didn’t mention it, this wedding is going to take place at Lotus Point, which has really turned into a lavish tourist destination by now. We now see that it comes with a pool and tennis courts and, I’m fairly certain, a fully functioning gym (we all know how into pumping iron Gary is), and a restaurant; it’s basically got everything you could ever want. Also, last ep Karen started trying to persuade Laura to come work with her at Lotus Point and, at first, Laura didn’t want to, citing some of her disastrous past jobs with friends or family that have wreaked havoc on her life. She reminds us of the tragedy of Richard’s restaurant, of what happened when she worked for Abs during season five, and what happened when she got involved with Sumner and all his political stuff. Again, this is solid writing that shows the writers are remembering all the past history of these characters and are making sure to remind us of what went down in seasons past, yet being done in such an organic and subtle way that you hardly notice it’s happening. Ooooh, and the same could be said for a fabulous Sid callback that we get via Laura to Karen. See, when Karen is trying to sell her on the idea of working with her, she starts to talk in these big, over-the-top ways about how Lotus Point could make the world a better place, and then Laura says how Karen sounds like Sid when she talks that way. God, yes, everything about this scene is a yes.
We also get a line a little later in the ep that I have to wonder if it’s meant to be somewhat meta. Karen and Laura are discussing something or other and how much this something or other will cost and then Karen just casually says how it should cost about eleven million dollars, to which Laura says, “I can remember a time when eleven million dollars meant a lot to you.” I’m convinced this line is supposed to sorta like Eric’s immortal, “Living in this cul-de-sac is like being in a soap opera,” line from a few eps back, if the writers are deliberately acknowledging that they know these characters are now more glamorous and rich than they were back in the simpler, more middle class days of seasons one through three.
Meanwhile, Joshua is unraveling so rapidly that it makes the Joshua of the closing hours of season six seem like a big, snuggly teddy bear. By this point, he is legit frightening to watch and he only gets more frightening in this ep. You should all vividly recall him attacking Cathy and flinging her into a pile of garbage last ep, which means that Cathy is justifiably upset with him now. When we first catch up with the two characters, Cathy is in the little apartment that she bought a few eps back, alone and enjoying some relative peace, when Joshua knocks on the door and starts pleading with her to let him in. Fuck, what a suspenseful scene, as Cathy puts her head up against the door, which is locked with one of those cool chain things that I wish I had. I also love how perfectly acted this scene is by both actors; I believe in Cathy’s fright and I also think Baldwin is perfectly portraying a mentally unhinged and abusive person, most specifically in his ability to go from calm and collected to totally raving within seconds, which he demonstrates nicely in this scene. See, at first his voice is all calm and gentle and he’s telling her how sorry he is for throwing her into a pile of garbage, saying she should just open the door, which she eventually does, although she’s smart enough to leave the chain on so he can't burst in. It’s good thinking, too, because after she tells him their marriage is over, he freaks out and starts screaming at her and trying to break the door down, turning really scary really fast, a classic psychotic abusive in action. Fortunately, Cathy manages to get the door shut and locked without him getting in, but it’s still a tremendously unnerving scene.
A little later, Joshua returns to Val’s house all pissed off because he went in for an interview with someone only to find that the people were no longer interested in him. As he talks, he gets more and more super scary, throwing things around, breaking a lamp, basically trashing the entire living room while Lilimae and Val scream at him to calm down. All three actors are at the absolute peak of their talents in this scene, and my favorite thing about the whole scene is probably the way Val asserts control and orders Joshua out of the house right away. I’m a big fan of assertive Val; I love whenever she gets real tough and direct, and this is a good example. Then she rushes upstairs to start packing up a suitcase for Joshua, declaring to Lilimae that Joshua is never setting foot in the house again, ever. Obviously I am completely and 100% supportive of Val in this situation. Joshua is a raving lunatic, he’s now become abusive, violent, and dangerous and there are two new babies living in the house now, two babies who shouldn’t be around a psychotic. At the same time, I understand Lilimae and my heart goes out to her. I’m gonna go ahead and boldly declare that Julie Harris and only Julie Harris could manage to convey all the emotions going through Lilimae in such a fabulous, realistic, and yet subtle way. During this scene, she manages to be frightened of Joshua but also deeply hurt by what Val is saying. This goes back to what I said last ep, about how Lilimae simply doesn’t know what to do with Joshua, that she doesn’t want to alienate the son she has only just recently gotten close to, and that’s why she’s choosing to bury her head in the sand at this point. She is not stupid and she logically knows that Joshua is a menace, but her heart is still going out to him because of how she abandoned him so many years ago. So many complex emotions going on, all confined within one fantastic scene with some of the best acting we’ve seen on the series ever.
Later in the ep, we are catching up with Ben and Cathy at Pacific Cable Whatever as they have a nice long chat about what a psycho Joshua is. The only problem is that Joshua is lurking in the vicinity, hiding out under, like, the bleachers or whatever, listening to them talk, watching as his stupid little religious show gets morphed into something much sexier, much more rocking, and much better. Indeed, in case I’ve forgotten to mention it before, Ben is effectively morphing the religious show into something completely different, something that focuses exclusively on the talents of Cathy and her band, something that people might actually want to watch. Joshua is upset by these developments, so he takes it upon himself to interrupt what is shaping up to be a great Cathy musical number and turn into The Phantom of Pacific Cable Whatever, cutting the electricity and ruining the show and generally being a menace. He is thrown out by security or whatever, but I do question Ben’s decision to not call the police and report this blatant vandalism, perhaps get a restraining order put on Joshua. In fact, that’s probably my only criticism right now of this most sizzling storyine which, for the record, is my absolute favorite story going on right now and one of my favorites of the entire series run. The criticism is that I find it a smidge unrealistic that nobody, in all this drama and chaos, decides to call the police and report Joshua’s psychotic behavior as of late. Maybe this is a storytelling contrivance to keep the drama moving, but I’m not too upset about it because the drama at hand is just so very good.
There’s another vital plot development this week relating to the whole story of Lilimae “dying.” If you’ll recall, this is the lie that Joshua thought up to explain to Cathy why he needs to keep living with Lilimae, but now that lie is coming back to bite him on the ass. See, Cathy tells Ben how Lilimae is dying, trying to use this as a reason for why Joshua is acting so nutty. I’m not sure that Ben even buys this in the first place, but it’s hard to tell, and in any case, he winds up visiting Lilimae’s doctor in the interest of getting a blood test before the wedding (I don’t know if you still need to do this nowadays and, since I never plan to get married, I’ll probably never find out) and he mentions how he found out that Lilimae is dying. The doctor is fairly shocked to hear Ben say this and immediately tells him that Lilimae is not dying, that she only has bursitis (whatever the hell that is). At first I wondered if this doctor is in any way violating the whole Hippocratic oath confidentiality thing, but I’m pretty sure he’s not. It’s violating the confidentiality if you’re like, “Hey everyone, guess who’s dying!”, but I think it’s okay to assure a person that another person is not dying when the one person seems to believe that they are. In any case, this is real important because now Ben knows that Joshua’s been lying and he’s able to report it back to Cathy, further emphasizing what a crazy monster she is now married to.
The day of the ceremony arrives, and we are immediately given the fantastic gift of one amazing scene after another, just flying at us like these magical, wonderful bullets of love out of some magic and amazing gun. The first scene to spring to mind is a wonderfully touching, actually-brought-tears-to-my-eyes scene between Lilimae and Val in which they make up. Val’s all dressed up in her wedding outfit and Lilimae is looking real pretty with a nice outfit and a nice hairdo, and they talk about the whole something old, something new, something borrowed Bob Loblaw stuff. Then Lilimae starts crying and she tells Val how she loves her and always will and they embrace and it’s just glorious. This is a situation where nothing I write can possibly exemplify the magic of this scene, you really just need to watch it (after watching the 137 eps that come before it, of course, although you have my full permission to skip Silver Shadows). This is just two actresses inhabiting their characters and really bringing them to life, acting their asses off together, and it’s a fabulous thing to witness. In my notes I simply jotted down what I so often think to myself while watching the series, “These characters are soooooooo interesting.”
Let’s get back to Gary and his moral dilemma, since that jets us right along to our final scene of the ep. Okay, so there’s something confusing going on over at Empire Valley, something I’m not bothering to pay any attention to or write about at this point, but basically because of this top secret thing that’s going on over there, Greg wants Abs to get Gary out of town for awhile, so she convinces him that they need to run off together for some sort of wild weekend of nonstop shagging in a super fancy hotel. The day of the wedding comes and it’s also the day that Gary and Abs are supposed to leave town, but first Gary has to give Olivia a ride to the wedding. He takes her there and then he decides to also take a stroll through Lotus Point and see all the proceedings and shenanigans, maybe, just maybe, talk to Val and ask her for the truth about the babies. When Mack sees Gary at Lotus Point, he comes up to him and tells him how he doesn’t want to screw this up, all that stuff, but Gary is now set in his decision to speak with Val, so he walks up to her, all while Ben glares at them from off in the distance, and he asks Val if there’s somewhere they could go to talk and then BOOM, the ep is over, a most fabulous ending to a most fabulous episode.
Fuck, this episode was good. With the talent involved in writing the script (and in this case I really think that Michael Filerman, pictured below, is something of an unsung hero behind the scenes of KL for all fourteen seasons and I think he probably deserves most of the credit for this ep being so great), one shouldn’t be surprised at how brilliantly this turns out. Scene by scene, beat by beat, this episode was killer, without a second of dull footage, with a million fantastic and fascinating character moments, with the drama just powering along, totally riveting, yet at the same time a fabulous feeling of reflection from all the people involved, of the cast and crew taking this opportunity to kinda look back at their previous work and how far they have come in the last six years.
As I seem to be saying for every ep at this point, the most amazing thing about all this is that, as great as this episode was, the next episode is even better. Our next ep shows the triumphant return of my favorite KL director, Larry Elikann, giving us his penultimate episode of the series with Until Parted by Death.