Episode Title: A Very Special Gift
Season 07, Episode 20
Episode 150 of 344
Written by Lawrence Kasha
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 13th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen and Mack make up. Greg asks Peter to start a social relationship with Abby. Peter tells Sylvia that Greg wants him to spy on Abby and Abby wants him to spy on Greg. Sylvia is concerned that Peter's double dealing will backfire on him. Gary and Jill sleep together. Later, they run into Peter, who asks Jill if Gary suspects anything. She says no. Mack and Ben think that the Governor must be opening the Westfall case, since Jill is so interested in it. Abby hires a detective to check out Jill. Michael finds that Olivia has a joint, but she says she's holding it for a friend. Val throws a party for the twins' first birthday. As a birthday gift, Gary deeds the twins half of Empire Valley.
Welcome to A Very Special Gift, the episode that served as the final one for another fun filled disk of KL joy that began with The Confession. When we last left off, it looked like Karen and Mack might be suffering from much deeper problems than would appear at first glance as they had one of their biggest and most intense fights ever. Will they be able to reconcile and make up with each other? That’s only part of the joys contained within A Very Special Gift.
I’d actually like to get started by discussing Karen and Mack, since their story captivated my interest the most in our last ep and since it reaches some form of catharsis in this ep. See, as we get started with this ep, Karen is still being cold and doing the silent treatment to Mack. This is another example of KL’s fairly perfect timing when it comes to how long they let stories draw out before they wrap them up, cuz I think if this went on for just one episode longer, it would become tiresome. It’s just threatening to get tiresome as we head into this ep, but I feel like that’s probably the point, since this ep is gonna wrap that up and allow Karen to forgive Mack. See, we start off with her still being cold and Mack asking her, “How much longer is this gonna go on?” I’m with Mack, by the way, even though I understand both characters. The two had their big fight last ep and all that, but if I was Mack, I would be much more aggravated by this point than he is. All things considered, aside from smashing a lamp last ep, I think he has the patience of a saint. After all, how much longer can things go on with Karen being all silent towards Mack over awkward family breakfasts?
Fortunately, Karen’s catharsis comes in the form of Abs, of all people. In a scene near the middle of the ep taking place at Lotus Point, Abs is trying to be all hurtful and nasty to Karen and she says something about how Karen should be very careful with Mack because J.B. and him are having an affair, or something like that. At first, I thought Karen would get mad and defensive with Abs and yell at her, but instead she starts to laugh openly, and the most fabulous thing is that it’s not meant to be a mocking laugh; she’s really just sorta surprised into laughter and so she laughs a big, genuine, uncontrollable burst. This confuses and annoys Abs, who was clearly trying to be hurtful and has failed, as she just sorta marches out of the room while Karen’s in the middle of her hysterical laughing fit. Later, Karen goes home and finds Mack and the two have a nice chat that they’ve been needing to have. Karen explains how hearing Abs accuse Mack of cheating when Karen knows for a fact that J.B. is currently sleeping with Abby’s husband, Gary, helped her to form some release of all her anger and be ready to move on.
I’m pleased to see Karen and Mack ready to get along again, but their problems are not entirely over, as we see within the confines of this ep. See, Karen may have forgiven Mack for the whole hotel room key thing, but it seems that she’s starting to go frigid with him now. We get a scene of the two of them in bed together and Karen saying something how she wants to make love, but she just can’t right now. Later, she reiterates the same information to Val in a candid conversation they have in Val’s kitchen, telling her how she wants to do it with Mack, but it’s something about her body, that she’s having a physical problem with actually doing it. I’ve heard about this happening, and it happens to lots of people, not just women, and I’m glad to see it happening on the show now. I suppose some people might be annoyed with this and say they just want Karen and Mack to be happy and move on already, but I quite like this for many reasons. One reason is that just because Karen and Mack have sorta dealt with their previous problem, that doesn’t mean they won’t have new problems to contend with in the future. The other reason is that I like how this organically plays out from what’s happened in our prior eps. Karen is dealing with problems of trust when it comes to her husband, so even if they’ve had a good talk and worked their problems out, that doesn’t mean these trust issues aren’t still inside of her, and I’d say they are manifesting themselves in a physical way at this point. Just because her brain has forgiven Mack doesn’t necessarily mean her body has, if that makes any sense at all.
The Sumner Cigar Counter reaches Cigar #12 this ep when Greg lights one up in his office while talking with Peter. And speaking of Peter, he’s a busy boy this week, because in addition to hanging out with Greg while he smokes Cigar #12, he’s also got a lunch meeting with Abs, a meeting that shows Peter pulling a duplicitous move that is right out of the book of either J.R. or Abs. See, Abs agrees to go to lunch with him at some fancy schmancy whites-only place, and then we see Peter pick up the phone and talk to someone on the other end, but we don’t know who. He tells this mysterious person where he and Abs are going, and wouldn’t you know it, as soon as they arrive, they are right in time to witness J.B. and Gary together, sharing a passionate kiss over an intimate lunch. Hmmm, the timing seems rather convenient, wouldn’t you agree? Could Peter have possibly been making arrangements with someone on the phone to ensure that J.B. and Gary would both be at the same lunch venue at the precise same time? When this occurs, we see Abby’s eyes get all big and wide in that fabulously Donna way, which helps us to understand how much or how little she knows about this affair. Even though I feel like Gary has been carrying on fairly openly about his relationship with J.B., I believe this ep marks the first time that Abs becomes truly aware of it. Add to that the fact that, just a little while before this scene, we had Karen laughing at Abs and you can imagine how she must be feeling right now.
Later, as Gary prepares to slip inside of J.B., he tells her, “It’s nice being with a woman who has no ulterior motives.” One can see where he is coming from, but we viewers should already be starting to have some doubts about J.B. and her lack of ulterior motives, and our suspicions should only grow in the last scene of the ep. See, in that final scene, we see J.B. meeting up with Peter and exchanging mysterious dialogue about how Gary “doesn’t suspect a thing.” Hmmm, well this is a fabulous little twist, no? So now we know who was in on the arrangement to get Abs to that restaurant at the exact right moment, but we still don’t know why. It’s fabulous twists like these placed at just the right moments that keep the viewer wanting to come back every week. If I was alive in 1986, by this point I would have been long converted to a fulltime KL fan (I would say if I had been alive and watching both shows at the same time, my conversion would have become cemented somewhere around 1982 or 1983 and would have only grown stronger in the years since) and, if I was still watching Dallas this season, I feel like this would probably be the point that I would have jumped shipped on Dallas and just stuck to KL as my one show of choice.
Sexy Michael is again rocking a pink shirt in this ep, further adding to my theory/hope that Sexy Michael is actually secretly gay and in the closet and doing all sorts of naughty things with the other closeted boys in the locker room after 1986 gym class. While I would greatly prefer that the entire series just shift its focus to that and devote 100% of the storytelling to Sexy Michael exploring his sexuality, the writers instead choose to go another way that I also greatly enjoy, and that is in focusing on the continuing streak of rebelliousness within Olivia. I think I was wrong in my writeup for my last ep when I said that was the ep where she whips out the makeup and lipstick and then meets up with the cigarette smoking motorcycle riding boy; it’s actually in this ep. Okay, so we know that likes wearing slutty makeup (and there’s a hysterical scene in this ep where Abs yells at Karen, “You’re turning my daughter into a tramp!” and you can tell Karen has to hold in her acid comments about how Olivia probably got all her lessons in being a tramp from her village bicycle mother) and that she likes talking to the “cool” boys who smoke cigarettes and ride motorcycles, but the plot thickens ever more when Sexy Michael accidentally knocks Olivia’s purse off a table and, GASP!, a JOINT falls out! The last time a joint made its way into the Fairgate house, it was way back in 1981 with the undisputed masterpiece of television, Man of the Hour, and we all remember how that joint opened a Pandora’s box of problems. Fortunately, the writing has improved so significantly by the point in the saga that we are currently at that this joint is handled much better than Eric’s joint from way back then. While that episode was a silly and campy anti-drug message, this ep doesn’t feel nearly the same. Instead, I think this joint is just serving to further demonstrate Olivia’s all around rebelliousness.
I do wanna make note of Sexy Michael’s reaction to the J and say that this is perhaps Sexy Michael’s only flaw. I believe I’ve gone on and on in the past about not only the myriad of ways I wish to violate Sexy Michael, but also how I believe Sexy Michael would probably be the perfect boyfriend. Let’s go down the list, shall we? Sexy Michael is clearly one of the most beautiful and stunning male human beings to ever be created by God. I feel like if I was God and I created Sexy Michael, I would just stop creating people after that because I would know I couldn’t possibly top my work with him. However, you can also tell that Sexy Michael is super humble and probably doesn’t even realize how fucking perfect and stunning his body is; he probably thinks he just looks like a regular dude. This is attractive because you know he wouldn’t have a big head just because he’s so stunningly beautiful, so that’s a good positive attribute for having him as your boyfriend right there. Another positive attribute is that he’s clearly just a super nice and sweet person. He’s never mean or nasty to anyone (aside from that silly bit of A.D.D. business from back in season two that the writers just sorta forgot about right away) and he’s always sweet and caring and you can tell he has a sensitive soul. He also loves his mom and is good to her and he was able to be patient living with mega bitch sister Diana for all those years. There’s basically nothing bad about Sexy Michael and I wish he would be my boyfriend, but his reaction to finding the J in Olivia’s bag is a little, well, square. I feel like he sorta turns into Nancy Reagan as soon as he finds the J, because he holds it up in Olivia’s face and says, “We don’t do this kind of thing here,” all while Olivia gives him that tired old, “I was just holding it for a friend,” excuse. I feel like if it’s 1986 and you’re Sexy Michael and you find a J in Olivia’s bag, you don’t give her a lecture on the evils of marijuana, you get her naked and take her to the nearest hot tub and light that J up and share it together, don’t you agree? In any case, I can’t be too critical of Sexy Michal in this scene, because he is a child of the 1980’s and Ronald Reagan (who I now love, showing how fickle my opinions can be) had launched his stupid little “war on drugs” by this point and I’m sure he’s been filled with lots of propaganda about how smoking one J will turn him into a violent cocaine dealer or something like that. So even though I kinda wish Sexy Michael didn’t have to be such a square, I can also understand where his mentality is coming from.
This whole ep plays out over the backdrop of the twins’ impending first birthday. I like the use of this as a story throughout the ep, although of course I wouldn’t feel like I had done my proper duty unless I pointed out that the timeline of events isn’t quite adding up. The twins were born in Tomorrow Never Knows, original airdate November 29th, 1984, and now here we are with A Very Special Gift and it’s February 13th, 1986 and they are just turning one. Of course, I point out these little errors and then I always have to add that headache inducing little caveat about how summers don’t exist in TV land, so the whole layout of birthdays and events like that can often get very confusing. So anyway, the twins are now one year old and Val is getting a big party prepared for them. At first, it might seem like this party is a bit extravagant for a couple of one year olds who won’t even remember it happening, but after you reflect on how much Val has gone through with the twins, you realize how warranted this party really is. This isn’t just, “Oh, you guys turned one; good for you,” but rather a celebration of the fact that the twins are alive and well and living with Val by this point.
I loved the use of the twins’ party as a way to get the characters linked and interacting. KL is always so good at this, at finding something central to the ep that they can use to make sure all the characters are getting material. I will point out, however, the conspicuous lack of Lilimae, who I believe does not even appear in this ep. Hmmm, that’s odd; what to make of this? Is Lilimae’s lack of appearance a result of the storytelling or did Julie just need to sit out an ep? Certainly, I feel that Lilimae’s material has been lacking ever since Joshua fell off that roof; she’s either been whining about the way people remember her dead son or just kinda hanging out and doing nothing. I criticized the writers a bit for not seeming to know what to do with Cathy post-Joshua and I fear I’m seeing the same problem right here with Lilimae. We’ve got roughly two more years left with Lilimae, and I’m hoping to see some good, strong material for her before the sad day comes that she leaves the show and our lives forever.
We can tell that the twins are on Gary’s mind this ep, because somewhere in the middle of the ep, he rolls up to Olivia and Val in his sexy new 1986 car and says, “Wish the twins a happy birthday for me.” However, it doesn’t stop there, because when all the adults gather around to open the presents, they discover that Gary has left, well, a very special gift. The gift Gary has chosen to give is not a gift certificate to Denny’s, but rather he has deeded half of Empire Valley to the twins. Yikes! I’m eager to see where this development leads us in the coming eps, because we can tell that this business does not please poor Ben one bit, who makes an angry face and says something like, “What the hell does he think he’s doing?” The writing is so good and the characters are so interesting and the plots are so complicated that my mind is abuzz as I try to explore all of this. On one hand, you can easily understand Ben, who is trying to be father to these twins that he knows are not biologically his and is constantly dealing with Gary showing up to make big, lavish gestures like this, so you can understand his frustrations. On the other hand, you can imagine how Gary must feel looking at these little blonde twins and knowing that they are a part of him and trying to find some way to express his love to them. Such a sordid state of affairs.
One last little bit that I especially enjoyed about this party is that we get a really lovely shout-out to the Fishers. This is a detail I did not remember and I thought the Fishers were gone and never to be mentioned again, but I was wrong. See, one of the birthday cards for the twins comes courtesy of Sheila and Harry along with the announcement that they are expecting a child of their own. Yay! I can’t even explain how happy this made me, but it really warmed my heart. That last scene of the Fishers saying goodbye to the babies back in The Christening was so sad and I have been thinking how heartbreaking it is to imagine them just going off to be alone with no children around them, but now we see that they have successfully conceived their own child and will soon be parents. See, it’s the little details like this that make KL so special. Other shows would be comfortable never mentioning Harry and Sheila again after they left town, but KL lets us have some extra information about what’s going on in their lives sixteen eps later.
Overall, I really loved this ep. Right now, I can’t make up my mind on whether I enjoyed this ep or The Key to a Woman’s Heart more. Hmmmm, let’s think real hard. The Key to a Woman’s Heart had that great Karen/Mack fight scene, but I really dug the overall style of this ep, courtesy of one of my current favorite KL directors, Nick Havinga. I forgot to mention it, but this ep even starts out in a fabulous way that grabs your attention, Gary racing his new car along a deserted street to some truly fabulous new wave music while J.B. waits for him. I also loved the backdrop of the twins’ birthday, the shout-out to Harry and Sheila, and the big twist with Peter and Jill in the final scene. Yeah, thinking over it, I’d say this is my fave ep of the last disk watched, because it just had so much going for it, including Sexy Michael in a pink shirt. Mmmmm, yummy.