Episode Title: High School Confidential
Season 07, Episode 22
Episode 152 of 344
Written by Sally Sussman Morina
Directed by David Paulsen
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 6th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Sexy Michael is booked. He denies the joint is his, but won't say who's it is. Sexy Michael tried to convince Olivia to tell the truth, but she won't. Karen suspects it is Olivia's and tells Abby, who is enraged that Karen could think such a thing. Gary is in a race car crash, and is kept in the hospital overnight for observation. Abby shows up and doesn't like that Jill is there. She tells Peter that she values her marriage and to "distract" Jill. Mack and Jill go to check water samples at Wesphall. The town doctor, who thinks he recognizes Jill, says that there has been an increase in arsenic poisoning. Mack looks through a Franklin High yearbook, and sees Jill's picture with the name Dorothy Simpkins. Greg tells his attorney to make Peter an offer, but not too big. He tells Laura it is a test. If Peter accepts less than half of the company, then he is not his brother. A guest at Lotus Point gets sick with arsenic poisoning.
Welcome to High School Confidential. Where to start? Hmmm, I guess I’ll start right at the beginning. We left off Irrevocably Yours with Sexy Michael being stopped by the T-1000 while driving. The T-1000 found two joints in Sexy Michael’s car and flipped out, leading us nicely into the start of this ep, in which Sexy Michael is enduring the humiliation of posing for a police mug shot while an overly aggressive cop acts all annoyed and says, “Come on, move; this isn’t your first time here,” although I am proud to note that Sexy Michael points out, “Yeah, it is.” Honestly, if there’s one development that can immediately propel us back in time by 31 years to a time when the world was very different, it’s this one. Nowadays, if a person wants a joint, all they have to do is walk into one of those legal weed places and buy it. So long as you’re 21, you can go in and purchase whatever you want, and if you’re not 21, well, I’m sure it’s not hard to find someone to make the purchase for you. However, back in 1986, if you got pulled over and were found in possession of weed, it could completely ruin your life, especially if you had dark skin and the police decided to punish you by twenty five years to life, all while they pocket the incriminating joints and take them home to enjoy themselves. Watching the police treat Sexy Michael like he’s some vicious drug dealer because he was found with two lousy joints just took me back to a simpler time.
Sexy Michael’s little brush with the law is nicely crosscut with a lunch between Gary and Olivia taking place in some other area of town. I note that this ep is directed by David Paulsen and, even if I might wind up being somewhat critical about his overall abilities as a showrunner during this particular season, I do see him doing clever things with his camera and with the overall style of the ep, starting right here. It’s true that, at this point, the technique of crosscutting between characters is hardly new on KL, but he’s still doing a good job and it keeps both scenes extra interesting.
I feel sorry for both Gary and Olivia in this scene, a testament to the fact that I love them both. On the one hand, you have Gary dealing with all the issues he’s been dealing with throughout the season, most notably that of the paternity of the babies. I already discussed in my thoughts on our prior ep how I view Gary’s current emotional state. So, at the same time he’s dealing with thoughts about Val’s babies and how they are also his babies, I can see him struggling to maintain a good relationship with Olivia, the girl he’s been a surrogate father to for years now. Try as he might, however, he can’t get her to come out of her shell and talk about what’s bothering her, at least not yet. On the other hand, I feel sorry for Olivia, who doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. Throughout the course of her life, she has slowly started to see the way her mother behaves and that she may lack certain important ethics. It’s not only that, though. She feels she can’t trust her mother, but now she has found out that Gary impregnated Val while he was living with Abs, Olivia, and the ever-absent Brian (last spotted somewhere in season five), so does that mean Gary is inherently untrustworthy, as well?
Olivia lets the cat out of the bag a few minutes later, after Gary attempts to soften her by giving her a nice red rose. She brings up the trust fund and how twins Bobby and Betsy are going to have a nice chunk of change when they’re a little older, and at first Gary thinks that’s all that’s upsetting her, but then she blurts out, “How could you have babies with Val when you were living with us?” Ah yes, the plot is thickening ever more, adding another example of my “slow burn storytelling” argument for why KL is so amazingly brilliant and good. In our prior ep, I bitched about the writers drawing out Joshua’s death for eleven eps, which might seem strange considering what I’m now saying about Val’s babies and the slow burn, but follow me here. There’s a real difference between the fallout from Joshua’s death and everything involving Val’s babies. In the case of Joshua’s death, it feels like the writers just filling time until they can figure out what new stories to move on to. It’s not like we learned anything particularly new about any of the characters as we watched Lilimae wander around the preaching district and then return to her house to declare that the twins now had “a guardian angel named Joshua.” That all just felt like filler, and kinda boring filler, to be frank, but Val’s babies is a whole different ballgame.
Val’s babies have been going on since way back in episode 081, …And Never Brought to Mind, when Gary and Val had their big shag and he planted his seed in her. Then of course we had Val pregnant for the entire latter half of the fifth season as well as some of the sixth season, and then we had the glory and joy and brilliance of the entire stolen twins storyline in season six, still KL’s greatest storyline of all time (and, spoiler alert, it always will be). Then we hit season seven and she got the twins back right near the start of the season, but through all of this drama, the issue of the twins’ true paternity has been looming in the background, a constant threat, and now it feels like that threat is being fulfilled. Now, people are starting to find out the truth, and the more people that know, the more people that can talk about it. When all this drama first got started, the only people who knew the true father were Val, Ben, and Mack. By this point, it might be easier to make a list of who doesn’t know the truth. Off the top of my head, I think the people who are aware of the truth by now are Val, Ben, Mack, Karen, Abs, Greg, Gary, and Olivia. We’ve gone from three people knowing to eight people knowing; yikes! How long until the bottom simply falls out on this whole thing? Anyway, my basic point is that everything involving Val’s babies and their true father never feels like the writers drawing stuff out too long for me; it always feels just right and I appreciate how long the story spans and how it affects all these different characters.
Sexy Michael is quickly returned home before he has the chance to be locked up and made into somebody’s bitch and we get a minorly tense scene at the Fairgate/MacKenzie house in which Karen and Mack ask if the joints belonged to him. There’s nothing particularly exciting in this scene, but I do like the trust that Karen and Mack show towards Sexy Michael, who has obviously earned that trust. I know some fans like to shit on Karen and Mack, for reasons I’ll never understand, but I continue to think they demonstrate good ethics and integrity as parents and run a good household any parent should be proud of. If I ever make kids of my own (which is very doubtful), I would like to create a similar household to raise them in, one where you put your trust in each other and don’t spread lies. Oh yeah, and one last bit I noted about this scene: Mack asks Eric if he thinks Sexy Michael is smoking and Eric says, “No, I would know,” and then Mack asks, “Do you?” and Eric answers in the negative. This is a small line, but it immediately brought me flashbacks to that season two Undisputed Masterpiece of the Television, Man of the Hour. You’ll all recall that Eric didn’t physically smoke any pot in that ep, but he did have it on his person and bring it to that party, almost leading to the death of a character nobody remembers or cares about. My little flashback helped me to appreciate how far we’ve come and how much better the show is at this point than it was back then. Even if some of this weed stuff might come off a smidge overly serious to someone under 30 who is used to living in a world where weed is not a big deal, it’s still nothing compared to the high camp and hysterically over-the-top “drama” of Man of the Hour.
A little later, Mack and J.B. decide to take a little trip out to Wesphall together. Now might be a good time to mention that the word is, in fact, “Wesphall,” as demonstrated by the sign on the clinic. Whenever they say this word, my brain always hears “West Fall,” and indeed that’s even how the TV.com description had it before I fiddled with it. We are firmly in an era for KL in which there are a ton of different places and weird words that we need to keep track of. In the last three years alone, we have had Apolune, Wolfbridge, Lotus Point, Empire Valley, and Wesphall, a whole lot of different things to keep track of. Now, if I’m not mistaken, the last time we were at this Wesphall clinic was back in mid season six with The Emperor’s Clothes, when Val cut her hand and Ben took her to the Wesphall clinic and the super helpful doctor who had all the useful information. Well, believe it or not, but that doctor is still there and still played by the same actor, Paul Comi, making his second appearance as this doctor before morphing into Ed Boyce in 1990 for the episode What If? The last time characters visited this clinic, the doctor provided useful exposition about prior water contaminations due to Galveston Industries, and now he provides useful exposition by telling J.B., “Gee, you look familiar.” Hmmm, why that’s the second person in as many episodes to “mistake” J.B. for another person, and both instances occurred in front of Mack. Interesting, no?
At some point in this ep (or maybe it was the ep beforehand), we had a scene of Eric helpfully providing Mack with some exposition about Franklin High. In a badly written scene clearly created to keep Franklin High on Mack’s brain, Eric mentions how the former coach from Franklin High is now working at some other high school. Then he says how Franklin had an unbeatable wrestling team, but now the school is closed down. We remember that the mysterious lady from our previous episode stopped J.B. on the street and said she knew her from Franklin High, but it takes Mack a little bit longer to realize. However, once he does, he goes to work, getting hold of an old Franklin High yearbook and finding a nice pic of J.B. in it, with the name “Dorothy Simpkins” right below. I like the mystery of this storyline and I am excited to see where it is leading, but I also must call out contrived writing when I see it, and I’m seeing it right here. I’d say it’s very convenient that Mack is with J.B. when she is mistaken for someone else by a stranger, and then I’d say it’s even more convenient when Eric just so happens to be randomly discussing that exact same high school the stranger had mentioned, and then it’s super duper extra very convenient when Mack and J.B. go to Wesphall and the doctor is like, “You sure look familiar!” Apparently everyone J.B. meets has her image firmly implanted in their brain, whether she’s going by the name of J.B. or Dorothy Simpkins.
Gary’s been enjoying racing his cars for a good stretch of eps now, so it’s about time he finally crashed one. Pretty much at the exact midpoint of the ep, Gary is all strapped into his race car with his helmet on, ready to go, pushing the car to go super fast, and we get about two minutes of him driving around before he hits a hill or something and winds up flipping the car not once, not twice, but thrice. The music gets very dramatic and the camera pans down to reveal his hand sticking out of the open window, but then some nice joggers come running by and help to get Gary to safety. This is at least the second time that helpful joggers have come along to help out a main character after he crashed his car, as a very similar thing happened after Sid went off the cliff in The Vigil. The helpful joggers are instrumental in getting Gary rushed to the safety of the hospital, giving us some interesting character stuff with Gary, Abs, and J.B.
See, J.B. is the one hanging around the hospital, annoying the nurse by repeatedly asking how Gary is doing. Then we get a nice moment of awkwardness when the doctor comes out, spots J.B., and says, “We have the results, Mrs. Ewing,” only for Abs to come out of nowhere and announce, “I’m Mrs. Ewing,” throwing off the poor doctor. Then she asks if she can see Gary and pulls a fabulous Abs move by spinning around to shake J.B.’s hand and saying, “Thank you for coming, J.B.; I’ll tell Gary that you were here!” One of the many things to love about Abs is her ability to be bitchy in a classy way, that she knows how to handle people with tact and grace. Another person might be tempted to make a scene with J.B. and scream about how she’s stealing her man, but Abs plays it cool as a cucumber. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for her to keep J.B. away from Gary, because when she gets in to see Gary, he’s clearly disinterested in her and instead focuses on a crossword puzzle and counters Abs statement of “The doctor said you could come home in two days,” with, “The doctor said I would be released in two days.” I don’t think it’s too shocking to say that Gary is going to split from Abs soon; any viewer in 1986 should be able to see that his loyalties are shifting from Abs over to J.B. This is demonstrated even more when J.B. finally gets into the room to talk with him and he insists that they have a shag in the hospital bed together. At first, J.B. says how they can’t do it because of the locking hospital room doors, but then Gary’s powers take control of her and she slides a chair in front of the door and begins to seductively undress. Ugh, yes, just yes yes yes, and one more time, yes. You look at a scene like this and you try to find something bad about it and you simply come up empty. What can possibly be bad about J.B. stripping in front of Gary so they can have a hospital shag?
They’re not the only ones shagging in this ep, however. Earlier, we caught up with Abs and Peter playing tennis, since it was the law in the ‘80s that all rich white people had to play tennis at least once a week. Peter mentions how he is getting out of shape, but then later Abs finds him swimming in her pool and she, along with the viewing audience at home, can see quite clearly that he’s having no problem staying in shape. Honestly, Peter is bulging with muscles when he dons that Speedo and I’d forgotten what a fucking beefcake he was. At no point am I ever attracted to Hunt Block (sorry, Hunt), although I can see why some people would be. However, I must take pause to say I admire his fabulous muscles and the amount of effort he must have put into developing them. What a fucking body, man! Abs also appreciates it, because the scene quickly turns into a poolside shag, something I imagine Abs desperately needs at this point. Let’s reflect; hasn’t it been kinda forever since Abs had a shag? When was the last time? I’m searching my brain and I honestly can’t remember. Gary has been busy shagging J.B. for a good chunk of the season at this point, and of course Greg is busy shagging Laura, so Abs must be getting desperately horny by this point. I imagine this poolside shag would be the kind of shag where you just feel sooooooooo much better when it’s over because you just needed that physical contact that bad. Being that Abs is a nymphomaniac who needs sex to function, I imagine Peter’s peter would be just what the doctor ordered.
This leads us nicely to our final scene of the ep, which takes place between Peter and J.B. See, right before the poolside shag, Abs asked Peter to “keep J.B. distracted.” She wants J.B. to stop hanging around Gary so much, so she presses Peter into service to do the job. In our final scene, we see Peter stopping off at J.B.’s apartment, much to her chagrin. He seems very calm and sorta sarcastic, but she’s angry and saying, “What are you doing here?” and “Do you wanna ruin everything?” Peter assures her that she’ll be sending him flowers after she finds out what he’s here to tell her, namely that Abs has asked him to distract her. Next, he drops the big bomb, which is that Abs was aware of the existence of the babies during the time that they were missing. A second later, some gigantic flowers arrive courtesy of Gary to J.B. and Peter opines, “I see Mr. Ewing has some rather explicit plans for you when he gets out of the hospital,” and that’s how we end the ep. I think it’s interesting to note that we still don’t know precisely what is going on between J.B. and Peter or how they even know each other. The writers are keeping things vague, but I appreciate that it’s not in that annoying Desperate Housewives way in which people just say unclear and meaningless things like, “Everything is going exactly according to plan,” over and over again throughout the course of the year. The only line in this scene that comes close to that is J.B.’s “Do you wanna ruin everything?”
That about does it for the plot points of this ep, although I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t add a cigar to the Sumner Cigar Counter. We are now at Cigar #12, and he smokes this way early in the ep in his office while speaking with Laura and some random guy. Oh yeah, and then later he gives Laura a little speech about how he respects her opinion and so he speaks frankly in front of her and Bob Loblaw. This was all interesting stuff and of course acted well, but I just don’t have the energy to talk about it right now, although I simply couldn’t conclude my essay without noting that twelfth cigar.
So that about does it for High School Confidential and, as I’ve said about quite a lot of our more recent eps, I’m gonna say it was good but not great. I think we are on the declining end of the seventh season and I’m definitely starting to see what so many other fans complain about, although I maintain that this is still solid entertainment and not an example of bad television in any regard. I would say the show is just having a bit of a hard time finding focus at this point. Things are happening and a lot of the things that are happening I am very fond of, yet there’s also a certain lack of pizazz going on; while storylines are moving along, you also don’t feel nearly as gripped as you have maybe gotten used to by this juncture. Part of this could simply be having to follow the sublime work of television brilliance that was season six, and part of it might be our new Dallas seasoned showrunner, but whatever it is, the show is lacking a bit of the energy.
Next up, we shall explore the episode entitled Distant Rumblings.