Episode Title: Phoenix Rising
Season 07, Episode 24
Episode 154 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 27th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby doesn't want a divorce, and tells Gary that if he doesn't give her the rest of Empire Valley, she will drag out their divorce, and involve Val and the twins. Gary gives it to her. Abby tricks Sylvia into telling her that Peter is not really her son. Abby has Peter escort her to a fundraiser. Gary is there with Jill, so Abby says if Peter doesn't distract her, she will stop paying his attorney. Peter says he'll tell about the twins. Then Greg threatens Abby with the twins. Abby, tired of everyone holding this over her, declares in front of everyone that she knew about the twins. She knew the twins were alive all along, but didn't want to say anything until she had proof, and as soon as she got it, she was the one who brought Val to the babies. Then Ben steps in and tells everyone it's none of their business. Cathy tells Ben she's been offered a tour. Abby brings Olivia home. Eric gets sick and is taken to Intensive Care.
When we last left off, we were in the concluding moments of Distant Rumblings, with Gary declaring to Abs that he wanted a divorce, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been watching the series for the last several years. Fittingly, we pick up in the opening moments of Phoenix Rising with Abs sitting quietly and passively as her divorce attorney explains all the different aspects of the split, who’s gonna be entitled to what, how they’re gonna split stuff, and so on and so forth. Through the whole scene, Abs just sits, not speaking, looking stoned, reminding me of some Gary behavior from way back in season four. I can’t remember the exact ep or any of that stuff, but it was when he was hitting rock bottom big time with the alcohol and he was sitting with Abs and, I think, Westmont, and they were droning on and on about something while he looked fidgety and uncomfortable being there. In this instance, it’s not that Abs looks fidgety or uncomfortable, but that she instead looks completely broken.
I liked everything about this starting scene and I feel like I have a million things to say about it. Right off the bat, if we are just talking in terms of style and camera moves, I really liked how we never see the face of her lawyer, but only hear her voice rattling on and on, and then I liked how the camera did a slow circle around Abs as she sits in the chair and then how it starts to go in for a close up when the lawyer finally starts to realize that Abs is acting weird. Abs looks totally out of it, not hearing a word this lady is saying, and then she just abruptly gets up and says, “I’ll call you.” Ugh, so much to say about this. I find myself wondering what precisely is going on in Abby’s brain right now. What thoughts are going through her head? How is she feeling? What is she thinking about?
I’ll go ahead and say that I truly believe Abs is heartbroken, and this goes back to my theory I originally presented way back in season two that Abs does truly love Gary. It’s a different kind of love than the kind Gary and Val have for each other, which is the kind of true love that dates all the way back to Romeo and Juliet and continues up through Jack and Rose. Gary and Val are soulmates and are simply meant by the alignment of the stars in the sky to be together, but the relationship of Abs and Gary is a little trickier. I think Abs loves Gary without even necessarily understanding her own feelings, like I think she has built up such a wall after her divorce and has to always seem strong and confident, so it’s impossible for her to be completely genuine and give her heart to someone; everything she does ends up being done in a duplicitous, deceitful way, but I think that’s perhaps because it’s the only way Abs knows to operate, you know? So yes, I think she loves Gary and I think she’s feeling deep sadness about losing him as her husband, but I also wonder if she’s thinking back on her choices throughout their marriage and wondering if she could have behaved differently. Do you think Abs recognizes the reasons for why Gary is divorcing her? Or do you think she truly believes she’s right and that Gary just can’t understand her reasons for doing things the way she does them? Honestly, I have no answers for any of these questions right now, but they’re certainly interesting ones to chew on.
Conversely, Gary is handling the divorce with a far greater amount of joy. When we first catch up with him this ep, he’s checking into some super expensive suite at some super expensive hotel, peering around the place and then nodding and saying, “This will do.” I enjoyed this very much and it made me flash to the George Lazenby James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (my favorite Bond film and one of my top ten favorite movies of all time) checking into a similarly fancy hotel and saying, “This’ll do; this’ll do me nicely.” By moving into a hotel, at least for the time being, Gary gets to share a kinship with Greg, who spent pretty much all of season six living in a hotel. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but this is a type of lifestyle I relish and would love to have one day. The idea of just living in a hotel is unbelievably romantic to me and I feel I would be so happy living there that I would just never check out and, instead of paying rent, would end up paying some exorbitant hotel fee after living out the remainder of my life as a guest of that hotel.
Gary is probably excited to have J.B. over as soon as possible for a nice I’m-officially-getting-a-divorce shag, but he’s not nearly as excited to receive a visit from his soon-to-be-ex-wife. He asks her how she got in and she says how “the room clerk didn’t see anything wrong with giving Mr. Ewing’s key to Mrs. Ewing,” to which Gary gives one of his classic sighs and says, “I’ll educate the desk clerk.” Yup, I think we can all see that Abs has officially crossed the line and there’s no getting back on Gary’s good graces. I wonder if Abs has realized this yet, if perhaps she was having that realization in the first scene of the ep, or if she still thinks that she can manipulate Gary into taking her back. It’s worked before, right? Maybe she thinks she can just pull the same tricks that she did after the fallout from Wolfbridge, since Gary was sure pissed at her about that, yet he wound up taking her back.
Anyway, Gary and Abs wind up talking, and even though at first Gary says how she can talk to his lawyer about anything she needs to, he sorta caves in a few seconds later, setting the stage for a pretty dynamite little scene. We get a good sense of the perspectives of both characters in this scene, because we start with Gary saying, “Instead of a partner, I got an adversary, someone who takes advantage of me at every turn, someone who lies to me at every turn,” and Abs responds with, “For God’s sake; what would have happened if I hadn’t looked after your interests?” Gary starts to talk about how their divorce is gonna go, saying how they’ll split everything exactly equal right down the middle, but of course that’s not what Abs is interested in, oh no. She tells Gary that what she really wants is Empire Valley and that if he gives it to her, they’ll have the nicest divorce ever, but if he refuses, it won’t be so pleasant. She says how she is “very good on the witness stand,” and will drag his name through the mud and call up every woman he has been with during their marriage. Finally she brings out the big guns by saying that she will drag Val and her babies into it, humiliating Gary as well as both Val and Ben. This is classic Abs and, as always, rather delightful to watch. Again, it’s a testament to the power and magic of KL that I find both Gary and Abs so fascinating to watch and so complicated that I can enjoy all the different angles of this scene. I support Gary and his decision for divorce and I want it to be nice and painless for him, yet I still get a giddy joy out of watching Abs work her magic with threats and blackmail.
This whole ep is set against the backdrop of some sort of fundraiser or something, a good excuse to get the entire cast dressed up in nice Travilla outfits and have them mingle. Even though we have seen fundraisers and gatherings and big balls (meaning large ceremonies, not large testicles) on the series before, this one gave me a distinctive whiff of all those oil baron’s balls over on Dallas, another little hint of the Dallas flavor sorta seeping into KL, although I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, just an observation. Actually, I really liked this big gathering and all of the costumes the cast gets to wear, not to mention the fabulous hair. In fact, I’m gonna pause talking about the plot to take a huge detour and write several hundred pages on Donna Mills’ hair. Seriously, does she have the best hair ever or what? Have I mentioned her hair even once in the past? I really don’t think I have, and for that, shame on me, because she has legendary hair. Donna’s hair is so amazing because it’s the kind of hair that you can do anything to and style in any way and it’s always going to look good. While my all time favorite look for her will always be the short haircut at the start of season six (pictured below), I also really love whenever she straightens it, as she does for this party. Arguably even better than her hair is her fabulous outfit, which isn’t quite as sexy as I’ve come to expect from Abs, but has a terrifically wicked aura all its own. I fail at being a complete homosexual stereotype because, unlike lots of gay guys, I’m not very good at spotting outfits and knowing what they are made out of or who the designer was or any of that stuff, but I’ll best describe Abby’s outfit by saying it’s a sorta gold color and she wears these long black gloves that sorta cover her whole arm. It’s a sleek look and it makes her look rather evil.
As for the rest of the cast, the men are all mostly dressed up in tuxedos, all looking the same, and Karen’s outfit is ugly and not worth talking about (the most notable thing about it is, of course, the shoulder pads, which make it look more like Karen’s on her way to be the quarterback in a football game), but Cathy’s outfit is a scream. With Cathy getting so little to do at this point as well as being about five minutes away from leaving the series forever, I take solace in the fact that I can at least appreciate/mock/love this bizarre outfit she chooses to wear to this fundraiser. Yes, I remind you that this is a fundraiser and not a wild beach party, so the fact that Cathy appears to have chosen to wear a bathing suit to the fundraiser is a tad vexing. Cathy’s outfit is a purple colored, um, thing, and it barely covers up any of her body. If she was going to high school and she showed up in this outfit, she would be sent home, as the outfit really only covers her boobs and her lower half (the half where the vagina is, or so I've read), with her shoulders and her entire belly button region completely exposed. This is definitely one of the strangest outfits Lisa has ever worn on the series, even stranger than Ciji’s Alien dress from season four, because at least the Alien outfit wouldn’t get her arrested for indecent exposure. The thing I loved most especially about this outfit was how absolutely nobody comments on the fact that it’s strange. If we’re speaking about Dallas stuff sorta oozing over into KL, this is definitely another good example because this is the same season that Dallas had Angelica Nero and Travilla was dressing her up in the most ridiculous and lavish outfits you’ve ever seen. KL generally operates a little differently, with characters often observing and vocally pointing out some of the absurdities around them (think about when Abs first moved into her palace office in season five and Gary looked at the weirdo light fixture and said, “What is that, a waffle iron?”), so I would kinda expect one of the characters to walk up to Cathy and make some sort of comment on her outfit (I can imagine a pissed off Abs saddling up next to her and making a comment like, “Not leaving much to the imagination, are we?”), but nobody does, and in a way, it makes me like the outfit even more. Ben just saddles up to Cathy and starts making conversation, all while she’s dressed in this swim suit thing, and the conversation continues just as normal as can be, nobody finding anything odd about her wardrobe choices. In a way, this made the whole thing even more amusing to me. Finally, in doing a little online research looking for pictures, I discovered several photos of Lisa and Paul Stanley together and she is wearing the exact same outfit! This tells me that Lisa wanted to wear this, or was being paid to wear it, or something similar. Everyone look at the photo below to get a sense of her swimsuit attire.
This fundraiser climaxes with a scene of unbelievable excitement and drama, a scene that had somehow completely slipped my mind. I’m gonna go ahead and confess something real fast, and that is the fact that I can’t really remember the exact layout of how things go down with Val’s babies and the issue of their true father. When I say this, I’m talking about years and years away from this, like when we reach the final season and the show is starting to wrap up. I cannot remember if, by that point, everyone knows who the babies belong to and how they were conceived and Bob Loblaw. Because the story of the babies spans so many years and unfolds at such a gloriously slow burn pace, it’s hard to remember all the exact details, so perhaps that’s how this wild scene fell out of my memories. See, basically, we start up with Abs and Greg chatting and Greg once again throws out the threat about how he knows about Val’s babies and could tell everyone about it. Now that Abs is dealing with threats of exposure from not just Greg, but also her own rebellious daughter, she has finally had enough and decides to lay it all out on the table. She grabs Gary and takes him over to Greg and says, “Here he is, Greg; tell him.” When Greg plays coy, Abs goes ahead and tells everyone at the gathering the truth. She looks Gary straight in the eyes and says, “I knew about Val’s babies all along, Gary; I knew about the kidnapping.” Then we go to a commercial and, when we come back from commercial, we hear that line again, followed by Gary’s fabulous response, which is a sarcastic, “Why am I not surprised?” Ugh, I love this, because you could easily understand the temptation of the writers to have Gary get all wide eyed and freak out and be like, “How could you?!” Instead, they know he has dealt with years of this kind of deceit, so when he finally hears this news, he’s not shocked at all. Abs continues with the story, saying how she knew the truth, but she didn’t tell anyone because it would be irresponsible to raise Val’s hopes before getting some kind of proof. This must all seem fairly shocking enough, but then Greg adds, “What about the paternity of the babies?” Everybody’s eyes widen and Ben gets all pissed and says, “Excuse me, but my kids are none of your damn business.” My sphincter tightens up as Abs says, “Of course; everybody knows who the father is,” and we have several agonizing seconds before she motions to Ben and then says to Greg, “I don’t understand the accusation you’re making.” Then she puts a little bow on her speech by saying how she did a good thing and reunited a mother and her children and, “I just don’t understand why you hold that against me.” The mood in the air after all of this is hard to describe. I’d say it’s like everyone is breathing a temporary sigh of relief, but they are also realizing what a close call this could have been.
Clearly I loved this development, and I’d say a lot of my love comes from not remembering it happening, so I felt fairly shocked when it did happen. I simply didn’t expect Abs to just tell everyone all of this right in the middle of the party, so when it happened, I was surprised. I also like the downplayed reactions from everyone, keeping things true to the more grounded spirit of KL. If this was a Dallas oil baron’s ball, you can bet Cliff Barnes and J.R. would get into some big fistfight and someone else would get strangled and someone would have a cake thrown in their face or, you know, whatever, something like that. On KL, this doesn’t all devolve into some big, goofy fight, but instead sorta peters out the way such an event would really occur in real life.
Following the party, Abs decides to stop by Sylvia’s house for a visit in a scene that’s, well, a little strange. First of all, Abs shows up with her fabulous hair and makeup and earrings and her evil-looking outfit and claims to be, like, a lawyer, or something. Actually, that’s not accurate, what happens is that she says how she was supposed to meet Peter here, and when Sylvia asks if she’s from the lawyer’s office, Abs answers, “No, I’m the one who pays for the lawyers.” I’m not really sure what that means, but it works well enough that Sylvia lets her in and is suddenly quite happy to speak with her. Abs pulls out a manila folder with a bunch of blank sheets of paper in it and then pretends like the papers actually have something written on them, a move that Trump must have seen because it inspired him to pull the same trick at one of his press conferences, when he pretended he was divesting from his business interests before becoming president and wasn't merely using the presidency to profit off the American people. Abs is taking a real gamble here, because all she does is open up the folder and say how there’s one little bit of evidence that the lawyers think won’t hold up in court. At this point, she basically starts improvising, flipping through the blank sheets and saying, “Let’s see here, elementary school transcript,” flashing a quick look at Sylvia to see if this means anything to her, which it does not. Next, she goes through vaccination records and birth certificate before finally landing on medical history. Suddenly, Sylvia is happy as a clam to tell Abs everything, saying, “I told Peter that he didn’t match my son’s medical history. He doesn’t have the right scars or the right birthmarks or the right anything, but then he went ahead with this anyhow.”
Hmmm, well this is sure some awfully incriminating information, isn’t it? The big plot twist we are to understand now is that Peter is, in fact, not related to Sylvia Lean at all, but then how did all of this get cooked up in the first place? What happened to her real son? How did she meet Peter? These are all things to be further explored as we move along, and I appreciate the slow way different plot twists are being unveiled, although I also confess to some confusion about one aspect of this scene. See, after Abs leaves, Sylvia shuts the door and locks it and we hold on her face for several seconds before cutting to a new scene, and I honestly can’t quite figure out what this face means. She looks concerned, she looks upset, and she looks like she’s thinking really hard about something. At first, I was tempted to say that she was lying to Abs with the whole “Peter doesn’t match my son’s records” rhetoric, but I’m not so sure. Is she suspicious of this super glamorous lady dressed in a fabulous outfit randomly arriving one night with a folder full of blank papers? I suppose that could also be it, but then why immediately volunteer the information about Peter? Lots of questions to be asked here.
The last thing I wanna discuss about this ep is a small detail that adds to the richness of the KL world and characters. We catch up with Olivia and Gary hanging together on a bench outside of, I think, Olivia’s high school. Gary starts the scene by saying how Olivia is fifteen years old and telling her, “I was fourteen years old the first time I got drunk.” My antenna immediately went up right away, because I saw that now we were going to get some backstory and context for how Gary first discovered alcohol. Gary tells Olivia how, one Saturday night, he sat down with three sixteen ounce cans of beer and drank them all and got sick and then, the next Saturday, he did it again. Gary’s speech is a fabulous example of how to talk to a person who needs help for addictions, because he shows Olivia he can relate to her, only with alcohol instead of weed, and he shares personal details of his own life to help her feel trusting, and then he concludes with, “No matter what happens, I love you,” which is precisely what she needs to hear at this time. I loved this scene for that reason, but I loved it more for filling us in on Gary’s past some more, showing that even at episode 154, we can still learn new things about characters we’ve been watching since episode one. While we have always known that Gary’s an alcoholic, actually having him talk about his first time drinking adds even more richness to his character, and this is only one example of KL managing to do this very consistently with nearly all of their characters over the course of all fourteen seasons.
After rewatching this particular block of five eps to prepare for these essays, I confirmed what I had already suspected, which is that this was my favorite one on the disk. I wouldn’t call this a KL classic, but it was a good ep with lots of aspects I appreciated. I most especially enjoyed the fundraiser because I like seeing my characters all dressed up and looking good, socializing and being super interesting, and I of course enjoyed the big revelation from Abs to everyone at the party about how she knew about Val’s babies. That scene is probably the highlight of the ep for me, followed by Gary’s speech to Olivia. All in all, a solid 48 minutes.
Next up, we shall discuss The Legacy.