Episode Title: Second Chances
Season 05, Episode 17
Episode 092 of 344
Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum
Directed by Bill Duke
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 19th, 1984
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Gary finds out that Cathy was in prison for second degree murder. He asks Abby about it. Abby tells Cathy to leave and threatens to tell her ex-husband Ray where she is. Cathy counters that if she does, she'll tell Gary that Abby hired her to distract him so she could steal him blind. Abby calls Ray. Greg breaks a date with Abby and sleeps with Laura. Mack goes to the DA who tells him that he might be disbarred. Mack goes to the Apolune address and finds out it's a mail service. Some guys beat him up. Ben tells Val he is taking a job in South America, and Val doesn't want him to. They hug. Michael, Eric and Gary talk to Diana about making up with Karen. Finally, Diana and Karen make up. Mack has Eric drop off a bright orange mailer for Apolune at the mail service, and then watches to see who picks it up. He sees Laura go in and come out with the bright orange mailer.
Our last episode, Reconcilable Differences, was good but not great, and I specifically complained about a lack of directorial flair along with some clunky editing choices. I am happy to announce that for Second Chances, we have the return of the blackest of the black men, Mr. Bill “Cooke” Duke, proudly sitting in the director’s chair and bringing some style and art to the proceedings, as is his wont. We haven’t had to wait that long to hear from Mr. Duke, by the way, as his last contribution was only two episodes ago with Forsaking All Others. I did a little looking at his IMDb to see how many more eps we’ve got from him, and I discovered this falls firmly in the middle. This is his fifth KL ep following Power Play, A New Family, Celebration, and Forsaking All Others. He’s got five more episodes to contribute, Yesterday It Rained, Out of the Past, Fly Away Home, The Deluge, and then finally Nightmare in 1987 as his final credit for the show. Personally, I think it’s a nightmare to have to imagine him no longer contributing to the series, but we’ll deal with that tragedy when we deal with it. For now, he’s here and I love it.
Okay, let’s get started; how did we leave things off last week? Well, like I said, I felt last week was kinda cleaning house and finishing up some storylines that had been going on for awhile, specifically Karen and her pills. This week Karen is better and has returned home and is starting to act like her old self that we all know and love. This is quite refreshing, because even though I loved the pills storyline and thought it was fabulous dramatic storytelling and acting, I also wanted Karen to get better and be sweet and good to people again, and My Beloved Grammy felt the same way. Every single episode since Karen got prescribed her pills, when we would rev up an episode and the glorious, majestic scrolling squares would start to move across the screen, whenever Michele Lee’s fabulous shot of her smiling in that big square in the middle would float by, My Beloved Grammy would get sorta sad and say, “I want the old Karen back.” Well, now she is back, and we can all be very grateful.
The first order of business for Karen is to do the right thing and go apologize to Gary for what she said last week. She takes a little drive up to Westfork and we see the two walking along through the great open land (breaking news: If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I’ve officially decided that I would rather live at Westfork than at The Beach House; that’s right!) and having a nice conversation. What a lovely moment this is, because then Karen starts to apologize to Gary for her behavior last week (“You are a drunk!”) but since Gary is becoming all cool and mellow and self-actualized, he’s just very calm and says, “No need to apologize.” Again, this is because Gary understands, because he’s been on an alcoholic bender more times than he can count, and he knows what the addiction does to people, how it makes you say horrible things to the people that love and care about you. I find it so lovely and touching how Gary just gets it and he doesn’t hold it over Karen’s head; he doesn’t need or desire her apology, because he inherently understands her. This also reminds me of how much I love the friendship of Karen and Gary, and I’m glad it’s back in a good place (remember they didn’t really get along throughout season four, starting out with her firing him from Knots Landing Motors at the start of the season).
Anyway, a second after Gary and Karen’s lovely little chat, a car comes pulling up and Gary says, “I forget to tell you she was coming back,” and at first I’m like, “Huh?” I quickly realized who he’s referring to, and that would be Diana, who has been absent for four episodes in a row now. Well, now she’s back and with a different haircut, to boot (darker). Gary goes away and Diana gets out of the car and we get an awkward exchange between her and Karen. Diana says how she’s been in New York with Uncle Joe (nice continuity; I appreciate that they still mention this character we haven’t seen since last season and will never see again; maybe he’s offscreen now but he still exists and they don’t Chuck Cunningham him). In any case, not much progresses in this scene, as the two characters sorta try to talk to each other and then go on their separate ways.
Karen successfully mends fences with Val this ep, however, and that makes me happy. I care more about this relationship than the one with Diana, who is a nasty shrew about to leave the series forever. Val and Karen’s friendship, on the other hand, spans the entire saga and is one of the central emotional hearts of the series, and it’s been on rocky ground the last few weeks. Fortunately, in this ep they take a nice bike ride (well, briefly, before hitting some sort of big hill and getting off the bikes to just walk them along the street) and they make peace. Val is finally able to communicate the information to Karen that she was trying to communicate so many eps ago, when she came over to her house to talk about her pregnancy only for the conversation to shift to addiction before Karen asked her to leave. Now Val gives her the scoop, telling her how she’s knocked up, but not with Ben’s babies, but rather Gary’s. I appreciate the non-judgmental attitude in this scene; Karen just listens and they talk a bit. There’s no lecturing about how Gary and Val shouldn’t have slept together or anything. Is it possible that all the characters on the series see the same thing we viewers see, namely that Gary and Val are soul mates and kindred spirits?
Let’s return to Karen and Diana just to get it out of the way. Yes, they do finally make peace in this ep after Diana has a good chat with her brothers, raw seething testosterone sex machine Michael and regular old Eric. Even though I don’t want to violate Eric the way I want to violate his brother, I’m really starting to respect this character a lot, especially when he gets tough with Diana. In this case, Diana is whining about how Karen treats her like a child (probably because she acts like a child, but whatever), and Eric says, “I just hope when you’re at a low point in your life, people treat you better than you’re treating her.” Yup, a fine point, and I think this is the impetus for Diana to stop acting like such a psycho and go talk to her mother.
The chat occurs at the Fairgate/MacKenzie house with the two girls sitting on the stairs. I think they’ve had a lot of chats sitting on the stairs, but I could be hallucinating that bit. In any case, the scene felt like a bit of a callback to those conversations they would always be having in seasons one through three (I think their very first one was way back in episode four, The Lie) and it’s actually a pretty productive chat. Karen asks Diana to, “Take the label of ‘mother’ off of me and don’t live your life out of anger at me.” After that, Diana gets up to leave, and the scene is shot very well with her body in the foreground and Karen framed in the background, standing on the stairs. Then Diana’s eyes start to well up and she says, “Mommy” (I could have lived without that part), and then the two finally hug as the music swells and peace is restored in their relationship.
I shit on the character of Diana a lot, but this season along with the last one has caused me to reevaluate Claudia Lonow’s acting, which I was so critical of in those early episodes. Here, she’s pretty darn good, particularly with how she has to start out dry eyed and then let the tears start flowing as we watch her, a bit of acting I’m not sure I could pull off. Michele is also good in the scene and, overall, it’s nice to have peace restored and finally be done with this whole fight that’s been going on since the climax of last season. Like I said, we’re not completely through with the Diana character, as she’s still gonna be hanging around the show for the rest of the season, but then she gets shipped off to New York at the very start of season six, and I am definitely getting the feeling that the writers are finishing up her story and getting ready to say goodbye to her. I could be mistaken, as I have no idea when the decisions are made about who’s going to be in the cast lineup for the following season, but that’s certainly the sense I’m getting while watching this scene.
Okay, so how about our other characters this week? Well, things heat up nicely in the little affair between Laura and Greg, and it’s a delightful thing to watch, particularly because I thought we still had a good chunk of eps to go before we would see them get together (I swear I thought the two characters barely even interacted until mid season six). In this case, Greg pulls an old favorite on Laura by knocking on her door and, when she answers, you guessed it, he’s got the rose in his mouth and says, “Bon soire, baby.” I love Laura’s nonchalant reply in which she simply turns around and walks off and says, “Vodka rocks, right?” No mushy romance or kissing for Laura; she wants to get right down to business. This makes sense to me as Laura has been so severely hurt over so many years by Richard; I imagine it would be hard for her to unclench and trust a man again. If she’s gonna have a torrid romance, she would rather keep it feeling almost businesslike.
Meanwhile, drama still sizzles when it comes to both Val and Ben. Actually, Ben solo this week has a bit of business to take care of, as well. He wants to speak to the old Marcus couple (the Transmorpher judge from Moving In and the Critters 2 gramma, you all remember), but he has a hard time getting into contact with them. Now that their house is, you know, burned to the ground, I guess they are living with Mr. Marcus’ daughter or something, so Ben goes to see them at this nice house, but it takes two trips. During the first trip, the young woman is like, “They ain’t here, so get out of here.” Oh, by the way, this little actress that plays the daughter is named Jennifer Savidge (pictured below) and she appeared in an episode of the short-lived series James at 15 that I just watched the other day, which is rather cosmic, as well as the 1994 landmark cinematic achievement Clifford (that was a joke, although I did rent that movie a shit-ton when I was a little kid and for some reason my dad really enjoyed it and would always watch it with me). Okay, anyway, upon Ben’s second visit to the house, she starts to give him the same “They’re not here,” rhetoric, but then we see feet creeping down the stairs behind her (nicely shot, Duke) and then Mr. Marcus is like, “It’s alright, I’ll speak to him.” The conversation is brief and the old man is clearly terrified of divulging any information because, you know, the Wolfbridge group might come along and torch his daughter’s house or something. So, he just blames the fire on a grease fire in the kitchen and says it got out of control and refuses to answer Ben’s questions. Now Ben is getting a true sense of the scope of this evil organization.
In case it wasn’t clear that this group was evil from them burning a cute old couple’s house to the ground, we also see them beat the living shit out of poor Mack near the end of this episode. Actually, I thought this was gonna be the conclusion of the ep, the big cliffhanger to hook us back for next week, but it’s actually just the end of act three before we go to a commercial and return for act four. See, Karen is at the rehab center with Dr. Reese from Psycho III, ready for a nice counseling session and waiting for Mack to arrive. The only problem is that when Mack pulls up to the parking lot and gets out of his car, a bunch of thugs come up to him and kick his ass. I did not enjoy seeing this because I love Mack and I don’t want to see him hurt, but of course for storytelling purposes this is dynamic stuff that further illustrates how insidious and wicked this Wolfbridge group truly is. Anyway, Karen ditches Psycho III doctor and says that something must be wrong or else Mack wouldn’t be late, and she’s obviously right. She goes out into the parking lot and notices his car parked, at which point she finds him slumped behind the wheel, all beat up and bloody and out-of-it. Oh sweet dear Jesus, what has happened?
Back to Ben and Val: How are they doing right now? Well, the two have a candid chat on the porch of Val’s house and discuss the whole Gary-impregnated-me drama. Basically Val asks if this is something Ben can deal with, and the two discuss how they have missed each other in the last few weeks, how it’s been hard not seeing each other or talking, and so on. The conversation gets heated and honestly I wasn’t sure what to make of it, because it felt like the conclusion of the scene was that Ben can’t deal with this drama, even though the two are hugging. I took the hugging as a, “We have to be apart but here’s one last hug before we split,” kinda thing, but then in our next ep, the two are together again and everything is cool, so I guess that’s how we’re supposed to interpret this sequence.
Oh yeah, one last thing on Ben: This week he gets a dangerous assignment in Central America, specifically El Salvador. He has the opportunity to go out and report and have adventures in a far away land, and near the start of the ep he opines how, “It was a mistake to think that I could settle down.” Now, of course, if he and Val are back together again, the central conflict is both will he go and should he go. Honestly, I remember this storyline being a snooze, but it’s not so bad so far. My least favorite storyline going on at the moment? Oh absolutely, but why sneeze at one less-than-gripping story when a series is offering you such rich rewards in all other departments? Anyway, we’ll talk more about this saga as we proceed through the culminating episodes of the season.
Meanwhile, Gary’s investigations into Cathy’s sordid past continue to escalate this week, when he meets with that investigator guy one more time and learns that Cathy served time in prison for second degree murder. Hmmm, now what could this mean? In his efforts to get to the bottom of this mystery, he continues to play some nice games with Abs, just like he did last week, kinda sorta dropping hints that he knows something fishy is going on but never coming right out and saying it. Oh yeah, and we also get a super arty and fabulous shot that I put into my notes in which Cathy is playing the piano and singing. The scene begins with everything out-of-focus and then the camera slowly comes into focus and we see Cathy’s face reflected upside down in the top of the piano as she plays, and then the camera moves up so that we’re looking straight at her face. Again, this is ‘80s TV and I’m sure the CBS suits would be perfectly happy with Bill “Green Beret” Duke just shooting this in the fastest, blandest way possible, but instead he takes his time to be artistic. You just know a suit would probably see effort being put into these shot compositions and be like, “What is this shit? Just shoot the girl playing the piano and the guy walking into the room and then move down the lot to shoot an episode of some shitty sitcom!” Instead, Duke takes his time and gives us a cool composition.
Going into panic mode, Abs meets up with Cathy at her palace office (and Cathy is wearing a most fabulous ‘80s outfit; I feel like Lisa consistently gets to be the most ‘80s character on the show throughout the four years that she is with us) and orders her to get out of town. The only problem is that Cathy has sorta fallen for Gary and doesn’t want to leave, and Abby’s threats to her are empty anyway because, of course, Cathy can just go to Gary and tell him everything. Abs tries to threaten her with, “I’ll tell Gary who you really are and what you did,” and without missing a beat, Cathy says, “I’ll just tell him that you hired me to keep him distracted while you stole his money and shagged politicians from Alfred Hitchcock movies.” Cathy wins this argument and gets to the leave the office all good and triumphant, but the very last thing we see is Abby picking up the phone and asking to speak with Ray. Hmmm, who’s Ray? We shall find out next week, so patience dear reader.
It’s going to take more than a super violent ass-kicking for Mack to give up on his Wolfbridge investigations, so we conclude our episode with a fabulously clever move on the part of Mack. See, a little earlier into the episode, he goes into The Beverly Hills Building and, probably wondering what the hell this building is or what that incredibly vague title means, he approaches the black woman working behind the counter (I notice there are always more black men and women in Duke episodes and I like it; I think I counted three in this episode alone; I remind you that black people were not allowed to exist over on Dallas aside from some very rare exceptions) and asks her what exactly The Beverly Hills Building is. She says how they handle outgoing or incoming mail for all sorts of different people, but she’s very vague about it.
Later on, Mack parks his car outside the building and then sends Eric in with some big piece of mail in one of those long tubes (like the tube in that episode of The Brady Bunch where the whole family went to that amusement park and Jan stupidly mixed up Mike’s super important blueprints) addressed to the Apolune group. The receptionist looks at the tube and tells Eric, “The Apolune group is very good about picking up their mail.” Eric leaves and now all Mack has to do is wait to see who comes to pick up the package and, of course, it’s Laura. Our very last scene in the episode is Laura coming out of The Beverly Hills Building with the big tube and Mack saying, “Laura,” with some serious disappointment in his voice, knowing now that she is involved in all this and has somehow become a traitor. From there, our episode ends and, if this was 1984, we would have to wait an agonizing fourteen days for our next ep. If I was alive at that time, I feel I may have very well killed myself knowing that I had to wait two solid weeks for another KL ep, for what else could possibly make life worth living?
So this was a great episode and really picked up the slack from last week’s not-so-amazing ep. Even though Duke only directs ten eps of the show, I’m starting to become tempted to say he’s my favorite director, even more than our most consistent and prolific director, Nicholas Sgarro. I think Duke episodes are possibly the most cinematic and artistic and they also give us some black faces onscreen which, as a good little liberal boy, I appreciate seeing, since I know most white people were still afraid of black people in the ‘80s and would probably rather not see them on TV shows. Also, this episode was just exciting and dynamic and everyone in the cast was well served with good material. Overall, a home run that leaves me wanting to dive right into the next one (which we did, of course). Speaking of which, our next episode which kicks off the 1984 February Sweeps period is Lest the Truth Be Known, so I’ll talk to you about that very soon.