KNOTS LANDING SEASON 8 (1986-1987)
THE CAST ROSTER
WILLIAM DEVANE, KEVIN DOBSON, JULIE HARRIS, MICHELE LEE, CONSTANCE MCCASHIN, DONNA MILLS, TED SHACKELFORD, DOUGLAS SHEEHAN, JOAN VAN ARK
Episode Title: Just Disappeared
Season 08, Episode 01
Episode 161 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Original Airdate: Thursday, September 18th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen's kidnapper brings her to a guestroom in his home. He's laden it with food and new clothes for Karen, telling her he wants her to be comfortable. He tells Karen she hasn't been kidnapped, she's just disappeared. Greg uses the cleanup of Empire Valley as publicity for Peter. Greg tells him that he won't really clean it up until Lotus Point goes bankrupt. Peter tells Jill, who tells Gary. Val is overjoyed when Ben comes home. Later Ben receives a note from his old friend Jean Hackney to meet her. He goes to her boutique, which is a cover for underground activities. She asks him to spy on Greg, and kisses him. He tells her he no longer can do either activity.
Flashback Scene: Young Mack, Greg, and Phil go to the Matheson's, only to find out they've gone to their summer residence. Mack is upset because he didn't get to say goodbye to Anne.
Welcome to a brand new season of KL and yes, we are now officially in the second half of the show now. We have left 1979-1986 in the past and now 1986-1993 looms in our future. We are not technically completely into the second half yet when you consider episode count and all that stuff (we’ll hit that point within this eighth season, in the ep Touch and Go), but for all intents and purposes, we’re in the second half now, and oh boy do I already have a lot to talk about.
First off, I wanna start by saying that I had to do the same thing I did a few disks ago, in which I watched all five eps from the disk a second time because the gap between a visit with My Beloved Grammy and my attempts to write about the eps was so elongated that I couldn’t really remember the details and things I'd need to remember. Also, and I guess I’ll just go ahead and blow my wad right now, remove any suspense about how I may have felt about these eps, but I confess I found myself remarkably unenthused by these opening eps and severely underwhelmed. This is in stark contrast to my memories of watching the show in college. As I’ve said before, it’s all just a blur of brilliance in my brain and I dived into season eight with enthusiasm and remember thinking it was as brilliant as any season to come before it. Now I’m seeing my vision may have been clouded by the glory run of seasons four through six, that I was so hyped up for KL that I didn’t see or didn’t really care to see obvious problems within the start of this eighth season.
Let’s start with the most obvious, most glaring problem, and that is the opening credits, which are easily the very worst opening credits of the entire fourteen year run of the series. What the hell were they thinking?! To set the scene, the basic style and layout is the same, in that we start with a shot of the camera gliding across the ocean and then rising up to reveal that big cliff, although this is actually new footage. I don’t know if this is alternate footage filmed way back in 1981 when they decided to unveil the glory and genius of the scrolling squares or if they went back to that big cliff and filmed a brand new shot just for this season. In any case, it takes us longer to get to the cliff and we spend more time gliding along the water, which is, you know, whatever. I’m only pointing this out to observe the differences in the opening. Then we jump into the scrolling squares that we’ve gotten so used to by this point, but they just feel kinda off to me. I feel like I’m not getting as much time to soak in and relish the amazingness and splendor of the squares, and the footage just has this cheap, kinda shot-on-video look going on. That’s all just small details, though, when you then hear the absolutely wretched version of the theme song that they’ve concocted for this 1986-1987 year. Actually, it’s only gonna get more confusing cuz I’m pretty sure the theme for the first two or three eps of the season is slightly different than the rest of the year, but who cares? They both suck. Talk about ruining one of the greatest theme songs of all time in one fell swoop. Gone is the glorious orchestral magic of our previous years and in its place is some sort of awful new wave…..thing. It almost sounds like music you’d hear if you were hanging out in Hawaii and having a luau or something, except much worse.
I’m gonna make a bold declaration right away, so here it comes. Season seven of KL ranked #17 in the ratings, not quite as good as season six’s #9 ranking, but still quite respectable, but season eight drops fairly significantly to #26 and I’m gonna go ahead and say that this awful, awful, awful version of the theme song is the reason why. Would you wanna watch a show that started with a theme this bad? Let’s imagine that you’ve heard good things about KL and it’s the fall of 1986 and you’re ready to give it a chance, so you flip to CBS at 10:00PM and the first thing you hear is this assault on your ears. Would you keep watching? I certainly wouldn’t. Now, real fast I wanna point out that one of the things I really like about KL is the constant little tweaks and changes in the opening, both in the sounds of the theme as well as the layout and design, so I still like the fact that they keep it fresh every year instead of just giving us the same old theme year after year. So, I respect them for spicing things up and keeping things different, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is still the worst version of the theme and I hate the fact that I’m gonna have to listen to it 29 more times after this. I hate this theme so much that I started breaking a cardinal rule and I’ve begun to go and pee during the opening, something I’ve never done before, because I simply can’t listen to it.
Now, perhaps you’re thinking that I’m putting way too much stock in this opening, that an opening is just an opening and we should really be focusing on the actual show that comes after the opening. I agree, but the problem here is that the awful music never stops. As soon as we jump into the episode proper, we see that the entire score has undergone a significant cosmetic surgery to give it a new wave sound. It took me awhile to figure out why the powers-that-be would choose to change the sound of the show so significantly, but then I concluded that it was probably because we are now officially into the mid-80s and getting closer and closer to the late ‘80s. New Wave music was popular and Miami Vice (despite being bad) was also very popular and used music as a huge part of its storytelling (and I will say that even though I don't like the show, the soundtracks were sublime, with my favorite song being Chaka Khan's Own the Night). On the one hand, one of the things I like about the gigantic voyage of KL is watching how the times change as we move from the late ‘70s all the way through the early ‘90s, and this is just another example of that, but I still hate it and the way it sounds and it ruins everything. It goes to show how very important music is to the art of film and television and how one small change in the music can bring everything tumbling down. Here we are watching the same characters we’ve been watching for years and years, and yet every single second I’m spending with them is tainted by this horrible music that is going on constantly in the background. I confess I can’t remember if the music remains this bad throughout the whole season or if they fix it up halfway through, but I do know that for the entire disk we watched, the music was a constant distraction ruining my enjoyment of the stories.
Oh yeah, and one more significant complaint (and then I’ll start talking about, you know, the fucking plot of this episode): The picture looks like shit. Now, remember that I watch the show via my bootlegged DVD copies recorded off of SoapNet, so of course every episode kinda looks like shit, but in the previous years, I could see beyond the shittiness of my bootlegs and could tell that, if the series were to undergo a glorious frame-by-frame digital 3D conversion restoration by James Cameron, it would be truly stunning. Jumping into season eight, what the hell happened? I honestly don’t know, so perhaps someone can explain it to me, but did they decide to switch from film to video? This is the same season that Dallas suddenly starts to look like filmed-on-video feces, so I’m wondering if CBS did the same thing with KL in some sort of attempt to slash the budget. Can anyone help me out here? It’s not just that it looks like it was shot on video, but it’s just filmed in an ugly way. Where are my beautiful, bright, glorious primary colors? Now everything looks dark and washed out and just no fun to look at. Again, like the dreadful music, this is just an inherently constant problem that is sabotaging my ability to enjoy the series. No matter how good the characters are, no matter how interesting the stories are, no matter how well written the dialogue is, I am going to be constantly distracted by how shitty the show looks.
Okay, enough about all that, let’s get started talking about the actual episode. First off, I’d like to note that I discovered something very interesting/vexing due to watching these first five eps twice. I already knew that the first two eps of the season aired together on the same night, and so naturally I assumed that they originally aired as a big fat two-hour episode. Obviously my SoapNet bootlegs are split into two, but then I went to a certain special dark place of the internet that showed me the original broadcast version (complete with those fabulous bumpers saying things like, “Hi, I’m Ted Shackelford and Knots Landing will be right back!”) and I was surprised to discover that the eps were still split into two. Just Disappeared ends, they play a whole set of closing credits, and then they immediately jump into the awful opening credits again to start Distant Echoes. Now why would they do that? They’ve already cleared this two-hour block on CBS, so why not just air a big double whammy ep? Why force viewers to sit through that opening theme a second time? Are you trying to get them to change the channel? It just makes no sense and is yet another thing for me to be annoyed about within this premiere.
Alright, so we start up with one of those super long recaps of the last few eps from the previous season. We get caught up with the Lotus Point pollution and the Peter shenanigans and the arrival of Paige to the cul-de-sac and then we glide nicely into new footage. In this case, we see the same footage from the end of season seven of Karen in the basement, but then the kidnapper comes in (donning a significantly different voice than the one he had in the last five seconds of season seven) and we cut right into new footage in which we get to see the kidnapper. Okay, so who is he? Well, we don’t really know quite yet, and part of the mystery of these opening eps is connecting the dots to who this guy is and why he has kidnapped Karen (my personal opinion: The writers just decided to have Karen get kidnapped at the end of season seven and decided to figure out who did it and why when they got started on the next season). But one thing that I actually kinda sorta like about this story is how, well, normal the kidnapper is. Make no mistake, he’s still creepy and weird, but he’s also just a fat white guy. This fat white guy reminds me of the fat white guy killer from Eyes of a Stranger (who I’m pretty sure I talked about in our last ep, since I think that actor was in that ep), in that he just sorta looks like a regular dude and not like Jason Voorhees or something.
Karen’s kidnapper (spoiler alert: His name is Phil Harbert) is played by Louis Giambalvo, an actor who’s been in everything ever made. Right off the top of my head, the first thing I think of is the 1985 movie Real Genius, which was a steady part of my cinematic diet when I was a kid thanks to my father’s intense love affair with it. I’m looking at his IMDb right now and am surprised by how many things he’s in that I’ve seen, starting with Airplane II: The Sequel. He’s also in Weekend at Bernie's and Brian De Palma’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, a movie everyone in the world seems to hate except for me (I actually wrote a gigantic and bloated appreciation of that film that I never got around to publishing, but I’m sure it’s still lying around somewhere). I think he might be retired, cuz his last credit is 2009. Anyway, Louis Giambalvo, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m immediately having a bit of a love/hate thing going on with this storyline (except it’s not that intense; perhaps I should call it a like/don’t-like thing), and let me explain why. Karen’s in the creepy basement, right? I would be fine with her staying in this creepy basement for as long as this storyline goes, because creepy basements are creepy. Instead, Phil takes her upstairs to a rather lovely little apartment room that he has made for her, a cozy little bed and breakfast with a big soft bed and a nice kitchen and a rocking chair. On the one hand, I kinda like Karen being sealed up in this strange pseudo-apartment in which she has curtains in front of a brick wall and things like that, but on the other hand, it’s hard to be in too much suspense when we keep cutting to Karen sitting in a rocking chair and looking very comfortable. I didn’t even think about this until I talked to my friend about it and described this storyline to him, and he ventured the guess that Michele didn’t want to spend five eps hanging out in a gross, smelly, dusty basement. As soon as he said that, a little lightbulb went off in my head. We are now in season eight and Michele has been playing Karen for 160 eps and I’m sure she has a lot of clout and sway on the set now. I’m willing to bet that the writers wanted to keep Karen in that nasty basement and Michele was like, “Nope; if I’m doing this storyline, I need a big comfy bed and a nice rocking chair.” As a result, she spends most of her time just sorta hanging out in this room, and even though she’s still kidnapped and it’s still creepy, it’s just kinda hard to get too excited when she’s sealed up in a nice cozy apartment room, you know?
Enough about Karen. This fairly underwhelming storyline involving her being kidnapped is gonna span five eps, so we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it. Let’s move on to Gary, Val, and Ben. You’ll recall that season seven ended with Val trashing Ben’s Plant House in a fit of rage after seeing him with Cathy (who isn’t on the show anymore; sniff, cry). Now we pick up with her and Gary cleaning the place up and a fabulous line from Gary when he looks around The Plant House and asks, “Did I ever rate this kind of anger?” I really loved this line, which gives us a moment to think back and reflect on how much has already happened in the saga of Gary and Val, what a journey we’ve already taken with them and how that journey is still only halfway completed. Gary also gets serious for a moment and says, “Do you ever think about us?” and I of course had to scream at the TV, “Yes, of course, all the time, YOU ARE SOULMATES!”
If you’re thinking Gary and Val might get back together at this point, it ain’t gonna happen, because Ben is back. Now, I fear I’m going to sound like I’m being critical of Ben at this point so I want to say right away that I’m not; the last three seasons have shown Ben elevating from a character I barely cared about into someone I deeply love and cherish and respect. I used to think Douglas Sheehan was the weak link of the cast during this era, but now I see he brings soooooooooo much to the table and keeps Ben sooooooo interesting. The problem here, and it’s a glaring one upon this viewing, is that it has now become more obvious than ever to me that Ben was supposed to leave the show along with Cathy at the end of season seven. His return to the proceedings in this premiere is awkward and badly staged. See, Val is at home and then Ben comes in and is like, “Honey, I’m home,” and we have a super quick two second little resolution to the Cathy saga in which he tells Val that she and the twins are not the cause of his problems but, rather, the solution. Then he walks over to the table and sees a note for him from, shudder, Jean Hackney, a note inviting him to join her in one of the silliest storylines we will probably ever see on the series. Ugh, talk about crappy writing. The stage was nicely set for Ben to leave town at the end of the last season, but instead he pops back in with a super quick explanation and then immediately sees this note from some mysterious stranger from his past lying on the table and waiting for him. This reeks of the writers (Leckowick for this ep) saying, “Oh, crap, Doug decided he wants to stick around for one more season, so we gotta give him something to do really quick!”
This branches off into a larger topic I want to discuss, and one of the key problems I’m having as we get started with season eight. This is the first season in a long time, maybe even ever, in which I feel like the writers and powers-that-be had absolutely no idea what they were going to do at the start of a season as they were finishing up the prior season. I think this probably has a lot to do with David Paulsen running season seven and then being a traitor and running back to the sinking ship of Dallas and showing absolutely no thought or care for the glorious KL in doing so. I have a feeling he just kinda shat out some ideas for the end of season seven and then was like, “So long, suckers, we’re bringing Bobby back from the dead and we’re just gonna make that whole last season a dream! Sorry if this fucks up your own stories! Bye!” So I really think that, almost unanimously for almost every storyline that was going on at the end of season seven, they had absolutely no idea where it would lead for season eight. Now, of course, part of this is just standard television filmmaking. Lots of times you’ll end a season on a big cliffhanger with no real idea of how it will resolve (this is true even with the great cliffhangers such as “Who Shot J.R.?”). In this case, however, it just seems achingly clear and I can feel the creative team scrambling to start some new stories for season eight. What happens with Ben is a prime example of this.
Ben gets this mysterious letter, and then he heads to this weird boutique shop, accompanied, as always, by that awful new wave score in the background, and meets up with Jean Hackney, who immediately plants a big wet kiss on him. Okay, so at first we think Ben’s hopping right back into the adultery after getting a nice taste of it with Cathy, but then it turns out to be something else, something much stupider. It turns out that Hackney is, like, a spy, or something, and Ben used to work as a spy, or something, and now Hackney wants him to return to being a spy, or something. Hackney gives some big speech about how Ben was the best back in the old days and what a great team they made, and then Doug seems to visibly wince as he has to deliver the line, “I don’t do the spy stuff anymore.” I have to wonder if Doug delivered this line while simultaneously thinking, “Should I really have agreed to do one more year?” Ben tells her thanks but no thanks and retires from the boutique shop, but this is hardly the last we shall see of her, and it’s only gonna get sillier and sillier.
Once again, I need to flash back to my brain back in college and the way I felt while watching back then, because I remember having absolutely no problem with this story whatsoever. Then, I would read message boards and stuff from fans and see that this story was universally hated, and I’d be like, “You guys are all taking this way too seriously.” I think I was just comfortable drifting from high art to high camp, probably because of my time with Dallas, and so this story didn’t stick out as too silly for me upon first viewing. Also, I remind you that I was just powering through at that point. I hardly had time to sit and reflect cuz I would just zoom through a whole season of KL within a couple of days and then get started with the next season. Now, putting that microscope to each and every individual ep, the flaws seem way larger.
I will add the caveat that I don’t think it’s all that ridiculous to believe that Ben did some brief spy work somewhere in his wayward youth. One of the things I’ve appreciated about this character since he was first introduced is that he arrived somewhat draped in mystery. We knew he’d been all around the world, travelled and seen lots of exciting things, and that was about it. When he would drop little details about his life like how he had to put his father into an institution, it would be very interesting, like we were putting together little pieces of a puzzle, and so it’s not the inherent idea of him being a spy that’s ridiculous; it’s all about the way it’s presented. Take the terrible picture quality, add the awful music, and then pair it with ridiculous dialogue and the acting of this Hackney woman (played by Wendy Fulton, who barely has any credits to her name, hasn’t acted since 1991, and isn’t even worth talking about) and you get something that feels like, gulp, a daytime soap. Yup, I think I’ve put my finger on the problems. At no point in the previous seven seasons did I feel like I was watching a daytime soap. It always seemed like a very respectable, very well done, artistically inclined drama that had simply been given the label of “nighttime soap” because that’s how that genre was defined back then. Now, I feel like I’m watching a daytime soap. If someone were to walk in on me while I was watching this scene with Ben and Hackney, I would not be surprised if they asked, “Oh, are you watching General Hospital or Days of Our Lives or something?” It looks cheap, it sounds cheap, the dialogue is bad, and that fine sheen of classiness that I’ve gotten used to (especially throughout seasons four, five, six, and, yes, even seven, despite its flaws) is now missing and I want it back.
Let’s see, what else is going on as we hop into this premiere? Oh yeah, we learn via Greg towards Peter that Greg has absolutely no intention of actually cleaning up Lotus Point. I’m having a hard time understanding his motivation here, since he did promise Karen that he would do it, but I guess it has something to do with him wanting to wait for Lotus Point to go bankrupt and he’s just using the publicity of the cleanup to make Peter look good, or something like that. I can take or leave this storyline. It’s not ridiculously silly like the Hackney stuff, but it’s also just kinda there, not terribly involving. I wasn’t feeling all too gripped by the Lotus Point shenanigans at the end of season seven, so now I’m just sorta waiting for it to resolve itself here in season eight so we can move on to new business. Devane is always unbelievably charismatic and, of course, he still is right here, but I’m also just finding myself sorta not caring about what’s going on.
This ep drops the first of something that’s going to become fairly standard throughout season eight, and in this case, it’s something that most fans seem to hate, but that I actually like, and that’s The Sepia Toned Flashbacks. I call this year “The Godfather: Part II Season” and that’s because we are frequently flashing back in time to the late ‘60s to see young Mack and young Greg when they’re in law school and just getting started on their adventures. In the case of this ep, I believe we start off with Paige telling Sexy Michael about how her mother and Mack met and fell in love, and then we go into this Sepia Toned Flashback in which we see Mack trying to reach Anne. He’s at her fancy schmancy WASP house, banging on the door and trying to get someone to answer, when the, like, caretaker guy comes over and tells him, "I'm afraid that you are the caretaker, you've always been the caretaker, and I should know, sir, because I've always been here." Okay, he doesn't say that, but he does say that Anne and her whole family went to Europe. Mack is upset because he didn’t get to say goodbye. The casting for these segments is just perfect, because young Mack is played by future Melrose Placer and Desperate Housewifer (Desperate Husband?) Doug Savant, who does bear a startling resemblance to The Dobsonator, and yet even more brilliantly, young Greg is played by Devane’s very own son, Joshua Devane (pictured both above and below). The resemblance is of course uncanny and the first time I watched this, young Greg showed up and I immediately was like, “Oh, that has to be Devane’s real life son.”
Yup, I like this stuff, and it’s one aspect of season eight that I’ve always appreciated. The Godfather: Part II is my favorite Godfather movie and is also just one of my favorite movies of all time, and I’ve always appreciated when a movie or show can present us with two concurrent timelines and parallel storylines. Now, make no mistake, this is not even close to the quality of The Godfather: Part II, but I still like it. I just think it’s cool to see these characters as they were when they were young and I like how it helps us to better understand them in their present state. Also, now that I’m doing some reflecting on it, this isn’t the first time the show has done something like this. I’m immediately thinking of how glorious it was to see young Gary and Val meet for the first time back in, I think, Out of the Past. I wonder if that was sorta the impetus to do this stuff, if they decided to take that device and up it a notch and use it more consistently throughout the year. The only problem with this stuff, and it’s a problem with the season as a whole, is that it looks pretty cheap. I think the ambitions of these flashbacks are stronger than the actual result, because it does just have a sorta cheap look to it, most especially when the characters are shown riding on the train, which just looks like such a crappy set. However, in this instance, the cheapness does not deflect from my enjoyment of the flashbacks. I liked them back in college and I like them still today.
In case it sounds like I’m doing nothing but bitching about this ep, let me take a moment to discuss something very glorious and earth shattering that occurs in this ep, and that is Sexy Michael without a shirt on. Oh fuck, this was so good that, watching with My Beloved Grammy, I just declared, “We’re fucking watching that again,” and then I rewound the scene so we could see Sexy Michael and his glory one more time. Like a fine wine, Sexy Michael is only getting better with each passing season, and he’s easily at this most beautiful right here (at least until we get to season nine; I’ll report back). Has there ever been a better example of all American twink than this glorious, glorious creature known as Pat Petersen? Do you think Pat even knows how special he truly is? Do you think he looks in the mirror and sees the same things I see or do you think he simply accepts his own glory and doesn’t think too much about it? One day when I interview him (before he hangs up on me because I can’t stop heavy breathing and masturbating), I shall ask him all of these questions, all before I invite him to a naked sauna to relax with me. Oh Pat……
Alright, so that was Just Disappeared and it was heavily flawed, but I want to make it clear that I still love the show, I still love these characters, and I always will. In a way, it’s good that we are reaching a juncture where I finally have some significant problems with the show, because, let’s be honest, it would get boring to just read my gushing and gushing over every single episode and constantly saying, “This is genius!” The show is on for fourteen fucking years and has 344 fucking episodes, so obviously it’s not all going to be 100% brilliance and genius and a triumph of art. I will say this is still significantly heads and tails above what was going on over on Dallas the same year (and even though I confess I still haven’t gotten around to Dynasty or Falcon Crest, I’ll bet this is a lot better than both of those were around the same time). I think we are just passing through an awkward phase in the show in which a lot of poor decisions kinda come together at the same time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love the show like a family member.
Let’s move on to the second part of this premiere, the ep entitled Distant Echoes.