Episode Title: Distant Echoes
Season 08, Episode 02
Episode 162 of 344
Written by Diana Kopold Marcus
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, September 18th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen's kidnapper makes her cut her hair because he likes short hair better. Ben refuses to spy for Jean. The arsenic levels at Lotus Point are rising. Gary decides to run for the senate himself, against Peter. He thinks that this will pressure Greg to really clean up Empire Valley. Jill agrees to be Gary's campaign manager, and this angers Peter. Jill tells Peter that only Gary is important to her now. Mack breaks down to Val over Karen, and Val comforts him.
Flashback Scene: Mack, Phil, and Greg see Anne on a train, but Mack is afraid to approach her. Greg speaks with her, and she slaps him. Mack apologizes to Anne, and she agrees to go out with him. He falls asleep by her pool while waiting for her to get ready on their first date.
Welcome back for the second part of our season eight premiere…sorta. Again, I confess how much it annoys me that these two eps were still split up into two upon original airdate, despite the fact that the show had cleared an entire two-hour block of CBS television for the premiere. Due to this decision, we have to suffer through that appallingly awful theme song for an entire set of closing credits and then an entire set of opening credits, guaranteeing that the viewers will immediately flip to whatever’s on NBC or ABC or even FOX, which officially got started this season, although I don’t know if they had anything on the air quite yet (EDIT: I did a quick bit of research and learned that FOX officially launched on October 9th, 1986, so it’s still a few weeks into the future right now). After we get through the opening credits and finally stop projectile vomiting, it’s on to some new footage (because we also get a recap of the previous ep even though we just fucking watched it!). The new footage is Karen still kidnapped in that house in the middle of nowhere in a nice, comfortable, cozy room with a full kitchen and a big soft bed. Hell, she even has a bathroom with a tub, although I’m pretty sure we never see it. I reiterate my earlier point that while I kinda like Karen’s solitary confinement being in this rather nice room, it also makes the storyline lack urgency. I should feel like Karen’s life is in serious jeopardy, that any moment this mad man will come into the room and kill her. I want to feel that terror, but instead it just feels rather lifeless and comfortable. The fact that it’s also gonna draw out over five episodes doesn’t exactly help.
Another problem I’m having is that I wish more was actually happening. Mostly, Karen is just sorta hanging around this room, and sometimes Phil comes in to tell her how she should take a bath and wash her hair or to offer her some food, but I’m not really in any suspense because nothing’s really happening. Let’s think of the brilliance of Misery, both the novel and the film (remembering, of course, that both of them are a smidge into the future from where we are right now). In that novel/film, you feel like, any second, crazy Annie Wilkes is gonna come barging into that little room to do God knows what to Paul Sheldon, so you spend the entire time with your sphincter clenched tightly up, wondering what will happen next. Every time Phil comes to visit Karen, he just sorta goes through the same dialogue about how she needs to eat or take a bath. I think both actors are doing a more-than-competent job, so I don’t really have any problems with them, but the fact that nothing’s happening is a pretty big flaw.
I’m actually gonna skip right to the very ending scene of the ep, because it’s about the last I’ll have to say about Karen’s story this ep. I call this scene “the scare cut,” and let me tell you why. Phil comes in and presents Karen with a pair of scissors. She looks all scared, probably wondering what exactly Phil intends to do with those scissors or where exactly he intends to put them, but then he says she shouldn’t try and reach for the scissors, because he’s going to hand them to her. Karen looks all scared and then Phil asks her to, well, cut her hair. Hmmm, this is interesting. Once again, College Brett was loving the shit out of all of this, and I even remember specifically thinking, “How brilliant! Michele got a haircut over the summer and this is their way of explaining it!” I still appreciate it in that way, versus, say, Abby’s hair that magically changes between seasons five and six when she’s in captivity with the Wolfbridge group. I’d rather have some explanation for the new hair than nothing at all, but the scene still comes off as a bit silly. Why, precisely, does Phil want Karen to cut her hair? Does it have something to do with wanting her to look more like his late wife (we’ll discuss his wife at greater length later, probably in the next ep)? Is it just cuz he likes short haired women? Perhaps. Is it just cuz he’s weird and a psycho and so he wants to do this merely as an act of control over her? Perhaps. Am I thinking way too much about this? Yes.
One thing I neglected to mention in the last ep because I was too busy bitching about the theme music and the New Wave soundtrack, but obviously Karen’s disappearance has sent shockwaves throughout the Fairgate/MacKenzie house and Mack is starting to act a tad nutty. We get a pretty great scene between Mack and Val in which he starts to cry and confess his feelings to her, saying how, in his entire life, he never thought he would have to lose Karen. We also have a great scene (although I think it might have been in the previous ep, sorry) in which Mack frantically sets the table while sorta narrating how the family will always sit at the table together, that the family isn’t coming apart, and then we sorta pan out to reveal that he still set a place for Karen. I have to say I like all of this stuff better than the stuff with Karen and Phil in the house. It’s actually more interesting to watch how the characters react to her disappearance than to physically see it. I also like how The Dobsonator manages to play this stuff, showing that Mack is kinda losing it and acting weird, yet never seeming to come off too campy or too unlikeable. There are moments in this whole span of five eps where he kinda acts like a dick, but we viewers know that he isn’t a dick, but just a man deeply upset by the potential loss of his wife. Mack loves Karen so much and I truly believe that and I’ve believed it ever since he first came to the scene back in season four.
Another great perk of this portion of the storyline is that we get maximum Sexy Michael time. I’m gonna make a declaration here, and that would be that this is probably the season that my future husband and future father of my children, Pat Petersen, should have been promoted to the opening credits as a main cast member. I’ve talked before about how the crediting often makes no sense. Why, for instance, are Teri Austin and Hunt Block not in the opening credits when they have been getting significant chunks of the stories ever since they arrived on the scene? Or why was Claudia Lonow promoted to main cast member during her last season on the show? The same is true here, because I’m willing to bet that Pat is in nearly every episode of this season and he’s getting stories and a lot more screentime (probably because the powers-that-be are holding meetings in the writer’s room and going, “Did you see the bulge in his pants? Is there some way we can get him to take his shirt off in every single episode?”), so I think it would be appropriate for him to get promoted to main cast member this year, but, alas, it doesn’t happen until season eleven, which feels very far away right now. Anyway, I don’t remember seeing Sexy Michael shirtless in this ep (and that means it probably didn’t happen, because if it did happen, rest assured, I would remember it), but I’m just grateful to be able to look at his face so much. Fuck, he’s sexy. He gets sexier with every passing episode and I don’t know how to explain it. All I can say is that he remains the most perfect creation that God has ever sculpted.
Let’s talk flashbacks real fast. We catch up yet again with Young Mack and Young Greg and this time we also get to see Young Anne. Like a complete fucking moron, in my notes I wrote, “Remember to look up who plays Young Anne,” but then after a few minutes I realized, duh, she’s being played by Nicolette Sheridan. This works well for me and I can believe her as the Young Anne, especially since I know we are going to be seeing the grown-up Anne, played brilliantly by Michelle Phillips, a little bit later in the season. This flashback takes place on a train, and I already whined a bit about how cheap this train looks, but that’s just something you gotta accept and move on. Despite the cheapness, I’m still enjoying these flashbacks and don’t have the same problem with them that lots of other fans seem to have. If you are a person who hates these flashbacks, please go ahead and message me or leave a comment about why, because I value your opinion. The other portion of the flashback takes place at Anne’s WASP house, over by the swimming pool. We learn that Young Mack keeps plenty busy due to both going to law school as well as working on the train to earn enough money to keep going to law school.
Oh yeah, and one last significant bit of this flashback that I almost forgot to mention, but we see Young Greg talking to another young couple on the train, although we are not told directly who this couple is. We do, however, get some bad expositional dialogue in which he says something like, “You two are going to ruin my view of married life,” and I of course have to note how Joshua Devane even sounds exactly like his father when he delivers this line. Again, what a brilliant choice it was to use the real son to play this young version of the father. Anyway, I’m gonna go ahead and spoil something, and that’s the fact that this mysterious young couple on the train is Young Phil Harbert and his wife. When we return to the present day (1986) and catch up with Karen and Phil, we will get a lot of him talking about his late wife and how much he misses her and how he’s kidnapped Karen because of the loss of his wife, so the fact that they are here in this flashback helps us to sorta put the pieces together.
Let’s talk about a storyline I had clear forgotten about which is easily my favorite one going on right now, and that’s Gary’s run for the senate. In this ep, Gary has a lightbulb moment and decides he’d like to try running for the senate (now that Bobby has come back from the dead over on Dallas, KL is officially done ever mentioning its parent series, but if they were still doing that, I imagine Gary might have said something like, “You know, my brother Bobby was a senator for awhile back in 1981”). As soon as Gary decides to do this, he kicks right into gear, with the ever wonderful J.B. happy to help him. She says how she’ll run his campaign for him and Bob Loblaw, and then we get easily my favorite scene of the episode, in which Gary has to film a little television commercial promoting himself for state senator. He starts out by trying to deliver this very stiff, very formal speech about the present laws governing land ownership, but then he keeps interrupting to say stuff like, “Shouldn’t I say ‘California laws’ or something?”, clearly frustrating the director, who probably just wants to get this commercial filmed before lunch. Then Gary starts trying to deliver the part about some environmentalist guy (Paul Brookings?), but he just can’t get it out. He starts to smirk and then he bursts into hysterical laughter which also causes me to burst into hysterical laughter. Gary’s laugh is the fucking best, by the way, and if I haven’t mentioned it in any of my previous writeups, I deserve to be punished, because how could I not? He is soooooooooo funny when he laughs, and I especially love the way he claps his hands together with such joy. Another thing I love about this scene is that it tracks very well with an early season three episode, Moving In, from way back in 1981. In that ep, Gary had to film a commercial for Knots Landing Motors and he was very stiff and uncomfortable. It would be so easy to forget about that tiny scene from an ep that aired five years ago, but we hit this scene now, in 1986, and it shows that the writers remember how Gary gets when a camera is pointed at his face. Talk about remembering the past history of your characters, no? What a delight this scene is, for that reason and so many other reasons, but probably most especially because I just love Gary’s laugh and I love how Shack plays this scene. I love everything about this scene.
What’s going on with Ben and Hackney this ep? I’m glad you asked because, um, I don’t remember and I don’t really care. In fact, I’m looking at my notes right now and all I wrote is, “Ben + Hackney meet in parking garage to exchange bad dialogue.” You know, I think that says it all, so let’s just move right along to something else.
Greg still has no intention of cleaning up Lotus Point, and this ep Laura sees what’s going on and uses her powers as his new wife to try and get him to do the right thing. I liked this scene a lot, a scene which takes place at night as Greg and Laura get prepared for slumber. Greg’s in the mood for a little shag, but Laura isn’t feeling quite so horny, more concerned with the honesty (or lack thereof) of her new husband. She questions him on the cleanup and he has a funny little speech where he is like, “Do I like playing twenty questions? No. Am I out of the mood? Yes!” Then he leaves the room and Laura is left alone, looking sorta concerned and thoughtful, probably wondering how to handle this.
In fact, this branches off well into some thoughts I’m having about Laura. What do you think is going through her head right now? She’s been married to Greg for about five minutes now, and do I sense a smidge of immediate regret from her? I’m trying to do the timeline to remember how long she was married to Richard and I think it was fifteen years (because I believe we were told in season one that they’d been married for eleven years, and then they continued to be married through season four, and I’m pretty sure that 11 + 4 = 15, although math was never my strong suit). Throughout those fifteen years, what a fucking roller coaster of up and down emotions it must have been. I’m sure she had plenty of happy times with Richard (probably mostly contained before we ever met the characters back in Pilot), but then we also had the less happy times, like when he held her hostage at gunpoint (but every husband does that at least once). I wonder if she’s starting to think to herself, “Did I make a horrible mistake getting married again?” One of the main problems in her marriage to Richard was a lack of honesty. Think of Courageous Convictions when he simply refused to admit that he wasn’t the big man and couldn’t handle his finances. Now she’s sensing a similar lack of honesty from Greg and I’m sure it’s bothering her. A little later, we catch up with Laura and Greg at his ranch, hanging out with the horses (I really wanna ride a horse, by the way, and have not yet had the opportunity in my life). Laura inquires to see if Greg knows anything about Karen’s kidnapping and he asks what he’d have to gain from kidnapping her. Then he says, “Aren’t you the one who’s always harping on trust in a marriage? Well, trust works both ways.” That’s about the gist of the scene, but it does help to emphasize this running theme of Laura’s problems trusting Greg, at least at this point.
I think that oughta about do it for Distant Echoes. I actually thought this was a huge improvement over our last ep, perhaps because I was able to get over the horror and pain of seeing that dreadful opening credits sequence and hearing that awful music for the first time. As we get deeper into the season, I’m sure I’ll be able to get used to both of those things and not hate them quite as much as I did right at the very start of the year. Also, I just thought this ep had more good qualities going for it than our last one, most especially the glorious scene of Gary trying to film that campaign commercial. Even so, if we glue this ep onto the previous one and consider them both to be the season eight premiere, I have to be honest and say this is the worst premiere since way back in season two, with Hitchhike: Part One. As I said before, this is the first time that I feel like the writers are sitting down to start a season and are like, “Well, fuck, what do we do?” I feel like they are just sorta scrambling to get stories rolling and kinda flush away whatever was lingering from the end of season seven, whereas with the previous seasons, I always felt like the stories were flowing very organically from where we had left off in the prior season. It also doesn’t help that Karen’s kidnapping feels so lethargic and lacks urgency. I’m not in any particular suspense with what’s going to happen to her, and whenever we cut to her sitting in a rocking chair or sitting on a bed, it’s hard to be like, “Oooh, how scary!” Even so, it’s still KL and I still love KL and always will. I’m actually gonna throw out a prediction right now and say that I’ll bet this season is gonna heavily improve in the second half of the year; it’s just having a bit of a problem getting started right here.
Let’s move right along to our next ep, which happens to be the first time they’ve recycled an ep title from before. Remember the dreadful season three ep in which Jessica Walter came to town? That was called Reunion and, hey, wouldn’t you know it, our next ep up for discussion is also called Reunion. I shall talk to you then.