Episode Title: Past Tense
Season 08, Episode 04
Episode 164 of 344
Written by Sandra Smith Allyn
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 2nd, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Flashback Scene: Mack tells Phil that the firm he is working for is involved with the mob, but Phil says he has a wife to support. Later Phil is indicted, and asks Mack to lie on the stand, but Mack says he can't.
The polls begin to shift in Gary's favor. Peter decides to use married Gary's affair with Jill against him, although they've decided to hold off until after the election. Mack has a phony story released that they found the kidnapper's fingerprints and know who he is. This makes Phil very nervous, and Greg figures out that he is the kidnapper. Greg confronts him and gives him one day to undo the situation. Phil pours gasoline all over the house and lights a match. As the house starts to go up in flames, Karen discovers a trap door to the attic.
Welcome to Past Tense, which picks up directly where we left off in the closing moments of Reunion, with Greg getting all excited to hear that he was getting a visit from his old law school buddy, Phil Harbert, and then the shocking reveal that Phil Harbert is, OH MY SWEET JESUS, Karen’s kidnapper! Actually, this glides us nicely into another thing that I can bitch about regarding this current juncture in the series, although I confess I think it’s really only a flaw that relates to my bootleg DVD copies of the series and not the original broadcast. See, the copies that I have on DVD don’t merely show us a thirty second preview for the next ep, but when you jump into the next one and immediately have to sit through an unbelievably long “Last on KL” recap, all set to the tune of that absolutely dreadful season eight theme song. Okay, so that sucks, because when you watch five eps in a row, you really don’t need a recap at the start of every single ep, and it also sucks that you have to hear the theme again, and then after the recap is done, we, you know, hear the awful theme song yet again, and it’s just too much. Like I said, I’m pretty positive that this is a result of my copies using the syndication package edits, cuz when I rewatched these five eps one more time via the dark corners of the internet that I am privy to, they used the original broadcast edits and the eps just start with the credits, no thirty second preview, no seventeen minute recap, none of that, and it’s much better. Of course, you might wonder why, if I hate these so much, why do I force myself and My Beloved Grammy to sit through all of them every single fucking episode. The answer is that I am insane and dangerously unstable. Also, since I know you guys like to hear about me peeing as much as possible, now would be a good time to mention that I pee a lot and so the fact that it takes a year or two for the eps to get started just means that I can go take a nice leisurely pee and guarantee that I won’t be missing anything of import.
We open Past Tense on Karen still kidnapped in that house in the middle of nowhere. Right now, she’s working on a fairly corny letter to Mack about how much she loves him and Bob Loblaw. I am oddly unmoved by this little speech, and it’s strange because I came close to tears with Sid’s little message to Karen on the tape recorder way back in season three’s Critical Condition. I suppose the difference there was that, you know, Sid died. I have that retroactive knowledge that Karen is going to be fine because she’s going to continue to be in every episode all the way until the very final one. Therefore, I don’t put the same stock into her little letter to Mack that I did in Sid’s last message to Karen way back when. The good news about this scene is that Karen finally decides to kick into action after three eps of basically just sitting around. She’s kinda reading over her letter to Mack and then she crumbles it up and says to herself, “I’m smarter than he is,” and starts looking around the room for a means of escape. I’ve already thrown out my opinion on what Karen should do (take a page out of the Looney Tunes handbook and smack Phil in the face with a frying pan), but she doesn’t take my advice and instead chooses to start Shawshanking her way out of the room by chipping away at the wall with, like, a knife or something.
At the same time Karen is having her lightbulb moment and getting to work on breaking the wall down (“Mrs. MacKenzie, tear down this wall!”), Phil and Greg are hanging out in his skyscraper office and catching up on what’s been going down since law school. This scene is important because Greg brings up how Mack’s wife is missing and Phil has to feign surprise about it, and then later we get some badly written exposition to help emphasize how Phil, Mack, and Greg were all buddies together cuz Greg and Phil have a drink together and Phil declares a toast, “To Phil Harbert, Greg Sumner, and Mack MacKenzie, the three musketeers!” and I almost expect him to look at the camera like Dark Helmet in Spaceballs and ask, “Everybody got that?”
Actually, while we’re on the topic of these three characters and their past histories, let’s talk about this ep’s Sepia Toned Flashback, which takes place in a bar (random: I like the period accurate music that’s always being played in the background when we flash back to the ‘60s, and I fear that it would wind up being chopped out if/when KL ever officially makes it to home media or a streaming service) and involves something about Phil being in trouble with the law. I guess Phil got involved with some bad mafia dudes, as tends to happen to everybody at least once in their life (paging Gary Ewing, season two), and so now he’s asking Young Mack to commit perjury in order to get him out of this jam. Young Mack has the same staunch ethics that 43 year old Mack has, because he says no, that committing perjury is wrong, Bob Loblaw. Well, there you go, the dots are now officially connected to why 1986 Phil is so pissed off at 1986 Mack and has kidnapped his wife. Since Mack refused to lie on the witness stand, Phil went to prison and when he got out, his wife was dead, or gone, or moved away, or wouldn’t answer his phone calls, or something like that.
Back in the present day, we can add not one but two cigars to The Sumner Cigar Counter. The first one occurs in his amazing rec room that comes complete with pool table (more on this portion of the ep later) and the second cigar is lit when we return from a Sepia Toned Flashback to find Greg relaxing outside on his ranch with Phil and Laura. For those keeping track at home, this makes Cigar #17 and Cigar #18, respectively. Greg has really picked up the habit strong since we first met him in season five, no? I like cigars as much as the next guy, but they are a vice best enjoyed in moderation; if Greg keeps this up too long, he’s gonna have to go under the knife for some sort of icky gum cancer and his teeth are gonna turn all brown. Anyway, the cigars really aren’t the important thing; what’s important in the latter scene is that Phil accidentally reveals that he kidnapped Karen (whoops!) by randomly dropping her name and saying something like, “I sure hope Karen is okay.” Greg pulls him aside and says how he never mentioned his name to Phil, so he now thinks Phil is the kidnapper. He gives a good forceful speech in which he says, “I never heard about this because we never had this conversation,” and then he urges Phil to fix whatever damage he may have already done.
I might be hopping around here and going out of the order of events as they take place within the ep, but who cares? Phil begins to panic later because Mack uses his powers with the police to have a phony news story released saying they found the kidnapper’s fingerprints. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that last ep, but they discovered Karen’s little rental car abandoned at, like, an airport or something. In the phony news story, they claim that the fingerprints were all over the car and they’re about to make an arrest. This frightens Phil, and then fright compounds with anger a little later when he discovers Karen’s ruse (her cunning attempt to trick him) of trying to bash through the wall. He gets pissed and takes a frying pan (a frying pan; why aren’t you paying attention to this, Karen?) and bashes the wall really hard, revealing that, beneath the paint, there is nothing more than a brick wall. Oh crap! How’s Karen gonna escape now? After both of these events occur, Phil is suddenly possessed by the spirit of The Trashcan Man as he begins to obsessively light matches and flick them towards a big jug of gasoline. In case your parents never told you, this is a bad idea and you shouldn’t play with matches, because you might get burned. Phil’s goal is not to burn himself, however, but rather Karen, because our exciting cliffhanger for the end of the ep is him leaving a lovely trail of gasoline throughout the house and then setting it ablaze like Norman Bates at the end of Psycho IV. Oh crap! I sure hope Karen is okay, although I have a strong suspicion that she’ll be fine.
Okay, so that about does it for Phil and Karen and all that; let’s move over to my favorite storyline, Gary and the senate. This ep had my second favorite scene from the entire first five eps of the season contained within it, with my very favorite scene being, of course, Gary laughing while trying to film that commercial in Distant Echoes. This second scene is a real doozy and also gives me lots of thoughts about our current political climate and the idea of honesty. Okay, to set the scene, early in the ep Greg meets up with Peter and The Ned Beatty Lookalike (Sid Farkus) and they discuss how best to torpedo Gary. Greg says how they won’t even have to try, that nobody would ever elect an alcoholic with an arrest record for murder. This is a sound reasoning, but then we cut to this big auditorium where they are having the first big senatorial debates or whatever, and Gary unleashes a terrific wet fart into Greg’s face when he stands in front of the audience and says, “My name is Gary Ewing and I’m an alcoholic.” God, this scene made me so happy, so much so that, after watching it, I keep thinking about it throughout my day and whenever I think about it, I’ll smile. There’s something about the cut from Gary’s declaration to Greg’s deflated face that just makes me feel insanely giddy. Gary doesn’t just stop there, by the way, because he also explains how he got arrested in season four for the murder of Ciji (although he doesn’t mention her by name; I think neither Ciji nor Cathy shall ever get a verbal shoutout again on the series and that makes me sad), and he proceeds to explain how he was exonerated and didn’t do it.
I have so many thoughts about this scene and I’ve been thinking about this scene for days. As a person who believes in strict honesty and believes that you’ll never really get in trouble for anything so long as you tell the truth, this really spoke to me. I admire Gary for this courageous act and I believe he is doing the right, noble, and ethical thing. If I ever run for politics (and I know I can count on your vote), I would institute a similar policy of complete honesty and my enemies would never be able to dig up dirt on me. One last small detail that I appreciate: Late in the ep, Gary calls Olivia up on the phone and they talk about having an early dinner and Olivia says that she’s going to be going to her drug therapy session later that day. I appreciate this, because we haven’t seen Olivia blaze up as of late (and I think she is actually clean and sober at this exact juncture, but there’s a heavy chance that this will change later down the line) and I like knowing that Olivia’s doing her drug therapy thing. It would be very easy to just sorta forget about her stoner period during season seven, but the writers don’t do that; they throw in this little line to tell us where she’s at in her life right now.
That’s about all I got for this ep. Even though I wrote less about this ep than the last three, I think I actually liked it the best. While I still hate the opening theme music, hate the music throughout the eps, hate the visual style of the series at this point, and even hate the small things like the super cheap computer-looking font that they use for the ep credits, I still think the season is improving before my very eyes. I think perhaps this particular season starts out at its weakest and then improves overtime, although I suppose we’ll see. This ep barely had any Hackney in it, which I appreciated, and I found lots of good qualities to talk about. I enjoyed the Sepia Toned Flashback, I enjoyed Greg smoking his cigars, and I loved the scene with Gary at the debates, so yeah, not too bad as long as you can get past some of the inherent problems taking over at this point.