Episode Title: Slow Burn
Season 08, Episode 05
Episode 165 of 344
Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum
Directed by David Jacobs
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 9th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): News of Gary and Jill's affair hits the papers. Abby's furious, and has a little talk with Peter. At a debate, Peter makes it clear that Gary's personal life is not an issue. Gary and Jill resume their affair. Greg has Phil's license plate traced to an address in Dillon, CA, and drives there. Jean keeps trying to call Ben, and he keeps hanging up on her. Karen escapes the burning house. Phil sees her on the road and tries to run her down. She escapes into the woods and eventually comes across a vacant house. She breaks in, but Phil finds her. She throws a bucket of ammonia in his face and runs out back to the barn. He is breaking down the barn door when Greg shows up and stops him. Greg says he'll let him go for old times sake, as long as he goes back east and never gets involved in their lives again. Karen is confused when she hears two cars leave. Police tell Mack they received a tip about where Karen is. Mack and Karen run into each other's arms, and he brings her home.more
Time to discuss Slow Burn, the culmination of a disk of eps for My Beloved Grammy and myself. The first thing worth mentioning, something I find rather significant, is that the genius David Jacobs directs this ep himself, his first directorial effort since A Price to Pay near the end of season six. This marks his fifth directing job out of eight altogether, although I confess I’m going to have some problems with this one. I think these problems reflect my problems with this season so far, the fact that, no matter what’s going on and how much I care about the characters, things just look and feel kinda cheap right now. In the last four eps that David Jacobs directed, I always felt the style just oozing out of every frame, but this one just feels kinda regular, and that’s too bad cuz I got all excited when I saw his name in the credits. Anyway, let’s explore.
This might be a pretty fast writeup because the majority of this ep is strictly focused on one thing: Karen and Phil. Before I talk about them, though, let’s talk about what’s going on with the other characters, if anything. My favorite storyline continues to escalate nicely, although I confess that now I need to backtrack a bit and admit that I wasn’t totally clear on something. See, I kinda assumed that everyone knew that Gary and J.B. were fucking and nobody cared. Nope, that’s wrong. Gary is trying to keep his relationship with J.B. on the D.L. and, last ep, Peter made the decision to release the affair to create a scandal and get Gary all mired in a controversy. Obviously, this creates drama in all sorts of ways, most especially between Peter and J.B. In case you’re having trouble keeping track, I remind you that Peter and J.B. (AKA Dorothy Simpkins) are brother and sister and their parents died because of the evil Paul Galveston’s evil ways, but only we viewers know about their relationship to each other, at least I think. Does anyone else in the cast know Peter and J.B. are siblings? Well, if they don’t right now, I’m sure they’ll find out in time, perhaps on the next disk we are all scheduled to watch.
Greg and Laura connect directly to the Phil Harbert shenanigans, because, see, last ep, Greg jotted down Phil’s license number real fast as he was hauling ass off the ranch. This ep, Laura gives him some gentle prodding about how, if he knows anything about Karen’s disappearance, he ought to do something about it. Since he does love and respect his new wife, Greg kicks into action and looks up the license plate and traces it to the scary house in the middle of nowhere, a house that’s on its way to burning to the ground at the start of the ep. When we begin the ep, we get a quick review of the last minute from our prior ep, showing Phil lighting the matches and turning the house into the prom at the end of Carrie, all while Karen frantically looks for an exit. She winds up sliding through a hole in the ceiling or something; to be honest, both My Beloved Grammy and myself had a hard time figuring out how she gets out. Where did this hole come from? Is it a new hole? Did she create the hole herself and I just wasn’t paying attention? It doesn’t really matter because, suffice it to say, Karen manages to escape from the house right before it dramatically explodes, and then it's off to the races for a very Friday the 13th chase through the woods.
Now, this I liked a lot. I didn’t like it as much as I did the first time I watched it, back in college, when I remember just clutching myself and being in unbelievable suspense, peeing my pants a little bit. This time, I wasn’t in the same type of suspense, but I still appreciated the way that Karen just can’t get away. Seriously, all this stuff goes on forever. She runs through the woods, she hides in the woods, she flags down on a car only to reveal that it’s being driven by Phil. Oh yeah, that’s one little arty touch that I liked in this ep. We’ve seen that Phil has a fondness for classical music throughout the last couple eps, and he likes to blast the classical while driving his car, so it creates this cool effect where the music almost serves as his theme music, like the shark from Jaws. If we hear classical music getting quieter, we know that he’s getting further away, but if the music is getting louder, it means he’s getting closer and closer to Karen. I thought that was stylish and cool, and another fringe benefit of it is that it means we don’t have to suffer through an awful episode score. Instead of listening to terrible New Wave synth garbage spreading its filth throughout the KL aural experience, we just get silence for awhile as Karen runs through the woods and then we get classical as Phil gets closer.* Phil’s definitely crazy, by the way. I was kinda giving him the benefit of the doubt the last eps, thinking he wasn’t that bad, that he was just kinda weird and a smidge unstable, but this ep proves that he’s coo-coo. Why? Well, cuz when he’s near Karen and trying to figure out where she is in the dark, he keeps chatting with her casually, trying to draw her out, busting out an apple and being like, “Hey Karen, I got you an apple!” Apples are great and an apple a day keeps the doctor away and all that, but if someone had just locked me in a room and then tried to burn me alive, I don’t think an apple would get them back on my good side; it would at least have to be a pineapple.
The chase continues well into the next day. First, Karen manages to fall asleep in the woods under a tree, and when she comes to, it’s bright and sunny, but danger still looms. Phil is still hot on her tail, and we do get a pretty nifty scene in which Karen accidentally stumbles upon him, fast asleep on the hood of his car. I enjoyed this very much, watching Karen have to sneak around him and hope not to wake him up; it reminded me of a very suspenseful scene in Scream 2. Anyway, Karen manages to find this abandoned house that, well I dunno what the deal is with this house. Is it just abandoned? Is it on the market and not yet sold? The inside of the house is a mess and there’s just random crap hanging around, including a big jug of, like, rubbing alcohol or something. Karen suffers from the same affliction that strikes many female leads in horror movies by making some questionable decisions here. Most obviously, she finds this house, smashes the window of the front door so that she can unlock it, and then she goes inside and locks the door. Okay, that’s great, but I’m pretty sure Phil would be able to stick his hand through that window you just smashed and unlock the door from the outside. I guess it’s unfair for me to pick on Karen too much, since I’ve never been chased all night through the woods by a psycho hellbent on killing me; who knows how I would behave?
Phil busts into the house, but Karen cleverly throws that bucket of rubbing alcohol or dish soap or whatever in his face, a nice little move that made me cheer, but then she immediately makes a dumb move by rushing out of the house and into a, um, barn. Ugh, stop locking yourself into buildings that you can’t escape from when the killer is chasing after you! Things take a real Shining turn when Phil grabs an axe and starts trying to bust through the door, but wouldn’t you know it, in the nick of time Greg shows up to put a stop to this, ordering Phil to leave the state and never come back, and Phil obliges. Throughout this whole, rather large exchange of dialogue, I guess Karen never peeks outside to see Greg and Phil talking or she never hears their voices or anything like that, which is maybe a bit hard to swallow, but whatever. While I’ve enjoyed the suspense of this ep, more or less, I’m just ready for Karen to get back home and be safe; I’ve had about enough of her kidnapped and/or being chased around. The ep ends on a happy/scary note, because Karen is reunited with Mack outside of the barn, and then later with both Eric and the sexiest of the sexy, Sexy Michael, back at the house. It’s a real touching family reunion, but it’s marred by the camera panning out away from her house to reveal Phil lurking in his car, listening to, you guessed it, classical music, telling us that he’s not actually leaving town any time soon and Karen had better watch out.
So yeah, that was Slow Burn. I think I enjoyed it, but not as much as the last two eps we discussed, and certainly not as much as I remember enjoying it in college. I still can’t quite put my finger on what has changed, because I was fucking loving all of this in college, but now I’m just sorta meh. Like, it’s fine, it’s good, there’s suspense and I like how the ep is really just 48 straight minutes of suspense and action, yet I still felt kinda un-involved, not terribly gripped, and still unable to fully explain why. Also, I am aware that this is probably the shortest essay I’ve ever written about a KL ep, so allow me to provide a little context. I am sitting in a dandy little coffee shop, one of those real hole-in-the-wall places that are quiet, darkly lit, and very cozy, and I’ve been sipping coffee and writing about three damn eps in a row, which is more than I would usually do at one time. This is the last of those three, so it’s been a marathon session of several hours of coffee and writing and I think, at this point, I’m just tired and I wanna go home and relax. If I failed to give the proper attention to this ep that it really deserves, well, sorry.
Okay, so coming up next will be the ep entitled For Appearance’s Sake.
*I just want everyone to note that I actually like New Wave music and I like synth very much; I just hate the awful, badly done soundtrack attempting to sound like New Wave that is polluting my much cherished KL at this precise moment in time.