Episode Title: Gifts
Season 08, Episode 14
Episode 174 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 11th, 1986
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ben gives Abby his resignation. Greg tells him his job is to keep Peter's nose clean. Peter tells Ben that he is not Greg's puppet. Jean's lover asks her what Ben will do if he finds that she is no longer with the CIA. Sexy Michael is jealous when he sees Paige fawning over Peter at the Lotus Point Christmas Party and at the mall. He blames Karen. Abby shows up at Peter's nude under a fur coat. Karen leaves a message for Paige's grandparents, the Winstons. When Karen tells Paige, she flips out and says her grandparents hate her because they hated Mack. Mr. Winston calls Karen and says that she's sick, because Paige is dead. Laura tells Greg she is pregnant, and he's not happy. Olivia buys some drugs, and then Abby and Gary give her a sports car for Christmas. Olivia takes Lilimae for a ride, and they get into an accident.
When we last left off, we viewers were all staring at a grave that declared that one Paige Matheson, born 1967, had died in 1985 and was now buried right here, in this graveyard, wherever it might be. This all glides us nicely into one of the main story points of our current ep, Gifts. Indeed, there’s a lot going on with Paige and Sexy Michael and Karen and Mack and the entire gang of Fairgate-MacKenzies at, you know, whatever the hell address they live at (I notice the helpful “Who Lived Where” section of the Wikipedia page has mysteriously disappeared). In this ep, Karen decides to go ahead and call up the Winstons. Who are the Winstons?, you ask. Why, they would be Paige’s grandparents, the parents of the late Anne, R.I.P., the wicked old WASPs who gave Mack the cold shoulder and made sure to effectively destroy his relationship with Anne; we can’t have a person of Mack’s character dating our snooty daughter, you see. Only really rich white people can even speak to our precious Anne! Anyway, Karen gives them a call and speaks to the butler, an actor I immediately recognized because he plays the reverend in Critters 2. Karen leaves a message with him and he assures her that someone will get back to her.
Well, a little later in the ep, the phone rings and Paige goes to answer it. When she hears the voice on the other end of the line declaring that this is Mr. Winston, she kinda freaks. Actually, I guess she doesn’t freak right away, but she looks pretty panicked and hangs up the phone real fast. A little later, she’s talking to Karen and realizes that Karen’s the one who called them, at which point she really freaks out. She starts to cry and give this tremendous speech about how awful her grandparents are, about how she never wants to speak to them again, about how much Karen has ruined her life by doing this, at which point she goes running upstairs, still sobbing and being all dramatic. When this occurs, Karen gets death glares from both Mack as well as Sexy Michael. The Sexy Michael glare relates more to the fact that he’s blaming Karen for absolutely all of his relationship troubles with Paige. I reiterate that Sexy Michael should just be going out and getting laid with everyone he sets his sights on, but it seems he prefers brooding and getting all bent out of shape over this one girl rather than accepting his God given mission to fuck and be fucked by as many boys as humanly possible.
Later, Karen gets a phone call from the Winstons, or maybe she calls them herself, who the hell knows, and this is when she gets the news that Paige is supposed to be, you know, dead. Mr. Winston says that she’s a very sick woman and that Paige is dead and buried and that’s all there is to it. That about does it for that story this week, but I want to take a moment to note a few things. One is that I feel bad for Karen right now, because she’s honestly doing nothing wrong and has actually been fairly modern and progressive in dealing with the shagging of Paige and Sexy Michael, yet she keeps getting herself into these situations where she comes off looking like the bad guy. I didn’t like the part where Paige freaks out on her, mostly because I know Paige is just pretending and is not really all upset about this, but also cuz I hated those death glares Karen received from her husband and her glorious sexual spectacle of a son. Also, shouldn’t the family just be treating her better in general? Wasn’t she kidnapped by a fat slob psycho for the first five eps of the season? And didn’t the fat slob psycho only retire from his earthly form in the eight episode of the season? And isn’t this the fourteenth ep of the season? So basically, Karen has only been not kidnapped for nine eps, and you’d think the memory of her being missing and her family stressing about it would cause them to be nicer to her here, but nope, it seems everyone’s clear forgotten all about her little kidnapping and incarceration in a cozy little apartment room. Fuck, this is annoying me, mostly because I’m finally having to admit it, that this season is suffering from, gulp, some bad writing. Ugh, I hate saying it, I really do, but don’t you all remember how gloriously flowing and magical those beautiful seasons of four, five, and six were? It always felt like the seasons were mapped out and pre-planned down to the last detail, that they had a great vision for how things would go. This year, I feel like stuff is just happening, and then after a few eps of it happening, we move on to new stuff and start focusing heavily on all that, forgetting about the previous stuff almost immediately.
Let me think if there’s anything else in this Paige/Sexy Michael department that I wish to discuss. Well, I note that Sexy Michael has a very hard time taking the hint that Paige is done with him, and he appears to be one of those guys who just doubles down hard when a girl rejects him, because we see him at the mall, having just purchased a locket for Paige that declares his love for her. A smidge desperate after the woman declared she and Sexy Michael were finished? Perhaps, but what’s really important here is that Sexy Michael catches Paige and Peter out on a mall date and then he looks all upset. Also, a little later at the Lotus Point Christmas party, we catch up with brother Eric, who sat out the last few eps. Eric has one of his cool straight shooter moments where he takes Sexy Michael to task for being so easily manipulated by Paige. Again, I hardly ever mention Eric even though he’ll frequently waltz into eps and have some pretty boss moments, so here’s another example of one of those moments (remember when he slapped Diana?). I also want to take a moment to say that I officially find Eric sexy now, although not even close to the sexiness level of Sexy Michael. I think one reason I never thought of Eric as attractive before is because, when we first start the series, he’s at the peak of his awkward teen years and has bad hair and an unfortunate sorta moustache thing going on. By this point, however, he’s become a fine and strapping young man, plus he does have a distinctive Don Murray quality about him that comes out every now and then and which I appreciate seeing.
This little talk between Eric and Sexy Michael takes place at the Lotus Point Christmas party, so perhaps now is the perfect time to talk about the Lotus Point Christmas party and how I feel about it. Well, I don’t like it, and that’s because it looks cheap. Seriously, what are there, like, ten people at this entire gathering? When we first shift our attention over to the Christmas party, we don’t even get a big establishing shot of the crowd or anything like that; we pretty much just start in a closeup with Laura (dressed like Laura) and Greg (dressed like Santa Claus) entering the proceedings and talking. Why does this party look so cheap? Why does this whole season look so cheap? I know that we are going to lose two vital veteran cast members in the opening hours of our next season, and I know that the reason these two vital veteran cast members were let go is because the budget was being tightened, but I have to wonder if the penny pinching was actually getting started this season. I feel like if this party had happened anywhere within seasons four through seven, it would feel like a vast, sprawling affair, and I would really believe there were a lot of people at the event. Now, in the much more dreary and drab looking season eight, it’s not nearly so expansive, and I feel like the whole thing was probably filmed in a broom closet rather than at a real, exciting location.
Oh yeah, and while we’re on the subject of Greg dressed like Santa Claus, I would be remiss in my duty if I did not note that Santa is smoking a cigar for us to add to the Sumner Cigar Counter. I’ve been slacking as of late because of switching notebooks and forgetting to bring my old notebook with me when I’m writing, but I announce right now that all of my notebooks are sitting to my direct right as I type, and now I shall do the proper research to get us back on track for Sumner’s cigars. According to my notes, the Sumner Cigar Counter should now be up to Cigar #23, that being the one smoked while Greg is dressed like Santa. Okay, so the number is currently 23, folks, and we are nicely back on track and shan’t get derailed again.
Laura sure hasn’t had much to do for this first half of the season, has she? Fortunately, the writers finally give her something this week, and it’s something that I’m excited to see introduced into the fabric and I’m eager to see where it will all lead. This ep, Laura announces that she is pregnant again. I can’t remember who she tells first, but I think it’s Val. I might very well be hallucinating a scene that never occurred in my mind, but I think I’m correct in saying she tells Val before she tells anyone else. Anyway, as we are nearing the climactic moments of this ep, we see Laura and Greg hanging out together at night. Laura hands Greg a box and says, “Merry Christmas,” and when Greg opens the box, he discovers some small baby clothes packed inside. “I don’t get it,” he says, to which Laura answers, “I’m pregnant, dummy.” She says it with a little smile and all, but she also looks fairly uncomfortable, unsure of how her new husband will react to this surprising news. Greg reacts by standing up and slowly walking over towards the window and slowly turning around before finally declaring, “Not a good idea.” I liked this, and I also noted that we get thirty solid seconds of Greg just moving around, not saying anything, reminding us that we’re still in that era where primetime network TV had time, as the eps are still clocking in at about 48 minutes (this one is 47 minutes and 11 seconds, just to be precise). I can’t imagine a network show now would be cool with killing thirty seconds just to have silence, but here, the silence works very well, because Laura and the viewers are both waiting to hear what Greg will say, and when he releases, “Not a good idea,” it’s an interesting moment. I don’t know that it’s necessarily a surprising moment; I think we all know that Greg has some parenting issues, as he hardly ever sees M.F. and he clearly had a very contentious relationship with his own mother and father.
For the purposes of this ep, that’s about all we get on Laura’s new pregnancy and Greg’s reaction, but let me just take a moment to say how grateful I am that Laura is finally doing something. I’ll just go ahead and let the cat out of the bag and release a BIG SPOILER right here in the middle of this paragraph, but Laura is one of the two characters we are going to be losing early in season nine. I feel our time with her is now very limited, with something like 25 eps left, if I’m doing my math correctly. Laura has been with us since the first ep and I’ve always valued the unique quality she brings to proceedings. That’s why it makes me sad to see her getting nearly nothing to do at this point in the saga; I feel like we haven’t had the focus squarely on Laura in forever, and this season has really relegated her to the background pretty much since the premiere. Therefore, I am pleased by this pregnancy because it means we can finally focus on Laura again for a little while. This is also her second pregnancy on the series, as we should all remember she was pregnant with Daniel for the ending hours of season three and the opening hours of season four. In fact, random detour alert, now that I think about it, I’ll bet Laura’s first pregnancy was one of the quickest in all of KL history. I just looked it up and she announced her pregnancy in Reunion on February 18th, 1982, and then she delivered in Daniel on October 7th, 1982. Hmmm, now that I do the math, that actually works out to a realistic pregnancy length, but of course we are ignoring those pesky summers that don’t seem to exist in the television land. In terms of simply how many eps Laura was pregnant, it’s not that much, as Reunion is ep 44 and Daniel is ep 55. I’ll pay attention to see how fast this second pregnancy is for Laura, and I have a feeling it won’t be quite as expedited as Daniel was.
Let’s move the attention to my favorite storyline, the one that’s going to be my favorite storyline pretty much from right here, this exact moment, until, maybe, the end of our next disk of eps. Anyone who has seen KL before should vividly remember what’s coming up, and that is Olivia and the coke. Fuck, how I’ve been waiting for this storyline, and now it’s finally here and ready to get kicked into high gear (no pun intended). Okay, so in Gifts, Gary and Abs decide to bestow good holiday cheer on Olivia by buying her a car of her own. I enjoyed how this scene played out, by the way, because both Gary and Abs show up at Olivia’s school at the same time (right after we watch Olivia purchase a smidge of cocaine from her lovely friend Michelle). At first Olivia is confused about why both of them are here to pick her up at the same time, but then Gary says, “We’re both very proud of you for passing your driver’s test, so Merry Christmas,” and motions towards the sexy new car that Abs just stepped out of (oh, and by the way, Abs is dressed in a horrible outfit that’s, like, yellow, and has weird flower shapes all over it and looks like it belongs in Carol Brady’s wardrobe closet). Olivia is obviously very excited to have her own car and immediately goes speeding off with it.
The trouble really begins a little later in the ep when Olivia rolls up to the cul-de-sac to show off her new vehicle to Karen, Val, Eric, and Lilimae. She asks if anyone wants to go for a drive and Lilimae is all like, “Oooooooooh, there’s a few things I need to get from the grocery store or something,” and Olivia is all like, “Hop in!” Obviously our sphincters should all be clenching tightly up as we realize the danger Lilimae has now put herself into. After all, we’ve seen Olivia blaze up a doobie a time or two since the latter portions of season seven, and now we see that she has added coke to her daily rotation. Should we infer that Olivia has made a switch from pot to coke and now she just does the coke exclusively? Or are we to assume that she is continuing to indulge in the pot, but has also upped her coke intake at the same time? In any case, the next time we see Olivia and Lilimae, they’re still driving, it’s late at night and rainy out, and Olivia is driving far too fast while listening to some public domain rock music. When an uncomfortable Lilimae timidly asks, “Could we slow down a little, please?”, Olivia simply answers with, “You don’t think I know how to handle this thing? Watch!” Uh oh! Then Lilimae asks if they can turn down the public domain rock music and Olivia’s like, “Public domain rock music isn’t your kind of public domain music? Let’s find something else,” and by focusing on changing the station, she has shifted her focus away from the road just as another car is coming right for them! Lilimae puts her arm over her face as the headlights flood the screen and we get a freeze frame ending, a pretty decent way to the ep, although I’m more excited about where all this is heading than where it actually goes in this precise ep. Oh yeah, and real fast, My Beloved Grammy predicted that Lilimae was going to die after this ep, which does not wind up happening. Even so, I could see why her mind would go to that conclusion; perhaps she’s seen how underused poor Lilimae has been since Joshua took that nasty fall and is also sensing that the powers that be will be getting rid of Lilimae very shortly.
So that was Gifts. This was a decent ep, though not too terribly thrilling. The most exciting aspect of this ep, for me, is that I feel like it truly marks the beginning of the Olivia coke story. I love everything about this story and where it winds up leading, so I’m excited to see it getting really kicked into gear this ep. The other stories are only okay, though, with probably the most interesting thing going on right now being Laura’s pregnancy. I find myself strangely indifferent to all the shenanigans involving Paige and Sexy Michael, which is odd because I remember this stuff being gripping, and then I continue to bemoan the fact that Gary and J.B. are getting nothing more interesting than a scene or two set at the hospital, and that’s pretty much all they get to do for this entire disk of eps.
Let’s move on to our next ep, which accelerates the Olivia/coke stuff and also served as the final ep for our disk, Truth Will Out.