Episode Title: Never Trick a Trickster
Season 08, Episode 19
Episode 179 of 344
Written by Alan Goldfein
Directed by Joe Coppoletta
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 29th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Seeing Anne's immature behavior, Karen feels sorry for Paige and wants her to stay with them. Anne wants Paige to come back to NY, and threatens to cut her off financially. Peter tells Paige it isn't good for his image to live with someone, so she moves back to the MacKenzies. Anne says she'll stay until Paige agrees to leave with her. Greg finds the bug in his office, and suspects that someone has hooked up to his computer. He makes phony deals, and tells Ben about it. Ben tells Jean, who's upset because she fell for it. Abby tells Gary she will fight for the ranch unless he gives her $3 million so Gary gives her the money. Ben tells Val that no matter what happens, to always remember he loves her. Jean tells Ben that his new assignment is to kill Greg.
When we last left off, we were in the midst of a very stupid storyline and hey, wouldn’t you know it, we begin Never Trick a Trickster by picking up right where that stupid storyline left off and continuing to run with it. You’ll all recall how our previous ep ended with Ben tackling his dangerous assignment of planting a bug in Greg’s home office, but then somebody started to turn the doorknob and enter the room just as we got our “Executive Producers” credit. I’d say we pick up right there as we begin this ep, but that would be a lie, because what actually happens is we are forced to rewatch a smidge of the scene where Hackney gives Ben his assignment and then a rather sizable chunk of footage involving him arriving at Sumner’s home and putting the bug in his office. As this occurred, My Beloved Grammy bemoaned the fact that we would have to watch the whole entire scene again, and I’m right there with her, although fortunately they do tighten this down considerably for the opening moments of this ep. In any case, I’m still irritated by this, though I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not like this is the first ep to begin by replaying the closing minutes of our last ep, but for some reason this instance really annoys me. Perhaps it just boils down to the fact that this whole plot is stupid, so having to see the same stupid footage repeated is just irritating. It also might have to do with the fact that I can actually feel the writers and producers trying with all their might to kill time, to try and fill this 30-episode season with material, grasping at straws by filling out the 48 minutes by replaying several minutes of the prior ep.
When we finally get to some new footage and get to see the continuation of the epic turning doorknob and slow opening the door, we should all be feeling real disappointed at the reveal. We all saw that doorknob start turning and could only imagine who might come walking in. Could it be Carlos The Butler, curious to see what Ben is really up to in this computer room? Could it be Laura, ready to catch Ben in the act and blow the whistle to Greg? Could it perhaps be Greg himself, catching Ben red-handed in the act of turning into a spy for the purposes of a terrible storyline? The answers are no, no, and no, because it actually just turns out to be Jason 4 (the worst of the Jasons, I’d have to say, aside from the completely forgettable one that only played him in the Pilot, perhaps) coming to retrieve his math book or some other sort of plot contrivance. Ben looks like he’s about to shit his pants (which is basically the way he looks all season) and then Jason 4 says, “Mr. Gibson, this room is off limits,” and there’s a long pause before he adds, “For me.” He asks that Ben not tell Greg he saw him in here and Ben is, of course, happy to oblige. Uck. I guess the scene is, you know, fine, it’s whatever, but watching it, I did put myself into the mindset of a 1987 viewer and I can tell you that I would have been pretty pissed if I waited all week to see how things would turn out for Ben and found out that it’s only non-character Jason 4 entering the room. This kinds of things play differently nowadays, particularly with the way My Beloved Grammy and I watch the show by always doing five eps in a row. When you do it that way, you just hop from one ep to the next and are not as hyper-aware of the little cliffhangers each ep presents you, but I think this one is a real loser. Imagine waiting seven days to see who might be on the other end of that door, only to have the door open and show that it’s nothing more substantial than Jason 4.
The badness and stupidity continues well into the final scene of our ep, which is about the only other important scene Ben gets this week. In it, he’s paying a visit to Hackney’s stupid dress shop and Hackney is there and she looks stupid and is dressed stupid and this whole character is just stupid, Bob Loblaw. They exchange some dialogue about how Greg discovered the bug in his office (we’ll discuss it) and Ben is being kinda condescending and sarcastic, talking about how bad Hackney is at her job. Then the terrible synth 1987 music starts coming out of the soundtrack and Hackney ominously says, “You have a new assignment.” There’s a slight pause and then she says, “Your assignment is to kill Greg Sumner,” to which Ben has a little chuckle before realizing that she’s actually serious. I still love Sheehan as Ben, but you can just tell this storyline hurts him because his acting is not what it once was. The laugh he delivers after Hackney gives him his assignment is just…..no. Clearly he’s supposed to be playing it like he assumes her declaration is a joke and has a chuckle, but it’s just way too exaggerated and not the way a person would really laugh, and then the fact that we just end on his face as he realizes that she’s serious….just awful. Another awful thing about this ending is that we’ve already done this. We ended an ep way back near the start of the season with Hackney lying in bed with some dude and telling him that Ben’s assignment was to kill Greg. Okay, it was a stupid ending for that ep, but now it’s a stupid ending for this ep, yet in the course of being doubly stupid, it also gives us no new information. Yes, it’s true that Ben didn’t know this was going to be his assignment, but we viewers did, and a long time ago, as well. Do the writers think we have forgotten about that ep? Do they think this how you make a good cliffhanger? In any case, it’s terrible, so let’s move on.
I mentioned how Greg finds the bug in his office. Well, that’s because he does. How does he wind up discovering the bug? Well, that I can’t tell you, because I do not know. I want to make sure and point out that, as I am writing this, I have the ep pulled up in front of me on a separate screen, and I not only double checked, I triple checked, and I am fairly positive that we never see Greg discover the bug; we just hear about it after the fact. Am I crazy? Was something cut out? Am I just somehow not noticing footage that she be clearly going on right in front of me? Cuz see, we start the ep with Ben and Jason 4, then we cut to some shenanigans involving Karen and Mack and Anne, then we cut to Paige and Peter shagging, at which point Peter receives a phonecall from Greg, leaving him a message on his 1987 voicemail, and then we cut over to Greg and Laura talking about how Laura thinks Peter planted the bug. See what I mean? When did Greg find the bug, and how? Once again, I must insult the writing staff for not properly crossing their T’s and dotting their lower case j's; instead just allowing stuff to happen offscreen and telling us about it after the fact.
Even though I’m critical of that one aspect of this story, I will confess that Greg probably gets the best material this week, courtesy of Laura. First off and obviously of the utmost urgency, Greg smokes two cigars in this ep, making them #24 and #25 on the Sumner Cigar Counter. #24 comes at some point early in the ep when he’s just working on his computer, and then #25 comes closer to the end of the day, when he and Laura are preparing for bed. I like Cigar #25 better cuz it also helps to remind us of plot functions. Laura is relaxing on the couch and, I think, reading a book or a magazine or something (she’s wearing her Librarian Glasses, in any case) when Greg comes walking in sucking on his cigar, to which she says, “Secondary smoke; I’m pregnant, remember?” This does a good job of reminding us of Laura’s pregnancy and it also shows Greg’s tendency to sometimes be kinda an asshole, even to someone he loves, like Laura. Earlier in the ep, Laura challenged him on why he’s so allergic to the idea of having a kid, telling him how this kid will love him no matter what, even though, “You’ve done nothing to deserve it.” It might be in this ep or it might be in another one, but at some point Greg says something about how he doesn’t think there need to be any more Sumners running around, that he wants to kill the bloodline of Paul Galveston or, you know, whatever. I guess he’s forgotten about his daughter, Mary Frances, lost spotted in the middle section of season five, or perhaps he’s doing that sexist patriarchal thing where you don’t even bother to count girls as a part of your bloodline, I dunno.
Abs is also a busy little bee this ep, exchanging some truly awful A.D.R dialogue with Peter while they walk around some fancy house that Abs is considering buying. I’m pretty sure this is the house that Abs and Olivia wind up moving into for the next bundle of seasons, although I could be mistaken. Whether or not they buy it, I can tell you that I certainly want it. This house looks fabulously California, like it belongs to a movie star, and it also kinda reminds me of Miles Dyson’s fabulously metallic house in Terminator 2. Obviously there’s also a pool, because of course there is, and I definitely think I’d be very happy living here. Even so, I will say that I’d rather stay living on Westfork with the big open land and the sauna and the full gym and all that good stuff, but that option’s not on the table for Abs, who is inching ever closer to a divorce from Gary.
On that topic, Abs gets wicked once again this week, telling Gary that the divorce settlement he’s concocted is not enough for her, and that she will require either three million dollars or the rights to Westfork. This whole thing is barely even worth writing about, because after a very small back and forth between the two characters about how Abs doesn’t even like the ranch, Gary agrees to give her the three million dollars and he does so and, well, that’s about it. I’m looking at my notes right now and I see that I wrote, “They just sorta bring stuff up and then wrap it up real fast during this era.” Well, let me just say that I completely agree with myself, and this little sub-story in the ep is a prime example of this lazy writing. Why even bother to bring up Abs wanting to take Westfork from Gary if it’s not going to lead anywhere? The conclusion I come to is, once again, that the writers are just trying to fill out time. Oh how I yearn for the days of Ciji, of Wolfbridge, and of Val’s babies, when the showrunners were able to map out a really strong central storyline to keep all of the cast linked together. Now I feel the characters are often disparate and separated from each other, just getting a little material here and a little material there in order to fill up the time, all before it’s inauspiciously wrapped up and we move on to something else.
Despite my bitching, I do still appreciate one aspect of this bit of business, and that is the fact that Abs is being evil and wicked. If I was watching this in 1987 and had just finished up the Olivia-on-coke saga, I might be wondering if Abs was starting to go soft on me, but this confirms that she’s still her same old self. Even though Olivia-on-coke gave us a fabulous new window into Abby’s character, there’s always gonna be the selfish, lying, exploiting part of her personality as well, and God bless her for it. I have read some interviews where Donna says that she didn’t believe Latham and Leckowick (and I’m officially just calling them “L & L” from now until the end of time) represented her character very well, that she felt her character started going downhill and becoming too soft. I’d be curious to know where Donna thinks that started to happen, and I shall pay strict attention in the next two seasons to see if I notice anything, but right now I have no complaints. I still think Abs feels like Abs and I still think Donna plays her perfectly. I’m not terribly interested in her quest for Westfork as a story, mostly because we barely even get enough time with it to call it a story, but I am pleased to see that she’s not going to suddenly turn into a super nice woman who goes out on public speaking tours to talk out against teenaged drug use.
Oh God, and speaking of storylines that are brought up and then abruptly go absolutely nowhere or are immediately taken back, we also have Paige moving in with Peter for all of five minutes. Again, why bother with this? Paige is upset about her mother being in town, so she goes to live with Peter, they shag once or twice, and then by the end of the ep she’s moving back in with Karen and Mack. Once again, I can mentally picture the writers sitting around and being like, “Alright, Paige, we gotta find something to do with Paige in this ep, something that takes up enough time to fill the ep and also gives her a few minutes of material. Hmmmmm…..how about she moves in with Peter and then immediately moves right back into the Fairgate/MacKenzie house?” Honestly, I might rather just not have Paige show up at all in the ep if this is all they’re going to do with her.
But wait, I actually spoke too soon, because now I remember that we get several fabulous exchanges of dialogue between Paige and Anne as we make our way through this ep. Anne is already getting pretty cozy hanging around the cul-de-sac and attempting to seduce Mack. In a stunning display of hospitality, Karen and Mack are allowing Anne to stay at the house for awhile, and early in the ep she comes walking in with a stack of flowers from their garden and declares how much she loves their house and how, “This is like what happy couples must have.” Like all of her lines, this one is delivered just perfectly by Michelle Phillips, who I’m already finding insanely amusing. I love the way her face moves when she talks and I love how her eyes are consistently opened super wide. I love the fact that she’s wicked and she’s blonde but she manages to make herself completely distinctive from the wicked blondeness of Abs; she plays her character more deliberately over-the-top and it really works for me.
Everything between Paige and Anne is also working for me. The middle of the ep concerns itself with a tremendously awkward lunch date between Karen, Mack, Anne, and Paige. Before that, however, we see how remarkably unconcerned Anne is to finally see her daughter alive and well after believing she was dead for, you know, however long Paige has been claiming to be dead (two years?). We learn that she gave away Paige’s cat and that this really upsets her, and I enjoy the way that you can tell Anne is only telling her this specifically to upset her. At the lunch, they continue to bicker and Anne says how they’re trying to enjoy a nice lunch, to which Paige says, “A lunch at a restaurant you chose, and you’ll probably stick him with the bill.” I appreciate Paige telling it like it is, and I also appreciate Karen and Mack’s discomfort. I’m sure there was more witty dialogue in this scene to be enjoyed, but my fingers are getting tired, so let’s talk about Val and then wrap this up.
Before I get into Val’s story for the week, I’m gonna go ahead and make a prediction based on my memory and my prediction is: Val’s story will go absolutely nowhere. We will have to proceed forward through the rest of this season and then the six other seasons still in our future, but for the moment I feel pretty comfortable saying this. Anyway, you all remember how Ramilar Productions was getting ready to turn Val’s book into a big TV movie? Well, in this ep Val is all excited to meet the woman who will be playing her, Deborah Kensington. This is a good fake movie star name, because at first I experienced a moment of wondering whether this would be a real actress, sorta like how Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mike Douglas showed up as themselves in season four with Svengali. But no, Deborah Kensington is just a fake name (that sounds really real) and she is being played by Katherine Moffat. Now, that name sounded really God damn familiar to me and I was convinced I would realize why I know it when I looked at her IMDb, but that didn’t help. This actress is in stuff but none of her credits leapt out at me. In any case, the main point of this story is that Val meets the lady who’s going to be playing her character and realizes that she is completely wrong for the part. The woman is too glamorous and too Hollywood to play an effective Valene, plus she wants all sorts of changes and tweaks made to the script and her character (this might happen in the next ep and there’s a chance I’m getting the two confused). I am almost 100% sure that this whole TV movie and Deborah Kensington and all this will just disappear up into the sky along with Abs and Gary’s methanol adventures from season three before too long, but I’ve been known to remember things incorrectly, so there’s still hope that Val’s TV movie will actually amount to a significant storyline.
That’s about all I have to say for this ep. What did I think of it? Hmmmm……I’d say it was better than our previous ep, but not even close to the two eps that came before that one. So far, Olivia-on-coke has been the highlight of this season, and I predict it will remain that way. Now that they’ve finished up that storyline, we are back to the same old problems that have been plaguing season eight since it began, the desperate attempts to fill up time, the storylines that start and then finish almost immediately, the truly wretched Hackney storyline. Despite this disappointing drop in quality, there are also good aspects to this ep, mostly involving Greg and Laura or Paige and Anne. There’s always hope that our next ep will be an even greater improvement, so let’s move right along to A Plan of Action.