Thursday, July 19, 2018

KNOTS LANDING Episode 181 of 344: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Episode Title: Survival of the Fittest

Season 08, Episode 21

Episode 181 of 344

Written by William Devane

Directed by Michael Preece

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 12th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Jean catches the Gibsons, and they know that their house is bugged. She instructs Ben to kill Greg at the Lotus Point Club Opening. At the opening, Greg and Laura make up. He says he's happy about the baby. Anne hangs all over Mack at the party, and Karen pretends not to mind. Mack is amused at Karen's jealousy. Ben tells Val that they'll escape in a catering truck after the party. Jean tells Ben that if he doesn't kill Greg, she has people at the party who will kill Val. Ben says the time isn't right, so Jean tells him to make an opportunity. Gary and Jill tell Val that they're getting married and Val runs off crying. Ben confronts Greg in his office and pulls out a gun. He tells Greg to help him find a way out of this, because if he doesn't kill him, they'll kill his family. Jean listens in on the bug. Ben can't bring himself to kill Greg, but then a shot rings out.


                Welcome back, everybody, and also sorry for the late posting but I was, well, lazy last week and just didn't feel like posting.  We’ve got a lot to talk about before getting started with the ep in question.  Generally, I don’t like to forecast my opinions too far in advance before doing some serious writing about eps, but I’m gonna go ahead and blow my wad right here in the first paragraph of this essay and say, my dear God, this was a bad disk of eps, really bad, really really really incredibly bad, maybe even terrible.  I’ll go even further and say that I think this particular disk (spanning Survival of the Fittest through Deadly Combination) was the very worst disk we have ever watched, and I’ll also say it may have, quite possibly, the very worst ep of KL we have seen up to this point (I’ll keep some suspense by not telling you which one just yet).  This disk was such a turd that I didn’t even wanna write about it and, of course, I let a lot of time go by and then had forgotten so many of the details, I decided I needed to, God help me, watch it again.  Doing this only underlined how bad these eps are, because, and it hurts me to say this, I found myself watching an ep and then not having the mental energy to watch another one.  The eps felt sooooooo long and sometimes I would even start one, watch the first scene or two, and just be like, “I can’t do this,” and turn it off.  Therefore, it took me forever to finally get them re-watched and sit my ass down to start writing about them.  Now you all know how I feel about this ep and the next four we have coming at us, so hopefully I’ll prove myself a skilled enough writer to eloquently explain my problems as we go through the eps with a fine tooth comb and sort out all the problems.


                On a much happier note, I would like everyone to know that there is now a third party watching KL alongside My Beloved Grammy and myself, and that would be Brother(pictured below alongside our father and yours truly).  For the last several years, Brother has been living out of town and I haven’t seen him as much, but now he’s back and I’m very pleased.  Even better, the timing worked out in this weirdly perfect way that he has seen every ep right up until this exact one we’re talking about now, thanks to me forcing him to watch the show in the past, so he moved back to town and we happened to be right at the exact same spot where he last left off and he was able to slide right back into the series smoothly.  I like to throw in what My Beloved Grammy thinks or says about the show, and now I can also add Brother’s thoughts.  I will say that having three people watching was extremely helpful, because we were able to laugh and make fun of the camp and silliness on display in front of us, whereas when I rewatched the eps all by myself, I just found myself bored and sad.


                “Sad” might seem like a strange word to use here, but as I believe I said somewhere in the distant past, the thing which makes me sad is that I’m seeing characters I love and cherish as if they are real people being made to act in stupid and ridiculous ways because the writing is forcing them to do so.  It is now very clear to me that I take these characters and this show much more seriously than I did upon first viewing, when I was still discovering everything.  I have talked about the camp value of KL in the past and said how I think camp is a factor in the show that we can all enjoy.  However, now that we’ve gotten through half of the show, I have really found myself marveling, particularly in that peak period of seasons four, five, and six, at how remarkably not campy the show is.  Sure, every now and then we get an, “IT’S TEA!” or “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVES!” or “DAMN YOU, PAUL GALVESTON!,” but those instances are actually pretty few and far between in the grand scheme of things.  This rewatch has made me appreciate so much the skilled writing of the series and the way they are able to honor the characters and stay true to them while still delivering great, dynamic drama.  At the point we are at now, the show has drifted into complete camp, and really the only way to enjoy the eps is to just view them as camp, but I don’t want to do that.  I love these characters and I don’t want to laugh at the series, but I confess it’s happening and getting worse and worse with each passing ep of season eight.  Okay, let’s go ahead and dive right in so I can start to explain myself better.


                We open on Hackney.  I’d say that sentence just about says it all with my problems with this ep and this season.  Remember how fucking good those central storylines of seasons four through six were?  Remember how Ciji/Wolfbridge/Val’s Babies were able to form this nucleus of a major storyline going the whole season and involving pretty much the entire cast?  Well, think of how good those stories were and then imagine a story that is just as bad as those stories were good.  Clearly the creative team thought this Hackney nonsense would be a good central nucleus, just like Ciji, just like Wolfbridge, just like Val’s babies.  The problem is that the story is so stupid and so boring and so campy that it infects everything in its path and winds up taking up a massive TWENTY FUCKING FIVE EPS out of the season, leaving only the last five (which we haven’t gotten to yet) Hackney-free.  When a storyline is as good as Val’s babies, you want it to take a lot of time to unfold, you want it to span the whole season, you want to watch all the exciting developments that take place because of it.  When a storyline is as bad as Hackney, the exact opposite is true, so it feels like it’s going on forever and all I want is for it to end.

                So yeah, we open on Hackney.  What’s Hackney doing?  Well, she’s threatening Ben and delivering terrible dialogue and being a horrible actress and a horrible character.  The first line of dialogue in the ep is, “The only way out for you and your family…..is to assassinate Greg Sumner.”  I can barely even type the line of dialogue without simultaneously groaning in disgust, face palming, yet also finding myself peeing my pants with laughter.  If this was just a show I like but don’t love, like Dallas, I could probably roll with the camp and get a good laugh out of it, but I just can’t do it here.  That is just awful dialogue, I’m sorry, and it’s the first line of the ep, and it sets the tone for everything to follow.  To set the scene better, Hackney and Ben are standing outside of the car while Val, Lilimae, and the twins stay cooped up in the car, looking scared.  Lilimae asks if Ben’s having an affair and Val is just like, “No!” and sounds kinda annoyed, and I get that she’s scared and all, but is that not a reasonable question to ask?  Wasn’t Ben shagging Cathy less than a year ago?  Have the writers already forgotten about that?  Well, they may have, but I like to think Lilimae has not and that’s why she’s bringing it up.


                Speaking of Lilimae, let’s talk about that sad feeling I’ve been having and how it relates to Lilimae.  What a truly wonderful character and actress this is, and how I’ve so greatly enjoyed rewatching and appreciating all the different intricacies she’s brought to this character from seasons three through a fair enough chunk of season seven (about a half of the season, I'd say).  I think back on all these fabulous scenes, getting reacquainted with Val after years apart, her amazingly complex relationship with Chip Roberts, her finely honed performance when confronting Jonathan Rush for the first time, her despair at sitting with Joshua and listening to him recount his childhood full of abuse and neglect.  It’s become very clear to me through this rewatch that Julie Harris is easily the best actress to ever be on the series and yet, ever since Joshua fell off that roof, the writers have shuffled her into the background and given her next to nothing to do.  If she hadn’t been involved in the car accident with Olivia a few eps back, I really think she would have done nothing in this season.  She’s just been hanging around the house, making her Lilimae comments, having some dialogue here and there, but she hasn’t gotten anything substantial or juicy to work with since she lost her son, and it hurts me to watch this.  You have a brilliant actress like Julie Harris as a main cast member on your show and you’re gonna give her fucking nothing to do?  You would rather we shift our attentions over to Peter Hollister, who is becoming more and more sleep-inducing by the minute, or to J.B. falling off a cliff and hitting her head and going into a stupid Plot Contrivance Coma, rather than give Lilimae something interesting to do?  These people are not even main cast members, so why are they getting such substantial stories while Lilimae sits around doing nothing?  We are roughly twenty eps away from Lilimae leaving the show forever, and while I’ll of course be sad to say goodbye to her, I would honestly prefer it to having to watch her continue to be so underutilized.


                Speaking of underutilized, the writers recently remembered that Laura is a character on this series and made her pregnant.  Now, when I say, “made her pregnant,” what I really mean is that Constance got pregnant in real life and the writers were forced to bring it into the story.  I’m not complaining, by the way, because I’m pretty sure if Constance hadn’t gotten pregnant, Laura would be joining Lilimae in doing absolutely nothing for the entire season.  Half the season, she’s barely even been around, only functioning as a sounding-board for Greg or an occasional scene with Karen or Val, but now at least this pregnancy is giving her something to do.  Again, this is a main cast member who has been around since the very first ep, a character I love that we have watched grow and change and mature over the last seven years.  Even if I had some complaints about the latter portion of season seven, Laura was a consistent (you might even say constant; tee hee) highlight, delivering great wisecracks and inimitable eyerolls for all of us to enjoy.  This is a character the writers should be respecting; she’s been there since the beginning and she’s an important part of the fabric of the series.  As with Lilimae, we are fairly close to losing this character forever and I honestly don’t think I’m gonna mind because, if you’re gonna give her so little to do, it’s almost offensive to even have her on the show anymore.  By the way, while I’m glad that this pregnancy is giving her something to do, I still have problems with the story, problems that are popping up frequently at this stage in the game.  Once again, I feel the writers are just looking at the episode count for the season and saying, “Oh, shit, we’ve gotta fill 30 fucking weeks?”  So, similar to J.B. and her stupid Plot Contrivance Coma that lasted two or three eps and only existed to take up time, we now have Laura pregnant, Greg upset about it for a few eps, and then Greg getting over it and apologizing.  Nothing is really accomplished but the writers can take comfort in the fact that they filled a couple of eps up and are a little closer to the finish line for the season.


                Okay, so Laura got pregnant and then Greg said how that was not a good idea and he doesn’t want to have a kid, right?  Then he got especially cold and nasty on her and suggested she, “go back to the cul-de-sac,” which she did.  But then in this ep, Greg is walking around his ranch, he picks up a phone, and he calls Laura, only to be greeted by the answering machine.  Well, he immediately launches into a speech about how, “If you were here right now, I would hug you and kiss you and tell you I’m sorry and Bob Loblaw,” you get the picture.  Then a few scenes later, we see Laura checking the machine and we realize the message has been erased due to an unfunny joke from Daniel and Jason 4 (they recorded a message about how they’re going to take off in a space ship and it’s dumb) so Laura doesn’t hear what Greg had to say.  Okay, fine, whatever, but then a few minutes later, the cast is gathered at a Lotus Point party and Greg finds Laura and he apologizes and they decide to get back together.  Okay, so what was the purpose of breaking them up for a couple of eps?  To fill up time, obviously.  Now, in the hands of a writer with the deft pen of one mega-genius Peter Dunne, I’ll bet this could work brilliantly and help show different layers of complexity within Greg Sumner’s character, but Mr. Dunne is gone now and he’s not coming back and I can safely say that we are not in the hands of writers with as deft a pen as he, so something that could have potentially been interesting is, instead, just a time-filler.

                I will say a nice thing, although it might come off more as a backhanded compliment, and that is that Devane always manages to come out looking good no matter what the writers throw at him.  I’m not quite sure how he does it, but no matter how silly the silliness is going on around him, he’s a great actor and he, well, I’m not gonna say he makes it work, since it’s not working, but I’m just gonna say he doesn’t embarrass himself.  It’s kinda like how Michael Caine is a good enough actor that even though Jaws: The Revenge is clearly an absurd movie, he still manages to give a decent performance and not embarrass himself too much.  I’ll try to focus on this a little more in an upcoming ep in which Greg has to deliver some truly wretched dialogue but Devane still, somehow, manages to come out looking alright.


                I mentioned that Lotus Point party, and that’s because most of this ep is centered around it.  Again, I have nothing but complaints, and I’m yearning for the days of the show looking good, sounding good, having a great musical score, and looking like it had some money being pumped into it from behind the scenes.  Just like the Christmas party from a few eps back, whatever that ep was called, this party looks small and cheap, like they only hired the bare minimum of extras necessary to create the illusion that this is a social function.  Then you throw in the “music” that is playing throughout the party and God how I find myself yearning for Ciji/Cathy.  I miss her singing so much, I miss hearing real songs sung beautifully by a real singer, and I never miss it more than when we are listening to this public domain nothingness that blasts out to make the ears of all seven of the extras they hired to be at this broom closet party start bleeding profusely. 


                I’ll just rush through the proceedings real quick.  Basically, Ben seems to have decided and go ahead and kill Greg because, as he tells Val, “It’s the only way.”  As I’ve lamented in the distant past, Ben is not getting good material or good dialogue to work with, and some of the very worst is housed comfortably within Survival of the Fittest.  Here’s a little sample, in a scene of him yelling at Val: “Shut up!  Do not talk to anyone!  Do not call anyone!  Forget about your police! Forget about some white knight riding in here at the last minute to rescue us!  Nobody’s gonna write us a happy ending!”  The dialogue is so bad that I don’t even have the mental energy to ponder whether that “write us a happy ending” bit is supposed to be some sort of meta-joke or not.  Anyway, there’s another bad scene when they’re at the Lotus Point party and he’s hugging and kissing her and saying how he has to go kill Greg and Val is starting to cry and it’s just too silly for words. 

                There’s an ugly bald guy who starts trying to get Trumpy on Hackney, and at first we just think he’s some gross Trumpy rapey dude, but later we realize that he was a purposeful distraction, his job to keep her occupied long enough for Val and Lilimae and the twins to sneak out.  They manage to escape the party (either in this ep or the next one; don’t really remember and don’t really care enough to check), while Greg and Ben head to Sumner’s office for, you know, some reason.  By the time they get there, Hackney is stationed outside in her stupid van with her stupid headphones, so she’s listening into the conversation and hears as Ben pulls out a gun and tells Greg how he’s gonna have to kill him.  There’s a few minutes of “suspense” and then we hear a gunshot, though we don’t see it.   We end the ep on Hackney hearing the shot through her headphones, removing the headphones, and giving a little sigh, clearly assuming that Ben went through with his job as ordered.  Is Greg dead? Obviously not; he’s in the next six seasons all the way until the final ep, but even if I didn’t know that and was watching this in 1987, I’d know he wasn’t dead.  Did anyone in the world actually think he was while watching this first run?  If so, please alert me, because I can’t fathom it.  Once again, this is just something that can effectively take up space for another ep or two. 


                Other shit happens in this ep, but I’m already tired of talking about it, so I’ll just sorta zoom through.  Let’s look at my notes here, let’s see, hmmmm…..  Okay, looks like I added Cigar #26 to the Sumner Cigar Counter and I wrote, “In front yard of Ben + Val, but he doesn’t light it.”  I actually remember this well, because I asked My Beloved Grammy and Brother if I should count it in my notes if we don’t see it lit and they said yes, arguing that since Greg is very clearly about to light his cigar, and probably lights it right after the scene cuts away, it counts.  So, therefore, Cigar #26.  I also noted that Anne continues to chase after Mack; I’ll just save the discussion of that for a few eps down the line when it’s more central to the story.  Looks like I also wrote down a compliment about a scene of Gary and Olivia riding horses.  Ah, okay, yes, I remember this, and I know I’m grasping at straws here, but I do really like any and all of the Gary/Olivia stuff.  Olivia on coke is the highlight of this year and I enjoy any scene in which Gary and Olivia are together, riding horses and talking about her sobriety.  So there you go, one true, legitimate compliment for a very bad ep.


                Yup, that about does it.  We have to suffer through more Hackney as we continue through this disk, and it’s gonna be rough, but I promise you that we will be rid of her soon.  Anyway, now that we’re all in such major suspense about whether Greg is alive or dead, I guess we’d better move on to our next ep, In Mourning.   
               

4 comments:

  1. The next episode I believe has that painful sequence where Mac explains the whole Jean Hackney-Ben thing to Karen, but they didn't actually shoot a scene. They just show Mac's car on the road and you hear the two of them talking over the entire stupid thing. Dartboard Plotting.

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  2. This may be one of the cheapest, worst eps ever

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  3. Just like Gary on the beach finding Ciji dead, we still haven't hit rock bottom with this season yet. And to think, William Devane wrote this episode? I can't understand that at all.

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