Episode Title: Nightmare
Season 08, Episode 23
Episode 183 of 344
Directed by Bill Duke
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 5th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Jean's superior tells her she needs to kill Greg. Mack, Greg, and an agent find out that Jean and her associate are trying to kill Greg. Mack punches out Jean's superior, and he's arrested. Not knowing he's on to her, Jean invites Greg to her hotel room. Greg says he knows what she's up to and pulls a gun. Mack and the agent come in and arrest her. Mack explains to Karen that he couldn't tell Val that Ben was alive, because she would give it away. Val, hysterical about Ben, tries to buy a gun. Unsuccessful, she goes to the ranch and takes Gary's gun. Val breaks into Jean's store, and almost shoots a cleaning woman by accident. Gary finds her and brings her home. Ben walks in and they hug and kiss and cry. That night Ben dreams that Jean kills Val. Abby tells Jill, "Let the second Mrs. Ewing give the soon to be third Mrs. Ewing some advice. The first Mrs. Ewing doesn't go away - ever!" Gary and Jill decide to get married some other time.
Okay, here we go. All of our collective sphincters should be tightening up as we prepare to discuss Nightmare, because things are going to get very rough. We haven’t seen an ep this bad in a long, long time, and I’m already yearning for, say, A Turn of Events, in which J.B. falls off a cliff and they repeat the scene 700 times in flashbacks while Peter speeds his car along for 72 minutes. That ep looks like it was helmed by Stanley Fucking Kubrick when you put it up against this monstrosity, and the most awful part about it is that this ep is being directed by a genius who I love with all my heart and soul. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the swan song for one Bill “Cooke” Duke, a most fabulous actor and an even more fabulous director who has brought us so much joy throughout this time contributing to KL. The fact that his brilliant collection of eps, which began way back in season three with Power Play and has now spanned up through season six’s The Deluge, is going to finish up with Nightmare just hurts me deep down in my soul. It hurts me even more that has sorta been off the scene since The Deluge, not directing any eps from season seven, and that he now returns for one last ep and that the last ep he contributes is this. Before I start shitting all over this ep, let’s make sure to put things in perspective. Yes, this ep sucks and I’m sad that Bill “Cooke” Duke directed it, but he also directed nine other eps and I pretty much loved all of them. He has been one of my favorite directors of the series alongside trusted veteran Nicholas Sgarro, Nick Havinga, and, of course, the amazing and brilliant Larry Elikann. Rather than getting all upset that he directed this ep, let’s stay positive and remember he also gave us such stunning television accomplishments as Celebration, Forsaking All Others, and Out of the Past.
I don’t think anyone comes out looking good in this ep, but the worst of the worst has to be Val. I talked last ep about how J.V.A. says L & L turned her into “the village idiot” and that is absolutely true in every single scene of this ep. Also, J.V.A. is giving us a pretty terrible performance throughout all of this, but I don’t even know if I can blame her or even completely understand why the performance is so bad. We all saw season six and we all know the stunning range and depths of emotion that J.V.A. can display when she’s under the guided hand of an amazing writer and producer like Peter Dunne. What I think is happening here is that J.V.A. is being handed shit by the writers and then having to figure out how to make it work, and she’s simply not able to. I’m not even judging her for it; I don’t know if anyone could make this wretched dialogue sound good. To set the stage, our very first scene of the ep is Val and Lilimae talking at the house and Val is all upset because Greg Sumner came back from the dead at the end of the last ep but there was still no sign of Ben. She is now convinced that Ben is dead, and as she talks to Lilimae, she raises her voice all loud and she’s way over-the-top as she screams, “SHE TOLD ME SHE WAS GOING TO DO IT AND SHE DID IT! SHE STOOD RIGHT THERE AND SHE DID IT IN GREG SUMNER’S OFFICE!” When Lilimae asks who Val is talking about, Val continues to scream, “JEAN HACKNEY, THAT’S WHO! I COULD HAVE STOPPED HER, BUT I DIDN’T! I DIDN’T EVEN RAISE A HAND! I COULD HAVE STOPPED HER, I COULD HAVE…” Then there’s a short pause where we all hope Val will stop screaming, but she instead doubles down with a total Nancy Kerrigan, shrieking, “WHY DIDN’T I STOP HER, WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!” Oof, it’s bad, but it only gets worse.
Now that Val is convinced Ben is dead (Spoiler Alert: He’s not; the writers are just using the same lazy “Is this character dead or not?” device that they used one episode ago with Sumner), she decides she needs to get a gun pronto. Her first stop is a gun shop, and this is actually one scene that I didn’t have a problem with, and let me tell you why. We’re all watching this together (My Beloved Grammy, Brother, and myself, I remind you) and Val comes in to get her gun, and then I said how I don’t think Val should be able to get a gun because you need to wait two weeks or whatever. My Beloved Grammy said how she doesn’t know the rules about buying guns, and then Brother jumped in by quoting Dick Miller in Terminator and saying, “There’s a fifteen day wait on the handguns, but the rifles you can take right now.” Then a second later, the clerk says how she has to wait fifteen days, that’s the law, that the law exists to keep people from getting all angry and running out to buy a gun, but Val doesn’t wanna hear it and just storms out of the gunshop and says never mind. So yeah, this scene wasn’t that bad mostly because at least it adheres to reality and doesn’t let her just get a gun immediately.
Oh no, wait, this scene is that bad and I almost forgot to bring it up except that I have it pulled up on the old computer as I’m typing this and I’m watching the scene again and, yup, surely enough there’s something stupid in this scene. Right after Val tells the clerk that she wants to buy a handgun, we then do a dissolve to a flashback of her in Ben’s arms at that cheap Lotus Point broom closet party from Survival of the Fittest and we again see him kissing her and saying, “You take care of those children!” while she cries and says, “Please don’t do this.” This scene was stupid back in that ep, so why show it again? We get it, we’ve been watching the show, we know why Val wants to buy a gun, and we don’t need to have a flashback to that stupid scene shoved into the middle of this gun shop scene. However, this scene is high art compared to what’s to come.
Next up, Val hits Mack’s office, not expecting to run into J.B., who’s burning the midnight oils in her own office. The beginning portion of this scene functions to remind us that Gary and J.B. are going to get married, because J.B. tells Val how she and Gary are heading off to Lake Tahoe soon to get hitched (great place to get married, by the way, and if I ever decide to get gay married, I’d probably go do it there). Then Val has another facepalm moment where she’s like, “Aren’t you a little afraid being up here all alone on night? With all the things you and Mack do, with all the criminals you deal with, must make you kinda nervous. I know it would me, but I’m sure you keep a gun up here for protection.” In writing the dialogue out like that, it’s impossible to convey how hysterically funny J.V.A.’s acting here is, because she’s clearly trying to sound casual with, “Aren’t you a little afraid…” etc., but then as she says, “but I’m sure you keep a gun up here for protection,” her eyes get all wide and she cranes her neck up and over in another direction, essentially announcing to J.B. that she’s here snooping for a gun. J.B. just has to be watching this crazy woman prowl around the office and be thinking to herself how much better a wife she’s gonna make for Gary than this deranged chick.
But wait, there’s more. Val is not to be deterred, so her next stop is a late night convenience store, very 7-Eleven style. She grabs, oh, something off the shelf, and then she goes up to the register and the guy says how much she owes him, and then, I kid you not, Val whispers, “I’ll give you two hundred dollars for the gun that you have in that drawer right there. I know that you people keep guns there.” The clerk doesn’t like this and says how she’d better leave or he’s gonna call the police, but Val then ups her offer to 250 dollars. It’s only after the clerk picks up the phone and puts it to his ear that Val decides to stop embarrassing herself and take a hike. Oh my, how this scene made us laugh. This is another instance where I was able to have a nice time and enjoy watching because I was enjoying making fun of it with My Beloved Grammy and Brother, but when I gave it another look all by myself in order to prepare for this essay, it just made me feel sad and embarrassed for Val and embarrassed for J.V.A. for having to perform this scene and have it broadcast for all the viewers in 1987.
But she’s still not done. Next up, she hits Westfork to pay Gary a visit and act like she wants to talk about his engagement, but really she’s after his gun, which we learn Gary inherited from his grandfather (I did kinda like that little detail; Gary is a peace-lover and I don’t see him as the type that would want to be packing heat). I will say that I appreciate the fact that Gary can clearly tell something is wrong with Val. She’s acting like a fucking lunatic, of course, but the writing is so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if she hyperventilated and paced around in front of Gary and he didn’t even notice. Fortunately, Gary points out how weird she’s acting and says, “Right now, this moment, I’m concerned for you.” Then Val says how if both she and Ben were to die, she would want Gary to raise Bobby and Betsy. Then the scene explodes to new levels of high camp, because Val goes into Gary’s bedroom and just starts…..trashing it? She’s looking for a gun, but it’s just bizarre, because the first thing she does it fling open a drawer (which kinda makes sense), but then the next things she does is pull up all the covers on Gary’s bed. Huh? Does she really think the gun is just, like….under the blankets? Does Gary sleep with a gun under his pillow like James Bond? Also, why is she making such a fucking mess? We’re supposed to think she’s just kinda nutty from all the stress and worrying about Ben, but it comes off like complete absurdity. Surely this silliness is over after this scene, right?
Wrong. Val manages to find Gary’s gun and she hits the road for Hackney’s dress shop. Again, it’s like the creative team is trying as hard as possible to make this as campy as possible, because we have this ultra-dramatic music playing as Val parks her car, then we get another dissolve flashback to Hackney threatening Val, and then, brace yourself, we hear Val’s inner monologue as she says, “I won’t let her get away with this; I won’t let her do it.” Oh dear God, no. Actually, the inner monologue begins even before the stupid little flashback, as we see shots of the car driving and hear Val saying, “I love you, Ben. I won’t let her do this to us. She can’t do this to our family!” Who thought this was a good idea? In what world is a big group of staff writers and showrunners sitting around and somebody says, “This scene would really be good if we pipe in some terrible inner-monologue dramatic dialogue while Val drives!” But, God help us, and I know I keep saying this, but Val’s still not done.
Next up, Val slips into Hackney’s stupid little dress shop, it’s all dark and there are mannequins everywhere, and she makes her way into the office, where she finds a woman with her back to her, the woman bent over the office desk. Well, Val’s got the gun in hand and she’s ready to go, ready to blow away this woman she assumes is Hackney. Well, I’m sure you’re all not surprised at all to learn that this is not Hackney, but rather some innocent cleaning woman who just wants to get her work done (what fucking time is it even supposed to be right now? Isn’t it like midnight? Why is this cleaning woman working so late?). The cleaning woman would be suffering an exploding head like Tom Savini in Maniac were it not for the intervention of Gary, who comes powering into the scene to wrestle the gun out of Val’s hands. Then they leave together and, well, that’s it. I do wonder what ends up happening to this nameless, lineless cleaning woman. Do you think she just continues cleaning and going about her life? Do you think she reports this crazy woman with a gun to her bosses? This is a situation where something happens and then the characters just walk away and I’m like, “But, wait….what happens to the cleaning woman?”
Do you realize I’ve been going on for fucking ever about how stupid this ep is and yet I’ve only talked about the Val portions of it? All of those scenes are so bad that they would be the worst aspects of any other ep, but in Nightmare, they are but one facet of the ep’s extreme badness. Let’s move on over to Mack and Karen and Sumner and, of course, the main character of the series at this point, Hackney. Things are finally starting to wrap up in the Hackney storyline with this ep, thank Christ, but my God is it stupid. We catch up with Mack when he attacks Hackney’s co-conspirator or boss or whatever in a parking garage. It’s all part of Mack’s epic plan to make this storyline stop, I suppose, because as the scene begins, this car is getting towed and then the Hackney boss guy is like, “Hey, don’t tow my car,” and Mack starts screaming at him about how he parked in a handicapped zone and he doesn’t like it. Then the guy says, “I’m not handicapped,” and Mack, brace yourself, punches him in the stomach and says, “You are now!” in a line that sounds a lot like bad A.D.R. Oh God, no, what a horrible line, the kind of line I would love if you had Arnold deliver it in a good piece of cheese like Commando but that makes me throw up in my mouth when watching this series. Holy shit, what terrible dialogue, and even the staging of the scene looks stingy and cheap and badly choreographed.
At the same time, Greg is drinking Zombies, which I had never heard, so I looked them up and discovered it’s a classic cocktail from like 1934 that consists of fruit juices, liqueurs, and lots of rum. I was briefly tempted to try one of these, but don’t think I will, as rum is one of my least favorite types of alcohol (I’m a vodka guy), so I highly doubt I would enjoy the taste. So yeah, Greg is drinking zombies at a fancy hotel with, you guessed it, Hackney. If I remember correctly, the scene starts with him and Peter talking about, you know, something boring involving Peter, and then Hackney shows up and Greg is like, “Take a hike, Peter,” echoing the overall sentiments of me at this point as far as Peter’s involvement in the series. Then he and Hackney sit and exchange bad dialogue I’m not gonna bother to remember and sip Zombies, all happening concurrently with other scenes involving Mack and Karen and, of course, other scenes involving Val.
Karen has been fretting and ringing her hands a lot because she’s feeling left out, like she doesn’t know what the hell is going on with this story (she’s not alone). Mack is evasive when she tries to get answers out of him, but finally Karen has had enough of being ignored and so, when Mack arrives home and then receives a phonecall and immediately goes running out of the house again, Karen chases after him and announces, “I’m coming with you,” which I have so very many problems with. There’s no way that Mack would allow Karen to come with him on this dangerous mission; I know my Mack and I’ve known him well since season four and I know he wouldn’t just let Karen hop in the car and ride with him to go bust some bad guy (or bad girl, in this case). What Mack would really do if they were writing true to character is he’d get all firm with Karen and maybe put his arms on her shoulders and say how this is very important and he’ll tell her all about it in a few hours but he needs her to trust him and leave him alone. The real reason this is here is so that we can have an unbelievably terrible scene in which Karen and Mack drive around while Mack takes a big exposition dump all over the viewing audience.
Look, I get that this story has been going on forever (TWENTY THREE EPISODES!!!) and it’s long and stupid and confusing, and I get that the writers probably wanted to get viewers up to speed if they were confused, but this is not the way to do it. We begin the scene with a shot of the car driving and bad A.D.R. from Karen going, “I just don’t know how Ben could have considered such a thing!” Then we cut to inside of the car so that Mack can recap the entire season. I’d type all the dialogue out, but I don’t want to, because it’s awful, and typing the words out might make my fingers bleed (my ears are already bleeding as I re-listen to the speech while writing this essay). Basically he just explains, complete with a lot of clips from previous eps throughout the season, all the shit that’s been going down, starting with, “Ben didn’t want to kill Sumner; we had it planned for Ben and his family to escape and Sumner blew it by showing up at the club opening.” This scene goes on for over three minutes and is just oozing with clip show style footage from prior eps and awful A.D.R. from Karen and Mack. I’m embarrassed for The Dobsonator for having to deliver the dialogue, and as I listen to the A.D.R., I can just imagine him standing in the recording booth with those big headphones on and looking at the lines he needs to read and being like, “Really?”
I’m gonna get bold. This is the worst scene we have ever seen on the entire series. There are so many better ways to keep an audience up to date on a long running storyline. L&L and the creative team should have busted out their notebooks and given a really close look to seasons four, five, and six, and studied the way those years managed to balance long, complicated arcs throughout the year without becoming confusing. Having watched those brilliant years of television very recently, I can tell you I don’t recall any scenes of characters hopping into cars to deliver over three minutes of exposition to the audience through bad A.D.R. and clips of old scenes. Ugh ugh ugh, this is just the worst, and it was actually during this atrocious abomination of a scene that My Beloved Grammy opined, “This definitely feels much more like a daytime soap,” and I told her of course I agree. This kind of shitty storytelling might fly on General Hospital, but KL is a classier affair and the writing has never stooped this low before. So yeah, truly awful, and yeah, the worst scene we have ever watched in nearly eight years and nearly 200 eps.
Let’s speed along here so I can be done talking about this piece of crap. Greg has been sipping Zombies (double Zombies, if I’m not mistaken) with Hackney for awhile, and then she says how she’s in room 444 and what an easy room number that is to remember and she departs. Greg follows after her and finds her in the hotel room, having slipped into something more comfortable, her legs spread open and waiting for Greg’s penis to enter her. Actually, she’s obviously going to try to kill Greg, but I do wonder if she intended to shag him first before killing him, kinda like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or those spiders that eat their mates after sex. I bring this up because the two do a whole lot of kissing and heavy petting before the camera pans underneath her pillow to show that she’s got a knife waiting there. After Greg starts to, you guessed it, spit out expository dialogue (“That body you followed out to the ranch wasn’t me; I went to the airport, but I didn’t take Ben’s escape route”), Hackney whips out her little knife and, I guess, tries to attack Greg in a very badly staged sequence. Then, and I can barely type this out without groaning, Greg pulls out a gun and says, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but I wasn’t that glad to see you; that was a pistol in my pocket.” Oh dear God, no, and even though Devane is weirdly good at delivering pretty much any dialogue, no matter how terrible, and even though he actually does find a way to come out of this scene relatively unscathed, this is still awful. Anyway, then the good guys bust in and take Hackney away and, well, that’s about it. Oh yeah, Greg also throws in some dialogue about how Hackney’s evil buddies have all been neutralized, but nobody could possibly even care at this point.
All pretty campy and terrible, huh? And yet, God help us, there’s still one more part, a scene that I can’t believe I had forgotten about, because it’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s the very ending of the ep. Now that we’ve learned Ben is alive and well (we were all in such suspense), our final scene starts with Ben and Val in bed together, a bright new sunshiny day, and Ben declaring that he’s going to tidy up the garage. Really stupid “happy” music plays over the soundtrack as Ben declares that he’s going to take a shower and hops out of bed. A second later, who should come walking into the bedroom? Why, it’s Hackney, a pistol in hand, and she shoots Val three times. We get a quick shot of a bullet ridden Val (meaning a couple of red spots on her robe), then a very dramatic, Anakin Skywalker-esque “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” from Ben, and then of course he comes snapping awake because, duh, this was a nightmare (ooooh, just like the title of the ep, isn’t that clever?). Then the ep ends there. Oh boy. Here’s another scene that, when I watch it all by myself, I’m just kinda embarrassed for everyone involved and it makes me sad, but when watching with My Beloved Grammy, it was a laugh riot. We all almost peed our pants at this; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen My Beloved Grammy laugh so hard. In terms of scenes of high camp, this is maybe #1 out of everything we’ve seen so far. “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIVES” looks as subtle and understated as Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part II when put up against this Hackney shooting nightmare.
Oh God, there’s just nothing good about this storyline or the way they wrap it up. In fact, I wanna talk about that, because I didn’t realize when we started this ep that it would basically finish up the Hackney stuff. See, early in the season I did a peek at her IMDb to see how many eps we’d have to suffer through looking at her and I saw her last appearance was in the 25th ep of the season, and this is the 23rd. That’s accurate, but all we get of her in the next two eps is quick flashes where Ben thinks he sees her and then it’ll turn out to be someone else, you know what I mean? For all intents and purposes, this finishes Hackney’s time on the show, and I’m happy about that, yet it’s still awkward and badly done. It’s also weird how they finish this up and we’ve still got seven more eps to go in the season. Now, by no means did I want Hackney to span all the way to episode thirty of the season, so I’m grateful we at least get to finish up with her here, but then it’s also awkward, its placement in the series bizarre. In fact, a little later, I mentioned to Brother how we have one more disk in the season and he was very confused and said he thought these eps were the end of the season, as the Hackney stuff gets all wrapped up. I told him no, that there’s still five more eps (please God let them be better than this). So, the Hackney storyline somehow manages to span on wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too long while also simultaneously wrapping up way too abruptly and fast. It’s just fucked in every way imaginable.
Now brace yourselves, because after all my bitching and moaning, there is one good thing in this ep, maybe I would even go so far as to call it a great thing. It’s small, just one line of dialogue, but it’s a classic exchange all KL fans should remember. It occurs in a scene between Abs and J.B., in which Abs has stopped by Westfork to pick up some of her stuff. She and J.B. have a little chat and Abs is sharp enough to figure out that Gary has rushed off to go help Val with something, so she says the classic line, which is, “Jill, let the second Mrs. Ewing give the soon-to-be-third Mrs. Ewing a friendly warning. The first Mrs. Ewing doesn’t go away, ever.” Yeah, I do love this line and it’s definitely a classic, but it’s a line that takes up maybe ten seconds out of a 48 minute ep; is that enough to give Nightmare a pass? Um, no.
Time for my concluding thoughts, and as I sit here staring at my computer and typing, I find myself asking the difficult question: Is this indeed the very worst ep of KL we’ve ever watched or even, possib ly, the very worst ep of KL ever made? My faithful readers may recall that season three’s Silver Shadows is my current vote for worst ep, and yet I think this one is possibly worse. I did some serious chewing on this and thought about the two eps side by side and I realized that a lot of my rage against Silver Shadows came from its placement in the season, from being sandwiched in-between two very good eps, Best Intentions and Letting Go, for interrupting that flow for a boring, shitty ep about Abs and some old guy and his stupid butler. But, in terms of simple competency and writing, I think if I just took a look at Silver Shadows all by itself and without the context of the eps around it, it might not be so bad, whereas Nightmare……aye yai yai yai yai. You know what, who am I kidding by even having this debate? This is obviously worse than Silver Shadows because nearly every second is terrible. It’s Hackney heavy, has that awful scene with Karen and Mack and the exposition dump montage, has nearly 500 scenes of Val being stupid, and then ends with an unbelievably corny and campy dream sequence. Not only that, but it soils Bill “Cooke” Duke’s legacy. This Green Beret who gave us nine stunning eps of television finishes his KL legacy with this turd, and that makes me sad, though I also don’t blame him. This is television, not film, and I know the directors aren’t nearly as in control with standard network TV as they are with their own films. In this case, I’m sure he got the job and was handed the script he had to direct and was like, “Well, this is clearly terrible,” and then just did the best he could. The show has morphed into something much cheaper and crappier in the gap between Duke’s last ep and this one, so I imagine he didn’t have the same artistic resources he may have had when working in the glory years of seasons four through six.
So yes, Nightmare is, of the first 183 eps of the series, the worst of them all. I really think it might remain the worst ep of all time when all is said and done, and I truly hope this is our rock bottom and that the series never gets worse than this. I like to think this ep is Gary’s season four bender and everything after this bottoming out with be an upward swing. Certainly I can tell you that our next two eps, while not great, were a huge improvement over this. So let’s be positive and assume that things are going to get better, shall we?
Next up, we mercifully start to move away from all this Hackney nonsense and focus on some characters I actually like and care about with Neighborly Conduct.