Thursday, January 16, 2020


Episode Title: Parental Guidance

Season 08, Episode 28

Episode 188 of 344

Directed by Nick Havinga

Original Airdate: Thursday, April 30th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura has a baby girl - 8lbs, 3 oz! Anne goes back East. Mack asks Greg if he could be Paige's father, but Greg insists he never slept with Anne. Jill intercepts Olivia's letter for Peter and burns it. Paige thinks she and Peter are getting married. Peter tells Abby that he'd rather marry her. Abby tells him to dump Paige. After he does, Abby tells Peter to take a hike. Mack and Karen tell Paige that Greg may be her father. Crying, she says Anne was just being vindictive, but thinks this is why Peter broke it off with her. Ben tells Val that his obsession is ruining the family, and she thinks he has come back to his senses. Ben makes plans to leave the country, but tells Val he got a job in South America. Ben asks Mack to keep an eye on the family, and tells Gary that he's glad that the twins have him as security, in case something should ever happen to him. Ben leaves for his "job" in a taxi, but one gets the feeling he is really leaving forever.

                When we last left off, Anne had been humiliated via Mack and his invitation to dinner and his “Kiss the Cook” apron.  Spurned, Anne announced she would be returning to New York or wherever and then also threw a plot twist our way by telling Mack that Anne is Greg Sumner’s daughter.  Hmmm, is that true?  We shall explore this question a bit more as we discuss Parental Guidance.

                Actually, in truth we don’t explore this question all that much this ep, although it does come up.  Mostly it seems like the writers want to draw this mystery out a little longer, keep it going over the summer and not resolve it until we get started with the ninth season.  For the purposes of this ep, we have some footage of Mack wrestling with his feelings on how Anne was such a manipulative liar (“The more I spend time with Anne, the more I feel I don’t know her at all,” he opines in a scene that I have already forgotten about but which I put down in my notes as, “Good acting from The Dobsonator”).  Also, we get a little bit in which Karen and Mack try to tell Paige that she ain’t Mack’s daughter, but she’s having none of it.  Paige is more familiar with her mother’s manipulations and can see right through this little charade.  She tells Mack that Anne only invented this little bit of information after she got burned by him, that it was self-defense and nothing more.  That’s about all we get for this storyline this ep, and I do have to admit that while there’s nothing wrong with this story, it’s not really compelling me in any special way.  Is it because of my 20/20 hindsight vision and the fact that I know how this is going to turn out?  That’s a possibility, but I also think this just isn’t a particularly exciting story.  MBG seems to find it compelling, however, and she started talking about how she isn’t sure who the real father is, that this is a good plot twist and all that, but I think I disagree.  Mostly it’s the fact that Paige has only been on the show for a year and yet we’ve already seen so many examples of her being used as a plot function.  She’s introduced and the first mystery is, “Is she really Mack’s daughter?”  Then after we got past that, we saw the Paige Matheson headstone and the mystery became, “Is Paige actually dead and this girl is just an imposter?”  Now that we’ve added Anne into the equation and then sent her packing (for a few years), we are now faced with the new mystery of, “Who is Paige’s real father?”  I remember really liking the Paige character a lot and I have the feeling that I will still like her once we move a little further away from this year and she’s become more established, but I have to say the season eight Paige is not really doing it for me the way I remembered.  Part of it is the fact that she shows up to the series and immediately starts getting so much attention and so many stories built around her, while at the same time old veterans I love like Laura and Lilimae are getting absolutely nothing to do.  Part of it is that I just want this character to be; I want to get nice and settled on who Paige Matheson is and what she’s like and what makes up her core and then let her go about having her stories from there.  Instead, the writers throughout this year have been so eager to keep her shrouded in mystery, her true origins always cloudy or unknown, and it’s just getting old at this point.

                Hey, I just mentioned Laura and how she’s got nothing to do and, wouldn’t you know it, she actually kinda sorta does have something to do this ep.  Now, before you get too excited, I should mention that Laura’s entire story pretty much remains offscreen this week; in fact, off the top of the head, before doing any research to confirm, I have the suspicious feeling that Laura doesn’t even actually show her face this ep, that rather we just get a lot of offscreen Laura being mentioned by other characters.  I just took a quick look at the (probably wildly inaccurate) IMDb page for this episode and Constance is credited just like normal, none of that “(credit only)” business like they sometimes do.  However, I’ve got the ep pulled up in front of my on my computer and I can definitely confirm that Laura is nowhere to be seen during the biggest announcement of the ep, which is that she has given birth yet again.  Seriously, this is awkwardly done, because we start the scene with Mack in the bathroom (he’s just standing at the sink in his robe, not taking a shit or anything like that) and then the phone rings and we cut to Sumner on the other end, standing in a hospital and looking proud while that bad music I’m always complaining about this year plays over the soundtrack.  As soon as Mack answers, Greg is all enthused and is like, “Laura just had a little girl!”  Oh yeah, and a little later we get to add Cigar #28 to the Sumner Cigar Counter (in a scene on his ranch in which he’s talking with Mack).  

I’m happy for Laura for having this little girl (and for finally getting a girl after the double whammy of boys that was Jason 4 and Daniel), but Jesus, couldn’t we have at least seen….something?  This feels like footage was chopped out for syndication, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it, since I watched the ep via my DVDs and then again via my top secret internet measures, in which the eps are all original broadcast versions.  It’s just odd how we don’t get any footage of Laura going into labor, or making the journey to the hospital, or doing the whole “Push push” thing that’s so popular amongst women giving birth; we get none of that.  Instead, we just have Greg making a phonecall, in a static and boring shot of him standing in a hallway in which it appears the director (this week it’s Nick Havinga, who has done some very fine work for us in the past) decided to just plop the camera on a tripod and let the filming commence.  The fact that Laura is so disrespected by the writers at this point that they can’t even bother to give us some small bit of footage of her giving birth just shows that this character is better off retired.  I think I might have said something like this before, but fuck it, here it comes again.  Understand that when I say Laura is better off retired, it doesn’t mean I don’t love the character, because of course I love this character, and I have since the Pilot.  But we will be losing Laura very soon, just a few eps into season nine, and right now I think that’s the right decision, because why bother having her in the show, in those scrolling squares, a main cast member who’s been around since 1979, if you’re not gonna give her anything to work with?  I again remind you that neither J.B. nor Peter (nor Paige, for that matter) are main cast members right now; they are also credited as guest stars or recurring or whatever, and yet they get major, significant storylines that span all year, so why is Laura sitting off on the sidelines?  It seems disrespectful to the character, but it also reeks of the writers not even wanting to write this much for her.  I definitely get the sense that Constance got pregnant in real life (which I already knew, but I even went and double checked and confirmed that she gave birth to Marguerite Weisman on February 25th, 1987) and the writers just had to scramble to write this pregnancy into the story.  You get the sense that they just don’t care, that they’re maybe even resentful at the real life Constance for having the gall to get pregnant yet again (remember she was pregnant in real life the last time Laura had a baby on the show).  In my memories, this pregnancy and the baby and what winds up happening with the baby over the next six years provide us with great material and tons of exciting stories, but at this exact moment, only focusing in on this eighth season and how Laura’s pregnancy has been handled, it kinda sucks.  Laura’s an original series cast member and she’s a very interesting and funny character and she deserves more respect.

    We get an interesting bit of business between Olivia and Abs early in the ep.  If you’ll recall, our last ep showed Olivia catching a towel-clad Paige romping around Peter’s apartment, and that’s got her all upset now, so she shows up at the start of this ep to her new house with Abs (if I haven’t mentioned it yet; the two have now settled in a fabulous new place which I believe they will inhabit for the rest of Abby’s time on the series), all upset and distraught.  Abs asks her what’s wrong and then Olivia pulls a joint out of her purse and hands it to Abs.  She’s all crying and tells Abs how she wasn’t going to smoke it and doesn’t even know why she got it in the first place, and Abs says it’s okay.  I like that, by the way.  I like that Olivia stumbled and went and bought the joint but now she’s giving it to Abs and being direct with her, and I like that Abs doesn’t get mad at her because of it.  Also, even though I support Olivia’s path to sobriety and all that, I kinda like to imagine that as soon as Olivia gets to bed, Abs is gonna call up a boy and have him over to blaze up the doobie and hop in the hot tub together for a nice stoned shag. 

I gotta say, as we are moving closer and closer to our season finale and the end of our discussions of season eight, Olivia is really coming out smelling like a rose this year.  It seems that no matter what’s going on in the series around her, Olivia always delivers, proving my point once again that Tonya Crowe was a very underrated little actress.  I’ve loved watching her grow from the little nine year old girl she was when first introduced and start to become a much more important part of the series.  This year they gave her the big cocaine storyline to work with and I thought she did great, and I still think she’s great right here, even in a small scene like giving the joint to Abs.  I always believe in Olivia as a real person and I like that she’s allowed to be flawed and sometimes a little brat, but there’s a certain core goodness to her.  A lot of the stories this season have been wildly problematic, but Olivia has looked good the whole way through.

You know that whole letter that Sylvia wrote and that she wanted to be given to, you know, somebody or other in the event of her death?  Well, I’m not compelled by this plot arc either, but it’s still here and we’re still dealing with it.  Last ep, Olivia got angry and mailed that letter to Gary, information she volunteers to Abs in this ep.  As soon as she hears this, Abs kicks into action, calling Gary up and saying how Olivia was so upset and all that, and then she makes up a fib right and quick by telling him that Olivia wrote an angry letter and mailed it to him, but she regrets it and doesn’t want him to see it.  She suggests that Gary send the letter back to her and she’ll tell Olivia she destroyed it, to which Gary agrees, although I do have to question this.  As I’m watching this play out, I feel two ways.  I continue to marvel at Abby’s ability to swoop in and clean up a situation with some lies, but I also question whether these lies would still work on Gary.  After three years of marriage and another year or so before that in which they were shagging a lot, I’d think Gary would be able to recognize Abby’s manipulations when they come his way.  I’m not so sure I believe he would just believe Abs about this letter and agree to send it back; he’s seen her work before and he knows how she operates, how she’s able to talk in a way that sounds so gentle and genuine, even when every word she says is dripping with falsities.  At the same time, I can see how complicated these things are, that their long marriage would make Gary familiar with Abby’s lies but also with her moments of honesty, those times when she lets her guard down and just speaks the naked truth.  

In any case, Gary never sees the letter because J.B. gets word of its impending arrival and nicely takes care of it.  She shares a short flirtation with Gary, something about going off to sunny Acapulco to shag a lot, and then as soon as he vacates the room, she grabs the stack of mail and goes through it, finding nothing.  Fortunately, a little later the letter arrives and J.B. throws it right in the fireplace, making me wish I had a fireplace of my own.  In fact, since this story isn’t all that interesting, let’s just take a detour and talk about how great fireplaces are and how I wish they were still standard in all houses.  How amazing is it to just light a total fire and have a fire blazing inside of your home, but nicely self-contained in this little area made just specifically for the purposes of having a fire?  And why is the heat from a real, true fire so much better than the heat you get just by pushing a button and turning it on?  And why are fires so unbelievably romantic?  Why is making sweet love in front of the fireplace just so unbelievably appealing?  Finally, how awesome would it be to have a fireplace that you can just throw paper into whenever you feel like it?  If I had a fireplace, I would burn all my mail just for the sheer joy of it.

Let’s talk about Ben and then we’ll wrap it up.  Ben is achingly close to leaving the series forever, and in fact, this ep marks his penultimate appearance.  Watching it, I actually thought this might wind up being his very final appearance, because it sure feels that way, but he gets one small scene over the phone in our next ep, so that’s the truly last appearance.  Anyway, as we catch up at Val’s house this week, we see that Ben is becoming more and more unhinged, more and more of a paranoid maniac.  Sure, things looked bad when he was attacking Lilimae and nearly breaking her neck in the middle of the night, but I’d say they’re looking worse now.  Things kick off when the ever popular ice cream man comes rolling up to Seaview Circle and Lilimae gets ready to head out with the kids.  Val tells her to pick up a pint of ice cream for the grown ups later, making me wonder why Val doesn’t just walk the five steps required to go out to the ice cream truck alongside her mother and children, but whatever.  As soon as Lilimae opens the door, Ben appears at the top of stairs screaming and throwing a hissy fit, saying how it’s insane to think the kids can go outside, questioning whether anyone is listening to him, going on and on about all the planning they’ve been doing, and so on and so forth.  After a moment, he sorta snaps back and starts rubbing his forehead and going on about how weird he’s acting, then he takes the kids outside to get their ice cream.

Throughout the rest of the ep, we get a lot of Ben telling Val how he’s getting back to work, how he needs to get back to work “working for a crusty old alcoholic journalist” and not working with Abby or Gary or whoever.  Val is very pleased to hear this news, but I think us viewers should all be getting that sinking feeling in the pits of our stomach.  We all remember how Richard made his evacuation from the series, and this has a familiar ring to it.  Similar to Richard’s M.O., Ben acts casual about how he’s gonna have to go off to somewhere far away (I think South America again, but I wasn’t paying that much attention) and it’s no big deal, but then when he gets private moments with characters like Mack or Gary, he somewhat shows his hand.  In the case of Gary, he goes on about how it’s good to know Gary’s around in case something bad ever happens to him, that Gary will be around to take care of Val and the kids.  Really, this feels like Ben giving permission to Gary, that he’s admitting that Gary is Val’s true soul mate and the one she belongs with.

Our final scene of the ep brings us even stronger flashbacks to Richard’s final moments on the show, as Val walks Ben out to the curb and helps him climb into the cab and drive away.  They hug and Ben says how he’ll call her every night at nine, and she’s being all nice and supportive and everything seems nice, but when Ben gets in the cab and begins to depart, we hold on his face and we all realize what’s going on.  Ben is blowing town and he’s never coming back.  Now, if this was really Ben’s truly final appearance, I’d start going on about how great Douglas Sheehan was in this role and how much I’m gonna miss him and what qualities Ben brought to the table over the course of his four years, but we still have one more teeny tiny appearance from him next ep, so I’ll save my thoughts until then.

I’d say that’s about all I’ve got to discuss with Parental Guidance.  Overall, it was pretty good.  With these last few eps of season eight, I find myself enjoying them much more than I enjoyed anything that was going on concurrently with Hackney running around and spraying diarrhea all over the series, but I still think these eps are a little weak, a little lighter and fluffier.  I think the show is improving itself as we get closer to season nine, but I also think the season has been so inconsistent that it’s hard for me to get too excited about these eps, even if they are significantly better than most of what we’ve been given throughout this last year.  I think it will be easier to lighten up when we start season nine, a whole fresh year of television, and I can just officially leave all my traumatic memories of Hackney in the past. 
Okay, we've got a mere two eps left to go before we finish this year, so let's move right along to an episode with a very long title, Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 187 of 344: BREAKUP

Episode Title: Breakup

Season 08, Episode 27

Episode 187 of 344

Directed by Joe Coppoletta  

Original Airdate: Thursday, April 9th, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Peter pressures Olivia for the letter. Abby sees them kissing and is furious. Greg tells Abby that he is only after Olivia's letter. Olivia stops by Peter's, but when she sees Paige there, she sends the letter to Gary. Ben, thinking Val is Jean, freaks out. She thinks he is hallucinating from lack of sleep. Home again, Anne milks Mack's guilt over her suicide attempt. Anne tells Karen on the phone that she did it to bring Mack to his senses, that Mack is only with Karen out of obligation, and will never be happy in their little tract house on a dead end street with its barbecues and "Kiss the Cook" aprons. Mack overhears this. Mack invites Anne to dinner. He puts on his "Kiss the Cook" apron, and barbecues, while telling Karen how much he loves their life and home. Anne yells at him for insulting her. He yells that she insulted Karen. He says that he loves Karen, and not her. Furious, Anne tells him that he is not Paige's father - Greg is!more

                Welcome back and let us now discuss Breakup, which is aptly titled because this is when the bottom finally falls out on Mack and Anne having any sort of relationship.  After this ep, Anne is going to disappear for awhile, and we won’t be seeing her again until somewhere in the eleventh season, aside from a brief one-off appearance somewhere in season ten.  What leads Anne to take a hike for the next two years or so?  Read on.

                We all know that Anne only pretended to try and kill herself as a crass move to gain Mack’s affections.  The only person who hasn’t figured this out as of late is Mack himself, who we find doting on Anne like an ever faithful husband as she is returned to the cul-de-sac from her little stop off in the hospital.  What to make of this?  It’s complicated, because some might be tempted to say that Mack is a fool for allowing Anne to use him this way, but I think it just shows his big heart.  Mack has special feelings for Anne, even if he doesn’t love her the way he loves Karen, and he can’t even bring himself to fathom the idea that she would attempt suicide just to get something out of him.  I think he finds the idea so distasteful he can’t even entertain the notion.  Even so, we immediately get some awkward stuff between Mack, Anne, and Karen at the start of the ep, when they are picking Anne up from the hospital.  Due to shenanigans involving some sort of gigantic plant, Mack and Anne wind up cuddled up together in the backseat while Karen serves as the driver.

                Fortunately, Anne decides to completely morph into a moustache twirling villain at pretty much the precise moment that Mack walks in and sees her.  This happens late in the ep, when Anne is talking to Karen on the phone, lounging around the living room and listening to her old band on vinyl while they speak.  Karen gets direct and asks Anne to let Mack off the hook, saying how he feels responsible for her suicide attempt and that Anne is well aware of that.  Anne gets nice and wicked and is like, “You’re only with Mack now because I wasn’t here.”  Then she detours into a huge rant against suburban life and says how Karen lives on, “A little dead end street with your little dead end life with your little outdoor barbecue grill and your Kiss the Cook apron.”  Anne sounds so disgusted by everything she’s describing that you can actually hear the vomit and bile start to pour up through her throat and threaten to come out of her mouth.  This woman really hates the suburbs and really hates this cul-de-sac; I’ll be curious to hit season eleven and beyond and see where Anne finds herself living by the early ‘90s.  I honestly can’t remember how Anne is living and supporting herself by the time she returns to the fold, but I get the strong feeling she won’t be living anywhere near the cul-de-sac.  Anyway, the timing is fortuitous, although not exactly for Anne.  See, it’s just as she begins going into her anti-suburbs rant that Mack comes walking in, and we even get a pretty good camera move, because we are focused in on Anne as she says, “The truth is I never intended to die; I intended to bring Mack to his senses,” and then the camera sorta pulls out to reveal that Mack is standing right there in the doorway, hearing everything.  Now, I expected a big blowup here, for him to tell Anne he heard everything and he can’t believe she could be so wicked.  Instead, Anne hangs up the phone and Mack plays it cool for the time being, biding his time.

                What winds up happening is that Mack invites Anne to a big dinner at the house with him and Karen.  At first, Karen is upset, thinking that Mack’s not listening to her, that Anne will forever haunt their life, and of course Anne seems rather full of herself as she first arrives at this dinner and makes herself comfortable.  Then Mack busts out a big gift box for Karen and tells her to open it, which she does.  What’s in the box?  Well, it’s not a box of pain like in Dune, but it’s a box full of wieners.  Before you get too excited, let me clarify that these aren’t the kind of wieners I love and you love and pretty much everyone in the world should love; these are not male reproductive organs all packed up into a box, but rather a string of hot dog wieners.  Karen pulls this long string of wieners out of the box looking positively shocked, a bit of Michele acting that I actually think is way too much.  Okay, it’s weird for your husband to give you a box full of wieners, but the face Michele makes throughout this scene is just, I’m sorry, annoying.  She just has this SHOCKED expression on her face that’s way over-the-top and, again, I am yearning for some season three Karen, when she still knew the art of subtlety and underplaying her performance.  Anyway, after the wieners are revealed, Mack puts on his Kiss the Cook apron and announces he’s gonna go fire up the grill and cook the wieners.  The message to Anne is clear, and she is none too pleased about it.

                This scene is okay, I guess, if perhaps a bit much.  This whole situation and wrap-up seems like the kind of thing that can only happen in a TV show and never in real life.  I feel like in real life, Mack would have heard Anne talking on the phone and been like, “Yeah, I heard everything, you crazy bitch,” and that would be the end of it.  Doing this elaborate dinner with wieners packed into a gift box and a silly apron just seems like kinda a lot of fanfare to send the message to Anne that she’s a crazy bitch.  I also get the feeling that we as viewers are supposed to be very amused by this; that we’re supposed to think it’s just hysterical, but it didn’t particularly make me laugh, nor did it make My Beloved Grammy or Brother laugh.  It was just a sorta okay scene and that was the end of it.

                Hurt and humiliated, Anne marches across the street and prepares to march out of the series for awhile, as well, but not before throwing one final surprise at Mack.  This scene begins in a way I like very much, because now Mack is being all straight and honest, saying how he heard everything Anne said and now he knows how spiteful he is and that he loves Karen and his life on the cul-de-sac and that he’s never gonna leave it.  Then Anne declares how she’s gonna go back East, and when Mack asks her what about Paige, she says how Paige is not his concern and that, GASP!, Mack is not even Paige’s real father.  Then she drops the big bomb by saying how she’s not interested in Paige’s real father because, “Greg Sumner’s not really my type.”  Then she goes into her house and shuts the door and effectively ends the ep right here with this big revelation that I feel, well, pretty ambivalent towards.  Look, obviously I have some hindsight on the series having watched it once before, and so I can already tell you right now that no, Greg Sumner is not Paige’s father, but even if I didn’t have that hindsight, I don’t think this little twist would be doing much for me.  Obviously Anne is just feeling extra spiteful after her rejection from Mack, so she’s just trying to hurt him.  Is any viewer actually fooled by this?  If I was watching in 1987, would I be fooled?  Paige has only been on the show for a season now, and yet I feel they’ve really blown their wad too much when it comes to twists and turns and shocking revelations about this character.  First we were told she was Mack’s daughter, then we were told the real Paige Matheson was dead, and then we found out that Paige faked her death and that her mother is very much alive, and then we met the mother, and now we have the mother saying how Greg is actually Paige’s father and it’s all just a bit much.  Only now do I realize how strange it feels for Paige to enter the series out of the clear blue sky and immediately get so much attention from the writers and creative team. 

                I wanna move my attention over to some other characters, such as Olivia (yay!) and Peter (snore), but before I do that, let me give a quick wrap up for how I feel about Anne right now, at this exact point.  I have to say that, while I’m an Anne fan and always will be and enjoy the delightful relish Michelle Phillips displays whenever her character is being wicked, in truth this storyline didn’t work as well for me upon this viewing as it did once upon a time.  I remember the first time I powered through this epic voyage of a series and I just positively loved Anne’s arrival to the series and all the drama of  whether she would seduce Mack or not.  Now, it’s not nearly so thrilling to me as it once was.  Part of this might be that hindsight thing, that I can vividly remember the fact that Mack does not cheat with Anne, but another part of it is just watching this a second time with a more critical eye and, hopefully, a more developed brain.  Now I see that the writers have already leaned too heavily on stories of “Will Karen’s husband cheat on her?”  This was compelling way back in season two when Sid seemed to be getting a crush on Lynda Stryker (the lady mechanic), but now they’ve repeated it too much and it’s getting tiresome.  The worst thing is that they’re not even close to done; I know we are going to return at least one more time to a story of whether Mack will cheat on Karen. 

                And while we’re on the subject, I wanna point out some behind the scenes info that is probably common knowledge amongst KL fans, and that is the fact that the writers originally had it mapped out for Mack and Anne to shag and a whole bunch of drama to develop from that.  Wisely, very wisely, Michele spoke to the creative team and said Mack wouldn’t cheat on Karen and that the show needed at least one solid, stable couple that’s not constantly stepping out on each other.  Much like Donna speaking up about how Abs would never do something so evil as to directly steal Val’s babies away from her, Michele showed here that she understands the characters and their cores better than the team of writers who are currently cooking up storylines.  Seriously, what idiot thought it would be a good idea to have Mack cheat?  Why would you throw away nearly five years of this man being a great character and a fabulous husband just for the sake of some soapy drama?  That’s the kind of thing I would expect from Dallas but not from KL, and so I applaud Michele for nipping that in the bud before it was too late.  At the same time, it kinda winds up making this storyline feel like much ado about nothing.  Anne moves to town, acts wicked for awhile, tries to seduce Mack, does a manipulative suicide attempt, all so that Mack can reconfirm what we viewers already knew, that he is a faithful husband and loves Karen. 

                That about does it for the Karen/Mack/Anne triangle, but honestly there’s not too much else going on in this ep.  Looking through my notes here, I think I’ll shift the attention over to Olivia (age sixteen) and her new romance with Peter (age way-too-old-for-Olivia).  This has been kinda quietly brewing in the sidelines for awhile, ever since Olivia kicked the nose candy and decided to become a spokesperson for anti-drug stuff.  She first met Peter awhile back and, of course, thinks he’s totally dreamy.  Anyway, romance is blooming between Olivia and Peter (who’s actual age is 34, which I just looked up a moment ago), but I don’t think it’s necessarily because Peter is actually interested in Olivia. Rather, Olivia has this mysterious lazy Plot Contrivance Letter that Sylvia handed her before she just sorta vanished off the show.  Then Sylvia died offscreen in our last ep (you remember; she fell in the bathtub and died, a death with no dignity cooked up by writers who are struggling to figure out what to do with this whole storyline) and now Peter desperately wants this letter.  I forget what all is in this letter, mostly because I wasn’t paying as much attention as I probably should have been (I’ll start paying more attention again when we hit season nine).  I think the letter basically just lays out the truth for all to see and says that Peter is not Sylvia’s son and that he’s also not Galveston’s son, either.  

                Sylvia’s funeral is this ep, and Olivia gets all dressed up to go, hoping to catch the eye of Peter, which she does.  Then the two sit off in some corner of the cemetery and talk about life and this mysterious letter of Sylvia’s, but then Peter plants a big old kiss on Olivia at the precise moment that Abs spots them from far off.  She comes marching up to them and demands Peter stay away from her daughter, a reasonable demand, in my opinion.  It’s not just that Peter is more than double the age of Olivia, but it’s also the fact that Peter has been inside of Abs.  How weird would it be if he started shagging Olivia next?  The man’s penis has known the very deepest crevices of Abby’s exceptionally popular vagina, and now it’s gonna go exploring the  vagina of her daughter?  Sorry, way too creepy.  If I was about to shag some older dude and then this older dude casually dropped how he had been deep inside of my own mother, I would throw that dude to the curb; let me tell you.

                The climax of this storyline for the week is that it’s late one night and Peter and Paige are shagging.  They finish their shag and Paige runs off to take a shower, and at that precise moment there’s a knock on the door and, GASP!, it’s Olivia, come to pay Peter a visit.  If I remember correctly, she’s planning to give him that letter because she knows he wants it real bad, but then she glances up and sees Paige, adorned in nothing more than a towel, stretching out and revealing herself in the big circular mirror on the ceiling.  Real fast, why is this mirror here?  It’s the kind of mirror they have at convenience stores to stop people from stealing, the big circle kind that effectively show you the entire landscape of an open space.  What architect puts this kind of mirror in an apartment?  It’s really only here so that Olivia can see Paige in the mirror and get the big eyes and realize what a man whore Peter is.  Not only that, but he’s man-whoring with the blonde that Olivia thought was her good, close friend.  Enraged, Olivia heads to the nearest mailbox and addresses that Sylvia letter to Gary and sends it away.  

                Real fast, I want to make it clear that I do not care about this storyline.  The entire handling of Sylvia as a character has been so sloppy this year, and the fact that she just randomly vanished from proceedings and then died offscreen has really given me a distaste for this whole thing.  The letter feels like a bad plot device designed to create some minor tension without this character having to be onscreen or, indeed, even alive.  I’m also getting a little tired of the device of one character paying another character a random late night visit only to spot a third character dressed in a towel or less off in the background.  Seriously, what is it with these women that they can’t just take a simple shower?  They need to come walking out of the bathroom and stand directly in front of a big mirror and do a whole series or stretching and hair maneuvers even though they know there’s someone else at the door.  This is only done to get characters from point A to B, to allow Olivia to see what shagging is going on within the confines of Peter’s apartment. 

                The only other character worth talking about this ep is Ben, who is still not coping well.  My asshole tightened up really violently when we got started with this ep because I spotted, in that block of credits that we see every ep after the opening, the listing of "actress" Wendy Fulton as Jean Hackney.  Oh God no, I thought to myself as the vomit came flooding up my throat.  She’s back?  I thought for 100% certainty that she made her last appearance in Deadly Combination, so what was her name doing in the credits here?  MBG also noticed her name and admitted to feeling nervous, afraid that this disaster of a character was going to be re-entering the proceedings.  No, no, no, we can all relax, ladies and gentlemen, because this is just another instance in which we get a really quick flash of the character because Ben is going crazy and he thinks all women look like Hackney now.  In this case, I think it’s Val.  I think Ben walks into the house and Val is doing something in the living room and there’s just a super quick flash in which she looks like Hackney, but then she turns back into Val.  The good news is that I’m pretty sure this is; this is the real last appearance of Hackney and she shan’t be tainting the series anymore after this little incident.

                Basically, Ben is unravelling.  We get a small but important scene between him and Lilimae here in which she encourages him to get back to work, to stop hanging around the house and being so depressed.  I’m glad to see that Lilimae has gotten past that whole awkward incident in which Ben placed her in a headlock and almost broke her neck (whoops!), and I tend to like any quiet scene between these two characters, mostly because it’s nice to see them getting along after such a long time of Lilimae being so difficult with him.  Also, let’s just go ahead and say it now; Ben is not long for the series at this point.  He’s only got two more eps to his name and then Ben goes to the same place in the sky occupied by Sid, Kenny, Ginger, Richard, Diana, Joshua, and Cathy.  Yes, it’s true, Ben is about to leave the series, and while I’ll save the little eulogy about the overall character for the time he makes his actual final appearance, let’s just say that we can all feel the writers getting ready to ship him off.  There’s an aura of inevitability whenever he’s onscreen, and I don’t think anyone’s going to be shocked when he makes his permanent exodus from proceedings.

                That’s about all I got for this ep.  It was, you know, okay.  I’m pretty underwhelmed by the eighth season in general at this point, but I do think we’re on an upswing right now, that Nightmare served as the rock bottom of this season and now the writers are beginning to get things back on track, gliding us into what will (hopefully) be a much better season nine.  So even though we’re on an upward trend, I am still just sorta passive about the drama unfolding right now.  I have a hard time caring too much about Olivia and Peter, for instance, and Mack and Anne isn’t nearly as sizzling or as funny as I had once remembered it to be.  We’re in a much, much better place than we were a few eps back with Nightmare, but there’s still a myriad of storytelling flaws going on right now.

                Three eps to go.  Let us now proceed onward to Parental Guidance.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

KNOTS LANDING Episode 186 of 344: OUR SECRET

Episode Title: Our Secret

Season 08, Episode 26 

Episode 186 of 344

Written by John Leasure

Directed by David Jacobs 

Original Airdate: Thursday, April 2nd, 1987

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Anne is rushed to the hospital, but the doctor says she's fine. Paige tells the MacKenzies that it's only a stunt, but Mack says it's still a cry for help. Guilty, he is extra nice to Anne, which doesn't sit too well with Karen. Sylvia is dead, so Peter really comes on to Olivia, giving her a locket and even kissing her. Olivia leaves lots of messages for Peter, which Peter and Paige make fun of. Michael tells Olivia that Paige is dating Peter, but Olivia says Paige would have told her because they are best friends. Gary and Jill plan to go away, but they meet Peter at the airport picking up Sylvia's body. Thinking it is Jill's mother too, Gary decides they should stay in town. Ben flips out when Lilimae turns off the security system, and she and Val are really worried about his paranoid behavior.

Welcome welcome, one and all.  With Our Secret, we (mercifully) begin the last lap of season eight, the final five eps of this most arduous and annoying season.  As I said with our last two eps, I do think we are hitting an upswing now that Hackney is out of the picture and we can turn our attention over to characters we actually like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the eps from here on out will be brilliant.  Is Our Secret brilliant?  No, but it’s, you know, okay.  Let’s explore.

The first thing I noted about this ep was the director, one landmark genius auteur of the television landscape known to us mere mortals as David Jacobs.  Yes, the man who conceived the entire series is the man behind the camera this week, and yet, I confess, I find myself strangely underwhelmed by his directorial style, much as I was underwhelmed by his last effort, the early season eight ep Slow Burn.  I once again maintain that the problem is not the man in question, who has directed brilliantly artistic eps in the past such as Willing Victims in season four and One Kind of Justice in season five, but rather the problem is the inherent cheapness in the series at this point.  I’ve bitched and moaned about the visuals of this season in the past, but here it comes again, cuz I feel it needs reiteration: This season looks cheap.  I’m gonna pay attention hard to the next six seasons to see if the general look improves or not, but I fear we’ve left the super cinematic and visual seasons in our past as soon as we finished up season seven.

David Jacobs seems to be going for an arty style this week, demonstrated right away in the very first shot, which is Anne sitting on the ground in what appears to be the ice cave level from Super Mario 64.  The ice cave seems to be Anne’s version of Heaven, because we see it frequently as Anne lies unconscious and flirts with going to Heaven.  We also get to see some of Anne dancing (first alone and then with Mack) in front of the ice cave, all mixed with lots of half dissolves to the real-world Anne lying on the ground with an empty pill bottle next to her.  As a way to start the ep, this is alright, I suppose, and I appreciate D.J. trying to be more visual and more artistic, but I have two problems already.  One of those problems is that it still looks cheap; you can do all the half dissolves and slow building classical music that you want, but it still looks like the budget got a major slashing courtesy of Jason Voorhees’ machete and then another extra slashing for good measure courtesy of Freddy Krueger’s claws.  My other problem is that this dancing ice cave stuff would be fine if we just saw it once or twice, but we just keep returning to it over and over again throughout the 48 minutes and it quickly gets old.  Once again, even with the presence of D.J. behind the camera guiding the proceedings, I can sense that the whole team is just trying to fill time.  We have now gotten through 25 eps and we only have to get through five more and I can just smell everyone behind the scenes being like, “Hmmmm, if we just keep cutting over and over again to this weird Heaven ice cave fantasy with Mack and Anne dancing, that will fill up the time!” 

In fact, if you remove the dancing and the ice cave from proceedings, you’re really not left with a hell of a lot in this ep, and I predict this will be one of my shortest writeups.  Going down the list of characters, there’s really just not much going on this week.  Obviously we got the majority of the attention focused on Karen, Mack, and Anne, and then we have some stuff involving Val and Ben and the whole family in their house of paranoia, and then we have a blossoming new romance between Olivia (a great character) and Peter (I fell asleep in the middle of typing his name).  Oh yeah, and we have a really truly lame story for Peter and Greg and, um, Sylvia (remember her?).  That’s about it, so let’s go ahead and get started by talking about, oh, let’s say, Anne.

So our previous ep ended with Mack announcing to Anne that she’s gotta go, that she’s making his life miserable.  Then she called him and asked if he’d have breakfast with her the next morning, followed by her proceeding to swallow a whole bunch of pills.  I’m not entirely sure what pills she swallows and I don’t know that they ever even tell us in this ep.  They may very well have told us and My Beloved Grammy, Brother, and I may have been too busy making fun of the Super Mario 64 ice cave to hear the dialogue, but I feel fairly confident that we are never told.  Perhaps when that glorious day comes that all 344 eps of KL get the supreme frame-by-frame 3D conversion courtesy of James Cameron for a complete, sexy BluRay release, we may be able to read the label on the pill bottle and find out exactly what Anne swallowed, but sadly that day is not today.  In any case, what’s important is that Anne has taken the pills, is lying passed out on the living room rug, and Mack is nowhere in sight.  What happened to their breakfast date?  Well, Mack decided he’d rather stay and have breakfast with his lovely wife, and we do get an interesting bit of business right near the start where Karen asks Mack why he broke the breakfast date with Anne.  Mack says, “It wasn’t a date; it was more of an appointment,” and Karen looks sorta guilty and says how she hopes he didn’t break it because of her, and he says that he did not.  I noted this because, even though Karen clearly doesn’t like Anne and would rather have her out of her hair, she’s still a good person and she’s still a thoughtful person and she doesn’t want Anne to be hurt.  This is a nice way to show us that, while Karen may have jealousy towards Anne, she’s not bitter and she is still considerate of the feelings of others.

Anyway, Anne continues to lie there for quite a bit longer because Mack gets distracted pretending to be a burglar (we’ll discuss that when we move over to the Val/Ben portion of this ep).  Finally, just as we are about to hit our first commercial break, Mack heads to Anne’s to meet up with her.  When she doesn’t answer the door (she’s still dancing in the ice cave), he peeks into the window and sees her all passed out and decides to pull a Manhunter and jump through the window.  Actually, that’s not quite accurate, cuz you’ll all remember that, in Manhunter, William Petersen just comes barreling up to the window and smashes his entire body right through.  Mack chooses a different tact, grabbing a potted plant and throwing that through the window before he himself climbs through to rescue Anne.

After commercial, we return to this story, with the whole gang hanging out at the hospital while Anne lays in a coma.  Poor Mack looks super ashamed and guilty and says to Karen how he thinks this is his fault, that he marched on over to her house and declared that he doesn’t love Anne and would never leave Karen.  Karen tells him not to blame himself, but it’s no use, and Mack walks off angrily.  I feel legit sorry for Mack here, by the way, because I think he’s dealing with a lot of mixed up emotions.  First off, you have the confusion of having this previous love of his life return to his life after twenty years, reminding him of this special relationship they shared way back in the ‘60s.  Now he thinks this woman has tried to kill herself directly because of his own harsh words, and that would be a hard thing to square.  I know I’ve said this before, but I don’t think I bring it up enough, and that’s the fact that I love how moral so many of these characters try to be.  For a nighttime soap from the ‘80s, a genre that is generally concerned with rich, awful people doing terrible things to each other in the name of money and power, I’ve always appreciated that KL is full of characters who wrestle with decisions of morality, of doing what is right.  In this case, Mack did do the right thing; Anne had her eyes set on him and wanted to steal him away from his wife and it was time for her to hit the road.  Even still, now Mack feels he has hurt her so deeply that she tried to buy the farm, and that’s a hard thing to deal with.

Mack is a good person who cares about the feelings of others, so therefore he might be wearing slightly rose colored glasses as far as his relationship with Anne is concerned.  He never even takes a moment to think that perhaps she planned out this little suicide attempt as a way to get attention, but fortunately Paige is around to give him the straight dope.  Mack and Paige engage in a little pre-bedtime talk in which Paige points out a few facts, such as that Anne was planning to go to breakfast with Mack and, if he wound up not showing up, she also had a later date with Paige, guaranteeing that somebody would find her in time.  Mack finds this idea inherently distasteful, but then Paige asks how he thinks she got the idea to fake her own death.  Hmmm, a fine point, young Paige.

Let’s move over to the house of Val and Ben and Lilimae.  Last ep, we had Ben getting the entire house secured with a bunch of cool, sexy 1980’s alarm systems.  This ep, his paranoia continues to grow when he tells the whole family that the alarms must remain set all day, not just at night.  He says how just cuz the sun’s out does not mean the bad guys go away, but even so, he might be freaking out a little too much.  For instance, he flies off the handle when Lilimae sneaks down for a midnight snack (this is one woman who loves her midnight snacks), turns off the alarm system, and then forgets to turn it back on again.  By the way, this alarm system is remarkably easy to crack and I have to wonder if an alarm system this simple ever actually existed.  Growing up, we had an alarm system and my parents showed me how to use it and you had to hit the * button and then enter a four digit code and then finish off with the # sign, at which point the house would be secure.  The system Ben has had installed is decidedly less complicated, because all you have to do is, um, turn it off and on.  This is pretty funny, actually, because we get so much of Lilimae whining about, “Ooooooooh, all these buttons, I’m so confused,” and yet we’ve been told that literally all she has to do is flip the button to “On” or “Off.”  I know Lilimae is old and all old people are afraid of buttons, but let’s get it together, girl.  You switch it to “Off” when you go downstairs and then you flip it back “On” when you go upstairs.  Thank God Ben has installed this super high tech security system, because I’m sure that if Hackney were to ever return from Paraguay and bust into the house, she could never crack the code of flipping the alarm from “on” to “off.”

Let’s get to the weakest portion of this ep, and that’s the shit involving Sylvia.  Yikes, is this some bad writing, and let me explain why.  Sylvia, you’ll all recall, was played well by Ruth Roman.  She was figuring prominently into the latter half of season seven and the first half of season eight, and then she just sorta vanished.  She made her last appearance onscreen in, I think, The Inside Man.  IMDb lists her last ep as My True Love, but I feel almost 100% confident that this is yet another IMDb error, that Sylvia was long gone by the time we hit that ep.  In any case, she’s been gone awhile, and we’ve just been told that she’s, like, out of the country or something like that.  Okay, that’s poor writing, but it only gets worse in this ep when they decide to kill her offscreen. The first problems is that it’s been so long since we’ve seen her that we have basically forgotten she was even a part of the story, so killing her off like this only creates audience confusion. Secondly, an offscreen death?  Really?  Did Ruth Roman just decide to not finish doing the season?  Or was there some sort of contract renewal that needed to be done halfway through the year and she decided not to continue filming eps?  Why oh why do you focus so heavily on this character and then shuffle her offscreen and kill her off something like fifteen eps later?  Oh yeah, and the way they kill her is also a total writeoff, as we are told she slipped in the bathtub and hit her head.  Jeez, really?  All this focus on Sylvia and Peter and all these deep secrets and then you just have her slip and hit her head?  Lazy lazy lazy.

Gary and J.B. are ready to get married, and if I’m remembering correctly, they’re getting ready to fly out to Vegas or Tahoe or something like that, when they conveniently happen to bump into Peter at the airport.  Ugh, this also reeks of Dallas level writing, in which characters would constantly just happen to bump into other characters at restaurants or whatever, all for the sake of getting the plot moving.  Here, Peter says how Sylvia died and he’s arranging the funeral, and when J.B. doesn’t seem too terribly upset by this, Gary is suspicious.  After all, if Sylvia was Peter’s mother, she was also J.B.’s mother, right?  I’ll go ahead and say that this has all become far too complicated and I think getting Peter off the show is a great idea at this point, because all this shit about who the real parents of J.B. and Peter are, of whether Peter is actually related to Greg Sumner at all, of whether he has any relationship whatsoever to Paul Galveston, all this shit has been going on for way too long and has just become confusing.  It’s basically been two years of plot twists and convolutions, or revelations that Peter and J.B. are siblings and then further revelations that they are not actually related to Sylvia or Galveston or, you know, whatever, and nobody can keep track of what’s going on anymore.  Also, remember this is coming from someone who’s watching the eps in great big five-episode-at-a-time binges; imagine how confusing all this shit would be if you were really watching it week to week in real time on CBS back in the ‘80s?  Here we are in episode 186 and the writers still want us to be able to remember and keep track of shit that happened somewhere around episode 140 or thereabouts.  It’s too confusing, it’s been going on too long, and it’s time to flush all this stuff out of the series and move on to new and better business.  For the purposes of what’s going on right now, this very moment, the important thing about this scene is that J.B. seems remarkably unconcerned about the death of her “mother” and that, of itself, concerns Gary.  

The death of Sylvia brings this stupid letter business back into the foreground.  Remember how, before she took a walk from the series, Sylvia handed a letter to Olivia and told her it was to be given to, um, someone (Gary?) in the event of her death, or something like that?  Well, now Sylvia is dead and Olivia still has this letter.  Peter is shagging Paige and, since Paige is getting close with Olivia, he learns of the existence of the letter and knows he has to get it back.  I really should care more about this, but I don’t.  Like I said, we only have a few more eps with Peter on the series and I’m ready for him to go, so it’s hard for me to stretch my interests to accommodate whatever’s going on with him and this letter and all that.  I’m ready for new stuff and this letter business is just something we need to get through before we can flush Peter out of the series.

Let’s see, is there anything else?  When it comes to the main characters, I think I about covered everything, but I’ve got a few small details in my notes that I should bring up.  First off, we have Sexy Michael rocking the Don Johnson look in this ep when he talks to Olivia about her work with the anti drug council.  Actually, let’s take a quick detour to criticize that.  Olivia is already getting involved with an anti-drug council as some sort of spokesperson?  Hasn’t she been sober for, like, fifteen minutes?  Shouldn’t one usually have a longer stretch of sobriety before they start speaking and giving lectures about getting off drugs?  Look, Olivia, I’m proud of you for kicking the nose candy, but I think you should give it at least a year before you become this big role model for the community, wouldn’t you agree?  This reminds me of 1990's brilliantly terrible The Bradys, in which (fake) Marcia became an alcoholic, bottomed out, and then became a spokewoman for alcholics, all in the same episode.

The only other detail I wrote in my notes is that we get a Diana shout-out, and actually a fairly substantial one.  This scene occurs at Lotus Point between Karen and Abs (a scene in which, Brother commented, Karen appears to be wearing something from The Marcel Marceau Collection).  Basically, Karen is trying to gently tell Abs that she thinks Olivia is swooning over Peter even though Peter is not a very interesting character, and she says, “You know how close Diana and I once were.”  She goes on about how hard it is to see that your little daughter is turning into a mature woman until it’s too late, and you start having fights that you think are mother to daughter fights, but really they are woman to woman fights, that the daughter is fighting with you to assert her independence as a free woman.  I liked this speech because I always like it when KL remembers its past.  Diana was on the show for five years and was a big part of those early seasons.  Even though absolutely nobody wants to see Diana return to the show (least of all My Beloved Grammy, who has said repeatedly that Diana was her least favorite character ever on the series), it’s nice to hear her brought up and discussed here, to remember that Karen went through a lot with her and those things she went through are fueling her character to this very day.

That about does it for Our Secret.  While I maintain that we’re on an upswing that’s going to lead us into a much stronger season nine, I do think this was the weakest ep of this final disk.  It’s not even that it’s a bad ep, cuz it’s not; it’s just kinda a blah ep.  Nothing much happens and we spend so much time in the ice cave with Anne and Mack filling up time, even ending the ep with an ice cave scene, something that feels very anticlimactic.  Then the other shenanigans this week are, you know, okay, but nothing too riveting.  We’re definitely marking time until we get to that season finale, but it’s still not a terrible ep like Nightmare was.

Let’s move right along to Breakup.  more