KNOTS LANDING SEASON 9 (1987-1988)
THE CAST ROSTER:
WILLIAM DEVANE, KEVIN DOBSON, JULIE HARRIS, MICHELE LEE, CONSTANCE MCCASHIN, DONNA MILLS, TED SHACKELFORD, JOAN VAN ARK
Episode Title: Missing Persons
Season 09, Episode 01
Episode 191 of 344
Written by Lynn Marie Latham
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Original Airdate: Thursday, September 24th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): After five weeks, no one can find Peter. Val grieves over Ben, and makes up with Laura. Abby's really worried about Olivia, who has been having nightmares, and has reverted to infantile behavior. Mack becomes friendly with a man from his messenger service, Al Baker. Paige goes to Greg, concerned about her paternity. He plants a passionate kiss on her to prove he's not her father. Then Mack and Paige discover that they are both allergic to cantaloupe, so he must be her father! The crack at the Lotus Point playground gets worse. Workmen say it's structural, and needs to come out. Abby just wants it patched, but Gary and Karen out vote her. The workmen remove the cement and find Peter's body.
QUICK NOTE: USUALLY I TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPS, BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF DISCUSSING SEASON NINE, I WILL BE SPOILING SOME FUTURE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE 10TH AND 11TH EPS OF THE SEASON. IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT FAR, I HIGHLY SUGGEST GETTING THERE BEFORE YOU READ THESE ESSAYS ON THE SEASON’S OPENING EPS
Welcome back to a brand new season of KL. Here we are in late September of 1987 (a year MBG remembers as one of the best years of her life; she was dating my Grampy, they moved into their house together, I was less than three years away from coming into the universe, and everyone was very happy) and I’m very excited to get started discussing a brand new season. After my lukewarm response to season eight (“lukewarm” being an understatement), I’m totally ready for a fresh new start with a fresh new year. I’m ready to leave all my season eight problems in the past and look onward towards the future, and I feel a high degree of confidence in saying this season should be a vast improvement over our last one, and perhaps even an improvement over season seven, as well. Let’s get started.
The first thing we see as we start Missing Persons is our usual thirty second preview giving us a little taste of what’s to come. That’s all fine, well, and good, but then we move into something completely different, and that’s our brand new opening credits design, that of the painting, the design that will span through all of seasons nine and ten before we get another new opening in season eleven. This is pretty exciting because we’ve had the same design for the opening all the way since season three when the glory of the scrolling squares on black background was first unveiled. To me, that’s the most classic and iconic opening design of the show, and it also coincides with the best years of the show (seasons four through six), so it’s the opening my brain always jumps to when I’m thinking of KL. Of course, the style and sound of the musical theme got a little adjustment every year, but the physical layout of the credits remained pretty much the same all the way from The Vigil on November 12th, 1981 to Cement the Relationship on May 14th, 1987. That opening spanned six years and 159 eps, so it’s definitely been some time since we got a redesign. In fact, MBG was rather put off by this new opening, asking why they felt the need to change it, and I reminded her that they have already changed it once before, since the first two seasons had a totally different style of opening, as well.
Okay, so what happens in this opening? Well, we start with a Rocky style scroll of words across the screen (or a Cruising style scroll, if you prefer), the title of the series unfolding in glorious cursive before our very eyes while a mellow bit of music plays. Then we jump into the main thrust of the opening, which is the camera panning up over this bizarre Jackson-Pollack-looking painting (I did my research and found that this painting and this entire opening were designed by a man named Sandy Dvore who also designed the opening credits for The Young and the Restless and, after giving those credits a quick look, I would say they definitely have a similar flavor). Anyway, as the camera pans over the painting, we get the actors shots in little circles that sorta appear in the middle of the screen, and pretty much every cast member’s shot is a hysterical laugh riot. In fact, the first time I hit this ep originally, I was very upset to see this new opening and immediately yearned for my beautiful scrolling squares. However, I quickly got over that issue and found myself enjoying this opening as high camp, which is how it’s best viewed. See, the theme song has been slowed down a ton (I believe J.V.A. referred to this version of the theme as “a funeral dirge” and she's not exactly wrong) and so now we’re getting a more mellow, more soothing arrangement of the theme versus the more bombastic and exciting sounding themes of yore. While I don’t like this theme as much as many from seasons past (although I would put this theme over the atrocious season eight version), I have also come to appreciate the sounds of the opening theme this year and next year. Once you listen to it a few times, it becomes rather soothing and also manages to stick in your head. But really, the piece da resistance of this opening is the hilariously campy actors’ shots. Pretty much nobody escapes this opening unscathed, so let’s just go down the list, In Alphabetical Order, as always. In fact, I’ll even give a little commentary on what I think is running through the brains of these actors as they pose for these ridiculous shots.
- William Devane: "I’m gonna start out looking straight ahead and then slowly turn my head to face the camera looking ever so perfectly masculine and serious."
- Kevin Dobson: "I will look sadly down at the ground while wearing a little half frown so as to show that I'm a sweet, sensitive kind of guy."
- Julie Harris: "Even though I look a little silly because this opening is a little silly, I’m probably the only cast member to manage to escape this with my dignity intact, plus I’m also the only one who bothers to put on a smile for the camera."
- Michele Lee: "I’m naked for some reason."
- Constance McCashin: "This opening is stupid and they’ve just fired me after being one of the best characters on the show all the way since the very first episode, so I’m doing my Constance McCashin Spin and I don’t give a shit if you like it or not."
- Donna Mills: "I guess I’m trying to look sexy, but for some reason this particular version of 'looking sexy' looks a hell of a lot more like Jack Nicholson in the last half hour of The Shining."
- Ted Shackelford: "I’m gonna do the opposite of Mack by starting out looking down ponderously and then slowly turning my head up to face the audience, and you know what, I’ll even throw in a little half smile but not a full one."
- Joan Van Ark: "Do you like my new Flock of Seagulls haircut?"
That pretty much takes care of our cast, and then the opening finishes up by zooming out from the painting so we can see the entirety of it and realize that it doesn’t look like anything except a big glob of multicolored paint that someone flung onto a blank white canvas. Finally, we see the full, epic title of the series presented before us in cursive, and that pretty much ends our opening. However, before I move on, I do want to note that The Constance McCashin Spin is a highlight of the entire series for me. This is easily the silliest and campiest looking screen credit of any actor in a television series, ever, but I like to think Constance was doing that on purpose, that she saw how silly and overly-serious this attempt-to-be-arty opening was and decided to just embrace the camp and unveil The Constance McCashin Spin. Laura is not long for the series, as we will be seeing her for the very final time in the eleventh ep of the season, Noises Everywhere: Part Two, so make sure to soak up as much of The Constance McCashin Spin as you can get before it goes away. Anyway, like I said, this opening doesn’t rank up there with the peak openings of seasons five through seven, but I’ve also come to love it over the years and now I embrace it for the high camp, recognizing that it looks way more daytime soap opera than our previous openings, but not really minding it all that much.
After the opening, we get something like five minutes of recap from the concluding hours of our last season (indeed, we are at the seven minute mark before we finally get to new footage from this ep). How do fans feel about these long recaps? I’m obsessed with watching the show properly, and that means watching the whole package, the thirty second preview, the opening credits, the recaps, all of it; whatever is presented before me must be watched. I’m a big fan of the gigantic recaps that start out new seasons because, first of all, it helps to remind me of the great big summer that has gone by and how long it’s been since a new KL ep graced the screen. It’s very different to watch the show nowadays in the way MBG and I are doing it, several eps in a row, consistently getting together to keep watching. I like to try and pretend it’s the 1980s and imagine how it would feel to have a big cliffhanger like Cement the Relationship and then have to wait nearly five months to see the story continue. I really don’t think I would cope well waiting all summer for resolution; I feel I would become consumed and obsessed with the cliffhanger and think about it all summer and be unable to enjoy any other aspects of my life. I think I’m just allergic to watching shows the old fashioned way, because when I have watched current series as they air, I would usually stock up five or six eps before powering through them all in a marathon, versus watching just one a week. I also think it would cause me to put a great deal of stock in how the cliffhanger resolves itself, versus watching the series more quickly and not caring quite so much about the resolutions.
The first new footage we get to see after our long recap is positively fabulous, and that is a very surreal sequence of a bunch of creepy kids walking around the playground like zombies and singing London Bridge is Falling Down together. What a strange way to start the ep, and I mean that in a complimentary way. I assume we are supposed to take this footage at face value, that Abs is really hanging around the playground at Lotus Point and watching these creepy ass kids chanting an old nursery rhyme for some reason. However, I also like to hypothesize that this opening is a dream or a vision from a paranoid Abs, who is obsessed with this playground and the crack in the foundation. I like to think she’s just sorta imagining this scene in her head, that it’s symbolic of her stress. Opinions?
We’re gonna spend a lot of time with Abs and Olivia this week, so let’s talk about them first. Abs is full of paranoia that Peter’s body will be discovered while Olivia is racked with guilt about what’s happened. One thing worth noting is that at no point do the two ladies sit down and talk about what exactly happened. Instead, the two are existing together in this strange state of uncertainty, Olivia assuming that her mother killed Peter and Abs assuming that Olivia killed Peter. The timeline in this ep is very confusing (more on that later), but I would think that at some point since Abs tossed Peter’s body into the pit, the two might have sat down and been like, “So, which one of us actually killed him?” This is a bit of a silly plot flaw and I recognize it as such, but I’m also willing to just go with it since I enjoy this story as a whole and all the drama that it creates. Also, plenty of families keep plenty of secrets or go about their lives not speaking about some deep dark secret or other, so I suppose the same could be true of Abs and Olivia. Perhaps Abs doesn’t even want to ask Olivia if she killed Peter because she can’t handle the possibility of Olivia having to say out loud that she did it.
I pretty much love all the stuff with Abs and Olivia this week. I love how they are always sticking close together, how we get the sense that Olivia doesn’t want to leave her mother’s side, and I also love seeing Abs in protective mother bear mode, doing whatever it takes to keep her daughter safe, even if it means fucking up a crime scene and taking a dead body and burying it in cement. Anyway, yeah, so we get a lot of scenes of them together, shit like Olivia insisting on doing her homework right alongside her mother or asking if she can sleep in Abs bed because she had a scary nightmare. However, the highlight of the ep for me comes in a fantastically campy sequence set at Lotus Point in which Olivia frantically pulls Sexy Michael aside and asks if he’d like to dance with her, which he agrees to. Some truly-horrible-yet-also-kinda-wonderful-at-the-same-time Public Domain Music starts blasting through the dance floor while Olivia and Sexy Michael show off their pathetic dance moves. Saturday Night Fever this ain't, as Olivia’s entire package of moves boils down to her spinning in circles while kinda shrugging her arms up and down over and over again. Sexy Michael isn’t much better, I hate to admit, and that actually somewhat deflates my boner as far as Sexy Michael is concerned. Make no mistake, I would still like to take Sexy Michael and show him what a real man can do, but he’s lost some points in my book after acting like a 12 year old girl last season with all his “Paige, I love you” nonsense and now these horrendous dance moves. If I took Sexy Michael out on a date, obviously dancing would be the last thing on my mind, but I’d still like to know that he would be capable of dancing with me without looking like a complete loser, and now I’m not so sure that would be the case. Of course, he is dancing with his cousin, so perhaps he doesn’t waste the good moves on her. If he was dancing with someone he was feeling romantic towards, perhaps he would do a better job.
Abs spends the whole ep fretting and worried about that crack in the foundation at the playground, but for the majority of the ep, nothing happens in that department. Abs argues that it’s just a settling crack and they don’t need to rip the entire foundation up, but Karen and Gary do not agree and decide to proceed with bringing in the bulldozers. This was a small scene that I enjoyed because it had a healthy dose of strong, masculine Gary. See, Karen and Abs are bickering about the cost of construction, and then finally Gary is like “Hey!” all loud and then he says, “Here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna hire Carre, he’s gonna fix it, and if I have to, I’ll pay for it.” Then he walks off. I love how he just swoops in and stops Karen and Abby’s bickering and is authoritative and tough and I just love it. Anyway, his decision leads us to our final scene of the ep, in which the construction guys dig down deep and say, “Gee, we think we’ve found the dead body of a not-very-interesting character from the last two seasons” and Abs making her face like she’s about to poop her pants. As far as Abs and Olivia are concerned this week, I have no complaints (aside from that little plot point which I addressed earlier).
Moving over to some other characters, let’s talk about what Val is up to this week. Val is responsible for the majority of my confusion over the timeline at this point, and let me tell you why. By now, we should all be used to the weird way that summers just don’t seem to exist in the land of television, that our cliffhanger can be in a mid-May and then we can pick up in late September continuing right where we left off. In the case of this premiere, however, rather than picking up a couple of seconds after the concluding events of last season, we are actually told that some time has passed. How much time, though? I get confused because at some point, Val tells Lilimae that it’s been “months” of sitting by the phone and waiting in vain for Ben to call. When I first heard that line, I was like, “Oh, how interesting, they are actually directly addressing that a whole summer has passed and it’s now September,” but then I just get confused because later they say that Peter’s body has been missing for five weeks. Okay, so which is it? Has it been five weeks or nearly five months? How can Ben have been MIA for several months yet Peter’s body has only been missing for five weeks? The only possible explanation I have is that, since Ben actually blew town two eps before the finale of season eight, perhaps the span of time in those two eps was way longer than it seemed and he really has been missing for several months. In any case, it confused me a bit but is not really such a big thing.
Anyway, the majority of Val’s material in this ep deals with her coming to terms with the fact that Ben’s not coming back. She was holding out hope for awhile, but now she’s seen the brand new opening credits sequence and she’s noticed that Douglas Sheehan has been removed from it, effectively signaling that he will never be coming back, barring some unexpected event in the future. In this ep, Val accepts the loss of Ben after making a trip to the bank, where I find myself questioning another plot point. See, she comes walking in but then the way too chipper bank lady comes up to her and is like, “Mrs. Gibson, your husband already came in here to pay off the loan on your mortgage payment!” This information is provided to help underline the fact that Ben is really gone, but I’m gonna call bullshit on it real fast while also asking my fellow readers to call me out if I am somehow mistaken. Okay, we’re flashing way way back in time now, not to KL but rather to our backdoor pilot of KL, the Dallas ep Return Engagements. In that ep, Miss Ellie bought Gary and Val that house herself. She paid it in full, there was no mortgage, it was over and done with and it was her wedding gift. Where did this mortgage suddenly come from? The only explanation I can come up with is that, somewhere buried in the previous 190 eps, someone took out a mortgage on the house. I’m theorizing that it could have possibly been Gary in season three during the abandoned methanol storyline or perhaps it could have been Ben last season as part of the Hackney nonsense that I barely even bothered to pay attention to. Did either of these things happen? I honestly can’t remember except I’m having this weird little feeling that something like that happened somewhere in the past. However, if it didn’t happen, then this is a major plot flaw, a mortgage suddenly coming out of nowhere in the ninth season even though the very foundation of this series’ existence was based in Miss Ellie buying Gary and Val a house in full.
Honestly, that about does it for Val this ep (aside from a cute little exchange between her and Lilimae in which Lilimae says, “I read there’s a Harry Belafonte special on tonight; I love Harry Belafonte!”), so let’s move over to Paige and the continuing mystery that nobody cares about of, “Who is my real father?” Well, Sumner is not her father, and if you think that’s a spoiler, it’s not because we have that confirmed this ep when Sumner decides to make out with her. Oh, what a fabulous scene, a scene that has burned its way into my memory for all time, a scene I was looking forward to seeing again. See, Paige is hanging around at Sumner’s ranch (which lately seems to be the only place that Sumner spends time; did Devane work something out in his contract dictating that he’d get to hang around one set wearing a Hawaiian shirt all the time?). Paige is going on and on about how her mother was a whore and she has no idea who her real father is but she thinks it might be Greg, and Greg decides the fastest way to deflate that idea is to hop on top of her and suck face for several seconds. This is all very amusing, but for me the very best part of the scene is that Laura walks in on them in the middle of their makeout and isn’t upset at all. After Greg finishes the make-out and gives Paige one last reassurance of, “I’m not your father,” Paige goes running off and Greg and Laura are left alone, at which point Greg says, “I couldn’t think of any other way to convince her,” which makes both Laura and myself laugh. Ugh, I just love it. I love how Laura isn’t even slightly upset by this, that it just amuses her, and I again compliment the writers for not turning this into some BIG DRAMATIC STORY when they don’t need to. I feel other writers would be like, “Let’s have Laura walk in and throw a big hissy fit!” Instead, we see that Greg and Laura have an understanding of each other, that something like this is no big deal.
I love this scene for that, but I also love it for the seeds being planted for the future, and I again warn that there be SPOILERS here because I am going to continue discussing Laura’s fate well in advance of it actually unfolding onscreen. Okay, here it comes: Laura is going to die soon. This is the first ep of the season and we will be seeing Laura for the very final time in the eleventh ep of the season, so we really don’t have a whole lot more time with her. Watching this first disk of eps (it spanned Missing Persons through There Are Smiles) with the knowledge that Laura is going to die greatly enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of her scenes and her behavior at this point in the saga. I think Laura knows right here and right now that she’s going to die. She doesn’t actually admit this out loud until the fifth ep of the season, but I believe she knows it right now and it’s coloring her behavior. Perhaps she doesn’t get upset by Greg and Paige’s little impromptu make out session because she knows life is short and she knows her time is running out and she doesn’t want her last days on earth to be marred by petty fights and squabbles with her husband. At the same time, I know from my first viewing of the series that a Paige/Sumner romance is going to be a major focus of the last six years of the show, and I feel that’s beginning right here. This makeout is the first time we’ve seen anything romantic or sexual at all between the two, and it’s going to build to bigger and better things as we move further along through the series. All in all, for one little scene in a great big ep, there’s a whole lot going on here. Oh yeah, and also Laura and Val make up which was a nice moving sequence and also adds to my theory that Laura is planning for her fate and wants to make amends with friends she's had fights with.
Last on the list for this ep is Mack and a brand new character played by special guest star Red Buttons. I enjoy Red Buttons but also don’t know very much about him. In fact, it was only upon doing a smidge of research on him for this essay that I learned he won an Oscar in 1958 for the movie Sayonara. When I think of Red Buttons, I usually think of him the way he looks right here or maybe even a few years later; the oldest thing I’ve ever seen with him in was The Poseidon Adventure. My mind usually automatically goes to him in two eps of Roseanne in which he played a boyfriend of Roseanne’s mother as well as several eps of season two ER, in which he had a very compelling storyline with Dr. Carter. Anyway, Red Buttons, ladies and gentlemen, here he is, and he will be with us until Flight of the Sunbirds, the ninth ep of the season. Here, he’s playing a man named Al Baker and I confess I was a bit confused about his function when I first watched this with MBG. However, when I watched these five eps again with Brother (who was not able to join us for our viewing party, so I watched the eps again with him separately), I got a better handle on Al Baker. I guess he’s the messenger for Mack’s office, meaning he stops by once a day to deliver mail or whatever. What’s odd is that one would assume delivering a bit of mail should only take a minute or two, but Al appears to be sorta living in Mack’s office, or at least spending an inordinate amount of time there. He’s kinda always there, drinking the coffee and complaining to Peggy about how it’s too weak. I have a theory that all coffee was probably shitty until around 1991 or thereabouts, although of course I could be wrong. I’m gonna go ahead and assume that Peggy’s coffee probably tastes like that atrocious sewage they used to always have brewing at the bank when I was a kid, that sad pot of coffee that’s been sitting there all day with a jug of horrendous non-dairy creamer planted beside it. Anyway, Al Baker doesn’t do too much in this ep, but he’s here and he’s gonna be pretty important for our first block of eps, so pay attention to him.
You know, that oughta do it for our premiere of season nine. How was it? Well, I was certainly very pleased and enjoyed it very much, although I will say it suffers from the same thing pretty much all the premieres suffer from, and that’s the whole business of getting the audience up to speed with what’s been going on. So much time is spent reminding us what went down in the concluding hours of last season that we don’t have quite as much time for new developments, but that’s just something that tends to happen with premieres. I enjoyed this ep for the fabulous scene between Sumner and Paige, for Lilimae’s Harry Belafonte comment, for the appearance of Red Buttons, for Gary’s strong masculine moment, and finally for the great camp of Olivia and Sexy Michael on the dance floor. I’m already feeling myself sinking into KL like a warm bath, ready to move on from all the problems of season eight and see what joys season nine will bring me.
Coming up next is the cleverly titled The Trouble With Peter.
Coming up next is the cleverly titled The Trouble With Peter.