Episode Title: There Are Smiles
Season 09, Episode 05
Episode 195 of 344
Written by Lynn Marie Latham
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 22nd, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Lilimae is worried that Val isn't getting over Ben, and tells her she should try smile therapy. Al lives in his station wagon, and brings it to the MacKenzies’ to show Mack. Lilimae is very rude to Al, so he tells her to try smile therapy. Val buys a sports car. She tells Gary he is the father of the twins. Jill tells Gary that she is sick of his ex-wives, step-children, and secret children, and moves out. Later they make up, and she moves back in. Paige admits to Mack that Peter fell on a spindle when they argued. Since it was an accident, the police don't press charges, but Mack says she needs to apologize to the people she hurt. Paige apologizes to Greg, who says she's lucky that Mack is her father because he'd hang a snot like her out to dry. Paige tells Abby she's sorry Abby is off the hook, and Abby says that she is going to get Paige for this. Laura quits Lotus Point, and tells Greg in a round-about way that she is dying.
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
Hello all my beautiful readers whom I love dearly and with all of my heart. I’m so very excited to discuss There Are Smiles, the culmination of our first batch of season nine eps. Once again, I found this little five-episode experience to function very well as its own little mini season, right down to the climactic moment of this ep, which plants the seeds for our next disk. Let’s explore.
Who do I want to talk about first? I think I’ll go with Paige because this is the ep where we finally find out for sure that she killed Peter Hollister. In fact, we get that out of the way almost immediately, in our very first scene when we pick up with Mack and Paige walking around Lotus Point and discussing what happened. Now, one thing worth noting is that we, the viewers, get to see what really happened via a nice little flashback, but Mack doesn’t get to hear the truth about what happened. You all follow what I mean? I mean that we get to see Paige and Peter arguing, some footage we already saw last season, but then the footage continues into some stuff we haven’t yet seen, and that would be Paige shoving Peter and him falling down on the spindle by accident. As we watch Paige roll him over and realize that he’s all bloody and dead, we hear her through the narration telling Mack that they had an argument, then she calmed down, then she left, end of story. This is an interesting way of doing it, by the way, because I found that this created a weird effect in my brain where I kept thinking that Paige had told the truth to Mack. I was getting myself confused because Paige’s lie is mixed in through the audio over the footage of the real event, but somehow watching the real event unfold convinced my brain that Paige was describing the truism of what happened to Mack.
One thing worth noting about this quick little flashback is that it marks our official last appearance of Hunt Block as Peter Hollister. I believe I pretty well summed up my feelings about him back in Cement the Relationship, but he technically does appear in this episode as the character of Peter for the very last time, so I’ll do a real fast bit of reflection on Peter before I move on. I think that Peter’s potential was greater than the actual realization of the character. I’d say this character is at his best when first introduced in season seven, when he’s draped in mystery and we see new revelations to that mystery throughout the year. My interest in him starts to wane near the end of season seven, and then he hangs around for another entire season while my interest in him continues to wane. Over the course of the eighth season, I feel the whole storyline of this character just got way too convoluted. When Abs finally plopped him in that cement, what viewer in 1987 could possibly still be following or even caring enough to attempt to follow all these twists and turns and shenanigans about who Peter really is, who his real sister is, who his real mom is; I mean really, who cares? They drew all that shit out way too long which is why I’m almost 100% positive without doing any behind-the-scenes research that the writers finally settled on, “Let’s just kill him in the season finale and be done with all these complex plot machinations.” Their instinct was right, by the way, because I’ve been enjoying the “Who Killed Peter Hollister?” mystery, warts and all, far more than I enjoyed pretty much anything he did in the two years prior. Killing this character was a fabulous idea because it rids the show of an overly-complicated character and it also helps to lead us to new stories and new revelations, erm, well, kinda.
How does Paige finally wind up getting outed as the pseudo-killer of Peter? Well, it all comes about because of a fabulously divine trap set by Abs. Let’s all remember how smart Abs is and how good she is at tricking people, which she pulls off beautifully right here. See, she and Paige are exchanging unpleasantries at Lotus Point, having that classic sort of soap talk where they are insulting and degrading each other but doing it in a rather jolly and playful one. Anyway, Paige says something like, “Murder seems a little extreme, even for you,” to which Abs retorts, “Maybe you can be a character witness at my trial.” Then she says something about how the cops “believed me the first time” when she confessed to Peter’s murder, and then a second later the guy from Blow Out comes running in and is like, “There’s a surprise witness!” Then he tells Abs how a cleaning woman heard a big altercation between Peter and some woman and she didn’t report it immediately because she’s an illegal alien (these are the words of the show, by the way) and didn’t want to get deported. As they talk, Paige’s eyes get all big and wide and she looks like she’s going to poop her pants. Now that there’s this sudden appearance of a new witness, Paige had better go tell the truth, and fast! However, after Paige has unburdened herself from the secret she’s been holding in, and she says something like, “There was a witness,” Abs grins all wicked-like and is like, “Witness? What witness?” With that, we realize that there was never a witness and that Abs planted a fake conversation in front of Paige for the soul purpose of scaring her into telling the truth. How clever is that? After seven solid years with Abs, she still never fails to impress me when she’s working at the top of her game.
There are a few obviously ridiculous plot holes in this wrapup, starting of course with the fact that Abs is just totally off the hook now. I guess since she didn’t technically do the murder in the first place, the police are just gonna forget all about this. The only problem is I’m pretty sure it’s a crime to remove a dead body from a murder scene and then bury it in cement, but then hey, what do I know about the law? The other big plot flaw is that Paige is also just off the hook. She tells the police it was an accident and she didn’t mean to kill Peter and they….just….sorta.....believe her. This entire story is dependent on Paige’s word and nothing more. For all the cops know, Paige could have stabbed him in the back in vicious cold blood and then decided to just tell everyone he fell on the spindle. Would the cops really believe her so easily and forget the whole thing? Probably not. Do I care very much? No, not really. Now, you might wonder why I would be so harsh on everything involving Hackney last year but then just shrug my shoulders when this mystery wraps up in a somewhat anticlimactic way. The only explanation I can give you is that, even though I recognize some portions of this story are silly or too easily tidied up, this storyline simply kept me entertained and I enjoyed pretty much all aspects of it, spanning from the moment of Peter’s death in Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate all the way through to its conclusion here. I enjoyed the dark comedy of Abs burying the body while dressed up in her fancy outfit, and then I enjoyed the way the mystery kicked off the ninth season. No, this story doesn’t hold a candle to something like, “Who Killed Ciji?”, but I still enjoyed watching it.
There’s a little more stuff involving Paige and how Mack makes her go apologize to everyone who she hurt through her actions, but I’m writing on a library computer with a little clock ticking on the right side of the screen, constantly reminding me that my time is running out, so I’ve got to book (see what I did there with “library” and “book”?). Let’s move right along to Val, who’s feeling sorta listless and trying to get a handle on life as a single girl again. There’s an interesting bit of business this ep in which she’s out with the twins, doing whatever it is you do with little twin kids, and then some car dealership guy comes up with balloons that he gives to the kids, all while trying to sell Val on this big van that he’s got on the lot. Instead of buying the van, Val spots a little red sports car that looks a lot like Ben’s and then we cut to her driving out of the dealership with that car. Whatever happens to her other car is anyone’s guess, since Val presumably had to drive a car in order to get here, though perhaps she was just out on a walk with the twins when she stumbled upon this car. Can anyone help me understand exactly why Val buys this car? I sorta assumed that she just wants to have the car because it reminds her of Ben, but is there some deeper meaning I’m not seeing beneath the surface? I think I’m probably safe with my assumption, and I bring that up because we also had a quick scene of Val playing Send in the Clowns on the piano. I wouldn’t have even noticed she was playing it were it not for MBG pointing it out, which then reminded me of Ben and Val dancing to that song back in….um…..somewhere in late season six (give me a break; we’ve watched nearly 200 damn eps at this point). The reemergence of Send in the Clowns tells me that Ben is on Val’s mind and that buying this car somehow helps her to cope.
There’s another pretty big development as far as Val is concerned within this ep. See, at some point Gary pays her a visit and is trying to talk to her about Ben’s vanishing act and the twins and he says how he can help her out with anything she needs, to which Val gets very serious and says, “Gary, I’m perfectly able to take care of your kids.” Yikes, this is a pretty big development, and let me tell you why. The entire brilliant brilliant brilliant saga of Val’s babies and who their real father is has been going on since all the way back in season five with …And Never Brought to Mind, when Gary and Val shared their one night of extreme passion. That was nearly four years ago and yet we are still seeing such great stuff coming out of that, all the way here in season nine. See, in the last four years, the closest we ever got to Val telling Gary the truth was when he confronted her somewhere in season seven and said, “Our children.” Val neither confirmed nor denied it back then, instead just running off all upset, but now here we are and she finally says it out loud to Gary for the very first time. In fact, we later see Gary lying in bed with J.B. and he helpfully confirms, “That was the first time she ever said they were my kids.” Even that scene is a big deal, in my opinion, because we end it on a slow closeup of J.B.’s face, looking perturbed, planting beautiful seeds for the future.
The last thing on the Val agenda this ep is that she unveils her ridiculous Flock of Seagulls hairdo, and of course everyone in the cast is stopping her to say, “Oh Val, I just love your new hairdo!” God bless the ‘80s, because that’s the only time in the history of the universe that a serious adult woman working as an actress on a very successful television show would go to a beauty salon and request the Flock of Seagulls. This is the hair Val is sporting in the gloriously campy opening credits this year, and I’ll pay strict attention to see how long she keeps rocking it. I love how hysterically awful this hair is and yet how everyone around Val acts like it’s the coolest. In 1987, was Val cool for rocking this look? Or did everyone know it was absurd right away when she first revealed it on this historical October day in 1987?
Meanwhile, I smell a romance blooming between the soon-to-be-departed Lilimae Clements and the character of Al Baker, played by special guest star Red Buttons. See, in this ep we learn that Al lives in his car, and we learn that because he drives his car/home to the cul-de-sac to stop and visit Mack. Nobody is home at the MacKenzie house, but Lilimae spots Al and gives him the suspicious eye. I understand wanting to keep your neighborhood safe and all that, but I actually think Lilimae is being kinda nasty towards Al, following him around and acting like he’s up to no good, wanting to know why he’s in the area. The man came to see Mack, after all, not Lilimae, but then I suppose Lilimae has always been a little nosy and this is nothing new. This nosiness, by the way, is part of MBG’s distaste for the character. Since we are going to evacuate Lilimae from the series very shortly, I plan to ask MBG after that for her thoughts on the character as a whole, after we’ve seen every ep. I’m pretty sure MBG never warmed up to Lilimae; there was just something about the character she simply didn’t like and she seemed to not like her all the way from when she was first introduced to, well, pretty much right here, right now. Anyway, enough about that; obviously the writers are setting up a relationship with Al and Lilimae, but we’re gonna have to wait a bit to see that play out. For the purposes of this ep, they meet real fast, they exchange some dialogue, Al Baker tells her about smile therapy (a kinda running theme of the ep that I am too lazy to go into more detail about) and then they go their separate ways.
The most important character on the roster this week, and the character I would like to discuss last, is Laura. Oh, my sweet Laura, one of our cherished original season one veterans who has been here all the way since that very first episode back in 1979 and who is going to be leaving us very soon. Yes, despite the title, There Are Smiles is the ep where Laura reveals she is going to die. Now, she reveals that in the last scene of the ep, but once again I see tons of hints of it long before she actually says it out loud. First of all, Laura asks Karen if she can take a “permanent vacation” from Lotus Point and later we learn that she sold her share in the company and that she’s going to quit right away. Upon a first viewing, one might think this is just going to lead to another career change for Laura (who has been a housewife, a real estate agent, a worker at her husband’s restaurant, a co-conspirator for Abby’s evil plans in season five, then back to real estate for two minutes, and then finally finishing up with this job at Lotus Point; did I leave anything out?), but I see this as a clear sign of what’s about to come. Laura knows she’s going to die and she’s working on getting things prepared. Another harbinger comes when Laura says something like, “I cannot stand the fact that things happen and you have no control over them.” Oh yeah, and there’s also the little fact that Laura has left Daniel and Jason 4 at Richard’s and seems to have no plans to bring them back to California in the near future.
We get the reveal in the final scene of the ep, a scene I’ve never forgotten since my first viewing, mostly because I can remember the sad sinking feeling I got in my stomach as I watched it unfold before my eyes. The scene begins with Laura sitting up in bed, reading, and Greg standing in front of the fireplace and speaking to her. He asks if there’s something going on between her and Richard, to which Laura kinda casually smiles and says, “No.” I like that Greg believes her about that right away and we move on, by the way, since other writers would have been tempted to dwell on that longer and create some drama from Greg mistakenly thinking Laura is shagging Richard again. Instead, the KL writers have Laura tell him no and Greg believe her, and I like that. Then Greg has a good line where he says, “God knows I’m a patient man, I hate guessing games, but my affection for you is being sorely tested with your recent inability to communicate; is that clear?” God, only Devane could deliver a line like that and have it work so well, because he doesn’t sound threatening or mean in any way, and I think that, “Is that clear?” portion could come off terribly if delivered by some other actor, but he makes it work. He’s gentle but firm all at the same time. He’s trying to be straight with Laura and he’s being direct but he’s also being loving; it’s a nice bit of acting that only Devane could pull off in such a way. Anyway, Laura understands what Greg is saying and so she levels with him, starting off with a little speech about how you sometimes get upset about things like bad drivers or someone shortchanging you and you think these are great big deals, but when you realize that life is short, they stop seeming so important. Then she gets to the real meat of it (pun not intended) when she starts talking about pizza, saying, “You know how I love pizza and I avoid it because I don’t want to gain weight and get fat. Well, what if it really didn’t matter anymore? What if I didn’t have enough time left to get fat? Then I could eat all the pepperoni pizza with double cheese that I wanted.” Then there’s this long pause where she starts to cry (good acting from Constance) while Greg looks sorta quietly dejected, and then Laura finishes with, “I was thinking about maybe ordering a pizza tonight.” We end the ep there.
Boy, what a scene. Now, the first time I watched the show, I had been spoiled on the fact that Laura died in the ninth season. I knew that pretty much from the time I started watching season one, mostly because of doing the stupid thing where I watched one or two eps and then immediately jumped over to the IMDb chatroom (rest in peace) to see some discussions and, of course, one of the topics was something like, “Why did they kill Laura?!” So I knew Laura’s fate well in advance, but this still hit me hard, and I think it’s because it does feel so unexpected, at least on first viewing. I was assuming season nine would kinda go into Terms of Endearment land as far as Laura was concerned, that we would have several eps at the start of the season in which she’s lying in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. I didn’t expect her to just throw it out there in the climactic moments of this ep, and that’s what made the scene a gut punch. Watching again, I of course see lots of little hints the writers have been dropping since the premiere, but on first viewing, I wasn’t so shrewd. By the way, I also really like how Laura never goes, “Greg, I’m dying,” in this scene, but instead uses that whole pizza metaphor to tell him the fact. Honest to God, every time I eat pizza now (I had some yesterday), I think about this scene. Of course, I could be critical of the fact that this is episode 195 and I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard Laura talk about pizza before, but who cares? Just because she hasn’t talked about it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like it. I fucking love soda, real soda like a real Coke or a real Pepsi or 7-UP with real sugar, omigod so delicious, and I also never drink soda because it’s bad for you and it will make my ass fat. If I was starring in my own show, I could like soda privately, inside my brain, without ever having it come up in the dialogue, no? So I’m willing to go with Laura and her pizza.
As I said, this library computer is flashing a reminder at me that I am about to get booted out of the system, so let’s wrap up my thoughts on this ep. Well, I liked it. I pointed out some of the flaws as we went along, but there was nothing in here that made me dislike the ep. I also thought this felt like a good almost mini-finale, that we finished up the Peter Hollister business just in time for Laura’s big reveal, which will launch us into the main thrust of our next disk. In fact, let’s move along and start discussing that disk with the episode The Gift of Life.