Episode Title: Under Pressure
Season 09, Episode 03
Episode 193 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, October 8th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Al Baker starts to hang around Mack's office, and Peggy suspects he's homeless. Mack agrees to let Al sleep in his office. Peggy comes by with dinner, and finds the office filled with homeless people. Paige has nightmares, and Mack thinks it's odd that Paige left Peter several friendly messages when he knew she was mad at him. Olivia's scared to talk to Mack and Detective Garcia, and runs to Val's instead of meeting with them. Gary wants to get an attorney, but Abby says that will just make her look guilty. Detectives finally question Olivia, and take out the locket. Olivia says she had given it back to Peter. Detective Garcia pats her on the shoulder, but is really taking fibers from her school uniform. The fibers match fibers found on Peter's body, and police go back and accuse Olivia of the murder. Abby says she killed Peter.
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
When we last left off in the concluding moments of The Trouble with Peter, the ill-fated Mr. Hollister’s funeral was about to commence when Gary confronted Abs about how he “knows Olivia killed Peter.” Then Abs gave him a Soap Slap and she drove off, ending that episode and moving us seamlessly along into this one, which begins with Abs speeding her car up to her new house with Olivia, Gary riding hot on their tail. Abs quickly shuffles Olivia into their new house, but Gary catches up with Abs and starts asking her questions. He’s utterly convinced that Olivia is the culprit, but we also know he didn’t like Peter all that much (remember the mashed potatoes?) and doesn’t think Olivia just randomly murdered Peter for no reason. He asks Abs if he raped her and then asks if it was at least statutory rape, but Abs says no. This did make me reflect on the fact that it’s still creepy no matter what that Peter went after Olivia in any way at all. Even if his real motivation was to get that mysterious Plot Contrivance Letter back from Olivia, it doesn’t change the fact that he was still creating the appearance of a 34 year old man going after a sixteen year old girl. Now, I am a good little liberal and an open-minded kinda guy and I don’t tend to be as rigid as some people can be about cross-generational relationships, but in the case of Peter, it is just a major case of the icks; you could double Olivia’s age and she would still be two years younger than Peter. I also thought it was weird whenever Peter would show up at Olivia’s high school to pick her up, just icky. Also, sorry to throw in a political reference, but here it comes. I was about to write a big rant about how I don’t believe a politician could so openly date a sixteen year old girl and get away with it, but then I quickly reflected on “Grab them by the pussy” and the fact that our very own President was involved in a rape scandal involving a thirteen year old girl and then it doesn’t seem so outlandish to me.
Oh yeah, and kinda random and not all that important, but I do wanna discuss Abs and Olivia’s new home, since I think I neglected it last season. If I’m remembering correctly, this is the home they will occupy for all of seasons nine and ten, and then Abs leaves the show but Olivia hangs around for an extra year, at which point I think she might move into some sort of shitty little apartment (it’s kinda a blur for me). Anyway, I like this house and I like this set; the house is very large and old style and I like the long driveway they have at the front. Then I like how you step into the house and it’s so very white, that late ‘80s clean, sanitized, and sterile white look (think Hannibal’s all-white prison cell in Manhunter). I like the layout and the way that you enter the house and immediately can go up the stairs, or you can relax in the spacious and sterile living room area. Overall, a great house, although it’s far from my favorite set on the series. I think my heart will always belong to Gary and Abby’s Beach House from season four followed by Abby’s amazing palace/sex office that she uses throughout season five (complete with a waffle iron on the ceiling). If I lived inside the universe of this series, I would probably choose to live in one or both of those two sets.
Let’s keep focused on Abs and Olivia and all that good stuff for a little while. Obviously the whole “we have to act normal” plan is sorta shot to shit now that Olivia and Abs have abandoned the funeral before it even got started, although I suppose Abs could cook up some excuse for why they left. I don’t know if that would fly with Detective The Hidden. For the rest of the ep, we watch him trying to catch up with Olivia and Olivia always running off. There’s a scene near the middle of the ep that I found rather amusing in which Mack and Detective The Hidden decide to go question Olivia at school. Gary is also there, but separately. He just came to talk to Olivia and see how she’s feeling, but as soon as the cops show up, Olivia’s all like, “I gotta go!” and then sneaks off, slinking down and sorta crouching while she walks her way to her car and speeds off. Detective The Hidden doesn’t see her, but Mack does. A little later, Olivia pulls a similar move when the cops come to question her at the house and she disappears to Val’s place to hide out. I enjoyed lots of the small details of this bit of business, such as Val reminding Karen that Olivia has snuck off to her house before, back in late season five, and so she assumes something is upsetting her that was similar to what upset her back then. Also, I like how we are consistently reminded of Olivia and Val’s special little friendship, that Olivia feels safe and secure around Val and views her house as something of a safe haven. This tracks nicely with their relationship all the way back to 1980, when Olivia was first introduced and she and Val first met. I like how it’s now seven years later and yet those relationships are still important to the series.
Basically, when we reach the final scene of the ep, the cops have finally successfully cornered Olivia. They’re at the house, both Detective The Hidden and Mack, and they’re talking to Olivia, but Abs isn’t there. Olivia is starting to get scared when Detective The Hidden starts reading her the Miranda rights. Mack takes a moment to helpfully explain what Miranda rights are and why they’re a good thing, and it’s at that precise moment that Abs comes marching in and decides to proclaim, “I killed Peter Hollister,” which is our exciting cliffhanger for the ep. Now, watching this and putting myself into the mindset of a first time viewer in 1987, I don’t think we are supposed to GASP and be like, “My God, Abs killed him?!” I don’t think we’re ever supposed to think she did it, even if we did start that one scene with her scrubbing her hands violently like she’d just done a murder. Rather, we know she’s gone into mother bear mode and she’s doing whatever it takes to protect her child. I also get the feeling that the cops know this, but we’ll have to proceed along to our next ep to further discuss it.
Let’s talk about Greg, who is in rare form this ep. Oh yeah, and just to keep us up to date, I am now writing along with the help of my notes, so I can tell you that we are currently at Cigar #31 on the Sumner Cigar Counter (his last cigar was smoked in the previous ep at night while Laura talked to him about Richard). He doesn’t smoke a cigar in this ep, so for the time being we’re comfortably settled on 31. Anyway, Sumner has a scene in this ep that I just loved and had also completely forgotten about. See, early on Greg receives Peter’s ashes (random note: I would also like to be cremated after I die; I don’t want to be buried under the ground in a box). Okay, so now he’s got the ashes and one would assume he’s just gonna put them on the mantel or go spread them over the ocean or, you know, whatever people like to have done with their ashes. But no, instead we catch up with Greg doing a bit of gardening, scooping Peter’s ashes into his plants and mixing it with the soil. As he scoops, he talks, and he says something like, “You had an opportunity to make this entire country grow; now you’ve been relegated to fuel for these flowers.” As soon as he said this, I asked My Beloved Grammy if it’s really true that you can use human ash to grow plants, because I think that sounds really fucking cool, but she didn’t know the answer. Therefore, I did a quick bit of Googling and only got more confused by what seem to be contradictory answers. First, I found the question, “Are human ashes good for the garden?” and Google answers, “Cremated ash remains are harmful to the environment if left in their original state due to the extremely high pH levels which does not allow for the natural release of good nutrients. Cremated ashes also contain sodium in amounts that range from 200 to 2000 times what plant life can tolerate.” Okay, very interesting, but then I also found the question, “Do ashes help plants grow?” The Google answer to that is, “Other elements of the ashes are beneficial to the soil and plant growth, as well. Because the wood ashes act as a liming agent, they reduce the acidity of the soil. Plants that prefer acidic soil such as blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons will not thrive if wood ashes are applied.” Okay, so I guess the answer is kinda yes and kinda no, and I suppose it depends on what kind of plant you want to fuel. I’m not sure what plant Sumner is working with, since all we see in the scene is the soil. In any case, whether it works or not, the image of Greg casually scooping up chunks of Peter’s ashes and mixing them into the soil brought me such joy and I very much enjoyed the morbid humor. I think this casual treatment of the ashes underscores how little Sumner really cared about Peter. He gives a little speech to the ashes about, “You never asked me why I put up with you, why I let you be my brother, Bob Loblaw,” but we get the sense that he’s indifferent to Peter and won’t think about him too much over the course of the rest of the series. In this instance, I would say the audience feels the exact same way about Peter that Greg does.
Since I’m spoiling stuff with cheerful abandon right now, let me remind you that Paige killed Peter and we’re going to find that out an ep or two into the future. For the purposes of this ep, we still don’t know for sure who did it, but even if I didn’t know in advance, I’d put my money on Paige. There’s a scene in this ep in which Karen and Mack are having a quiet discussion about who killed Peter and then, seemingly in the middle of Mack’s sentence, we abruptly cut to Paige flinging around in her bed to the sweet violinic sounds of the ghost of Bernard Hermann, who has once again come to visit the show from beyond the grave to provide some classic horror movie screeching. Jeez, is that jump from Mack talking to Paige flinging ever abrupt. It almost feels like something was cut out and we just sorta cut away from Mack and Karen and suddenly we’re in the land of the shrieking violins. Anyway, we watch Paige have her nightmare and then she bolts straight up in a way that never actually happens in real life but happens constantly on TV shows. Seriously, when have you ever had a nightmare and then come flying up at the same time that you wake up? Nobody has ever experienced this, yet it’s one of those TV things we see all the time and just come to expect. Anyway, for me Paige’s nightmares and odd behavior (such as the fact that left a syrupy sweet message on Peter’s answering machine even though we have already seen her have a big fight with him) lead me to conclude that Paige is the culprit. I even remember putting my money on her back in college, when I was first watching, and I was proven right.
The last thing I’d like to talk about as far as Under Pressure is concerned is the storyline of Mack and Al Baker (that’s Red Buttons, in case you had forgotten). Al was in the premiere of the season and then he sat out the second ep, but now he’s back and we get to know him better. In this ep, he’s hanging around Mack’s office, complaining about Peggy’s coffee, as is his wont, and then the conversation shifts to homeless people living on the streets and Al says how, if he had a big office like Mack has in which the heat stays on all night, he’d be more generous with it. Since Mack is a good person with a good heart, he gives Al the keys to the office, but then our next scene is Peggy in the office late at night finding it positively overrun with homeless people, including some horny homeless who are going for a shag on the floor of Mack’s office. An interesting turn of events, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Mack gives his keys to Al very casually and then Al immediately turns the place into a homeless shelter. Even though I’m a good little liberal and I try to be good to the homeless, I’m still not sure I would want them taking over my office in such a way, and I’d say Mack has a right to be mad at Al.
This development will be further explored in upcoming eps, but I would like to take a moment to shine a spotlight on Victoria Ann Lewis as Peggy. This is the first time I’ve brought up Peggy, and that’s a bit shameful on my part because she’s been in a ton of eps before this, starting with Ipso Facto in 1984, and the (possibly misinformed) IMDb tells me she shows up for 88 eps altogether. I’m talking about her now, however, because she’s being given more to do and I’m finding myself appreciating her more. In the prior eps, I feel like she’s been around but she hasn’t really had a moment for us to take note of her. Here, she gets quite a bit of material with Al, and they have a nice exchange involving a jelly donut that leads the way to the same jelly donut being an important topic of conversation between Gary and J.B. Anyway, we get the sense that Peggy is frustrated by Al but also sympathetic to him. She gets a little grumpy on him in this ep (before Mack gives him the keys), asking him to leave the office so she can lock up and asking, “Don’t you have a home?” As soon as she says this, she realizes that Al probably doesn’t have a home, and I like the change in her demeanor once she realizes this. Anyway, Peggy is one of those characters, kinda like Marcia, who hangs around for years and years but never really gets a major story of her own, so I wanted to point her out and say I appreciate what she brings to the table.
I think that’s all I have to say about Under Pressure. I continue to enjoy what season nine is bringing me early in the proceedings and I’m looking forward to discussing our next ep, Half Truths.