Episode Title: Flight of the Sunbirds
Season 09, Episode 09
Episode 199 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Roy Campanella II
Original Airdate: Thursday, November 19th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Karen plans a reception for Linda and Eric, but doesn't warm to her. Michael is irritated at Jody's neediness and insecurities. Al proposes to Lilimae, who says she can't leave Val. Finally, Lilimae tells Al she won't marry him, but will live with him. They buy a motorhome and leave Knots Landing. Gary spends lots of time with Val and the twins. They laugh about how everyone thinks they're having an affair. Abby tells Jill that Gary and Val are using the twins as an excuse to see one another, and that Jill no longer excites Gary because the cheating excites him, not the woman. Abby waits at a restaurant for Charles, but then his secretary calls and says he's overseas. She remembers trashing her room after she left Charles, and vowing that she would never let a man hurt her again. Greg misses Laura terribly, and tells Meg about all the things they'll do together when she's back. Then he gets a call from the clinic that Laura is dead.
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 to Flight of the Sunbirds and oh boy, is a flight ever accurate in this instance, as we get the official final appearance of the brilliant and immensely gifted Julie Harris as Lilimae Clements, a character introduced way back in January of 1980 with Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Lilimae has been a consistently enjoyable aspect of KL, in my opinion, someone who was always very dependable for a funny comment or an emotional speech or just the consistently solid acting of Julie. The only flaws of Lilimae were those inflicted upon her by the writers, such as turning her far too nagging and delusional in the second half of season seven or giving her virtually nothing to do throughout season eight. Even in those instances, whenever she was onscreen, she did a good job. I also found the entire arc of her relationship with Valene to be very moving; the fact that they start out as nearly enemies and Val harbors such hatred for her mother, yet the two manage to become friends as adults a little later down the line. That, for me, is the most important aspect of Lilimae’s character, watching her grow and evolve along with Val. Well, here we are now and the writers are getting rid of her in a big 1987 budget slash.
I’m clearly on a Lilimae kick right now and wanna keep talking about her, so let’s focus on her storyline first before moving on to everyone else. Okay, so Special Guest Star Red Buttons was introduced as Al Baker in the premiere ep of the season, and now here we are in the ninth ep and he’s whisking Lilimae away into the sunset with him. As an objective viewer who watches too many movies and too much TV, I recognize that this is all moving tremendously fast in an effort to get Lilimae off the show as soon as possible, and yet I still enjoy watching it as a viewer. I watched this block of eps twice, once with MBG and again with Brother, and Brother and I talked about how charming old people having sex on TV is. Why is it so cute? If you show me a movie or a TV show where old people fall in love and have sex, my heart will melt, and it's possibly a reason that Terms of Endearment is one of my very favorite films. Now, I don’t think we ever get confirmation that Al and Lilimae consummate their relationship, but we do get a lot of charming scenes of them out on dates and talking and having adventures, and I enjoy all that stuff. It’s better material than anything Lilimae got in all of season eight, so at least if she’s getting fired, she’s getting material to work with before she gets fired, you know?
The big material with Al and Lilimae this week is that Al asks her to marry him and go off to, I assume, live in his car with him. I guess Lilimae was a homeless shopping cart lady when she was brought into the cast in season three, so perhaps living in a car is a step up from that. Even still, she’s spent the last six years living in the much nicer and much cozier confines of Val’s home on Seaview Circle; who would want to leave that for a teeny old car, even if it does have a coffee maker? The whole idea is a bit hard to swallow, but I again forgive it because of the charisma between the actors. Also, Al is good with the romantic talk. As he takes Lilimae home one morning (presumably they have spent the whole night out, perhaps having sex), he says, “I’ve only felt this way about one other woman, and I married her.” This scene takes place in his car, and they are sitting and watching Gary and Val and the kids play around in the front yard. I get the feeling that Al is also noticing how much Gary is a part of this picture, and thinking that if Lilimae leaves, Gary will just naturally move in and start shagging Val. Perhaps Lilimae is aware of this, too? Oh yeah, and one quick detour related to this scene: For a big bundle of eps, the twins have been referring to Lilimae as “Gooma.” Now what the hell is that? Is this just totally made up? Has anyone in any culture ever heard of “Gooma?” Why don’t they just call her “Grandma?” If anyone ever referred to their grandmother as "Gooma," please let me know immediately.
Lilimae is fairly easily sold on the idea of a small car as a home, saying, “Well, this is a home, Al,” before adding, “But it’s a home for one person; there’s not enough room in your car for two people to live comfortably.” Despite the whole homeless shopping cart lady thing I just brought up, I’m still surprised Lilimae is so easily sold on the vehicle, mostly because of the bathroom situation. Look, I like peeing outside as much as any other person with a penis, but I don’t like going #2, and I don’t think ladies like going #1 or #2 outside at all, let alone having to find the nearest McDonald’s as fast as possible just to use their restroom. Does Lilimae want to get a reputation as the lady who goes to McDonald’s every day just to poop? In any case, Al must have more money stashed away than I thought he did, because he returns to the cul-de-sac a little later with a big RV. He takes her for a ride (and I enjoy the cute little scene where he asks her to take a ride and the camera sorta goes into a closeup of Lilimae’s face and she says, “Don’t mind if I do”) and they continue to discuss marriage. Al says how it seems Gary is always around for Val and he also says his grandparents got married real fast and they stayed married until the day they died.
Later that night, Al is sipping coffee with Lilimae and Val in the kitchen when he decides to just flat tell Val that he asked her mother for her hand in marriage. Thankfully, Val does bring up the whole “Lives out of his car” thing, and says it in a kinda horrified way, but then she quickly moves on to “Do you love him?” and “Does he love you?” and Bob Loblaw. Lilimae also brings up, “I am not about to abandon you, here with the children, alone,” a valid point. Lilimae has been around consistently since 1981, and the kids have never known a house without Lilimae in it. I joke about Lilimae being a freeloader (because she kinda is), but I also think she provides an important contribution to the household and some much needed warmth in a soap filled cul-de-sac. The scene culminates with a nice speech from Val about how she doesn’t want to be responsible for keeping her mother away from happiness, how if Al makes her happy, Lilimae should be with him.
There’s a comedic bit of business in which Al and Lilimae go for an RV drive together and Al refuses to ever back the RV up. They find a parking place that requires backup parking and he insists against it, his voice piped into the audio via bad ADR while we see shots of the RV driving around. When they finally decide to just try and back it into a spot, Lilimae directs him, but he still winds up hitting the wall. A little later, they return to the cul-de-sac and Al’s car is waiting for him there, and Lilimae says how she bought it for him or something. Al is very touched by this, as I guess it means he gets to keep his car (which he traded for the RV) and the RV, as well. The next time we see the two, they are packing up and hitting the road. They are taking the RV with the smaller car attached behind. Lilimae says goodbye to the twins and says she’ll call them every night (I’m gonna be counting her offscreen phonecalls in future eps and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna come up almost empty). Then Lilimae says goodbye to Val in a scene that probably should have been more touching than it actually is, and she and Al drive off fairly inauspiciously.
Much like Laura’s exodus, I’m sorta split on how I feel about this. I mean, boy, is it fast. This is the ninth ep of the season and Lilimae is leaving town with a guy who has barely been introduced and she’s never coming back. Another weird thing about this ep is that, for me, it doesn’t feel all that final. It seems more like Al and Lilimae are taking a little vacation and they’re gonna be back, at least as guest stars, but then we hit next ep and Lilimae is gone from the opening credits. I even remember watching this in college and seeing her name disappear and being like, “Oh, I guess she’s gone.” With so many of the other departures (especially the deaths like Sid or Joshua), it was like, “Yup, that was definitely their final episode,” but this one just felt like Lilimae was going on a little trip and would be back soon. I say that also because I feel Val and Lilimae parting should be more emotional than it actually is, considering all they have gone through in the last six years. They hug and they say goodbye and that’s about it. I kinda wish I was busting out the tissues for Lilimae’s big final exit, but it’s not quite that way. One cynical hypothesis I harbor is that perhaps Val is glad to see her mother gone? Perhaps she’s gotten tired of her mother living rent-free and taking up space and playing her God-awful songs on her auto-harp? That’s obviously a mean thing to say, but Val has also been going through a grouchy time lately, so I do wonder if she kinda wants her mother gone.
There’s other stuff going on in this ep, so let’s shift away from Lilimae for, well, forever, I guess, and talk about some other characters. Last ep the earth shifted on its axis due to the introduction of the one and only Linda Fairgate, the brilliant Lar Park Lincoln who will be with us until (according to IMDb) I, Claudia in 1991. IMDb also tells me she will be in 48 eps, and what a magnificent 48 eps they shall prove to me. However, my college memory that Linda was introduced in 1987 and then was immediately important all the way until 1991 was very inaccurate. According to IMDb, this is her last appearance in 1987 or 1988 and then she comes back in 1989 for Dial M For Modem as Sally’s Friend (you all know what I’m talking about) and she doesn’t show up again as Linda until Prince Charming in 1989. So, for the time being, Linda will seem an insignificant character, but fear not, for she will be back.
Within the confines of this ep, I think Linda only functions to irritate Karen. Karen’s already mad enough that Sexy Michael has a horny nymphomaniac airhead for a girlfriend, but then you add the fact that Eric got married offscreen to this bossy hippie dippie health nut. I’d be irritated, too, plus Linda does that super obnoxious thing where she greets Karen with, “Good morning, Mom.” Bitch, please. Karen ain’t your mom and she never will be. Linda also does the annoying thing where she asks questions about which kinds of food they will serve at this wedding reception and says, “If I have to look at another dead carcus.” Ugh, just shut up, Linda (I say all this with love, of course). Anyway, Linda and Eric have their wedding reception, which is a nice reason to gather the cast all together at Lotus Point, and then after the reception, they leave town, with Linda telling Karen how much she reminds her of herself, baffling and, I think, offending Karen. Then Linda leaves and, I’m not gonna lie, I’m sad. I can’t believe we have to wait like two years to see Linda again; I became so excited when I was watching these eps and she came onscreen. Oh well, she lies in our future and that means our future is bright.
One of the most moving aspects of this ep is Greg being alone with Meg. At the Lotus Point party, there’s a rather touching scene in which Greg looks around and sees all the little kids with their mothers, and we just sorta hold on his face looking sad. I’m gonna make a bold prediction right now and say that I think this will prove to be Devane’s finest year on the series, the year he gives his very best acting ever. It’s already starting with the way he’s dealing with losing Laura, and the way he can say so much with just his face while looking at the other kids, all with their mommies. Last season made the horrible mistake of roping Sumner into the abominable Hackney storyline, but I feel this season is returning him to where I want him, quiet and sarcastic and never letting his feelings show, but rather deep and sensitive on the inside. The ep ends with Greg getting a late night telephone call. Rather pretty piano music starts to play on the soundtrack as Greg puts the phone down and walks over to Meg’s crib. He puts his chin down on the bars and says, “It’s just you and me now, kid, just you and me.” Oh boy, and the way Devane delivers this line, like for a second he threatens to sob and then he quickly stops it, is fabulously subtle and touching all at the same time. We knew Laura was going to die, but something about the confirmation hurts extra bad, and already I’m fascinated by watching Greg react to it, something we will continue to focus on in upcoming eps.
In the continuing saga of Gary and Val, I’m pretty sure they shag in this ep. I mean, I think they shag. What happens is that, in the very last few minutes of the ep, they’ve just enjoyed a lovely evening together as a big happy family along with the twins, and then Gary is going to leave, but he and Val get into some intense yearning and then the music starts to play and they look at each other with, yes, intense yearning, and then the scene just kinda cuts there. As I said, our next ep was the final one on our disk, and I don’t know if that ep mentions whether or not Gary and Val had a shag. Whether they had a shag or not, most of the ep focuses on how they are forming together to become quite the picture perfect little nuclear family. Gary’s hanging around all the time, Val likes having him around, and the twins obviously love him. Can I just say it’s obvious that the twins love Gary way more than they ever loved Ben? I wonder if this is just because Ben left at the precise moment the twins started to talk and move around and have little personalities, but I also think that’s put there by the writing. Deep down in their souls, the twins know Gary is their real father; they can just tell. Anytime they show the whole family gathered together, my heart melts. As Lilimae and Al drive off, we get this shot of the whole gang waving them goodbye, and oh my what a pretty picture they make.
Let’s do a quick Gary/Val recap and reflect on where we are in the saga. This is the ninth season and Gary and Val have been split up since the closing seconds of the third season. This is our sixth season of them as a split couple both suffering from a serious case of yearning. If Cosmo Kramer were to ask Gary and Val directly, "Do you yearn?", they would have to answer affirmative. I feel like we are at a point where this could all start to become very tiresome, the constant wondering of whether Gary and Val will get together, what new roadblock will come up in their potential relationship. However, I’m still riveted by all of this, and I remember an interview I read with Michael Filerman where he talked about how the goal was to keep them split up as long as possible. So far, I think they did a great job; none of the roadblocks have felt like easy TV roadblocks. A character like Ben who could have easily been a block of nice, boring wood just shipped in to keep Val occupied for a few years, wound up being a very enjoyable character in his own right. I also feel that the longer you keep Gary and Val apart, the more I want them together, so I can handle a few more years of intense yearning, although I understand if some fans are getting a little restless with this couple at this point in the saga.
The only other storyline worth talking about is Abs and Basil Exposition. I gotta say, this is only the second ep to feature Basil, and I’m already kinda bored. Basically, in this ep, he stands Abs up for a date and she’s real upset and has a Sepia Toned Flashback about how he broke her heart back in the ‘60s. Bob Loblaw, isn’t this just kinda boring? I’m not sure why it’s so boring, but of all the stories going on right now, Abs and Basil Exposition is easily the least engaging for me. I’m gonna keep paying attention and see if this storyline brings us some new insight into Abby’s character that makes it valuable, but the fact that I remember almost nothing about this story except for the very first second that Michael York showed up tells me it’s not going to be a storyline worth remembering.
And that’s about it for this ep which, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed very much. Now might be a good time to say that I have somewhat shifted my perspective on KL at the point we’re at now. I now recognize that it will never again hit the heights of seasons four, five, six, and, yes, even the opening batch of eps in season seven. That was definitely the peak of the entire KL run, when the show really went into high art territory. Then we had the depths of season eight which showed me just how quickly things can go off the rails, and now we’re in a season nine that I feel is doing an excellent job of course correcting and returning the focus to the things I care about, not silly spies played by vamping wannabe femme fatales, but the core characters like Karen and Mack and Gary and Val and Sumner, the folks we tune in for. I’m so grateful to see the focus shifting back to what I care about and the show getting good again, that I am more forgiving of the little flaws. Is it a little silly that Lilimae meets Al and then a couple of eps later is taking off forever with him in an RV? Perhaps, but I still enjoyed it and it went down easy. Is the story between Abs and Basil a little bit boring? Sure, but I like most of the other stories going on around it. So yeah, I know we’re never gonna hit the sweet, nonstop perfection that was the glory run of seasons four through six, but I still love being in this world with these characters, and I think most shows have turned to pure shit by their ninth seasons, so I’m impressed KL still keeps up a quality that most shows in a season nine could never achieve.
Coming up next is a big fat landmark, our 200th ep. Previous landmarks have included the 50th ep (season three’s Night), the 100th ep (season five’s Negotiations), the 150th ep (season seven’s A Very Special Gift) and now here we are with the biggest one yet. I’m excited to discuss this very unique and experimental ep, entitled Noises Everywhere: Part One.