Episode Title: Her Letter
Season 09, Episode 23
Episode 213 of 344
Written by Bernard Lechowick
Directed by Robert Becker
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 24th, 1988
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Val is excited and prepares for Ben's return. Paige tells Greg she likes him and he says she must be joking. During a meeting, Manny is taken with Karen and flirts with her. Abby tells Karen to use this to get a better deal from Manny. Mack isn't jealous until he sees Manny. Harold and Olivia declare their love, but he says they can't sleep together until they're married, and he proposes. Abby is furious, and tells Manny she'll back out of the deal if he doesn't stop Harold. Abby calls Gary to help with Olivia, and a drunken Jill is furious. Paige agrees to go to Mexico with Johnny, and Harold and Olivia decide to go with so they can elope. Jill works out a deal for the little old lady forger, and has the woman write another letter to Val from "Ben."
When we last left off, Val was basically shitting her pants in excitement because she had just received a letter from Ben, the very first letter since he disappeared almost a year ago. As we begin Her Letter, we pick up right where we left off, with Val rushing around the neighborhood to find Karen and tell her what’s going on. The fact that Val has received a letter quickly becomes the talk of the neighborhood, although I find myself wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t have announced so boldly to MBG that Ben would never be returning to the series. When people leave the show, I generally tell her if they’re gone forever or if they’re going to show up again, and when Ben hit the road at the end of season eight, I confirmed that he would never be back. I suppose knowing that might take some suspense out of this story, but the thing is that we don’t have to wait too long to find out who’s really sending the letters.
See, we’ve reached a point where something is definitely changing within J.B. She is growing and blossoming into the J.B. I know and love, the J.B. I think of whenever I think of J.B. Throughout our last bundle of eps, we’ve seen her growing resentment at all the attention Gary pays to the twins and the lack of attention he pays to her. Now that Gary is the confirmed father of those two, they’re at the ranch practically every day. Gary plays with them all the time and he can’t even make time for sweet lovemaking since he’s so occupied with the kids. Because of this, J.B. has begun to laze around the house and drink and, in the case of this ep, she wears fabulous leather pants while she does it. The scene begins with her wearing her fabulous leather pants and then Gary comes walking in with the twins in his arms, fast asleep. He says he took them camping and they fell asleep and he didn’t want them to wake up and not have him there, so he’s gonna sleep with them tonight. At this declaration, J.B. quietly returns to the couch and pours herself another glass of white wine. When this occurred, MBG predicted that J.B. was going to quickly fall down the rabbit hole that Sue Ellen fell down so often over on Dallas and become a complete, screaming, “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVES” drunk. Turns out that’s not quite what’s going on here; yeah, she’s drinking too much, but I don’t think she’s necessarily an alcoholic like Gary. Rather, she’s using the alcohol to dull her pain at this moment in time as she feels her place in Gary’s life slipping away.
A few minutes later, we return to J.B. for a glorious scene of her sitting alone and drinking. The phone rings and it’s Val, as predicted by J.B. in a nice bit of dialogue to herself. See, she looks at the ringing phone and says, “Fifty dollars says that’s Val,” and when she picks it up and it is, indeed, Val, she says, “I win! I just won fifty dollars.” I find all of this very amusing and I like the way that Teri Austin plays J.B. as slightly drunken. I’ve read that the liquor flowed freely over on the set of Dallas, so I wonder what the alcohol policy was here on KL. In a scene like this, do you think Teri tossed back a few to get her properly into character? She plays the part so well, like a real slightly drunken person, not over-the-top and not too aggressive, but just aggressive enough to be slightly uncomfortable. Later on, while talking to Gary and, of course, drinking white wine, J.B. starts to get a little vicious, but she does it in a subtle way. They’re talking about how Ben is going to be returning home soon and J.B. says how, “What will the invisible man think when he comes back and finds you spending so much time with his kids?” Note the way that she says his kids; I think she’s doing that to get under Gary’s skin, and you can tell it works.
These are all small little clues planted throughout the ep that J.B. is up to something, but it’s all gloriously confirmed in the last five minutes of the ep when we have a sexy dissolve to J.B. working on a fake letter from Ben to Val. This is beautifully done because, just as I am wondering how J.B. is able to forge his handwriting properly, we find out how. In A Fair Race, we met up with Mrs. Bailey, an old woman who was in trouble for forging signatures on some checks. Now it looks like J.B. has called in a favor from Mrs. Bailey; if she helps J.B. with these forged letters, J.B. will tell the judge that Mrs. Bailey is a good lady who cooperated with them. Whoof, all kinds of wicked, no?
The revelation that J.B. is the mastermind behind the mysterious letters excited Brother greatly. From day one of this series, Brother has had an agenda of rage against Val that I’ve never completely understood; he just hates this character so much and takes great relish in seeing her tortured and in pain. I confess that, at this point in the series, I can see where those feelings might come from, and I also wonder if some of that is the result of the L&L team hating the character and the fact that they inherited the character. You all know that I love Val dearly as if she is a real person and I want her to be happy and all of that, but some of her annoying little qualities are becoming more apparent by this juncture. Even simple stuff like the way she busts into the Williams house while they’re all gathered together with Karen and Mack and starts hyperventilating about how she got this letter and how Ben should be returning. I could see how it would be annoying to be in the middle of this nice little social gathering of beer and card games or whatever and then have it interrupted by the manic blonde from a few doors down, who has come to make announcements about her long lost husband who disappeared into the Soap Land Hell of South America last year. I think that somewhat pathetic quality that Val has, that quality of being something of a kicked around puppy, would prove irritating if you had to spend an extended amount of time with her. I also think that the writers are doing this rather deliberately so that we as viewers can enjoy or even take some relish in the evil plans that J.B. is currently enacting.
But enough about that. To be clear, all the stuff with Gary/Val/J.B. is my favorite stuff going on right now, and I’ve been kinda waiting for us to reach this juncture ever since way back in season six’s A Price to Pay, when she first saddled her amazing self into Mack’s office and became a character on the series. I have been glad to have J.B. around ever since that moment, and I particularly enjoyed her acting and stories in season seven (not so much season eight, when she was a persistent victim of bad writing), but now I feel she’s really coming into her own. It’s like the writers and directors are just now realizing what a gold mine they have in this actress and this character and they are ready to use her talents to their fullest potential. So even though I love all this stuff, we must move on because there are other characters on the show worth discussing, starting with, say, Karen.
Karen is developing a rather strange and unexpected attraction towards Manny Vasquez. Now, at first I was just laughing at this cornball Italian stereotype and wondering what gas Karen could possibly be huffing that would make her get a crush on this guy. However, after looking at this man’s IMDb, I have new feelings of respect. His name is John Aprea and he played Young Tessio in The Godfather: Part II. Who knew? He’s also in The Stepford Wives, which I love, so that’s cool. Actually, I’m getting my eps slightly confused, because I was about to write about a long and intimate lunch scene between Karen and Manny in which the two start to share secrets, but that’s actually our next ep. In this ep, we get little hints that Karen is getting an infatuation, but nothing too overt. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on this for the next few eps.
Manny intersects with Abs and Olivia this week, as well, courtesy of his nephew Harold. See, Harold seems to be developing a genuine affection for Olivia, really doting on her and making her feel special. Near the end of the ep, the two are getting hot and heavy in Harold’s car up at Make Out Point, and Olivia is aching to give up her flower, but Harold stops her and says how, “I want to make this beautiful, I want to make this right, I want you to be my wife.” Yikes, don’t you think you’re jumping the gun a little bit on that one, Harold? After all, Olivia is in high school. She’s only seventeen years old and Harold is…….40? (EDITOR’S NOTE: I AM KINDA KIDDING, CUZ I JUST LOOKED IT UP AND HE WOULD ACTUALLY BE ABOUT 25 YEARS OLD RIGHT HERE). From the proposal scene, we then rapid cut to Abs saying, “Over my dead body,” and then we rapid cut to a scene of Harold holding Olivia while she cries. I actually like how fast this is all done, how we just swing from one scene to another and then right into another one, making things feel fast and alert. This also glides us nicely into the final scene of the ep, in which Paige, Johnny, Harold, and Olivia all meet up at the airport for a nice little trip to Mexico, a trip in which, presumably, Harold and Olivia will become man and wife.
We’ve also got stories involving Paige and Sumner this week, but I’m tired and don’t really feel like writing about that stuff right now. Suffice it to say that there are hints of romance blooming but that Greg is continuing to give her the cold shoulder, hence why she’s still shagging Johnny and why she’s running off to Mexico with him. Aside from that, let’s see, what else is in my notes? Well, I did write that I’m noticing more cool little cinematic tricks as of late, something that I felt was missing throughout season eight. In this ep, we have a very arty, rather Brian De Palma-ish shot in which Karen and Abs are in their meeting with Manny. Karen arrives wearing a very sexy leather miniskirt (which she picked up in the scene before while out shopping with Val and Pat), and there’s this cool shot where her legs are in the foreground, in a tight closeup, while Manny’s face is in the background, framed sorta behind the legs. At first, I was just like, “Wow, random cool shot,” but then I watched the scene again and I see what the purpose of it is. Karen is feeling a little out-of-character wearing this sexy miniskirt and she seems aware of the fact that, from his vantage point, Manny could probably look up her dress, so she adjusts herself and crosses her legs, which is where we get this cool shot. I think it’s a way of making us viewers hyper aware of her legs, the way Manny probably is. Real fast, I also gotta say that it’s nice to see Karen as sexy again; I feel like it’s kinda been forever. I thought Karen was sexy back in season one when she got all dolled up for her afternoon delight in Let Me Count the Ways, but for the last bundle of seasons, I haven’t really seen her that way, despite my intense burning love for her character. She’s been more like the rock, the den mother, someone who makes me think of, you know, mothers, women who are maternal and make you feel good. Seeing her rocking the miniskirt here reminds me that Karen can still be sexy when she wants to. I used to watch The Love Bug all the time with my dad and I think he had a little crush on Michele cuz he would always say how sexy she was in that movie.
Oh yeah, and one last thing related to Karen this week: We get a Diana shout out. In a scene between Abs and Karen discussing Olivia’s new romantic interest, Karen cautions Abs against pushing back too hard, saying, “I remember what happened with Diana.” We should all remember what happened with Diana since Diana/Chip Roberts fueled some of the most brilliant storylines during two of the most brilliant seasons of the show. I also appreciate this, much as I appreciate any and all Sid callbacks, because Diana has been gone from the show since the opening hours of season six, when she hit the road for New York. So many others shows throughout television history have had a revolving door of cast members, and most of them tend to forget these characters ever existed after they are booted off the show, but KL still mentions Sid and Diane, both of whom are long gone, and I appreciate that little detail.
That’s about all I got for this ep. Things are really heating up and
season nine has been shaping up nicely pretty much the whole year, sans some of
the boring stuff like Basil Exposition. I’m excited to discuss where this
stuff all leads, so let’s move on to Mother Knows Best.