Re-watching the Ewingverse ... alphabetically!

James from London

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I've always had this silly idea about watching all the episodes in a timey-wimey, non-chronological order, zipping through time and space, zigzagging from era to era and back again, just because -- well, just because, really. I'm not sure how far I'll get before I'm overwhelmed by the sheer utter pointlessness of it all but until then ...

Abby's Choice (KNOTS, 16 Dec 82) v. Acceptance (DALLAS, 02 Apr 82)





The whole of Abby's Choice is focused on one question and there's a real sense of urgency to it: will Abby agree to donate her kidney to Diana? As Lilimae points out, Abby "has never done an unselfish thing in her life", which makes her response all the more interesting. She is angry, resentful and defiant, but mostly scared -- we've never really seen her like this before. She and Gary haven't been together very long at this point, and neither have Karen and Mack (nor Chip and Diana, come to that). Likewise, the wounds between Gary and Val, and Abby and Karen are still very raw. So the interactions between all of these characters are full of fascinating little nuances. (The instant friendship between Laura and Ciji feels a bit forced in comparison, but the actors make it work.) The shadow of Sid’s death hangs over the whole ep so when the Fairgates get their happy ending, you feel like they've earned it. And Claudia Lonow's great as Diana -- understated and vulnerable and lovely.

On Acceptance, the characters are mostly divided into different storylines. While Bobby does his action hero thing to help bring Jeff Faraday’s killers to justice, Rebecca disowns Cliff (great scene), JR courts Sue Ellen and Miss Ellie tries touchingly to keep the reality of Jock’s death at bay. Compared to Abby's Choice, it's quite a calm episode even though it's the penultimate one of the season. The Ewings finally come together at the end for an old-fashioned family dinner, but trying to turn the clock back proves too much for Miss Ellie and she finally loses it in the kitchen over Jock. This is the dramatic climax we've been building towards, but despite the emotion, the domestic surroundings mean there’s still something very comforting about it (compared to the cold hospital environment on KNOTS). Like KNOTS, it ends on an optimistic note, as Miss Ellie tells Donna she’s accepted Jock’s death.

And the winner is ... Abby's Choice.

Bonus Beats (i.e. the song title in my music collection that bears the closest resemblance to the name of one of these episodes):

 
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James from London

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Act of Love (DALLAS, 19 Nov 78) v. Acts of Love (KNOTS, 22 Apr 82)

It’s harder to say which is the bigger betrayal — Sue Ellen sleeping with JR’s worst enemy or Gary sleeping with one of Val’s best friends. Gary volunteering Val to babysit Abby's kid while they’re off doing the deed probably gives him the edge.

DALLAS has been building up to Cliff and Sue Ellen’s affair for weeks; KNOTS to Gary and Abby’s for over a year. We join Sue Ellen and Cliff six weeks into their romance. Abby and Gary spend much of this ep standing on the will-they-won’t-they precipice. When they finally jump off, it feels hugely momentous. And it is. Indeed, on both shows Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.

Sue Ellen and Cliff play their dalliance cool and sophisticated. “I’ve always known that however you felt about me, it would never come down to really changing your life,” says Cliff. In contrast, it’s Abby declaring how serious she is about Gary that tips the balance in their relationship from flirtation to something more: “I’ve got feelings invested in this, Gary. I’ve got feelings invested in you and I’m sick and tired of being the wicked woman and the home wrecker … It takes two people to feel like this and I’m real tired of being the only one who admits it.”

Cliff and Sue Ellen seem like grown-ups here. They are self-aware, have a sense of perspective and can even laugh at themselves a little. It’s not like when they get back together later on and storylines dictate that if they have an impulse, they must immediately act on it.

While the lovebirds play, the mice are away. JR is partying in Washington with a nameless blonde and Val is stranded in a roadhouse with a loveable ex-prize fighter. She gently declines his advances and ends up waiting tables. Val in full hash-slinging mode is truly impressive.

Having just watched ‘Acceptance’ (DALLAS Season 4) where the Ewings reminisce about the good old days (“I remember Jock saying how much he loved to have his family together at dinnertime. He always insisted that we be right on time,” recalled Sue Ellen), it’s kind of ironic that four years earlier, a mere fifteen episodes after the series began, Jock was already doing the same thing. “You know, there was a time when we all sat down and enjoyed dinner as a family,” he sighs. “This family’s falling apart!”

From a visual point of view, DALLAS has yet to settle on its house style, so the camera has greater freedom to roam around (I’m not sure how often we see the living room ceiling at Southfork after this ep) and there’s more space for the characters express themselves too. It’s hard to imagine Sue Ellen delivering a bitchy line like, “You Barneses are disgustingly poor,” as playfully as she does to Cliff here at any other point of the series.

While Cliff and Sue Ellen quote Lewis Carroll (“Talk to me of other things” “Like cabbages and kings”), Abby goes more nursery-rhymey (“I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight”). And there’s something wistfully romantic about both relationships. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that, as much as they might want to, neither Sue Ellen nor Gary are equipped to deal with the consequences of their actions in these eps.

Both episodes have a subplot. On DALLAS, there’s an endearingly dated work/marriage conflict for Pam to sort through. On KNOTS, Laura visits her estranged husband Richard for the first time since his breakdown — a consequence of her own work/marriage conflict.

KNOTS ends with Lilimae letting Gary know she knows, while DALLAS concludes with a breathtaking confrontation between JR and Sue Ellen in the Southfork den. With the entire family gazing down at her from their portrait on the wall, Sue Ellen casually suggests to JR that he may not be the father of her unborn child. “I’ve been just as faithful to our marriage vows as you have, darlin’,” she assures him with mock-innocence before adding with a shrug, “Chances are it’s yours.” He strikes her hard across the face before realising just how powerless he is. Even after all these years, it’s still absolutely thrilling.

And the winner is … Act of Love.

BONUS BEATS:

 
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James from London

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Aftermath (KNOTS, 26 Nov 81) v. Aftermath (DALLAS, 05 Nov 82)

aka 'The One After Sid Dies' versus 'The One After the Reading of Jock’s Will'



Karen is not exactly in denial about Sid’s death, but there’s a parallel between her behaviour following his funeral and Miss Ellie’s following Jock’s helicopter crash, in that she does everything she can to avoid facing her grief. Whereas Ellie had the luxury of isolating herself out at Southfork, Karen is out in the world, trying to raise a family and run a business. There’s a rawness about the reaction to Sid’s death that wasn’t there with Jock’s — maybe that’s because they never found Jock’s body, or because DALLAS is just that bit glossier a show. But there’s a corresponding moment between this ep and Acceptance (DALLAS, Season 4) where Karen and Ellie each permit themselves a second to stroke the arm of their late husband’s jacket as it hangs in a closet before quickly bringing the emotional shutters down again.

Every single beat of this episode of KNOTS rings emotionally true, but it’s the Fairgate kids’ fear and bewilderment as they try to adjust to their new circumstances that is the most heartbreaking. Their storyline is juxtaposed with the Wards’ excitement at the impending arrival of their new baby. Inevitably, the two stories collide as Karen picks up the baby and finally starts to sob. Instinctively, Kenny goes to take the kid from her, only ditzy-but-wise Ginger stops him. “It’s OK,” she whispers. Good for Ginger.

The atmosphere on DALLAS is less emotional, more ominous. As the battle for control of Ewing Oil commences, metaphorical storm clouds gather, characters find themselves obliged to take sides and everyone predicts the worst: “That will’s gonna be a disaster for all Jock’s sons.” “I just don’t wanna be anywhere near this slugfest JR and Bobby are gonna have.” “I get the distinct impression there’s an army mobilising against me.” A lot of groundwork is done to make this nutty contest seem credible — the why’s and wherefores of dividing up company assets are discussed as is Jock’s reasoning behind setting up what Bobby describes as “a very peculiar situation.”

Karen and Miss Ellie both admit to being angry at their dead husbands — Karen for the “admirable morality” that helped get Sid killed (“He had to go and do the right thing! Out of his way to help, to do his duty!”), Miss Ellie at Jock for the treatment of Gary in his will. While Karen takes her anger out on Gary when she finds him sitting behind Sid’s desk (Michele Lee doesn’t pull her punches in this scene - those are real blows she’s landing on him), Lucy is also pissed off with her father for disappearing back to his own show so quickly after the will-reading.

And the winner is … Aftermath (KNOTS)

BONUS BEATS

 

James from London

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Aftershocks (KNOTS, 26 Dec 85) v Alterations (KNOTS, 23 Jan 86)

It’s kind of a jolt to jump straight from Aftermath (Season 3) to Alterations (Season 7). Only four faces from then are still in the opening credits and no-one’s married to the same person they used to be. Instead of car dealerships and natural childbirth, it’s all exploding satellite stations and assassins on the loose. The women’s hair is more coiffed, their shoulders are bigger and everyone seems just that bit more glam. But there’s still a pleasingly human messiness around the edges, with characters talking over one another, and an unpredictability about their behaviour. Greg Sumner, in particular, has a knack of delivering his most furious lines in a calm and measured way and then suddenly exploding when you least expect it. The scene where he demands Gary give him Empire Valley as if he were a child having a tantrum (“It’s MY land!”) is a particular highlight.

You never quite know what’s coming next. One minute, you’ve got Gary dissolving into whooping hysterics as he recalls the buzz of blowing up Empire Valley; the next, you’ve got Greg delivering a riveting soliloquy to his dead father’s portrait: “I let you reach back from the grave and manipulate my life … Well, Dad, congratulations, you have hatched a new breed of barbarian, a creature determined to surpass even you in creating his own world.” And in-between, you've got Ben Gibson, all coiled Jimmy Stewart integrity, forever the frustrated truth seeker.

For all the changes, it feels like the same show at heart. Abby and Karen might be arguing about running a million-dollar resort rather than bookkeeping discrepancies at KLM, but their relationship is fundamentally the same in ’85 as it was in ’81. What Karen said then — “I don’t trust you, Abby. I don’t think I ever will” — still applies.

Alterations comes only four weeks later, but there’s been a notable loss of momentum. The show now feels kind of rudderless, really for the first time. Long-running plots are being rinsed dry, with the sad tale of Joshua’s death being padded out with tabloid headlines about Lilimae and Cathy’s supposed involvement. Meanwhile, Olivia becomes (almost) the last to know about Abby’s complicity in the twins’ kidnapping. Out of everyone who has been impacted by the stolen babies’ saga, the reactions of a self-righteous, self-involved, not especially bright teenager are the least important or interesting, yet the episode ends up revolving around them.

The incongruity of rich glamorous people existing in an “ordinary” cut-de-sac is illustrated in a couple of contrasting ways during this ep. While billionaire tycoon Greg being left in charge of Laura’s kids is charming and funny, Cathy helping load the Gibson dishwasher while dressed in full MTV sexy pop star regalia just looks ridiculous.

Still, there are some juicy future plots bubbling along in the background: Jill becoming Mack's full-time assistant; Sylvia Lean and Peter Hollister secretly plotting to lay claim to the Galveston fortune. And any episode that features Julie Harris having a supermarket freak out can’t be all bad.

And the winner is … Aftershocks.

BONUS BEATS


So where do episodes like "101 Nights of Anne Matheson" (KL) fit in? Would you categorize it as "One Hundred..."
Call me crazy, but yes I would. So #14 with a Bullet comes in-between Four, No Trump and The Fourth Son, and 1,001 Nights of Anne Matheson between One of a Kind and The One to Blame.
 
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James from London

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All Over But the Shouting (KNOTS, 23 Oct 86) v All’s Well (KNOTS, 19 Dec 85)

All Over But the Shouting is the second alphabetical episode in a row in which Lilimae has a dramatic scene in a supermarket. She and Ben start to panic when Bobby suddenly disappears, but then he turns up in the frozen food aisle in the arms of Jean Hackney, who is wearing a film noir headscarf to show Ben she means business. He gets the message and sacrifices his own integrity to endorse Peter Hollister on live TV the night before the Senate election. Abby, as Ben’s boss and the wife of Peter’s opponent, is furious, but as Peter’s secret lover, takes full credit when he calls to thank her for the endorsement. It’s just so enjoyably knotty.

All’s Well is Noises Everywhere meets THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Juxtaposed with some tensely oppressive scenes in the Gibson house on the afternoon following Joshua’s funeral (including a brilliant one in the kitchen that goes on for ages and is one of my favourites of the entire series) is Gary stumbling upon the futuristic sci-fi world buried under Empire Valley. In so doing, he becomes The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Greg is in pretty much the same position in both episodes — pushed into a corner, trying to do the right thing while covering his own tracks, and ultimately failing to control the situation. In All Over But the Shouting, he installs Phil Harbert, Karen’s kidnapper, in a fleabag motel and orders him to lay low. In All’s Well, he orders Coblentz to call off the hitman who is gunning for Gary. But neither Phil nor Coblentz is listening. And in each situation, Mack is breathing down his former best friend’s neck, wrongly convinced Greg had Karen kidnapped and wants Gary dead. While Phil goes stir crazy and calls out for pizza, thereby blowing his cover, Gary simply goes crazy and blows up Empire Valley.

And the winner is ... All’s Well.

BONUS BEATS

 
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Knots Blogger

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This is genius.
I remember as a kid sometimes my brother and I would wanna watch all the Bonds but not necessarily in strict chronological order so once we just went through them alphabetically.
 

James from London

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Always on Your Side (KNOTS, 07 Feb 91) v An American Hero (KNOTS, 04 Apr 91)

Great, a double bill from my least favourite season!

The opening section of Always on Your Side is a good example of what I don’t love about Season 12. First, we see Karen and Mack trying too hard to impress Jason’s social worker, then Linda and Bob trying too hard to impress Mrs Richfield’s niece, and then Frank and Charlotte trying too hard to impress each other. Not only are the characters trying too hard; the actors are too — they’re all being self-consciously wacky as if they’re in a Broadway comedy about a bunch of zany characters who just don’t realise how adorable they are.

But as soon as the ep remembers it’s a drama not a sitcom and starts taking itself seriously, it instantly improves. Mack helping Jason abscond from the courthouse, Claudia taking a weirdly intense interest in Meg, Paige just being a haughty bitch — it all works. Special credit goes to Joan van Ark and Ted Shackelford who only appear in one proper scene (Gary and the twins reappear at the end as part of a soppy musical montage), but manage to elevate the silly brain virus story by simply taking the situation seriously and playing it for real.

An American Hero is much better. It does comedy too — the opening scene has Paige fantasising about what she should have done after walking in on Greg and Linda, and there’s lots of enjoyable office politics at the Sumner Group — but it’s much sharper and wittier, with the laughs arising naturally out of the situation rather than the actors trying to impose them. Jason provides the pathos back at the cul-de-sac by movingly defending his abusive father to the Mackenzies until he simply can’t anymore.

Both eps do a decent job of depicting Mack as a flawed, reluctant hero in Jason’s storyline rather than as a TV saint, while Kate Whittaker has a refreshingly natural, unforced chemistry with both Steve Brewer and her Uncle Greg — which makes her position in the second ep all the more interesting when Steve tells her that Greg was responsible for destroying his parents.

And the winner is … An American Hero.

BONUS BEATS

 
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James from London

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And Away We Go! aka The One In-Between The One Where Tommy Beats Up April and The One Where the Ewings Go to Salzburg (DALLAS, 7 Apr 89)

JR tricks genial businessman Gustav Hellstrom into believing he’s killed a stuntman in a barroom brawl in order to persuade him to hand over the inside information on Carter Mackay’s European deal. There’s an enjoyable familiarity in seeing JR set him up the way he has countless others throughout the years.

The nostalgia continues with the return of Afton after nearly five years. She’s presented as an internationally successful singer, yet seems to be at the same level of fame that she was in Season 4, i.e., singing for middle-aged rich people in supper clubs.

This is also the episode where Bobby and April’s romance begins in earnest. Whereas Bobby’s previous love interests (Pam, Jenna, Tracey Lawton) came laden with all kinds of historical and/or familial baggage, the idea seems to be that April’s free spirit is what attracts him to her. “I like you outrageous. It’s part of your charm,” he tells her in one scene. “You’re so honest!” he marvels in another. But if April is outrageous, it’s in a very watered down, anodyne way. When confronted by something genuinely unusual - a piece of abstract art - April makes fun of it in a smugly conservative way, and Bobby joins in. That seems to be their USP as a couple: their idea of "outrageous" is trading weak sitcom wisecracks.

... And Never Brought to Mind aka The One After Lilimae Runs Over Chip Outside the Police Station (KNOTS, 3 Nov 83)

This one is nonstop action: Abby walks out on Gary. Gary sires Val’s twins. Chip slips into a coma. Lilimae is arrested. Karen bitches about Gary to her new pal Greg Sumner (“He doesn’t mean any harm — it’s only that in his wake, people lose their jobs, their marriages and their lives and he always feels guilty, but it’s never his fault”) before abdicating from her role as cul-de-sac matriarch when Val asks for help with Lilimae's disappearance (“I just don’t have anything left”). Diana rejects Karen. Karen rejects Laura. There are no certainties, there is no terra firma. And it’s only the sixth episode of the season! There’s so much going on and yet the characters are given enough space in which to exist that it still feels like they are driving the plot rather than the other way around.

And the winner is ... ... And Never Brought to Mind.

BONUS BEATS:

 

James from London

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And Teddy Makes Three (KNOTS, 13 Jan 83) v And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (KNOTS, 02 Jan 92)

Both episodes feature a clingy ex stirring up trouble. In ’83, it's Karen’s first boyfriend Teddy Becker declaring his love for her just as Mack is about to propose. In ’92, Pierce’s old flame Victoria Broyard sashays around town, telling everyone who'll listen about his shady past.

And Teddy ... has a large seam of humour running through it, mostly stemming from Karen’s underwhelming response when Mack asks her to marry him (“Probably,” she shrugs) and his subsequent antagonism towards Teddy. The humour in And the Walls ... is relegated to one charming scene where Kate asks Greg for sex advice and he squirms with embarrassment. (Elsewhere in the same ep, Mack once again accuses Greg of something he hasn’t done — in this case, snatching Meg.)

These eps feature KNOTS’ first and last psycho boyfriends — Chip Roberts and Pierce Lawton. While Chip will eventually murder his pregnant girlfriend and dump her body in the ocean (Ciji timidly refuses to have an abortion in this ep), Paige is disturbed to hear that Pierce drowned his pregnant girlfriend in the ocean ten years earlier.

In ’83, eager-to-impress hustler Chip insists on carrying Karen’s shopping. Nine years later, another eager-to-impress hustler, Alex Barth, insists on doing the same thing. And just as Richard and Laura argue in front of Ciji, Gary and Val fight in front of Kate.

Both eps also feature a business venture that started off in good faith but has now descended into arguments and charges of betrayal. In ’83, Kenny accuses Gary of pushing him out of their record deal with Ciji. In ’92, Gary is the one left behind when Joseph bails out of Tidal Energy just as it’s about to go under. Kenny ends up without a job and it looks like Gary will end up without a ranch. In each case, there is a ruthless puppet master secretly pulling the strings: Abby in '83, Greg in '92.

And the winner is … they're both great, but ... And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.

BONUS BEATS:

 

James from London

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Anniversary Waltz (DALLAS, 22 Jan 88) v Another Modest Proposal (KNOTS, 21 Jan 88)

While Miss Ellie throws Clayton a surprise anniversary party at Southfork, Jill Bennett throws a surprise birthday party for Gary at Lotus Point. (These episodes originally aired on consecutive days, which means that Ellie married her second husband the day after her favourite son's birthday.) Both end badly, with Bobby attempting to drown JR in the pool and Gary missing a second party organised by Val and the twins. The latter leads to a fantastically bitter argument between Gary and Val over which of them is the flakiest. (“You’re the most undependable person that I’ve ever known!” “This is the uncleanest breakup in the history of marriage!”)

This episode of KNOTS also includes the early stages of two storylines which will have ramifications for years to come: Greg and Paige’s relationship and the Mackenzies’ adoption of Meg. The two stories intersect as Paige is the only one who knows that Greg hasn’t really left town when he asks Karen and Mack to look after Meg.

Less interesting is Abby playing the other woman in Charles and Judith Scott’s marriage. Michael York delivers his many declarations of love to Abby with a kind of “inverted commas” irony, as if he were warming up to his role in Austin Powers, whereas Donna Mills plays the whole relationship with total sincerity. The two performances don’t quite match up, making it hard to believe that, of all men, this is the one who got under Abby’s skin.

Kimberly Cryder and JR’s affair on DALLAS is much more fun. There’s a fab scene where she marches his office and demands he leaves Sue Ellen immediately. He gets rough, grabbing her by her hair and telling her she can’t twist him around her finger the way she does her father and husband, before kissing her hard. This gets her all excited, but then he walks out abruptly, leaving her high and dry. Five screen minutes later, Bobby’s holding his head under the water, calling him a son of a bitch and telling him he doesn’t deserve to live.

And the winner is … Anniversary Waltz

BONUS BEATS:

 
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Jimmy Todd

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That was always the thing about the Abby Charles plot. It never seemed true that this is the ONE who stole Abby Lee's heart. When Gary first meets him and says incredulously, "That's Charles!?!" I was in complete agreement.
I couldn't wait for Charles to get his comeuppance from Abby, and when he did, all I could think was, "She let you off way too easy."
 

James from London

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Arsenic and Old Waste (KNOTS, 10 Apr 86) v Asked to Rise (KNOTS, 13 Dec 90)

In Arsenic and Old Waste, Karen hovers anxiously while Eric lies unconscious in a hospital bed, suffering the effects of some unexplained form of chemical poisoning. In Asked to Rise, Claudia, Kate and Paige do the hovering while Greg lies unconscious following a liver transplant.

In Arsenic ..., most the characters are isolated from each other in some way: Abby is silently torn between her own self-interest and her conscience — how much can she reveal about the contamination at Empire Valley without incriminating herself and losing a fortune? Jill is likewise conflicted between her feelings for Gary and her long term plan to avenge her parents' deaths. Meanwhile, Greg plays the reclusive tycoon, first “conducting the traffic” from the terrace of his high rise office, then hiding out with his polo ponies back at the ranch. A frustrated Laura looks on. (Laura's only real narrative function in this ep is to act as Greg's sounding board so we know what’s going on inside his head, but it’s a credit to both the writing and their relationship that it doesn’t feel like that.) Ben avoids the unspoken tensions in his marriage by pretending to work late at the office while Val is left waiting at home, trying to conceal her anxieties from Lilimae. Amidst all this solitude, the rare moments of contact are all the more striking: Ben slow-dancing with Cathy while sadly admitting the twins aren’t really his; Abby and Karen talking at Eric’s bedside about how much they miss Sid. Even then, just a few scenes later, Karen is angrily accusing Abby of deliberately withholding information about the arsenic poisoning.

There’s further isolation in Asked to Rise, but this time it's deliberately orchestrated by Claudia who does everything she can to keep Paige and Greg apart (so that Paige won't be able to accept her brother’s marriage proposal before she has had a chance to forge his will). Although Paige is the unsuspecting innocent in this scenario, she instantly turns into an icy bitch back at the Sumner Group where she treats eager-beaver underling Linda like dirt. Linda is also patronised by Mort and Bob (to a #MeToo extent) which leads her, in turn, to dump on Michael.

Mack plays detective in both episodes. In 1986, he’s trying to figure out what poisoned Eric and in 1990, he’s trying to figure out what the deal is with Jason, the young punk who first slashes his tyres and then lies to him about having a dead father.

And the winner is … Arsenic and Old Waste

BONUS BEATS:

 

Mel O'Drama

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Aftershocks (KNOTS, 26 Dec 85) v Alterations (KNOTS, 23 Jan 86)
All Over But the Shouting (KNOTS, 23 Oct 86) v All’s Well (KNOTS, 19 Dec 85)
Always on Your Side (KNOTS, 07 Feb 91) v An American Hero (KNOTS, 04 Apr 91)
Oh my. I've only just realised there are reviews here that I'd missed* as I was mainly watching the thread in the Dallas forum. What a nice little Easter egg.


*Although somehow I managed to read one of these without realising it was a Knots exclusive.
 

James from London

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Awakenings (KNOTS, 07 Nov 85) v Bad Dog (KNOTS, 28 Feb 91)

It's the second KNOTS Season 7 and 12 combo in a row!

Awakenings is from early in Season 7 when Jill was in love with Mack, not Gary, and Joshua was still alive. In fact, Joshua is at his messianic, megalomaniac best here — disdainful of everybody, even Abby. In a way, Michael and Linda Fairgate are the Bad Dog equivalent of Joshua and Cathy — a young couple working in the same place where the female is on the ascent. Awakenings is the ep where Cathy starts to eclipse Joshua on his own TV show while in Bad Dog, Linda accuses Michael of being jealous when she returns home late from the Sumner Group because her job is more demanding. She’s actually been cheating on him (aka, helping Greg get his adrenaline up), but Michael doesn’t realise it. Joshua’s late home too, but Cathy does realise he's been cheating on her and pushes him fully dressed into the shower. Joshua's affair with Linda the waitress begins on the beach, just as Gary's did with Abby in Acts of Love. Ben and Val aren’t yet married at this point, but the seeds of his eventual fling with Cathy are sown when she turns up at his beach house in tears after Joshua attacks her. Linda may not be as violent in '91 as Joshua is in '85, but she sure knows how to mess with Michael’s head. And like Joshua, she'll soon die in gruesome circumstances.

Like Arsenic and Old Waste, Bad Dog has the Mackenzies keeping an anxious vigil at the hospital bedside of an unconscious young man. Then it was Eric, now it’s Jason Lochner, having received another beating from his father. In place of Abby's touching comparison between Eric and Sid, there’s a toe-curling sequence where Mack recites that horrible "A Prayer for Children" poem — one of my least favourite KNOTS scenes of all time. Yet the same ep includes one of the highlights of Season 12 when Val, dressed like she should be on stage with Prince, storms through Paige’s apartment looking for “your gold-digging slut of a mother”. “I didn’t realise she knew Mother that well,” Paige later tells Gary matter-of-factly, demonstrating that she possesses, amongst her many other attributes, a knack for deadpan comedy.

And the winner is … Awakenings

BONUS BEATS:


Oh my. I've only just realised there are reviews here that I'd missed
It's a little confusing, I must admit!
 
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James from London

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Barbecue Two (DALLAS, 01 Jan 82) v Baths and Showers (KNOTS, 30 Jan 92)

Miss Ellie and Rebecca share the same hope in BBQ2 that Bobby and Pam did in the original Barbecue. “We both want to put an end to the Barnes/Ewing feud and this seems like a good time to do it,” says Rebecca, explaining to Cliff why he has been invited to the barbecue. Like his daddy before him, Cliff attends, is insulted at the bar by JR the way Digger was by Jock, and likewise reunited with an old love — this time, it’s Sue Ellen rather than Miss Ellie.

While Baths and Showers introduces us to naughty Vanessa Hunt, Barbecue Two introduces us to nutty Roger Larsen, as well as granting us our first glimpses of Sue Ellen’s townhouse, Katherine making furtive eyes at Bobby and (I think) Miss Ellie’s homemade chilli. Both episodes also establish the beginnings of a romantic (or at least carnal) quadrangle, between Afton, Cliff, Sue Ellen and JR on DALLAS and Claudia, Alex, Kate and Vanessa on KNOTS.

Watched in hindsight, Lucy cheerfully interrupting Miss Ellie as she’s chatting away with Clayton and Rebecca (“When Jock gets back, we’ll all go out on the town together”) to tell her she has a phone call is a stomach lurch of a moment — and is immediately followed by the closest DALLAS will ever get to a big musical number as various characters and extras take to the dance floor for a prolonged Texas jig. The camera steers tactfully clear of showing anyone’s actual feet, but Katherine appears to be the most competent jigger.

The most notable link between these two episodes is Donna and Val each being commissioned by their New York publisher to write a biography about a former senator, Sam Culver and Greg Sumner respectively. “I think everything my wife does is wonderful,” sneers Ray sarcastically upon hearing the news while Greg finds everyone’s concerns about Val probing into his private affairs laughable: “We’re not talking Woodward and Bernstein, we’re talking about a daffy blonde!”

Just as the phone call Miss Ellie receives at the barbecue changes Everything Forever, so does Val’s book commission — well, sort of.

Mack, Karen, Gary and Val all go out to dinner to celebrate. “The four of us, just like the old days,” one of them remembers — only those days never existed; it was never was just the four of them — Gary left Val and the cul-de-sac long before Mack married Karen and moved in. This reminds me a little of the Dallas Ewings continually hearkening back to those near-mythical times when the whole family sat down to dinner at 6 o’clock sharp.

Edgar Randolph shows up on KNOTS as the owner of a tech company obliged to do with business with the Sumner Group. He has the same righteous intensity that he brought to his role on DALLAS, but here it makes him uptight and angry and utterly immune to Greg’s charms, whereas he initially fell for JR’s.

Watched chronologically, the story of Alex Barth blackmailing Claudia over A Big Secret From Her Past (the circumstances of her mother’s death) arguably follows on a bit too quickly from the last Big Secret From Her Past (the love child she gave up for adoption). But watching this episode in isolation, the scene where she confesses everything to Greg, and he then shocks her by embracing rather than condemning her, is really powerful. I also love the subsequent scene where Greg summons Alex to his office for a job interview and then proceeds to run verbal and mental rings round him. Alex is really fun, kind of like the missing link between Steve Brewer and Chip Roberts.

And the winner is ... Baths and Showers

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Whoops. posted by mistake. (Got my Ewingverses mixed up.)
 
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Best Intentions (KNOTS, 11 Mar 82) v. Best Interests (KNOTS, 26 Oct 89)

Best Intentions lands right in the middle of KNOTS' Season 3 sweet spot. At this point, the self-contained episode format hasn’t totally been abandoned in favour of purely continuing drama and so we get the best of both worlds. The exploration of the characters and their dilemmas is thorough and uncompromised, and yet those dilemmas are too richly complicated to be neatly resolved in a televisual hour.

The episode begins with Laura in the soapiest of scenarios: her marriage is on the rocks, she’s been sleeping with her boss and now she’s pregnant. But Laura being Laura, she deals with the situation in the least soapy way possible. She calmly and swiftly ends her affair with Scooter, assuring him that he cannot be the father, and then tries to summon up the nerve to tell Richard about the baby. We see her sitting alone in her car, rehearsing various ways of breaking the news. “Would all the men whose wives are not pregnant move to the other side of the room — not so fast, Avery,” she mutters, foreshadows the circuitous way she will eventually get around to telling her second husband that she’s gonna die.

Elsewhere, it’s a treat to see Abby and Lilimae conspire over Val’s manuscript — one of the very few times in the series when their interests align. When Abby gives Val’s fictionalised expose of her life with the Ewings to Joe Cooper, she is acting in her own self-interest. Even so, and purely as a by-product, she just so happens to unleash Val’s potential — effectively transforming a homework assignment into a future best-selling novel — just as she already has Gary’s (via the methanol project) and later will Joshua’s (by allowing him to take over Reverend Catherine’s TV show). It’s also similar to what Sue Ellen will do for Mandy Winger when she turns her into the Valentine Girl.

Just as JR struck Sue Ellen across the face when she implied that he was not the father of her unborn baby in Act of Love, Richard slaps Laura when she tells him she wants an abortion. Although we started off the episode complicit with Laura (until she confides in Karen, we alone know the burden she is carrying), by the end, we’re with Richard. Fascinatingly, the turning point is that slap — that’s when it goes from being her story to his. In the final scene, we are his only witness when he returns to an empty house and cannot bring himself to read the note he finds on the kitchen table.

Best Interests is so different, I kind of had to keep reminding myself that it belongs to the same series. There is, however, a parallel between Richard and Laura’s relationship in ’82 and Greg and Paige’s in ’89. In both instances, the couple are in close proximity to each other yet the woman remains unattainable to the man, which drives him a little bit crazy. But whereas the Averys’ situation is a relatable domestic one, Greg and Paige’s unfolds in the slick corporate environment of their adjacent offices at the Sumner Group. Whatever the characters are really feeling is masked by witty badinage and games of sophisticated oneupmanship. They are more Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday than Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in Scenes from a Marriage.

Meanwhile, I’m a total sucker for the triple-whammy coincidence reveal that Sally’s Friend, Danny’s wife and Bobby and Betsy's kindergarten teacher are all one and the same person. The brilliant touch is that when Danny and Amanda both separately describe the difficulties of living with their needy, insecure, high-maintenance spouse, Val and Gary are each reminded of each other. And yet the more they try to pull away from one another in the present, the more entangled they become, precisely because of their involvements with Danny and Amanda. As KNOTS knots go, this one is especially tight.

And then, two-thirds of the way through, the episode takes an abrupt left turn and becomes all about shady corporations, a pension fund scam and an old lady going splat on the sidewalk.

Seasons 3 and 11 are just so ridiculously different from each other, but I have a real soft spot for both them.

And the winner is ... Best Intentions

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The Best Kept Secret (KNOTS, 02 Dec 82) v The Best Laid Plans (DALLAS, 12 Feb 88)

When DALLAS and KNOTS introduced love interests to replace Bobby, Gary and Jock in the hearts of Pam, Val and Miss Ellie, it’s notable that they were all knights in shining armour. Mark Graison, Ben Gibson and Clayton were sensitive and kind, patient and understanding. Each was a more idealised version of their predecessor, at least on paper. (Clayton and Ben would later prove to have feet of clay, but only after they’d married the woman of their dreams. Mark would probably have fallen off his pedestal too had Pam not woken up.) But with Mack Mackenzie, KNOTS is obliged to take a different approach. After all, how can you improve on saintly Sid Fairgate? So it is that Mack’s flaws, as well as his virtues, are part of what attracts him to Karen. When she complains that they’re always fighting and Val replies that that means she’s in love with him, she doesn’t disagree. However, there are flaws and then there are flaws — this is before Karen learns that Mack has a f**k buddy living down the hall. “I had the best — Sid Fairgate never would have done this to me!” she yells. “I’m not Sid Fairgate.” “You’re damn right you’re not!”

In the sixteen episodes that have passed since Best Intentions, not only has Karen acquired a love interest, but Gary and Abby have moved into a beach house and Richard is running a restaurant. Val has gone from being an ordinary housewife finishing a homework assignment to a single woman with an answering service, a stack of fan mail on her desk and an invitation to dinner from an important record producer. The one person who doesn’t seem to have moved on is Laura, still pacing the floor as she tries to decide what to do about her marriage.

Whereas Best Intentions felt entirely character-driven, the characters in The Best Kept Secret kind of feel like chess pieces being moved around the board. Having done a 180 on her attitude to Mack, Diana finds him with the semi-naked Patrice and turns to Chip for comfort. This requires Chip to stand up Ciji who runs into Gary who has just come from an argument with Abby about their business arrangement with Kenny. Ciji and Gary then spend the afternoon together before everyone shows up at Richard’s restaurant to glare angrily and/or gaze longingly at each other while Ciji sings a sad song in her Star Trek dress. Even though you can feel the characters’ strings being pulled, it doesn’t make this any less satisfying an episode. In fact, it’s part of the enjoyment.

Whereas Diana is genuinely shocked when she walks in on Mack and Patrice, Sue Ellen feigns outrage when she finds JR and Kimberly Cryder in bed together, before showing up on Nicholas’s doorstep with a fit of the giggles. Miss Ellie, meanwhile, is so stunned to find the once perfect Clayton on the receiving end of a kiss from a beautiful young woman that she pretends it never happened.

While everyone on KNOTS is mixed up with everyone else, because of Ciji and/or Chip and/or Gary and Abby’s investments, almost everyone on DALLAS is somehow involved in JR’s mission to take over West Star. Most of the fun of this ep comes from watching Sue Ellen putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. She concludes that JR needs her off Southfork so he can be with Kimberly — and thereby gain access to the 14% of West Star owned by her daddy. It looks like JR’s got his wish in the final scene when he walks into his and Sue Ellen’s bedroom to find her packing a suitcase. But it turns out she’s only moving as far as a room down the hall. Well, if it works for Mack and Patrice …

And the winner is … The Best Kept Secret

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The Best Laid Plans (KNOTS, 15 Nov 90) v The Big Ball (DALLAS, 22 Oct 82)

To start with, The Best Laid Plans is full of typical KNOTS Season 12 silliness — Val calling off her wedding after Gary sees her in her dress, Anne going to great lengths to pretend she’s being blackmailed — but then out of nowhere comes an absolute gem of a scene in which Mack, when Paige visits his office and admits she’s considering going back to Greg, lets rip with some tough-love advice that pierces her icy exterior.

Elsewhere, Julie Williams flashing back to Danny’s last minutes on earth before she listened to him drown is enjoyably gruesome. And there's something that’s never occurred to me before: in the same way that Abby originally got to move onto Seaview Circle because no-one else wanted to live in the same cul-de-sac as a suspected rapist, Claudia now gets to move in Abby's old place because no-one else wants to live in a house where someone just drowned in the backyard.

The Big Ball is a really unusual episode for this era of DALLAS. Most of the action takes place either in Emporia Kansas, where Ray and Donna encounter Aunt Lil and Mickey for the first time, or at the Southern Cross in San Angelo, where Dusty introduces Sue Ellen to his new wife Linda. JR appears comparatively briefly throughout the ep while Bobby and Pam don’t show up at all until the final act when the family convenes for the show's very first Oil Baron’s Ball which, like most of the Ewing barbecues, takes up surprisingly little screen time — just twelve minutes.

I’ve always found Sue Ellen’s response to Dusty’s marriage fascinating. “I’ve always been a romantic dreamer, sure that some man would come around and sweep me off my feet. For a while, that man was Dusty. No more. It’s time I go back to reality,” she tells Clayton. And by reality, she means her fantasy life at Southfork with JR. “Who else is there?” she shrugs. With every other option (i.e., man) now closed to her, she has given up on trying to make it in the real world and has very discreetly flicked the switch on the self-destruct button. It’s only a matter of time before JR betrays her and she gets to drink herself into oblivion — which is all a part of her really wants.

And the winner is ... The Big Ball.

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