Re-watching the Ewingverse ... alphabetically!

Mel O'Drama

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and is haunted by visions of three little girls (just as Val was a few months earlier) whom he describes as china dolls. “We’re all just china dolls,” he concludes.
In the final draft of the script for this episode there is an extended final scene at Laura's house where Gary explains why he can't leave Val, and then notices and comments on the bruise that Val has left on Abby's face before they embrace, before panning to a broken china doll, propped up. It's interesting, but completely useless, and is a great example where the episode does such a great drop of delving into each character's mindset that by the time you reach that final scene, there doesn't need to be any words.
Interesting. Doesn't Richard's psychiatrist have a shelf with china dolls also?

I've long assumed the episode title also alluded to Laura's observation about Gary and Val when Lucy came to visit back in Season One. Something like "they treat each other like china dolls".
 

James from London

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In the final draft of the script for this episode there is an extended final scene at Laura's house where Gary explains why he can't leave Val, and then notices and comments on the bruise that Val has left on Abby's face before they embrace, before panning to a broken china doll, propped up. It's interesting, but completely useless, and is a great example where the episode does such a great drop of delving into each character's mindset that by the time you reach that final scene, there doesn't need to be any words. The beauty is that this was recognised and either cut or never even filmed, and the episode is stronger as a result.
Fascinating! I love to hear about the editing process. I think there's often an assumption that if a scene has been filmed and we don't get to see it the viewer has automatically been deprived in some way. But cuts can often make an episode stronger.

Doesn't Richard's psychiatrist have a shelf with china dolls also?
China cats, which is even creepier.

I've long assumed the episode title also alluded to Laura's observation about Gary and Val when Lucy came to visit back in Season One. Something like "they treat each other like china dolls".
Yeah, that's a nice little connection.
 

James from London

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Choices (KNOTS, 29 Jan 81) v The Christening (KNOTS, 17 Oct 85)

Following on from China Dolls, Choices is another Gary Behaving Badly episode. But instead of a wildly exciting affair with sexy Abby Cunningham, he is caught in an joyless, angst-ridden entanglement with clingy Judy Trent. In China Dolls, it was apparent to everyone at KLM that Gary and Abby couldn’t keep their hands off each other and in Choices, KLM is once again a showroom for infidelities as well as cars. Rather than Joe Cooper making veiled remarks to Gary about Abby, here it’s Abby herself making them to Gary about Judy (“Too bad she doesn’t smile more”). Abby’s own married man of the hour, Richard Avery, also shows up, acting just as needy as Judy. Even Sid gets in on the act, albeit unwittingly, when perky mechanic Linda propositions him and he accepts, without really knowing what it is he’s agreeing to. “Half the time I forget she’s a girl,” he tells Karen. In The Christening, Mr Karen is now Mack and the woman in a man’s world he is quasi-involved with is governor’s assistant Jill Bennett. Unlike Sid, Mack does not forget Jill’s a girl and flirts outrageously with her. She calls his bluff by kissing him full on the mouth. (Well, that’s one way of dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.)

Just as Gary did in China Dolls, Richard broods at home in Choices, ignoring his wife and listening for the sound of Abby’s car. Laura then watches from the window as he walks over to her house, just like Val did Gary. When Laura suggests they see a therapist, Richard says he’s already got one who lives next door and she doesn't charge (nor does she have a collection of china cats). Laura gets treated no better by men in The Christening — Greg yanks her out of a car and accuses her of seeing other men and Joshua pointedly closes the door in her face when she arrives for a party at Val's.

“I can’t imagine my life without you,” a cheating Gary tells Val in China Dolls. “Val, there’s no me without you,” a cheating Gary tells her in Choices after Abby has arranged for her to see him having dinner with Judy.

Whereas Val had to march over to Abby’s house in China Dolls to ask if she was having an affair with her husband, Judy helpfully comes to her door in Choices and tells her straight out: “We’re lovers.” This is followed by a wonderfully excruciating dinner party at the Fairgates where, still reeling from Judy’s bombshell, Val fails dismally at polite conversation and ends up fleeing in tears. It’s the kind of scene that’s hard to imagine later on in the series when the characters know each other too well to worry about politeness. Indeed, by The Christening, Val and Karen have grown so close that the Mackenzies become the twins’ godparents. Mack attends the ceremony in a pair of tartan trousers (a nod to his father’s belief in the importance of the family kilt, perhaps?). The sight of Kevin Dobson clowning around and having fun at the post-christening party — at one point, he’s holding Bobby and improvises a line about him needing a nappy change that makes Ted Shackelford burst out laughing — suddenly feels quite poignant.

After Val runs out of the Fairgates’ dinner party, Gary knows intuitively that he’ll find her on the beach. The scene between them that follows, in which she recounts their history, slaps him across the face and then forgives him, all underscored by the sound of the ocean, is G&V at their most primal.

“The way she sees me is the way I measure myself,” says Gary of Val as he's breaking up with Judy at the end of Choices . “I see him the same way I’ve seen him since I was fifteen years old,” Val tells Abby in China Dolls. In both episodes, Abby claims to see Gary for what he is and for what he could be. “Gary is growing by leaps and bounds … He just outgrows his little country girl more every day,” she tells Judy in Choices.

Five years later in The Christening, Val is still living in the same house, but otherwise her domestic situation has changed beyond recognition. She no longer has a husband, but has instead acquired a sad-eyed lover, an eccentric mother, a megalomaniacal brother, an unhappy sister-in-law and two twin babies. Instead of Judy Trent standing on her doorstep and trying to take her man, Harry Fisher is standing there instead. He explains that he and his wife Sheila don’t want anything from Val, just to say goodbye to the babies they raised. And so they do, in an unfathomably sad and awkwardly staged scene which could only ever be sad and awkward.

And the winner is ... Choices

BONUS BEATS:

 
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James from London

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Civil Wives (KNOTS, 14 Feb 80) v Close Call (KNOTS, 19 Oct 89)

Susan Philby, Sid’s ex, turns up unexpectedly in Civil Wives, and Karen chooses to present herself as the same sitcom Brady Bunch wife and mother she described herself as to Gary and Val at the beginning of the series. Whereas Sid will prove remarkably slow on the uptake when Linda the Mechanic tries to tempt him into an affair in Choices, he knows what Susan’s after straightaway — him. Susan is the first in a succession of sophisticated but neurotic female guest stars from “Back East” (Judy Trent, Victoria Hill, Anne Matheson), all of whom look down their snooty noses at Seaview Circle’s suburban housewives while secretly envying them. Susan is probably the most unhappy (and most poignant) of them all. The KLM repair shop yet again becomes a hotbed of romantic intrigue as she begs Sid to go to bed with her. He turns her down, but you totally buy them as having had a brief, passion-fuelled marriage back in the day.

Given what a nice man he is and how much longer he'll spend dead than alive, it’s sometimes hard not to dismiss Sid as just a two-dimensional saint, but he’s a lot more than that in this episode. For all his patience towards both Karen and Susan, there’s also an undercurrent of anger and frustration. He’s well aware that the two women are playing a sort of game with him stuck in the middle and he quietly resents it.

Ultimately, Susan is given her marching orders and returns to her lonely purgatory, never to be heard from again, while the Fairgates end up back in each other’s arms, their status quo not merely restored but strengthened. The one character who can’t be put back his box so easily is Richard, “the transparent little man” with whom Susan has a tacky one-nighter. Just like his and Gary’s future dalliances with Abby, it’s another cul-de-sac fling that doesn’t go unnoticed by the neighbours.

In spite of her insecurities, Karen remains a cool and strategic player throughout her dealings with Susan. She’s less in control of her emotions in Close Call. Her plan to dissuade Michael from dropping out of school to take a job at the Sumner Group by practising reverse psychology is shortlived and she ends up losing her temper at him instead. Likewise, she’s far more upset at Paula Vertosick for having a crush on Mack than she was at Susan for having designs on Sid. (When it comes to potential threats to Karen’s marriages, Paula is less Susan Philby and more the Linda the Mechanic.)

The torturous complications going on between ex-spouses in Close Call make Sid and Susan’s situation look quaintly simple by comparison. Gary spends half the episode trying to track down an anonymous woman he heard being attacked over the phone and the other half concerned that the twins hate Val’s new boyfriend, not realising that the new boyfriend is the estranged husband of the woman on the phone. Oh, and neither he nor Val realises that the woman on the phone is also the twins’ kindergarten teacher. And a singer at Frank’s club. Or that she and the new boyfriend are still sleeping together. But then Gary suddenly becomes aware of all of these things all at once in a kind of realisation pile-up in the closing moments of the show. I just love it.

Something I’ve never noticed before about Civil Wives: When Eric inspects the Wards’ record collection, the most prominently displayed LP is by Ginger’s real-life boyfriend, Warren Zevon. It's called 'Excitable Boy' which, given Eric’s crush on Ginger, is kind of apt.

Something I’ve never noticed before about Close Call: There are several references to Abby who left at the end of the previous season, but the show has fun avoiding mentioning her name: instead she is referred to as the Dragon Lady, Greg’s ball and chain, that other woman and the missus.

And the winner is ... Civil Wives

BONUS BEATS:

 
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James from London

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Daniel Avery

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Imagine if it was revealed that the woman Gary talked to on the phone, the kindergarten teacher who wanted to be a singer...was actually Ginger Ward? After dumping Kenny and moving back to LA, she ended up entangled with Danny Waleska, and accidentally called Gary to set off that whole story.
 

valkaren

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Imagine if it was revealed that the woman Gary talked to on the phone, the kindergarten teacher who wanted to be a singer...was actually Ginger Ward? After dumping Kenny and moving back to LA, she ended up entangled with Danny Waleska, and accidentally called Gary to set off that whole story.
Oh my! Now that was a missed opportunity!
 

valkaren

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Something I’ve never noticed before about Close Call: There are several references to Abby who left at the end of the previous season, but the show has fun avoiding mentioning her name: instead she is referred to as the Dragon Lady, Greg’s ball and chain, that other woman and the missus.
It's funny, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but Season 11 tends to deliberately avoid any character saying her name. To the point that I was full on convinced that it was a conscious attempt to not remind the viewers of the character and conjure up images in the viewers mind of a 'better time'. She may have been mentioned by name in Olivia's final episode by Gary, much later in the year (likely when they were more confident of their new Abby-less show).

She rarely mentioned afterwards by name either. I watched a late Season 13 episode where Karen references her by name in reference to the Sumner Bio Val is writing and I almost fell of my couch.
 

James from London

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Season 11 tends to deliberately avoid any character saying her name.
Oh, interesting. I'm gonna keep an ear out for that now!

To the point that I was full on convinced that it was a conscious attempt to not remind the viewers of the character and conjure up images in the viewers mind of a 'better time'.
Well, in this episode at least, it seems more playful than defensive -- otherwise why continually refer to Abby at all? It feels more like when Laura described her as "that blonde - whatsername?" or when Greg acknowledges Paige's absence from Back to the Cul-de-sac by drawing a beard on her photo - kind of "we know you know so we're not gonna spell it out for you."
 

James from London

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Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Wrench (KNOTS, 02 Feb 89) v Comings and Goings (DALLAS, 17 Feb 89)

Two episodes from the same month. I’ve said this before, but there’s something hugely satisfying about watching the KNOTS Scooby gang (which in this case compromises the Mackenzies, the Williamses and Gary) slowly piece together what we already know — that Jill Bennett paid Mrs Bailey to forge Ben’s letters and Val's suicide note, and that she drugged David Lamb, her supposed one-night stand in San Francisco, in order to fly back to Seaview Circle and murder Val without anyone realising. I can’t think of another soap plot where the mystery unravels this way round. Interestingly, Mack starts off as the most reluctant member of the gang to believe that Jill could be guilty, but by the end, he’s the one who has to be dissuaded from continuing to question the non-responsive Mrs Bailey. Meanwhile, Jill behaving the way any perfectly sane person might if suspected of such a bizarre crime has the effect of making it seem like everyone else is out of whack. She does, however, find out time to sneak onto Gary’s ranch and do weird, unexplained things like turn down his bed covers and put wild-flowers in a vase and swipe a photo of the twins. There is one disappointingly conventional "psycho bitch" scene where she puts on a wedding dress and imagines she’s marrying Gary. It kind of perpetuates the notion that all any single independent woman, from Susan Philby to Victoria Hill to Jill Bennett, really needs is a knight in shining armour to rescue her from her sad lonely existence. There’s no Greg, Abby or Paige in this ep, but it’s so well plotted you hardly notice.

Comings and Goings is most notable for the arrivals of Don Lockwood and Tommy McKay, and John Ross’s first screen kiss. Linda Gray and Ian McShane do a commendable job of making a totally ridiculous scene seem almost plausible — Don agrees to write and direct a movie solely based on one flashback of JR watching as Sue Ellen is dragged off to the sanatarium; for all he knows at this point, he could be agreeing to make a film about one of the men in white coats. Later in the ep, Lucy also flashes back — to JR and Val’s motel room confrontation from Season 2 which is so good it pretty much upstages the rest of the episode. Still, Tommy is excitingly evil as soon as he swaggers on screen while Cally is charmingly wide-eyed as she is introduced to the concepts of credit cards and exercise rooms. And she even saves John Ross from drowning by giving him the kiss of life, which kind of means it’s Cally we have to thank for Josh Henderson and New DALLAS.

And the winner is ... Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Wrench

BONUS BEATS:

 

valkaren

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Although I am a huge fan of the Jill storyline in Season 10 and the way it unravels from the perspective of the 'Scooby Gang' as you so amazingly put it, the one let down is the flushing out the motivation of Jill herself the moment Gary dumps her. After that happens, it looks like they try to go off in a bunch of directions with her, but we never are allowed to get inside her head. At one point it tantalizingly seems like she is going to MISERY Gary; booking the wedding, sabotaging his horse and buying hospital equipment and a wheelchair. But the moment Julie is injured instead they never revisit those points - then before you know it Jill is dead and the story wraps up with an unfortunately generic whodunit three-parter.
 

Daniel Avery

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Perhaps the scattered nature of her final days was an attempt to build up to the biggest question to come out of the whole mystery: Did Jill accidentally die in her attempt to frame Gary, or did she intentionally kill herself? If they had continued to present her as the "brilliant mastermind who covers all the bases" as they did in late S9 and early S10, then the viewer would have been inclined to think she planned to end up dead. But seeing her become frazzled and her plans being constantly thwarted (in other words, showing she was not as good at this as she thought) then it allowed more doubt to enter viewers' minds about her ability to control the outcomes.
 

Daniel Avery

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Jill would shout from every rooftop that Gary tried to kill her, and probably add that Val conspired with him to do the deed--thus they would be apart, which in Jill's mind was a consolation prize for not having gotten Gary to take her back. If she couldn't have him, then she'd make sure Val didn't get him. Given how she could fool lie detector machines, she could make a good case that Gary (and maybe Val) should be sent to jail for attempted murder. Jill did not know how the others had already figured out how she did all the stuff she did, so she likely thought she could frame him/them and make it stick.
 

Willie Oleson

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Jill would shout from every rooftop that Gary tried to kill her
By locking her in the trunk and waiting for her to die?
It's not like they found him digging a grave or about to dispose of the car. I suppose "kidnapping" could work, but then there's the question why, and why kidnap her and take her to the ranch if he wanted her gone?
Maybe she could say that he was going to kill her but what she think is going to happen isn't the best evidence.

Buuuut….what if someone else had killed her and tried to frame Gary? Jungle Ben could have secretly returned, crazy Matthew Blaisdel style.
 

Jimmy Todd

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I loved the whole "The Perfect Crime" plot, with the exception of Jll being written as "crazy" at the end of it. That becomes a cop out too many times on television. Let her be a perfectly sane evil mastermind. It was being drawn into the Val and Gary love web that pushed her to believe murder by suicide was the only answer, something she may never have considered if she hadn't encountered these particular two dysfunctional people. Also, it might give Val something on which to reflect. I'd have loved a scene where she and Karen are having coffee and she asks her if Jill was right, does she manipulate Gary by always being the victim? Even better, have their convo take place at Lotus Point so Abby could overhear it. She would definitely have a few thoughts on the subject.
 

Daniel Avery

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By locking her in the trunk and waiting for her to die?
It's not like they found him digging a grave or about to dispose of the car. I suppose "kidnapping" could work, but then there's the question why, and why kidnap her and take her to the ranch if he wanted her gone?
Note that she had her hands bound behind her back and a gag on her mouth when she was found in the trunk. Gary had said to everyone on numerous occasions that he wanted rid of her. From the look of things, he had tied her up, put her in the trunk and intended to carry her out to the ranch to kill her (if she didn't suffocate on the trip out) and bury the body in a place no one would find her (not like her brother Peter). The second layer of the set-up involved the stomach full of pills, the same type of pills that she'd used on Val. Someone had already seen Val attack Jill with a pair of scissors. Shortly before Jill was found we saw Val and Gary speaking (conspiring?) on a park bench near Jill's home. This led to the idea that perhaps Val had decided to literally give Jill a taste of her own medicine, and Gary agreed to dispose of Jill (assuming she was already dead). There was also the red herring that perhaps Frank had killed her, but I won't get into that. Anyway, if Jill had survived, she probably would have accused Gary and/or Val of trying to kill her, what with the lethal amount of meds in her system and Gary driving her (dead or barely alive) to a secluded place out of town. If she had not been gagged, perhaps she would not have choked on her own vomit and died. Any good prosecutor would say Gary tied the gag over her mouth for that very reason.

Remember, Jill did a good enough job of framing Gary that even Mack MacKenzie himself dramatically announced "He did it" at the end of an episode.
 

James from London

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Community Spirit (KNOTS, 03 Jan 80) v The Confession (KNOTS, 16 Jan 86)

The first scene of KNOTS I can remember watching is from Community Spirit — Val on the beach looking admiringly out at the ocean where Eric is surfing. He offers to teach her but when she says she can’t even swim, he promises to teach her that instead. As I recall, we don't see Eric surf again after this ep and Val never does learn to swim. Then comes the enjoyably incongruous sight of a limousine pulling up in the cul-de-sac. Out steps JR Ewing from TV's DALLAS for his first meeting with Val since the motel room showdown that Lucy flashed back to in Comings and Goings.

The whole concept of “us” and “them” gets kind of turned on its head with JR’s arrival. Traditionally, the “us” is the audience’s point of identification — the eyes through which we get to know “them”, like on DALLAS and DYNASTY where we follow ordinary girls Pam and Krystle as they marry into rich larger-than-life families, or on FALCON CREST where we watch Chase and Maggie learning to live alongside his weird relatives. But in this case, we're already more familiar with the rich “them” (i.e., JR) than the ordinary “us” (the residents of Seaview Circle) so instead, we get to know the new characters via their contrasting attitudes to the pop culture icon in their midst. When Karen flirts with JR in his hotel suite, it’s like she’s been watching him on TV like the rest of the country and is having a fun half-hour pretending to be one of his mistresses before leaving to pick up her husband’s suit from the cleaners. When an obsequious Richard introduces himself on the beach, he could almost be a starry-eyed fan asking Larry Hagman for an autograph. When Gary and Val stand up to him, refusing to be blackmailed or intimidated any longer, it’s as if they’re proving themselves to be his televisual equals, worthy of helming their own series without requiring any further guest star appearances from him, thank you very much. Indeed, when JR congratulates his brother at the end of ep on finally “beginning to act like a real Ewing”, it sounds like a portent of Gary's own soapy shenanigans to come.

Whereas Karen merely plays at being a soap opera vamp in this ep, Laura is living the messier reality of adulterous motel room assignations. For some reason, it’s never quite clicked with me before that her story about having previously met Chip Todson at summer camp is a lie and that he's actually one of her previous extra-marital Looking for Mr Goodbar pickups.

Almost exactly six years later in The Confession, Karen locks horns with Abby over an environmental McGuffin just as she did JR in Community Spirit. This time, they’re in competition for an appointment on the state planning commission. Greg already has a stake in Abby getting the post (as part of his secret scheme to get Empire Valley back), but when an unwitting Laura asks him to use his influence to help Karen (just as Richard asked her to use her influence to help him in Community Spirit), he says he will. (Spoiler: he won’t.)

The Karen that goes up against Abby in ’86 is far more serious than the one who took on JR for a lark in 1980. Back then, she seemed to enjoy the fight for its own sake; now she solemnly vows to fight Abby to her last breath. Abby just seems to find the whole thing amusing, the way Karen used to when she wore sundresses and a flower in her hair. Whereas the resolution of the Community Spirit plot neatly enabled JR go out on a high even after he was defeated, it’s not enough for Karen to merely lose to Abby in The Confession, she has to make a fool of herself in the process. Goaded by her opponent, she makes a totally unwarranted confession about her problem with drugs to the governor before realising the appointment has already been decided.

The other confession of the episode is Lilimae's as she finally comes clean to the police about the circumstances of Joshua’s death (i.e, he fell off the roof after trying to kill Cathy). This storyline, when viewed in its entirety, seems to drag on for ages, but watching this episode out of context makes it easier to appreciate Lilimae’s reasons for keeping the truth a secret. In a touching monologue where she quietly talks, or prays, to her dead son (“Oh God, Joshua, why’d you have to change? … Oh Lord God in Heaven, if only you’d come to me when things started going wrong. I know why you didn’t … I wasn’t there when you needed me”), it becomes clear that she regards lying on his behalf as her last chance to do right by him.

There’s a lovely exchange between Lilimae and Mack in the police station where he gently coaxes the truth out of her and then watches silently as she makes her statement to the police (just as he did when Diana made hers about Ciji’s death a couple of years earlier). On any other soap, Lilimae’s cathartic confession (which is corroborated by Cathy) would be enough to bring this storyline to a close, but on knotty old KNOTS, the cops — following legal logic rather than soap opera convention — aren’t inclined to simply take the word of two women, each of whom has a previous conviction for murder. Again, within in the context of the whole season, this feels like another unwanted complication, but just within this one ep, it makes a pleasing kind of sense. (Still not sure about the saxophonist with the secret mini-tape recorder though.)

And the winner is ... The Confession

BONUS BEATS:


 
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