Thursday, October 11, 2012

Knots Landing season 3

A friend who knows of my obsession with Knots Landing told me recently he was thinking of checking it out, after all these years, to learn why it's kept me watching and re-watching for over three decades. Should he start at the top, he wondered, or is there a better place to begin?

It was a tricky question.

Only the first two seasons of Knots have been released on DVD, and neither shows off the series at its best. The first season is mostly episodic, and although there are some strong standalones, it's not till the final few episodes that the show manages to solidify its tone and approach. Season 2 is a mess. With its sister soap Dallas enjoying a tidal wave of publicity (in the wake of J.R.'s shooting), the Knots showrunners go serialized, but it's like they'd never seen a soap before: the pacing is so fast that there's no time to respond to anything, to root for anyone, to root against anyone. The world established in Season 1 -- a land of looser morals, where betrayal is common and often forgiven -- doesn't necessarily lend itself to drama; it lends itself to incident. The top of Season 2 is busy, but uninvolving -- and when the lagging ratings midway through prompt a sudden return to standalones, the writers pull out all the punches with "special episodes": cancer scares, hostage crises. At the end of the season, one of the core characters (Sid Fairgate, pillar of the community) is targeted by criminals, who tamper with his brakes, and he goes over a cliff (that's the "cliffhanger"); creator David Jacobs noted at the time that a good part of their audience went over that cliff, too -- i.e., they bailed on the series -- and I don't think he's wrong.

Season 1 and Season 2: that's all the Knots currently available on DVD, and if -- like my friend -- you're looking to watch just one season, to see if Knots is for you, I can't recommend purchasing either. But if Season 3 ever comes out, don't miss it.

I had occasion to re-watch Knots Landing Season 3 over the summer, and when I was done, I thought of the film The Way We Were, with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Not of the actual film, but of Pauline Kael's original review in The New Yorker, where she referred to it as "a torpedoed ship full of gaping holes which comes snugly into port." I don't think I could imagine a better description of Knots Landing Season 3. It's a fascinating season: the only one that I enjoy much more today than I did when it originally aired. In 1981-82, its odd mix of standalones and serialized episodes felt unsatisfying; now, thirty years later, knowing what to expect, I can look beyond it and see that Knots Landing both began and ended with that season. It's the season where the show finds its voice and its pacing; it's also the last season of the original format, a series powered by the claustrophobic energy of a cul-de-sac. It fulfills the promise of Season 1 and avoids (and often corrects) the mistakes of Season 2, and as such, it's a key season: the one that best understands – and illustrates, generally without melodrama -– how complex yet fragile marriages and families and friendships can be. In that respect, it's a television rarity.

In case you're able to locate Knots Season 3, here's all you need to know to get you started. Knots began with four married couples living in a Southern California cul-de-sac: there were the stable ones (Sid and Karen Fairgate), the troubled ones (Richard and Laura Avery), the new arrivals from Texas (Gary and Valene Ewing), and the twentysomethings (Kenny and Ginger Ward). In Season 2, Sid's divorced kid sister Abby was added to the neighborhood: the requisite vixen and troublemaker. Season 2 ends with Sid going over that cliff, and Abby's ex-husband kidnapping their kids -- it's an easy place to pick up the story-line. There are essentially three longterm plots in Season 3. There's Karen (played by Michele Lee) mourning the loss of her husband. (Spoiler: he dies.) There's Laura (Constance McCashin) and her painful decision to leave her jerk of a husband -- and her even more painful decision to return. And best of all, there's Abby (Donna Mills) inserting herself into Gary and Val's marriage -- and truly, that's where this promising show gets great.

The Val-Gary-Abby triangle is what most folks remember when they think of Knots Landing, and for good reason. Gary and Val, played by Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark, were brought over from Dallas (which Jacobs had also masterminded), with a backstory about finding each other again after decades spent apart. Their marriage seemed unshakable; during the first few seasons, you figured only a force of nature could drive them apart -- but when Abby set her sights on Gary in Season 3, with a business plan that appealed to both his ambition and his altruism, all bets were off. Val offered him safety and security; Abby offered risk and thrills -- and for Gary, the alcoholic who lived life on the edge, it was an impossible choice. It was the sturdiest of soap triangles because both sides were well-supported: you could argue that Gary was his most stable with Val, but you could also argue, equally persuasively, that he was his most dynamic with Abby. Which Gary Ewing do you prize most? In the season's most memorable confrontation, in the series' best episode, "China Dolls," Abby and Val square off; Val needs to know what kind of hold Abby has on her husband. When they go at it, they fight for Gary in terms of how they see him and what they can offer him -- and by the time they're done, the viewer is just as torn as Gary.

Those are the three key plots -- Karen mourning Sid, Laura wrestling with her marriage to Richard, and Abby coming between Gary and Val -- and by season's end, they've all been spectacularly successful. Getting there, though, has been agony at times. Ann and Ellis Marcus were brought on as headwriters in Season 3 -- they were among the best in the business (she had been headwriter of the Emmy-winning Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in the 1970's). Because of the Marcus's background in daytime soaps, they get -- as the writers didn't in Season 2 -- that on shows like this, the pacing doesn't need to be furious. The waiting is part of the fun: the simmering tensions, the delayed gratification. Season 3 has all that, but parts of it also feel cautious and confused. The Marcuses clearly have no idea how far they can take the show in terms of making it a full-fledged soap; you see them careful not to repeat the mistakes of Season 2 -- but that carefulness is also a bit of a pain. Ann Marcus is renowned as one of the great plotters of the soap world (it's why when your show is a shambles, as Knots was in Season 2, and again in Season 13, you bring her in to save it, because she'll turn dross into gold), but strangely, the first half of Season 3 doesn't feel much like an Ann Marcus soap at all. Every time a good plotline gets going, and you tune in the following week, awaiting a follow-up, it's nowhere in sight. Sometimes promising plotlines disappear for three or four episodes at a time; the Marcuses try to keep the show from getting too serialized too fast, so that casual viewers can still tune in. (The show was, after all, still building its audience.)

Ann Marcus reveals in her autobiography that in order to get the show back on its feet, after a disastrous Season 2 that made the characters seem either dense or deplorable, they approached the first half of the season as "more an anthology than a soap," focusing in on one or two characters at a time, working to restore the qualities that had made them seem so promising in Season 1. It does wonders for the characters, but makes the first half of Season 3, from a plotting perspective, seem aimless. Once you accept the idiosyncrasies of the story-telling, though, the episodes themselves are rarely less than engaging. (They range from a touching Christmas tale to a haunting ghost story to a splendid showcase for famed film actor Lew Ayres, then a sprightly 73.) And throughout we get glimpses of Karen adjusting to life without Sid: often she's focal; sometimes she's only captured in subplots, or in scattered scenes -- but whenever the show seems to be drifting, Karen is there to anchor it. Ironically, the departure of Don Murray (who played Sid, and requested off the show) turns out to be a blessing, because it gives the creative team a template for doing slow-burner stories in a fast-paced world; it becomes a vivid reminder -- one that the headwriters will hold to -- that even in a cozy cul-de-sac at the tail end of the sexual revolution, where sometimes it feels that everything can be made better by a quick dip in the hot tub, there's potential for stories of real consequence. The saga of Karen's instant widowhood is an unqualified triumph. The stages of denial, anger and acceptance are played out without being spelled out; they seem calculated to give both Karen and the audience proper time to grieve, and indeed, by the time Karen is at Sid's grave, months after his death, telling him she's ready to move on, the viewer is finally ready too. (Karen's journey is handled so smoothly that you don't fully realize how effective it's been until it's over.)

As an aside, I think I've always underestimated Michele Lee's Emmy-nominated performance that season. I knew she was good; now I find her startlingly so. She carefully navigates all the potential acting traps: her weeping after Sid's death could be too theatrical, but it's not; her final farewell at his gravesite could come off as self-aware, but it doesn't. They're splendidly played. And in all the "small" moments, she consistently brings fresh details and shadings. Murray's exit liberates Lee. The two made a convincing pair, but his soft-spoken manner meant she had to continually moderate her responses, to keep from seeming too abrasive. The story of Sid's death unleashes her, allowing her a story-line that excuses and even encourages the fits of rage, self-involvement and self-righteousness that sometimes tripped up her character in the first two seasons. The reinvention of Karen proves so successful that the writers ensure -- when it's time for her to meet someone new the following season -- that they create a character who doesn't diminish the "new" Lee: who plays to her strengths, as she had to play to Murray's.

Karen coming to terms with her loss is at the heart of the first two-thirds of Season 3, and the showrunners mine every moment skillfully -- and wisely, just as Karen's arc comes to a close, the other two plots take center stage. Up to that point, the Val-Gary-Abby triangle and Laura and Richard's turbulent marriage have been turning up in fits and starts; at times, it's been difficult to judge where things stand. They've seemed like promising but elusive plotlines. But once the final third of the season hits, the headwriters' best soap instincts kick in, and it's bracing.

In the season's fifteenth episode (of 22), "Best Intentions," Laura has discovered she's pregnant; she was ready to leave Richard, and now she's carrying his child. It's as common a soap dilemma as any, but the treatment is decidedly uncommon. It's delicate -- and detailed. Laura has decided not to tell Richard about the baby, to simply say that the marriage is over and go. She confides in Karen, who promises support, but as Laura leaves Karen's house, Karen can't resist playing devil's advocate, and the two of them end up in the alleyway between their homes, shivering in the night air. Karen knows she's being intrusive, but doesn't care: "You have to tell Richard. You can't just have an abortion without letting him know." Laura resists, and Karen pushes, "I'm not saying you have to ask his permission, but you have to talk to him. I mean, like it or not, you're in this thing together." Laura quips, "Oh there is nothing together about this," and Karen one-ups her: "Hey, how'd you get pregnant, playing solitaire?" Laura keeps making light: "Well, when you put a couple in the same bed night after night, the law of averages" -- but Karen refuses to let her off the hook: "If you have the abortion without discussing it with Richard, you're going to regret it. I mean, even if he never finds out about it -- you're going to feel guilty and bitter -- and if he ever finds about it... well, either way, it's just going to lead to bitterness." And that's the last thing Laura wants to hear: the truth. "So? The marriage is over," and she tries to escape, but Karen persists, "If the marriage is over, who's to say divorce can't be civil? Try -- try to save something." Leave it to Karen, her best friend, to be principled and reasonable and stubborn; aren't best friends just supposed to tell you what you want to hear? "I hate you," Laura tells Karen, with a mix of sarcasm and sincerity, and Karen responds, with guilt and relief, "I know."

Later that night, Laura and Richard have their own heart-to-heart about mutual respect, betrayal, self-delusion and trust. It seems to go well. And the following evening, Richard comes home from work to start a new life with his wife -- and she's moved out. They bared their souls; Richard, uncharacteristically, was responsible and willing to compromise -- but for Laura, it didn't change anything. In Season 2, their neighbors Ginger and Kenny had been separated, but reconciled soon after discovering she was pregnant; they didn't even have much of a discussion about it -- isn't that what people do when a baby's on the way? Richard had every reason to think that talking things out with Laura would make a difference -- so did we: the writers set us up.

The writers play with us constantly in the final third of Season 3; they keep our expectations and even our loyalties forever shifting. Running parallel to the Richard-Laura drama in "Best Intentions" is the germ of a plot that will propel the Val-Gary-Abby triangle to its conclusion, as Val -- who's been taking a course in creative writing -- pens a tell-all book about Gary's family. It's the start of the "Val as author" story-line that will sustain many a season, but it never again generates plot as nimbly as it does here. After months of watching her husband flirt with Abby Cunningham, Val desperately needs some positive reinforcement, a little ego-stroking -- and she gets that with the initial response to her manuscript. But the book is clearly going to drive a wedge between her and Gary -- who, understandably, doesn't want a thinly disguised exposé in which his family is portrayed as (in his words) "liars and fools" to ever see the light of day. We can see that as Val pursues publishing her book, she's risking her marriage. But do we want to deny Val the self-fulfillment she so desperately craves? Abby and Gary, meanwhile (in the show's most marvelous MacGuffin), have forged a business partnership to power automobiles with methanol, which could prove not only cost effective, but fresh-air friendly; are we really gonna root against the environment? All three parties in the Val-Gary-Abby triangle share culpability for its outcome (the show is careful not to strip the story-line down to a fight between "good Val" and "evil Abby"), yet we never resent them for the choices they make. That's its genius.

The best Knots story-lines -- like the three that dominate Season 3 -- veer in unexpected directions; you delight at how often the writers pull the rug out from under you. As the season approaches its final spate of episodes, that happens so often, you're left breathless. The insights grow more startling, the pacing more fluid. The writers, daringly, interrupt the flow briefly with a standalone called "Night," in which Richard, pushed to a nervous breakdown, holds Laura hostage. Every time I watch "Night," I feel like they were determined to do a hostage drama that would make you forget the earlier, feeble effort in Season 2 (when criminals break into Val's house during Ginger's baby shower and hold the women at gunpoint) -- and indeed they do. "Night" works because the conflict comes from within -- and that's the hallmark of all of Season 3: the crises that befall Karen, and Laura and Richard, and Val and Gary and Abby, are self-generated. The characters create their own drama. And that's truly where Season 3 gets it right.

The season reaches its climax in its penultimate episode, "China Dolls"; watching it again recently, I realized the series reaches its climax there, too -- or at least the series as David Jacobs conceived it. Nothing up to that point has prepared you for the cunning of "China Dolls" (written and directed by departing producer Joseph Wallenstein), which fast-tracks Gary and Abby's affair by delving more deeply into the desires, the failings and the frailties that draw them together. (In essence, Wallenstein accelerates the story-line by slowing down the pace; it's like no conjuring trick I've seen before or since.) It's character drama at its most convincing, yet the result is plotting at its most unpredictable; every time you think you have a handle on where the episode is heading, it gallops away like a race-horse. At the Knots Landing Forum, a poster named James From London started in-depth reviews of each of Knots' 344 episodes, and although he never completed more than a few dozen, it was easily one of the most substantive reflections on popular culture I've read. Here's a snippet of what he had to say about "China Dolls":

Fear of losing control permeates this episode. It is the exploration of this fear, and of the characters’ all too human frailty, that sets Knots apart from its contemporaries. Affairs, adultery, marital and mental breakdowns -- the events that dominate Knots Landing in its third season -- are the staples of any prime time serial, but the residents of Seaview Circle aren’t just two-dimensional soap caricatures jumping in and out of bed or marriage with one another without any messy consequences -- however much they might like to be. In this episode, Gary wants to be able to enjoy a guilt free extra-marital affair. Equally, Laura wants to put her life with Richard behind her, insisting that “It’s over, I don’t love him, I moved out, it was clean.” However, it is the characters’ messy emotions that betray them. As strong and in control as they would like to appear, they are fragile creatures secretly plagued by doubt, fear and -- in spite of Gary and Laura’s protests to the contrary -- lots and lots of guilt. For all of Donna Mills’ naughtiness, this is still a show about the institution of marriage, and the powerful hold that institution has over its members. Gary, Val, Abby, Laura, Richard: these are the china dolls of the episode’s title, and it is their individual struggles, between where they are and where they would like to be, that makes for such a compelling episode.

Midway through the episode, Gary's conscience gets the better of him; he breaks things off with Abby, but he can't handle the consequences of that decision either. His frustration and longing are somehow worse than his guilt, and as night falls, he paces his living room like a caged animal, eyeing Abby's empty home across the cul-de-sac, while Valene anxiously studies him from across the room. The next morning, after Val attempts to wrestle an explanation or admission from Gary, she determines to confront Abby, and her furious walk across the cul-de-sac, from her house to Abby's, is the series' most iconic image. There's a youtube clip, from a French telecast of all things, but you don't need to speak French to appreciate that shot; it's what the early years of Knots Landing were all about -- the tensions that emerge and erupt in a small, closed community -- and it's a series high point.

And it's followed by the "most memorable confrontation" that I referred to earlier, in which Val demands, "Are you or are you not having an affair with my husband," and Abby, bluffing in her coolest, cruelest manner, admits nothing: "I'm not saying we're having an affair, and I'm not saying we're not. I am saying I can have him anytime I want." Val slaps her across the face, and it hurts: Abby didn't see that one coming. This is no Dynasty-style catfight; there's not an ounce of camp in the writing or playing. This is two admirable women so proud and so scared that they're reduced to inflicting pain on each other. It's brutal, and it's brilliant. And it's the clearest indication that if the writers didn't know exactly where they were going when they first plotted Season 3, they figured it out mighty fast, because when the moment comes, you feel like the show has been building up to it for an entire season.

As indeed it has.

With "China Dolls" and the season closer, "Living Dangerously," the third season of Knots Landing -- after a rocky start -- comes snugly into port. And the Knots Landing that David Jacobs envisioned starts to re-invent itself; incoming showrunner Peter Dunne (a very fine producer in his own right) "enlarges the situations," as he put it at the time, and in Season 4, characters start moving out of Seaview Circle. Early that fourth season, Gary Ewing inherits a million dollars, and by year's end, all the characters are embroiled in a murder mystery -- and we are a far cry from where we started. We don't really get back to Knots at its purest until the final season. That season, in which Ann Marcus is brought back for one last, great hurrah, is a splendid one, but you'd need an encyclopedia of Knots knowledge to fully appreciate it. The best Knots season, Season 5, has an operatic sweep unmatched by any other season, or any of its fellow primetime soaps, but starting there would be equally tough.  But Season 3 -- the true start of the series -- is a great place to begin. Not available on DVD, but if you're in the mood for a tasty slice of early '80s television, by writers who knew how to tell a story and actors to knew how to sell it, then beg, borrow or steal a copy...

Want more Knots? Check out my posts on Season 1, which establishes the characters and struggles to set the tone; Season 2, which pretty much mucks up everything; Season 4, a shrewd and ultimately successful reinvention; Season 6, one of the series' best story-lines, and its greatest acting showcase; Season 7, in which Dallas scribe David Paulsen, newly installed as headwriter, shows an astonishing lack of affinity for the characters; Season 8, in which the characters return, but the plotting goes haywire; Season 9, in which the show once again gets back to basics, after a couple unrecognizable years; Season 11, in which the show jumps the tracks -- then jumps back; Season 13, an epic fail, and an epic save; and Season 14, in which Ann Marcus gives the series a glorious send-off.


  1. This post was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It hurts me to see such a great essay with NO COMMENTS written in response to it. I am just getting started a blog all about KNOTS LANDING called Knots Blogging (I will insert an obvious plug for it in a second near the bottom of this post) and I deeply love the show. I am currently up to season three in my viewing (but have only just gotten started putting my essays about season one up; it's good to have a back catelog) and I'm glad to see someone else give the show some passion and respect.

    Also, I think I disagree with your central thesis and actually consider season three one of the worst of the series, yet you present such a great, well written, thoughful argument that I may have to reconsider (I am only about eight episodes deep right now).

    This post is about three years, but I just want you to know that I was delighted to find it today and I read it and thought, "Damn, this guy knows how to write!"

    Shameless plug alert: My blog can be located by just typing in [url][/url]

    1. Well that link clearly didn't work. Just type in and it'll pop right up.

  2. Really appreciate your comments, Brett. I am not a professional writer, heaven knows, and just write here for my own enjoyment, as a welcome distraction from my regular job. But I only write about things I feel passionate about, which, over the last few years, I've learned is a lot. Been enjoying your own blog, and will look forward to seeing what you have to say about Knots Season 3. As noted, it's not a season I loved when it first aired, but it's grown to be one of my favorites. What's better?: a season you love at first, but then the ardor fades; or a season that inspires a mixed response, that gets better with each airing? Logic suggests the former, but the older I get, the more I gravitate towards the latter. Anyway, thanks again for writing!

  3. I came back to reread these and wanted to comment in length as I have just recently rewatched Season 3. It is completely understandable to me why the erratic mix of soapy storylines and standalones would turn people off. For me though, the early years of KNOTS were often boring at its worst but was still a solid show...and frankly I would take the early years over the final seasons, even season 14 (I'll express my views on that post).

    Season 3 does have a very dark cloud over it thanks to Sid's death, but it is, as you said, the season in which Knots begins and dies. You can also see the quality change. Artistic flourishes pop up here and there....the writing even seems to step up more.

    Aside from SILVER SHADOWS, which was a rather dull episode though made with taste and class, the final third of the season represents Knots at high peak form. I first saw these episodes as a young kid...and I think that's why I've always been one to defend season 3 because it was the first season I got to see and it made me want to keep watching so it must not be ALL that bad.

    The death of Sid was one of the best things that could've happened to Knots. It may have taken them some time to work around it but it paid off tremendously. It's funny how death was a topic that brought such riches to the show....not just Sid but obviously Jock dying on DALLAS as that led to Gary achieving wealth and of course the murder of Ciji set off a chain of events that led into the epic season 5.

    I'm rambling on now but so be it. The moment of Val leaving Gary at the end of the season is so strong and is also one of those decisions that paid off in spades....and I would say they did a good job with keeping them apart, although I firmly feel they should NEVER have brought in Danny. Val and Gary should have began dating right after the Jill storyline ended and then got married during season 11. That's my opinion.

    ill just stop while I'm ahead haha.

    1. So delighted you returned, Anthony, and doubly delighted to read your comments. FYI, I watched Season 3 when it first aired, and had much the same response you did. Up until then, I had been an interested -- but not necessarily engaged -- viewer, but when the final third of the season hit, it seemed like the series really caught fire for the first time. And watching it, you recalled all the little moments along the way that had led you there. I think you're right: the writing does improve in Season 3. A lot of the freelancers who did one or two scripts a year for Knots at that time easily do their best work in Season 3; they really step up their game. It's interesting: when you read interviews with the Knots creators, they always talk about how they "struggled" in Season 3, but I don't see the struggle. I see them trying to interweave some compelling longterm story arcs with some strong standalone episodes, and although their objective is not always clear, the stories themselves are very solid. I think that was part of the Marcuses' resolve. How do you build an audience? With strong standalones. How do you keep them engaged? With a couple slow-burn story arcs. And they were such good soap writers, they knew just how to do that.

      And yes, Lechowick and Latham should have just let Gary and Val reunite in Season 10, but I think by that point, the production team had convinced themselves that they had to keep the pair apart as long as humanly possible, no matter how they had to contort the story-lines (and defile the characters) to do so..

  4. From watching season 3...I truly think Ann Marcus wrote Val the best. She was naive, yet had backbone..and wasnt so easily gullible. I think the first 4 seasons showed Val as a fairly well balanced character...not a victim nor village idiot.

    I do think the val/gary/abby triangle couldnt start till mid season 3 sue to abby grieving her brother, getting hwr kids back, and making her ex husband pay..while Val had to focus on school and writing her you had to show Val being too much of a wet blanket toward gary in the early episodes. It is interesting to see Val and Abby being friendly..having coffee and having heart to hearts. Abby causing havoc on the cul de sac worked because the characters welcomed her into the inner circle...then Abby made her move with causing trouble. Just like Jill in season 9/10...Abby wasnt the typical baddie hired to cause trouble.

    Oddly Abby thought Val was stronger then anyone else, and didnt treat Val with kid gloves like everyone did.

    Season 3 was the season whwre David Jacobs vision truly worked...Very Ingmar bergman esque in the three main plots you mention.

    Sadly, Ginger isnt given much to do though the scene where she lets Karen hold her newborn baby and sensing that is the key to Karen being able to express her grief said a lot. You didnt need the writers to say anything...they were able to show you..that Ginger knew more then people assumed. A shame she didnt get a lot to do especially given snippets of her backstort (controlling mom, forced to get an abortion, two sisters that looked up to her.)...i do think ginger would have had tgoughts on Laura wanting to get an abortion given her history...moreso then Karen.

    1. I agree: Ann Marcus had a great handle on the character of Valene -- and on how to use Joan Van Ark. It's so nice when Marcus returns to the series late in Season 13 and devises the Sumner bio as a story-line for Val -- and you see Van Ark able to restore some of the character's original toughness and drive. I've always wondered, if Van Ark had remained with the show for Season 14, what Marcus had planned for her, because she so clearly loved writing for that character; alas, when I spoke with Marcus's colleague Lisa Seidman, when I did my write-up of the final season, she couldn't recall what the writers had planned for Val.

      You're right, of course, about the slow build of the Val-Gary-Abby triangle; it couldn't happen until the pieces were in place -- until Abby had gotten her kids back, and Val started to pursue her writing career. It's those slow builds that make Season 3 so rewarding, even when there are fits and starts along the way. I'm forever grateful that, when the writers started to have Abby make her move on Gary in Season 2, they instantly pulled away from it. None of the affairs in Season 2 have any weight: Richard with Abby, Kenny with Sylvie, Gary with Judy. Everyone just hops into the sack with everyone else. Season 3 keeps you waiting, and when the pay-off comes for Gary and Abby, in "Acts of Love," it feels huge. It feels earned.

    2. Will you be soing a season 8 write-up...that season was always fascinating because it wad the first season of Latham and company in charge...and it seemed like a transition season to me (ironically Val had some good scenes..and wasnt that the only time outside of season 13 that she and Sumner were in a story together?)

    3. It's funny: I never intended to do multiple Knots essays. When I started this blog, five long years ago, I was going to write about favorite seasons of various shows, and I started with this essay: Knots Season 3, as it was an underrated season I quite liked. Then one of the folks who comments here occasionally, Knots blogger Brett Roberts, asked about my admitted affection for Season 14, so I decided to write it up. And then at some point, another commenter, Anthony Host, said he'd like to see me take on a season I didn't particularly like, and I settled on Season 7. As it turns out, my Knots essays are easily my most popular, as well as the ones I most enjoy writing, so I suspect I will indeed cover every season at some point. And as I am always more than willing to take suggestions from the folks who visit here, I am officially fast-tracking my essay on Season 8. I'm actually just in the midst of writing up Season 1 (I wasn't sure I'd have enough to say, with only 13 episodes, but it seems like I do), and then I'll tackle Season 8. It's one I haven't seen in a long, long time -- it'll be a nice change of pace for me.

  5. What's interesting about Season three is that it almost got the show cancelled. Commercially, it dipped significantly to below #40 in the rankings and rumours are that the only reason it came back was because Jacobs created DALLAS, one of the top shows on the air at the time. And of course, it could not come back in the same vein. Therefore, the lack of commercial success of this season causes the direction of the show to fall victim to the trends in the genre at that specific moment in time. Dallas was the buzz-iest show, I’m pretty sure Dynasty came on board that year, and Knots’ was simply behind the trend, and needed to adapt to survive.

    What’s interesting about Knots’ is how significantly it does reboot itself throughout its run, and one could argue that the creators liberal attitude to the shows branding is precisely what allowed it to run so long. I think it’s quite a rare feat, especially nowadays (although I’m open to recent examples). Can you imagine THIS IS US turning upscale, more outrageous etc in its fourth season and straying away from its central concept? I certainly can’t (of course that would be more difficult). And nowadays, shows would more likely be cancelled then dare change its brand.

    Anyway, I digress. From a subjective viewpoint on the quality of the season - I think it is fantastic, but I only found it so once I knew the outcome of the journey (i.e. when re-watching). I believe as many of you are saying, outside of the bookends of the season, the middle portion is frustrating to watch when the three continuing stories become interrupted by stand-alone episodes, because you want to know the outcome. I guess that speaks volumes about the intensities and emotional pull the three main threads have. A similar structure of storytelling is deployed in season two, yet it’s all broadly so superficial so you don’t really care when it’s interrupted. Only once I knew the journey inside and out, my patience increased and I could start to appreciate the character driven stories being woven in between the ongoing threads.

    1. Season 3 is indeed an anomaly, because so many of us love it -- but only once it's over. But as you're watching, the first time through, it's a bit baffling and annoying, specifically -- as you say -- because the three continuing story-lines are packing so much emotional punch that you hate to see them interrupted. And yet, although I know I should be more critical of it, I can't: my love affair with Knots began with those last eight episodes of Season 3. It was everything I had hoped the show would become -- and then, at the start of the next season, that vision started to vanish, to be replaced (after about a year) by something I loved just as much. It's funny: I've had a lot of time on my hands recently, and have already written up Seasons 2, 10 and 13, and I'm just staggering the posts a bit -- but I am absolutely forgiving of Season 3 in a way that I am not of Season 2. Hopefully, once I post that write-up, my reasoning will seem cogent.

      It is always funny to me how, in the eyes of the creative and production team, quality is so often seen in terms of ratings. In all the interviews I've seen with Jacobs and Filerman, they disparage Season 3 ("that was a hard one for us" "we struggled"), but I suspect the fact that the ratings fell so bad (and I don't remember how much of that was the new, ultimately aborted timeslot) -- and that the show almost wasn't picked up -- clouds their view of it. Those final episodes absolutely nail what they wanted to do with the show. They deliver on the promise of the premise. ("The promise of the premise" -- jeez, I sound like Danny Kaye...)

    2. I completely agree with you with this season. I often wonder if I do give it more credit then it's due. But those first two and last two episodes? As great and 'Knotty' as the show ever is.

      I do however, have a very unpopular opinion! I prefer Season 2's "Moments of Truth" to Season 3's "Night"... and I realise by even typing that, some people will never take my opinions seriously ever again :) I just felt like there could have been a slightly lower-key way to frame his breakdown, one that didn't involve a SWAT team. In a way, the emotional undercurrents of Richard and Laura's story felt slightly cheapened by the theatrics of the 'hostage situation'... season 2 obviously didn't have that problem.

      I'm very excited to hear about your thoughts on Season 10. To me, it is the true vision of L&L's version of the show; it's clever, funny, and extremely knotty in every way.... And, from a commercial standpoint, the show improved in its ratings where every other soap declined (PS. I know commercial ratings have no bearing on the quality of a show, believe me... but I always find ratings so interesting, as well as the TV landscape in general in those days. Shows lived and died on those numbers). I think without their successful pivot and reinvention in season 9 and the strength of 10, the show would not have survived into the '90's.

    3. I wouldn't worry about your "unpopular opinion" with regard to "Moments of Truth" -- I'm sure there are other fans who prefer it as well, and I suspect I've printed many opinions much more controversial. :) I confess I find "Moments" pretty much unbearable; "Night" is certainly not my favorite episode of Season 3, but as I mention in my write-up, at least the core characters create the drama, and not some Bonnie and Clyde wannabes, so I cut it a lot of slack. And of course, as melodramatic and oversized as it gets, by the following episode -- with Karen urging Laura to visit Richard, Laura arguing "he held me hostage," and Karen almost brushing it aside with "he was having a nervous breakdown" -- it's all sort of whittled back down to size.

      Now that I've posted Season 13, Season 10 is next up; just putting finishing touches on it, and will probably post in a couple of weeks. I actually refer to the ratings rise quite a few times (in fact, I lead with it); I'd find it hard to discuss Season 10 and not mention the ratings, as it's become part of the "mythology" of the season. (I've also been a ratings geek since I was in my teens.) When Season 10 first aired, I remember grabbing USA Today every Wednesday to check out the ratings chart, and being so delighted as the numbers kept rising, particularly the spikes during the weeks L.A. Law was in reruns. (In a similar fashion, during Season 5, I'd pick up a copy of Variety each week to see how the show was faring, and was so pleased that it was bringing in so many new viewers each week. In those days long, long before the internet or social media, it made me feel part of a "community," of people who were discovering the show and loving it as much as I was.)