This was a much better episode than last week, plainly and simply because the show remembered that its characters were there to be people and not props for its mild indignation.
And the show deliberately downplayed its central threat, its theme, leading to a twist ending that I foresaw a long way out, and not just because this was one of those rare episodes that I remembered something about from forty years ago (I remembered the comic sub-plot).
The episode set itself up melodramatically, with armed police invading an isolated house. This was a headquarters of the Seventeenth of May Movement (which the episode thankfully abreviated to SMM, giving me the excuse to do the same). The SMM had gone ahead of the Police, not to mention Rossi and Animal, but they left behind something that was only wormed out to the audience after a long comic set-up of the main part of the story.
This was a Newspaper Convention in Palm Springs, andCharlie Hume was chairing it. Lou was being his predictably sarcastic self, but he’s jumped the gun: he’s going too. Mrs Pynchon has him chairing a panel discussion.
The imposition, and his obvious dislike for theConvention sends Lou into grumpiness overdrive. He won’t take anything about the Convention at all seriously, and he won’t take anything to do with the SMM seriously, despite Rossi and Billie’s interest in the story. Lou dismisses the SMM as three middle-class drop-outs, and despite the building evidence of something serious about them, he digs his heels in and refuses to take anything about the notion seriously, to the point of obtuseness.
Because the SMM’s plan is to kidnap someone at a Convetion. This Convention.
Security is high but Lou sneers at the very idea to the point of tediousness. He’s justified on one level because the guests include Jack Riley (Kenneth McMillan), the hoaxer who took the Trib for $5,000 in season 1. Riley’s representing himself as belonging to a paper that fired him two months ago, he’s signing Lou’s name to his bar bill, he’s after a job and wants Lou to reference him. Even when Jack correctly identifies a waiter as an escaped convict, Lou refuses to take him seriously.
There are two other guests of note atthe Convention. One is the smarmy Jeffry Nelson (Ivor Francis), proprietor of a Seattle paper. who’s always been making passes at Mrs Pynchon, even when her husband was alive, which necessitates Lou being Margaret’s ‘dinner date’ on the last night to keep him at bay. Nelson is also the only one interested in Jack Riley, leaving Lou desperately trying to avoid him as well, to the pointthat Nelson assumes the Trib is trying to steal Riley, and gives him the job: comic sub-plot A.
Comic sub-plot B is Lou’s ongoing encounters with Lois Craig (Amanda McBroom), a Sports Editor and a damned good-looking one, early-to-mid thirties, perfect hair, wide-open smile and perfect teeth, McBroom even turns up long and lissome in a strapless bathing costume to dive into the pool. Lou obviously fancies her, as who wouldn’t, but his old-fashioned assumptions war with his underlying decency about people with talent. He keeps trying to sound liberated but edoes itso badly that all he sounds like is soomeone trying, badly. Neveryheless, the pair have increasingly fractious encounters that are leading to a dinner date on the last night. Lou has to stand her up for Mrs Pynchon, and the punch-line is that he finally finds her after escorting Mrs Pyncon to her room, and his ‘explanation’ quickly bcomes otiose when Lois is trailing a hunky guy round about her age, who she’s clearly going to shag his brains out (lucky guy).
These comic sub-plots, together with Lou’s perfectly blatant distaste forthe Convention (and some poor supposed humour aboout his predecessor as City Editor) do dominate the Convention element, though everyone but Lou is treating the SMM plot seriously. The increased security, the Governor cancelling out doing the closing speech, the evident tension.
But the serious stuff is left back at the paper, with Billie and Rossi investigating. It turns out Billie used to know Sandra (Laurie Heineman), a Movement leader, having studied music with her for four years. Through this former link, Billie gets to interview the intense, determined and near-Messianic Sandra about the SMM’s goals and tactics. And here was the sting that I’d seen coming for some time: the SMM planned to kidnap nobody. Planted plans to start the hares running, all the publicity they could wish for and not having to actually do anything.
(I sensed the twist coming because I understand how the show thinks, and I worked it out from too much show-time elapsing without a definite move starting, meaning that any actual kidnap attempt but either be a pathetic fizzle of too easy a capture, or else so cheaply melodramatic as to crash the episode. Besides, Lou Grant doesn’t go for stuff like that.)
I did find the SMM a bit too unrealistic. They were, after all, middle-class drop-outs if Sandra was anything to go by, with no clear goals except to expose hos rotten Society is at its core. They wanted to overthrow the System, maaaan, with no ideas what to put in its place, but then a lot of people like that are exactly like that. At this remove, they look hollow and empty, and worse, they look like the fixed idea an older generation have of such small terrorist groups. But this is 1978, only a few years removed from the Radical Undergrounded of the late Sixties, and roups likethis were real, and not as innocuous as this lot were. Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army were fresh memories.
An example of both television’s overt decision not to be too representative for Saturday night prime time and time itself, flowing onwards to new argumentsand conepts. If the show can keep on using its cast as people, not prop, I will go sailing on into season 3, after the next four episodes.