Nowadays, season finales are big things, conclusive affairs or cliffhangers, ending on unfinished business meant to occupy the mind of the audience and draw them back for next season. In 1979, this was a long way from not so. Seasons were whole and entire, in the same way that episodes were whole and entire, self-contained, with minimal or no effect on what happened next week, or last week, or next year.
So I wasn’t expecting that much from LouGrant‘s second season finale, and in the sense I’m talking about, I was not disappointed, but it was nice to see the season end on a very strong episode that felt as if it contained a lot more than it’s actual 46 minute length.
The title was ‘Romance’ and it was all about love, or rather relationships, but not from any romantic angle we’d distinguish with the name. In fact, we had a triple header, two stories for the paper, carved up for Rossi and Billie, and one for Lou himself.
Rossi was on the palimony story, not that the P-word was mentioned. Rockstar Aaron Bly, worth an estimated $8,000,000 had broken up with his girlfriend of four years, Cheryl, who was claiming 50% of his fortune on the basis she had given up her ice-skater career for him, and had supported him in every way. This led to a discussion amongst male members of the Trib in which a few neanderthal attitudes were on parade. Apparently, if a woman lives with a man without a marriage certificate, the only thing she contributes is sex, and has anyone had sex worth $4,000,000? The only thing you can do is remind yourself that this is 1979, which doesn’t make it palatable, but makes it understandable.
Cheryl was played by Devon Ericson, who must have had ice-skating training as she was seen at the rink, performing very creditably and chirpily confident. And in an unprecedented move, she was showing her legs. This stood out against the dress code of the series in which every female is covered from neck to toe to fingertip. There is no skin showing, not even a forearm: if Linda Kelsey isn’t in lacks, she’s in a near ankle-length skirt, over boots. It gets increasingly noticeable as the weeks go by.
Anyway, Cheryl and Aaron are merely the overt cynicism. Cheryl’s case gets settled out of Court, by an agreement to marry. There’s no suggestion that there’s any real love involved.
This was the lightweight strand. In the middle was Lou himself, perfectly happy in his relationship with Policewoman Susan Sherman (Frances Lee McCain). Until, that is, she suggested living together. From the very moment she brought that up, things were on a downhill slope. Lou solicits minimal advice, starts a fight over Susan answering his phone and inadvertently betraying her existence to one of his daughters (which she and we immediately understood was only so violent because of her suggestion, an early and inevitable indication that things were not going to work out hunky-dory) and ultimately turns her offer down, on the somewhat confusing grounds that living together makes it too easy to split up if things get rough. He tentatively brings up marriage, but Susan says too soon. It’s all light, and cheerful, and everyone agreeing in an adult manner, but I saw a relationship killed in an instant. It’ll walk around for a bit, but it’s dead already.
The meat of the story, kick-started by the opening scene of a baby left unattended in a car whilst her 16 year old mother went to her birthday party, went to Billie, delving into the weird and wonderful world of teenage pregnncy. This was seen through Wendy (Terri Nunn), a 15 year old schoolgirl determined to get pregnant.
Wendy was, in her quiet way, a horror story. Neglected emotionally at home, at odds with her mother who, in a fleeting scene that established that she was a teenage mother who didn’t know what to do, Wendy planned to get a baby because a baby let her quit school, get her own place, break away from her mother and, most of all, gave her something that would love her, because lord knows she hadn’t had that at home. That the baby would be a life that she would be responsible for when she seemingly didn’t have an ounce of responsibilty in her, wasn’t part of Wendy’s plan (it would not be wrong to call it a scheme), and any attempt by the concerned Billie to get this over to her was met with angry resistance. A cycle was self-perpetuating.
The episodeand the seeason ended on that melancholy note. Wendy was preganant. She’d got everything she wanted. She was carefree. She was a 15 year old girl with a room, a bed, a table and cute babythings to accessorise her dream of whn the baby came. When Billie left, the camera stayed with Wendy, straightening things,already with nothing to do. Like a kid, she squatted on the floor to play with baby-bootees. You had to hope, and you feared there was none. A powerful moment.
A few weeks ago, after a run of particularly polemic episodes, I considered taking a break at this point, but a strong end to the season has restored my faith. I’ve started so I’ll finish, as we used to say. Be here next week when I start on season 3.