Though there was a low-key polemic to this episode, what mattered in this story was the personal story that came out in almost a rush near the end, as Lou, back in his hometown of Goshen, Michigan, to administer the affairs of his late Aunt, admits a sordid, indeed nasty detail of his past to someone he once hurt very badly.
‘Land o’Goshen!’ used to be one of those phrases people would utter as a substitute for even the mildest of swear words. Blimey, blinking heck, Heavens to Betsy. You don’t hear it now because people just say fuck, heedlessly, wherever they are. I had to look up the phrase to discover that Goshen is the area of Egypt where the Israelites were confned before their flight. It’s an appropriate name for the small town where he grew up.
At first sight, Goshen looks ldyllic, mid-western America, the little towns of wide streets and elegant wooden houses looking like they grow out of the land rather than are built upon it. But this is 1981. Towns like Goshen are dying by inches. Empty storefronts, the tomato cannery closed four years ago and, on the day Lou visits, intent on being in and out as fast as possible, the glass-bottling plant closes.
That brought back a memory, a self-catering holiday in the Lakes in 1991, in the Wicham Valley, Friday night and going into Millom for fish’n’chips, walking deserted streets at 6.30pm in an air of puzzlement at the lifeless atmosphere, the complete absence of anybody but ourselves, except in the chipshop we found. We later found that that was the afternoon the ironworks, Millom’s sole industry, closed.
That story, the dying town, the LA based business that closed a town’s industry because it wasn’t making enough profit and ‘only’ 250 jobs would be lost, interests the Trib, and Charlie assigns Lou to report it since he’s on the spot. The Union chapter, led by Paul Policzinski (Robert Prosky, pre-dating his run on Hill Street Blues) decide to try to buy the plant and set up themselves and, in a slightly implausible happy ending, the tight-fisted Banker on the City Council is the one who argues for Goshen to put its money where it’s mouth is and back the men. Not many people in 1981 were going out on limbs like that.
But that’s not where the story is heading. As soon as one of the town’s sons is known to be back, the town knows. Lou’s not nostalgic, not in the least. Given his way he’d have done everything from Goshen and not gone at all. Small town boy looking to obliterate his past? Unhappy childhood? Why is he so resistant to meeting his old girlfriend, Carol Kuzik (Georgeann Johnson) and so eager to escape her when he does meet her?
It takes a trip to the cemetery to break things down. Lou lays a spray of red roses on his aunt’s grave, but he’s bought three: his parent’s graves are nearby. And just across the way is the walled-off section that is the Catholic side of the cemetery, complete with a statue of Madonna and child.
Carol comes eagerly when called. Though she and Lou were old sweethearts, she never went inside his house. Lou talks about old things that wake him at 4.00am. Like why he left town without saying goodbye to Carol.
There was a reason. The sound of Carol’s voice as she asks if she’s finally going to find out. Lou tells her she was the first girl he ever seriously thought of marrying, conjuring up naive, unrealistic images as he walked ver to her house, then arriving and knowing he never could.
Prejudice. Bigotry. Carol was a Catholic girl. And she was Polack. She wore a scapular, though she took it off when they were preparing to kiss so they wouldn’t be struck by lightning. Lou’s parents would never have stood it. Though he doesn’t quite admit it directly, Lou was also affected by that bigotry. Marrying Carol was never possible, as was telling her why. So he ran off.
It isn’t nice. It’s hateful. And of course the woman Lou eventually married was Catholic. And Ukrainian. But the honesty at last, and Lou’s obvious and unforced disgust at himself, is a catharsis that allows the pair to regard the issue as settled after all this time. They’ll never see each other again, but now they never need to. Lives have travelled too far down separate routes that there is no way back to the divergence to begin again.
That makes three strong episodes, two of them personal, in four already in this final season. A very good average. Let’s keep this up.