From the title, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this episode. What I got was unexpected but also astonishingly good. This was down to a willingness to forget practically all the structure of the series and its characters – Mrs Pynchon doesn’t appear, Billie only appears fifteen minutes in, Rossi has two very short cameos – in favour of letting an extraordinary guest star dominate the episode and run you through every emotion under the sun, including one very tough-minded and shocking incident just before the end.
That guest was W.K. Stratton, as Scott Hume, Charlie’s nephew. He was unknown to me but when I checked his record in imdb, it turns out he’s been in lots of series I’ve watched, including Hill Street Blues, Tales of the Gold Monkey and Quantum Leap. Stratton is tall and sort of shapeless with, in this episode, a nondescript pudding bowl haircut. Scott Hume is what we would once have called ‘a troubled young man’: Stratton told us that just by standing there in the City Room.
Scott’s thirty. He suffers from depression and anxiety. He’s seeing psychiatrists, intermittently, on mood-elevating medication that he rejects taking. From the first moment he appears, without any extravagance in action or words, he projects an absence, a separation from the world.
Scott has no job. He has no abilities. He is unable to focus on anything for long. He has unrealistic expectations, like being a writer, like the never-seen Chrissy loving him when she’s married with two children. Scott can’t cope with it, with anything.
Charlie knows of Scott’s background, up to and including the ‘nervous breakdown’ of two years previously. For much of the episode he internally blames his older brother Steve (James Callahan) for Scott’s state, even as he concedes his own issues with son Tommy, whose choice of a different life in season 1 is only alluded to. Charlie himself will learn, from the psychiatrist, Dr Sorensen (Tom Akins) that he cannot blame himself for Tommy any more than he can credit himself – not that he does – for Joannie being terrific, and that a parent’s self-blame can be a burden to the child as well.
This is to prepare us for the finale. But before we come to that astonishing moment, I’ll reference the completely opposite B story that, despite being comic and lightweight and altogether out of proportion, was strangely complementary. It kept the paper bubbling in the background as Billie is assigned the story of Ziggy the bear who escaped from a zoo and stayed on the loose for days until the Trib’s hired tracker brought him in. Yes, no comparison, but it allowed several very funny lines along the way, and acted as a counterpoint to the completely non-humourous story of Scott. Lou, of course, straddles both stories, encouraging Billie whilst getting steadily more peeved with Charlie for putting the running of the paper second to his nephew and his bother.
As led into the ending. Scott, panicked, deluded in his belief Chrissy would set it all right, unable to cope with stress, with pressure, with living, ends up on Chrissy’s porch in the middle of the night, shivering in a t-shirt, outwardly courteous in not wanting to disturb her at that hour, but nonetheless afraid of and unable to handle another failure.
Charlie and Steve arrive, and the latter goes to sit with his ruination of a son, and in aquiet, level voice he tells Scott that they have both been looking for a magic wand, one thing to fix it all, Scott with his imagined Chrissy, Steve some miracle cure for his son that will put everything right. It will not happen. and Steve tells Scott that there will always be a room for him at home, no conditions, but unless Scott is doing thebest he can to help himself, there will be nothing between father and son and they will be strangers. Steve has decided that he can do no more and that in order to save himself he must abandon Scott. Charlie will drive him to the airport now.
It’s hard, it could even be stigmatised as ‘tough love’, but it is honest and without the sentimentality that I would usually expect from Lou Grant. The oly note of hope the episode allows, and Stratton’s portrayal has killed even this but we need a glimmer of sunlight, is that Scott asks if he could be taken to Dr Sorenson on the way.
A most extraordinary episode, inexplicably rated below the average on imdb. Forty years later, I’m still arguing with the crowd. Wouldn’t have it any other way.