Saturday, November 16, 2013

Joanna Pettet lays down the Law on "Knots Landing"

The depiction of law enforcement on most 1980s prime time soaps are usually perfunctory characterizations with professional, workman-like actors brought in as plot devices to help expedite the investigation of whatever crime has taken place on the show.  They are usually introduced to help highlight the already established and accepted personalities and relationships of the principal and regular cast members.  Rarely are they ever given their own unique perspective or personality, nor do they help to shine a different light upon the regular characters so that we are able to consider them in a way we have not seen them before.  A notable exception to this was the time in 1983 when "Knots Landing" brought in the underrated Joanna Pettet (one of the best, most appealing actresses working in films and television in the 1960s and 1970s) to play Lt. Janet Baines, a homicide detective with the Knots Landing Police Department.  (Special thanks to Chris B. of the esteemed blog for his assistance in this article.) 

Pettet appeared on "Knots Landing" in the last four episodes of the 4th Season, and continued through four additional episodes at the start of the subsequent 5th Season, playing a smart, no-nonsense investigator who becomes enmeshed in the lives of the residents on Seaview Circle after the murder of promising rock singer Ciji Dunne (Lisa Hartman).  Not only did Pettet's performance, and the character of Janet Baines, transcend the one-dimensional, cliched portrayal of law enforcement officers on prime time soaps, her character also stood in as Ciji's de-facto "avenger," quietly judging and, in a sense, punishing the regular characters who had mistreated Ciji throughout her tenure on the series.  In so doing, she helped ensure that the principal cast were not excused of their complicity in the events leading up to Ciji's death.

Janet Baines joined "Knots Landing" in the February 17, 1983 episode entitled "The Loss of Innocence."  She was introduced in a scene that took place in the morgue where she was already investigating the suspicious drowning of an unidentified Jane Doe when Mack MacKenzie (Kevin Dobson), an old flame and a new resident of Seaview Circle, arrives to identify Ciji's body.  From the get-go, it was clear that Janet was not meant to be a typical portrayal of a law enforcement officer.  She already had a personal connection in that she was once romantically involved with Mack, an acquaintance of Ciji's.  She also transcended stereotypes of police officers in that she was not only elegant and attractive, but also perceptive, detail-oriented, and dedicated to her job.  As Mack explains to his wife Karen (Michele Lee), Janet Baines "has great instincts.  She could see a body or even hear about a body, she knows it's a homicide.  She wouldn't be on this case if she didn't smell a rat."  She was neither fluffy nor ornamental at one extreme, nor stuffy or a haus-frau at the other.  Baines had her job cut out for her as she attempted to wade through the emotional morass that was known as Seaview Circle and piece together clues as to who may have committed this crime.

There is an assumption among fans of 1980s prime time soaps that "Knots Landing" was the most substantive, three-dimensional of the shows in that genre.  Its constituents point to the complex, ever-changing dynamics of the personalities and relationships of the characters on that series as examples of its distinctive qualities.  At some point, however, what can perhaps be described as a reverse-snobbery eventually developed among "Knots Landing" personnel and its followers, where they maintain that the show was more "relatable" than the Ewings of "Dallas" because of its purported middle-class milieu (which was only applicable in the first 4 seasons and only occasionally thereafter), as well as the alleged depth and sense of humanity expressed among the characters towards one another that was supposed to be a contrast to the superficiality and ruthlessness of the characters on other prime time soaps.  (To be clear, I like "Knots Landing" very much.  I just don't like it when people put down other prime time soaps of the 1980s in order to highlight is strengths.  "Knots Landing" is a great show on its own terms without having to make comparisons.)  Throughout Janet Baines' tenure on "Knots Landing, however, the regular characters behaved so reprehensibly that there was no distinction between them and the other characters from competing shows in the same genre. 

As I blogged about before, in the 4th season of "Knots Landing," the inheritance that Gary Ewing received from the terms of his late father Jock Ewing's last will and testament laid the groundwork for bringing out the worst in his neighbors on Seaview Circle.  With regards to how it related to Ciji Dunne, the normally docile Ginger Ward (Kim Lankford) grew to resent Ciji over the amount of attention and time her husband Kenny Ward (James Houghton) and Gary were spending to promote Ciji's burgeoning music career.  As Gary started drinking again and spinning out of control, he leaned on Ciji far too much for platonic friendship and support.  Gary's girlfriend Abby Cunningham (Donna Mills) resented the fact that Gary was confiding in Ciji and even threatened to harm her if she ever learned that Ciji was indeed having an affair Gary.

Richard Avery (John Pleshette) also resented Ciji because Abby had forced him to turn his restaurant "Daniel" into a nightclub/cabaret venue to help promote Ciji's career.  Richard's feelings of resentment toward Ciji intensified when he started to believe Ciji was having an affair with his wife Laura (Constance McCashin).  Valene Ewing (Joan Van Ark), Gary's estranged wife, has a heated argument with Ciji the same night in which she would be killed, with Ciji bitterly blaming Val for having written a story about her marriage to Gary that would inadvertently be published in an tabloid and caused him to start drinking again.  Val pushed Ciji away from her while she was verbally berating Val, and caused her to hit her head on a table.  And so on and so on.

The core theme for 4th season of "Knots Landing" was that it examined the effects of mob mentality when a group of dysfunctional people pick out one individual as the scapegoat to pin the blame for all the troubles in their life.  At times, especially where Richard Avery was concerned, the character of Chip Roberts (Michael Sabatino), a con artist who was Ciji's lover and sleazy manager, acted as an effective Iago-type character, whispering in the ear of all the Seaview Circle residents and laying seeds of suspicion so that they would begin to doubt the motives and actions of the show's Desdemona stand-in, Ciji.  When Ciji is found murdered, after failing to appear at the launch party for her newly completed album, Janet Baines is brought on the scene in order to try and put the pieces together of the circumstances that led to Ciji's death.  The answers she found weren't pretty and demonstrated how the characters of "Knots Landing" were as capable of being cruel, vicious and petty towards their fellow man as the Ewings of "Dallas." 

With her gruff partner Nick Morrison (Steve Kahan) playing "bad cop" to her deceptively gentle "good cop," Baines interrogated virtually the entire principal cast of the series in fascinatingly staged scenes where the cast was foaming at the mouth trying to justify their actions against Ciji while Baines (and occasionally Morrison)  quietly sat back and listened.  Joanna Pettet was particularly good in these scenes, taking in what they were saying and digesting it all.  Baines' gently probing questions, which put the regular "Knots Landing" characters on the spot by asking them to articulate their opinions, feelings and experiences with Ciji, allowed them to realize how self-indulgent and ridiculous they had been behaving all season, especially with regards to their cruelty against Ciji.  Pettet was also good at quietly expressing Baines' slowly mounting disgust and revulsion with the neighbors on Seaview Circle.  Because of the way they behaved in her presence, there was nothing about them that would make them more substantial individuals in her eyes than the people on "Dallas." 

With some exceptions, very few members of the "Knots Landing" cast genuinely mourned Ciji's death.  Each of them were preoccupied with Ciji's death in terms of how it would affect their own lives.  Even Laura, who was supposedly Ciji's best friend, lost sight of reality when she used Ciji's death to falsely accuse Richard for having murdered her in order to rationalize the reasons for why Richard had decided to abandon his marriage by disappearing in the middle of the night.  As such, Janet Baines remained the only person in the cast who had their eye on the ball where Ciji's death was concerned.  She was the only one truly seeking justice for Ciji and the only one who, in essence, during her interrogations with them, put each of the "Knots Landing" characters on trial for their complicity in the events leading to her death.  She was, as I indicated earlier, Ciji's avenger in the story.  Even Mack's motives for becoming involved in the investigation had more to do with protecting his friends and family than with ensuring that justice was served and that the perpetrator was properly punished.

I particularly like the sequence where Baines and her partner Morrison are interrogating Kenny, Ginger and Richard.  Throughout these scenes Baines and Morrison get at the heart of the issues each of these characters had with Ciji.  For Kenny, it was Ciji's perceived lack of loyalty to him after Gary sold her recording contract to record producer Jeff Munson (Jon Cyper).  For Ginger, it was her professional jealousy against the attention being paid by Kenny and Gary on Ciji's career.  For Richard, it was his resentment against Ciji's presence in his restaurant, which turned it into a cabaret nightclub, and in his marriage, where he perceived Ciji as a romantic rival for Laura.  By making them have to explain themselves out loud, Kenny, Ginger and Richard are forced to acknowledge how silly it was for them to have made Ciji a scapegoat for the more overarching problems and issues in their lives.  For Kenny, it was his stubborn refusal to try ever work for another boss again.  For Ginger, it was her own frustration and insecurity over her stagnant recording career.  For Richard, it forced him to examine the root causes to his troubled marriage to Laura.  Because she didn't pamper them self-indulgently, Baines helped each of these characters achieve epiphanies about themselves that they would never have been able to achieve if they had gone to an enabling therapist.

Janet Baines' dealings with the more prominent members of the cast further affirmed her gradually mounting disgust with the residents of "Knots Landing."  In her interrogation with Gary Ewing, it was clear that Baines was losing her patience because Gary's statement to the police was rambling, confused, and contradictory, as he continually refused to heed the advice of his attorney Mitchell Casey (Edward Bell) to reschedule his statement until after Gary and Casey had had a chance to confer privately.  Pettet is particularly good at expressing Baines' quietly mounting impatience as she tells Casey "Then why did you bother coming in today?"  In so doing, Baines emphasizes that her time is valuable and that she doesn't appreciate having it wasted because of the self-indulgence of the regular characters.  In the scene, when Casey reiterates that he would like to continue the interrogation at another time, Baines reminds both Casey and Gary "That's up to your client.  He's been advised of his rights.  Gary, you understand that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, don't you?"  If Gary ends up inadvertently incriminating himself, and diverting attention in the investigation from the true perpetrator, Chip Roberts, it is due to his own carelessness and stupidity.  It's not Baines' fault that Gary failed to exercise his right to remain silent.  Nobody pressured Gary to give the dumb statement that he did and Baines made it clear what his rights were.  The fact that Gary later succumbs to his own self-pity and refuses to vigorously participate in his own defense in court helped further muddle Baines' investigation.  As Val later reminds Gary, "Someone out there is getting away with murder while you play this pathetic game!  If you had any respect for Ciji, you'd be doing everything in your power to put the real killer in here.  Your giving up your life for hers means absolutely nothing."

As noble as Val's statement sounds, she herself does the investigation no favors when, after learning that Ciji was killed by a blow to the head, she foolishly confesses to having killed Ciji during their argument when she knocked her down and caused her to hit her head against a coffee table.  Without seeking legal counsel, she shows up at Janet Baines' office and announces that "I killed Ciji," which causes Baines and Nick Morrison to take her into custody and interrogate her.  Val's interrogation by Baines and Morrison reflects the self-indulgent, overwrought, and emotional nature of her character.  Baines becomes particularly impatient when Val describes how Ciji, after hitting her head against the coffee table, screamed at her to leave the apartment, but maintains that she didn't dump the body in the ocean and doesn't know how it got there.  An exasperated Baines asks Val, "You mean she was still conscious when you left?...Mrs. Ewing, you came down here to tell us you killed Ciji Dunne.  Now you're saying that she was conscious when you left, and you don't know how she got in the ocean."  When Baines asks Val what she believes happened next, and Val says she doesn't know, Baines tells Val, "Mrs. Ewing, please don't waste our time."  In scenes like this, our sympathies start to veer away from established characters like Val, and lean more towards guest stars like Janet Baines, because we realize that people like Baines are attempting to properly do their jobs despite the confusion caused by characters like Gary and Val.

Baines not only has to deal with the disarray caused by the emotions attached to this case, she also has to deal with meddling from "Knots Landing's" resident sanctimonious characters, Mack MacKenzie and his well-meaning wife Karen MacKenzie.  After Val confesses to Ciji's murder, Karen, Mack and Val's mother Lilimae Clements (Julie Harris), show up at the police station demanding that Janet cease her interrogation of Val until an attorney can represent her.  They rudely interrupt the desk sergeant as he attempts to take a statement from a civilian whose vehicle is missing in order to demand that they be allowed to speak with Baines.  Karen attempts to pull rank with the desk sergeant by having Mack flash his credentials as a federal prosecutor--even though the case is a local investigation--which demonstrates the extent to which she feels as much a sense of entitlement to special treatment as the Ewings do on "Dallas."  Once Baines arrives, Karen accuses her of violating Val's civil liberties, even though Val has been informed of her rights and has waived her right to be represented by an attorney, while Mack tries to order Baines around in terms of how she should handle the case.  Janet reminds the trio that "Valene has been informed of her rights, now if she requests an attorney or if one shows up to defend her..." before Karen interrupts Janet by reiterating "She needs to be protected!"  By this point, Janet has had enough of their meddling and puts Karen in her place by telling her, "If you have a complaint, Mrs. MacKenzie, I suggest you report it to the police commission.  And may I remind you that Valene came in to see us!  We didn't drag her in off the streets!...Mack, this is my case, not yours!"  For once, it was good to see someone who was, in essence, a decent and sympathetic character put the "Knots Landing" protagonists in their place by reminding them that they shouldn't always get their way.

By the time Baines gets around to interrogating Gary's companion, Abby Cunningham, about his behavior and tendencies while drunk, after Abby insists that Gary has never been violent or hostile to her while he's been inebriated, Baines's contempt for these people has been well established so that she can only respond by sardonically joking, "Sounds like the exemplary drunk."  After Baines asks Abby whether Gary would be able to clean up a messy crime scene while drunk, Baines explains that someone else has come in and confessed to the crime.  She is unprepared for Abby's amused, almost giggling reaction when she informs her that Val has confessed to the crime.  Baines becomes quietly appalled as she witnesses how Abby is able to make light of a serious situation and is willing to throw Gary under the bus to ensure that he will not return to her romantic rival, Valene.  Baines asks Abby, "Why are you laughing?  You don't believe Val could've done it?"  Abby appears callous as she explains "No, I'm laughing because it's so Val!  It's just the kind of thing she'd do!...Confess to keep Gary from going to the gallows.  'Stand by your man' all that."  Baines asks "Even if he's committed murder?" to which Abby replies "Especially if he's committed murder!...Well, I didn't mean that..."  Baines is further shocked when Abby insists that Baines shouldn't believe Val's confession and even tries to undermine it for fear that it would bring Gary and Val back together again, "Did she say why she did it, or how she did it?  She didn't implicate Gary did she, I mean if she did you can't believe anything she says...She's crazy, you know, you can't believe a word that she says," which leaves Baines speechless as she attempts to understand Abby's true interests and motives in this case.  I like how this scene contrasts the modus operandi of Baines and Abby, two attractive, smart, successful blonde career-women who have achieved their success in different ways: Abby, through lying, scheming, manipulation, and subterfuge; and Baines, through honesty, integrity, directness, and hard work. Joanna Pettet's earthy intelligence is put to good use in this scene opposite Donna Mills' simpering superficiality. 

Janet Baines must also deal with interference from Laura Avery, who insists that Baines should investigate Richard's disappearance because she believes he killed Ciji.  Baines attempts to explain to a hysterical Laura, "I'm just a cop.  I don't call the shots in a homicide investigation, the District Attorney does.  I just gather facts and try not to form an opinion until the facts are in.  In this case, I didn't have much time to gather facts, much less evaluate them."  When Laura continues to insist that Richard murdered Ciji, Baines tries to make Laura realize that she has misplaced her anger against Richard's abandonment of her by blaming him for a crime he didn't commit, to no avail.  Meanwhile, after it comes to light that Chip is the guilty party, Val's mother Lilimae  attempts to convince Baines that she is the only one who can convince Chip to confess.  Lilimae is wracked with guilt over allowing Chip to enter the lives of all of her family and friends, by allowing him to live with her and Val, that she feels responsible for what happened and wants to salve her conscience.  She insists to Baines that "if you let me talk to him again, I might be able to lookin' him straight in the eye and tellin' him to come clean."  Baines impatiently asks Lilimae, "Mrs. Clements, has Chip ever looked you straight in the eye and lied?" to which Lilimae responds, "All the time, that's why I can recognize his lies!"  An exasperated Baines tries to remain polite as she urges Lilimae to "please go home."

Baines finds herself in the unenvialbe position of having to play unofficial therapist for the insecurities, unhappiness, and neuroses of the characters on "Knots Landing," a role that is further exemplified when she must witness, and almost play referee, to several violent arguments and confrontations among the main characters: between Lilimae and Abby when the two of them get into an argument at the police station; between Gary and Val when they run into each other while giving testimony to the police at Ciji's apartment; and between Diana and Karen after Diana learns that Karen has told Baines that Chip confessed to Diana that he killed Ciji.  Baines has had no prior contact with these characters and, as such, has not developed tolerance for their overwrought emotions.  Throughout Janet Baines' time on "Knots Landing," you sense that she doesn't find these characters as endearing as fans of the show do, and that their actions and behavior have made this the most difficult homicide investigation she has ever undertaken.  In one scene, Baines walks a handcuffed Gary, accompanied by his attorney and other police officers, through the beach area where he woke up near Ciji's body in an effort to try and piece together a chronology of the events that night.  As Gary explains to Baines that he does not remember anything that occurred the night Ciji died due to his inebriation, Baines asks him "Have you ever had this serious a blackout before?"  As Gary silently nods, an incredulous Baines asks, "And you still drink?" which demonstrates the extent Baines disapproves of how Gary is an individual unable to learn from his mistakes.  Moreover, when Baines gets around to questioning Diana about Chip's confession to her, the foolish and spiteful girl insists that marital privilege precludes her from having to testify against her husband because she married Chip in Las Vegas, "just like my mother" married Mack, Baines' old flame.  Baines has pretty much had it with these people when it gets to the point where Diana rubs it in her face that her old boyfriend has married someone else.

As such, it's no surprise when Janet Baines finally expresses her negative opinions about the people she has encountered during her time on the case.  In the 4th season finale, an episode appropriately titled "Willing Victims," Mack confronts Baines outside the police station concerning her opinions as to whether the judge will throw the case against Gary out of court.  She tells Mack, "You say I think he's innocent.  So, am I the jury?  Listen, Mack, if the judge doesn't throw this case out, if this case goes to trial, what do you think the jury's gonna see, huh?  They're gonna see a guy who's a millionaire--a Texas Ewing!--who's a drunk.  A guy who two years ago got involved in a case with gangsters that cost his boss, you're wife's first husband, his life.  Wait a minute, let me finish, I'm being the jury now, OK?  All right, I see a drunk, who left his wife for one lady, then got involved with another lady who's now dead.  I see a guy who got arrested two weeks ago for being drunk.  And then I'm gonna listen to the arresting officer tell me how violent he was.  Violent enough to kill!  Now, face it, Mack, this case goes to trial, the jury's gonna love putting him away!...You may think it's a weak case, but the defense is even weaker!"

When Mack reminds Baines that that's not how the criminal justice system is supposed to work, that innocence is presumed until a defendant is proven guilty, she indignantly replies, "The system!  I'm not sure Gary Ewing belongs on the streets because whether he killed Ciji or not, he's dangerous!  Yeah, if they let him out it won't be long before he gets drunk again and maybe kills somebody else.  Maybe not with a gun or a knife, maybe just with his Rolls Royce!  So if the system puts him away, then good for the system!  It works!" before she storms away from Mack.  At this point, Baines is so repulsed by what she has witnessed and learned about Gary that she has rationalized in her mind that putting him away for Ciji's murder, even if he is innocent of that particular crime, would be justified if it ensured that he would be unable to hurt others.  While regular viewers of "Knots Landing" realize that Gary has redeeming qualities, his actions in Season 4 ensured that an objective outsider like Janet Baines would be unable to recognize those qualities.

Ultimately, Janet Baines acknowledged her own flaws in both her reactions to the people she was encountering and her own mistakes while conducting the investigation.  While testifying in the evidentiary hearing on whether to proceed with the case against Gary, Baines falls on her own sword and admits while testifying on the stand that Gary's statement--where he accidentally says "Yes" to Baines' question as to whether he killed Ciji--was the reason why he was arrested and that, without the statement, there would have been no case against Gary.  Baines allows her professional reputation to be potentially be tarnished in order to ensure that Gary is released from custody.  She further redeems herself when she decides to remove herself from the case because, "I'm too close this, Mack.  I hate this case.  I hate that lousy schlub (Chip) we're letting go, guilty as sin.  And I hate that Laura Avery for hanging on to that sick story of hers, practically hoping that her husband was a murderer.  He was just a poor, unloved guy who just couldn't cope.  And you know what else, Mack?  I hated what happened to Gary Ewing.  And I hated myself for feeling sorry for him.  A millionaire drunk, a millionaire drunk!  And I hated hating that smart little lady who'll probably put him right back where he started before he...before this whole case began...You know, I hated watching your family fall apart.  And I hated myself for, deep down inside, feeling a twinge of satisfaction, you know?"  When Mack expresses surprise at Baines' admission and asks her why she felt satisfaction from seeing how this case affected his family and marriage, she responds "You really have to ask?  Mack, what do you do with your feelings when you're through with them, huh?  You just toss 'em out?  I don't.  You know, once I care I always care."  When Mack says that they were never really right for each other, she smiles and says "I know that.  But we weren't all that wrong.  Oh I guess just some stupid part of me thought that it was OK for us not to be right as long as you weren't right with someone else, you know what I mean?"  When Mack reassures Baines it's OK for her to react that way because she's human, she self-deprecatingly responds, "No, I'm not.  I'm a cop."  Baines and Mack admit that they'll miss each other before she kisses him on the cheek and walks out of "Knots Landing" forever.

Janet Baines' exit scene is remarkable because it allowed her an opportunity to verbally call out the regular characters on the show for their character flaws and shortcomings.  She was never a passive bystander during the investigation to what was going on around her.  Instead, she took it all in and didn't like what she saw in the main characters.  For instance, it might surprise some that she had more sympathy for Richard than she had for Laura but, in her dealings with Richard, Baines found that he didn't do anything to interfere with, or muddle, the investigation the way Laura did.  Baines' quiet contempt and slowly mounting exasperation throughout her time on the series attempted to hold a mirror up to the main characters on the show, only they were usually too preoccupied to notice what she was recognizing about them.  No scene exemplifies this moment better than the one where Val, after being released from custody, returns to Baines' office to ask for permission to speak to Gary so she can try and convince him to take a more active role in his legal defense.  When Baines explains that she is completing a report that, in essence, closes the police investigation and hands the case over to the District Attorney, Val has a conniption and screams "Well that is wrong and I'm telling you you are wrong!"  Baines urges Val to calm down and reminds Val that "You are wearing out your welcome."  When Val insists that she be allowed to see Gary, Baines rhetorically asks, "For him, or for you?  Just make sure you know the difference," which causes Val to have a brief epiphany that suggests she realizes her motives for trying to help Gary defend himself is due to her lingering fantasy that she and Gary may someday reconcile.  Because the characters on "Knots Landing" are presumed to have more substance and depth than the characters on other 1980s prime time soaps, it was fascinating to see how Baines didn't agree with this perspective and that, to her, Gary was just another "Texas Ewing," and that the rest of his cohorts were shallow, narcissistic, and malevolent individuals.  Unlike die-hard fans of the show, Janet Baines simply didn't enjoy being around these people.

The part of Janet Baines was the last good and meaty role of Joanna Pettet's career.  She started out promisingly in the 1960s on Broadway and with meaty roles in Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966) and as Mata Bond in the James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" (1967).  She built a comfortable career for herself in the 1970s as one of the most prolific actresses starring in TV movies and episodic guest appearances.  Her roles became more infrequent as she entered the 1980s before calling it quits entirely by the end of that decade.  Janet Baines was one of the best roles in Pettet's career.  It made good use of Pettet's earthy intelligence as an actress as well as effectively utilized her trademark deep and husky speaking voice (why director Howard Hawks never hired her for his later films remains a mystery) that went a long ways toward giving the character gravitas and authority as a homicide detective with the police force.  It's too bad that Janet Baines only appeared for eight episodes of "Knots Landing" because she had genuine chemistry with the cast and blended in well with them.  She should have remained with the show at least until the Ciji case was finally closed when a fugitive Chip fell on the pitchfork at Gary's ranch and was killed.  Moreover, I would have welcomed having Janet Baines back as the show's resident homicide cop in later seasons of the show when there were other murder mystery storylines (such as the ones involving Peter Hollister, Jill Bennett, and Danny Waleska) for the show to solve, rather than bringing in a new group of uninspired detectives to fill up the screen.  Baines' history with the show, as well as her feelings towards the regular characters, would have helped heighten the dramatic tension during those investigations.  Joanna Pettet's Detective Lt. Janet Baines ranks as a noteworthy recurring/supporting character who made her mark in the 1980s prime time soap genre.