This was requested before Luke Perry’s untimely passing, but I feel it is all the more appropriate now to review this strange, strange episode which has a great performance by him.
If you’ve never seen Beverly Hills: 90210, the premise of the show is that it’s a soap opera focused on a group of California teens (and eventually young adults) who deal with overly dramatic relationships and near-nudity on a regular basis. All of the actors are gorgeous and most of the characters are wealthy. The only other background information you need to know is that one gimmick from this season is that Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), who has been dealing with rehab for his drug and alcohol addiction, has been seeing a hypnotherapist to help him understand a character in his friend Charley’s (Jeffery King) screenplay.
Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestly) is endorsed by the student body to seek another term as the president of the Student Body of California University, the setting for the show after the Third Season. He ends up getting screwed over by the School Administration and loses the race to Alex Diaz (F.J. Rio), the former campaign manager of the other candidate when he won the position in the first place. Sadly, resident man-eater Valerie (Tiffani-Amber “I’m Kelly Kapowski, I don’t care what you think” Thiessen) decides that Brandon is now her perfect guy and aims to seduce him. Only Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), his girlfriend, seems to realize that Valerie is kind of a monster at this point. Also, Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and Ray Pruit (Jamie Walters) try to go on a double date with David Silver (Brian Austin Green) and Clare Arnold (Kathleen Robertson), but the latter couple hates Ray for his infidelity… and yet they don’t tell Donna about it. But enough about this crap, let’s get to the reason this episode was requested.
When Dylan McKay undergoes a session of hypnotherapy, he finds himself in the shoes of one of his past lives, Billy McCoy, a gunfighter and criminal from the Old West. A drunk, degenerate, murderer, he falls in love with a young woman whose stagecoach he robs. It turns out that woman is the past life of Kelly. McCoy gives up his life of debauchery and crime in order to be with her. Years later, he lives a life of Godliness as a family man and farmer. He is called by one of his former associates to save the life of one of his ex-lovers. McCoy agrees, bidding his wife and children farewell for a while. He saves his former girlfriend without having to hurt anyone, putting her on a train bound for the West Coast. He’s then shot in the back by the son of a man he killed and dies. At the funeral, Dylan sees the view from the coffin as McCoy’s family and friends throw flowers on his grave… only to be replaced by Brandon Walsh and the rest of the cast of the show. Dylan’s therapist tells him that sometimes past regressions lead into premonitions of the future. Dylan says that he was told by a fortune teller when he was younger that he didn’t have a long life ahead of him. He goes to Kelly’s apartment and kisses her passionately, something she quickly reciprocates.
First of all, holy hell, this season has 32 episodes. That’s almost inconceivable if you’ve only watched TV for the last 20 years or so. Most shows nowadays don’t come close to that. Breaking Bad’s longest season was only half that, and it was formed from two different production seasons. What this show lacked in quality writing, it more than made up for in quantity, which worked well, I guess.
I’m not saying this is where the show jumped the shark, but I’m only not saying that because I didn’t watch this show close enough to know where it jumped the shark. I remember reading that later in the series Dylan finds out that his father faked his death by explosion and had decided to abandon his son to enter Witness Protection, but I also have heard that most of the end of the series was pretty bad. Therefore, I have to think that this episode was a sure sign that the show was running out of ideas and jumped the shark hard.
While the idea of having a Western episode in a show which is set in modern day California, and also features a group of rather yuppie 20-somethings, might seem like a guaranteed failure, the Western part of the episode is way more interesting than the rest. I get that this show was a serial drama, but honestly the B- and C-plots were basically without any real stakes to me since I didn’t see the rest of the show. Is it fair for me to judge these elements since I didn’t get them in context? Maybe not, but I’m gonna. I know that everyone should hate Valerie and that Ray is a cheating bastard, but since I didn’t watch anything up until this point, I don’t fully understand what that means, and the episode doesn’t really reflect it through the eyes of the other characters very well. I guess it’s tough to emote heavily when you also have to look beautiful all the time.
However, the Western segment is actually pretty well contained and has a lot of solid elements which express deeper aspects of Dylan McKay’s personality. The initial Billy McCoy represents how Dylan sees himself: A drunk, a backstabber, and a cocky rogue. Much like with Dylan’s life, Billy only gets worse, more selfish, and more self-destructive as time goes on. Eventually, however, he chooses to do one good thing, which is to save a Native American from some thugs, and that earns him the admiration of Western Kelly. His relationship with her ends up making him a better person, until finally all of his sins catch up with him and he’s killed before his time. He then relates that a gypsy told him he wasn’t going to live very long, something that, while it never came up again in the show, apparently was sadly true in real life. Again, I’d remind you that this episode was requested BEFORE Luke Perry passed.
Perry’s performance as McCoy is actually pretty great, managing to convey a huge amount of character growth between the scenes, reflecting the changes within the cowboy’s life from drunken killer to family man. It’s basically the opposite of Unforgiven.
Overall, I enjoyed the episode, even if most of it didn’t really resonate with me. I am, however, sad that one of the best parts of it has left the world too soon. R.I.P. Luke Perry.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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