Sunday, October 28, 2012

King of the Hill—Pigmalion Season 7, Episode 9
Directed by Dominic Polcino and Klay Hall
Written by Jonathan Collier

Off Kilter TV: Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television
Television shows have always been predictable. Lucy gets in and out of trouble. Archie Bunker faces daily events with his bigoted point of view. Mulder and Scully track down monsters and government conspiracies. But every once in a while, an episode will sneak by that doesn’t follow the pattern: Little Joe finds a ghost town full of real ghosts; a hunter on the island tracks Gilligan to kill him as a trophy; George Costanza finds a club that only exists at night. These are some of the unpredictable episodes that I call Off Kilter TV.


This article deconstructs the episode Pigmalion in an effort to describe the “gothic” elements inherent in its plot; thus, the beginning, middle and ending are discussed in some detail, so it is assumed readers are King of the Hill fans who have already seen the episode or non-fans who simply like to read the Off Kilter TV column. Thank you.
Typically, King of the Hill revolves around the Hill family. Hank, the patriarch, has trouble with the family or with the propane business where he works; Peggy, his wife, the intellectual manqué, has to deal with her substitute teaching responsibilities or her modest newspaper column where she is her own best reader; Bobby, their son, is an outgoing young preteen whose growing pains aggravate Hank and challenge Peg’s mothering skills. And then there’s Luanne. She is the niece of Hank and Peggy; she is attractive and either late teens to early twenties. She has trouble finding work and keeping a job.

Which begins our episode for today.

When Peggy hears the restaurant manager scolding Luane, who works there as a waitress, she bullies Luanne into quitting.  Then in typical Peggy fashion, she enrolls the girl in a Learning Annex class on setting up your own business (the joke here is that Peg takes these fly-by-night classes verbatim over college courses, which would be the better choice for the university age girl). The teacher of the class turns out to be Trip Larsen (voiced by Micheal Keaton), owner of Larsen Pork Products. Trip is attracted to Luanne in a strange way that we will discuss later, but for now let’s just say he asks her out on a date under the guise of asking her to interview for a job. They soon become a couple.

The seduction begins

Peggy, of course, tries to break them up, and Trip responds by first trying to kill Hank, who is ignorant of the attempt, and then leaving a headless pig carcass on her doorstep. She is aghast, but Hank and his friends are grateful for the gift of free meat. Peg realizes Trip is crazy and devises a way to keep him away from her niece. Peg’s ploy backfires on her, and she unwittingly drives Luanne into his arms and into his home. She moves into the mansion.

The pig Trip longs to be

It is about here that we see the Hitchcockian elements emerging. There is the older professional man of mystery falling for the naïve and innocent girl who is intrigued by the worldly and wealthy man. He lives in a gothic mansion, where pigs run freely. The slaughter houses are about a quarter mile from the mansion. Trip’s requests to Luanne become more and more threatening as his voice waivers between soft and demanding. In Vertigo tradition, Trip begins to remake Luanne into the image of some bygone lover or someone. He starts with the hair-do, pig-tails of course, then the hair color, (wickedly red in a scene where Luanne awakes to find her head covered with the bloody colored dye), but it isn’t until he forces her to dress in a milkmaid’s outfit that we realize that Trip has been turning her into the Larsen Pork Products Girl (sort of a knock-off of the St. Pauli Girl).

 Hair in pigtails and you've got the Pork Girl

The Pork Girl was created by Trip’s grandfather, and he has obsessed over her since he was a child. Dressed as a pig, and utterly mad, Trip attacks Luanne. Peggy and Luanne run into the slaughter house and turn on the machines in an effort to lose Trip. As he stands on the conveyor belt headed for the bolt device, shaped like a metal stake that pierces skull of the pig before it enters the area for butchering, Trip passes through a Jacob’s Ladder strand of electricity designed to shock the pig before it is killed. When Trip is shocked, he regains his sanity and wonders where he is. Here the story could have ended. Trip is okay. He asks Luanne’s pardon. Peggy says I told you so. End of a regular episode. But this is an Off Kilter TV episode. The conveyor belt kicks in and carries Trip into the killing bolt. He is then chopped to bits. 

The transformation begins...and ends
Note the bolt that kills pigs behind Trip

In a Hitchcock movie this would be normal, but for an episode of KOTH, it is murder. It does not fit the happy-go-lucky pattern we have come to expect from our comedy show. Peggy does a whoops joke, but it’s too little, too late. The punishment was way too out of proportion to the crime. He was obsessed with a cartoon label; he remade Luanne in its image. So he was killed in a gruesome manner befitting a pig to the slaughter. Get it: Pigmalion. In Pygmalion, the old rich gentleman turns the poor uneducated woman into a “lady.” In Pigmalion, the old entrepreneur turns Luanne into a mascot, and he in turn is turned into a pig, as in pig meat. It’s funny, if you’re Uncle Fester.

Transformation of Luanne complete

By now, you might recognize the Gothic elements of the story, things not out of place in an Ann Radcliffe or Daphne du Maurier page-turner: The mysterious mansion, the crazed older man of the house, the young mistress taken by the elder gentleman, and a secret hidden behind love and conspiracy. Author Jonathan Collier, who wrote this episode, has much experience dealing with mysteries as he has written for Bones and Monk, two detective shows that revolve around death and crime investigation. How he got his ending to Pigmalion into the show is probably a mystery worth solving. But the gothic intent and humor is pretty clear in the final words of Luanne and Peggy:
[Luanne's crazed boyfriend has fallen into the pork processing machine]
Luanne: Well, at least Trip seemed happy, and now he's in a better place.
Peggy: Honey, Trip had a mental breakdown and is now a sausage. That's not a better place. But you learned to defend yourself.
Luanne: So, it’s a happy ending after all.

Uh-huh! Thanks for joining us again for another episode of Off Kilter TV. We have more on the way. If you have any suggestions about off-kilter shows you'd like reviewed, email me at Till then, keep the TV on in the dark. 

The next US airings of Pigmalion:

Thurs    Nov 8     9:00 pm      Toon Net 

Fri        Nov 9     5:00 pm      Toon Net

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